The Numbers Game

Lists can help increase readership.
This effective technique is now overused to scam a reader into reading.

If there’s one thing the Internet has brought to business, it’s new ways to play the numbers game.  Some examples:

  • Number of hitsiStock_NumbersXSmall
  • Number of followers
  • Number of people followed
  • Number of Tweets
  • Number of blog comments
  • Number of names on your house e-mail list
  • Number of LInkedIn contacts

There appear to be no end to the call for numbers, even as most CEOs admit that they’re not sure what all the numbers mean.  This is particularly true for blogs, which are known to have many more readers than people who comment, and yet business bloggers continue to worry about their lack of comments.

I’ve come to the point of recommending that my blog-considering clients create blogs that don’t solicit comments. This is against the “interactive conversation” basis of most social media, but blogs can be different from Twitter and Facebook.  It all goes back to the plan (which most don’t have) that describes why a blog is being considered at all for a specific business.

For many of my clients, they are using the blog as a thought-leadership platform, and comments are not always appropriate.  But, in addition, not accepting comments keeps the CEO focused on his or her real reasons for starting the blog rather than counting comments.

Listing Too Far

One new way digital writers are playing the marketing game is reducing all good advice to numbers, as in:

  • 5 Ways to Tweet
  • 7 Ways Not to Tweet
  • 3 Ideas for LinkedIn Success
  • 10 Great Links for Better Websites

It’s an old magazine trick from the covers of Cosmo and others, as in:

  • 10 Ways to Attract a Guy
  • 5 Ways to Dress Skinny

Data both from single-copy magazine sales and click-throughs to sites seem to suggest that by creating a numbered list, interest in a written piece also increases.  I believe the data, have tried the technique, but am truly tired of lists upon lists. There’s one very good blogger whom I’ve stopped following as every single post is a list.

Maybe it’s me, but I’m tired of every concept being reduced to a short list.  I’d like some long thinking, and I’ve noticed blog posts, which used to be 1-3 paragraphs long, are becoming 1-3 pages long.  Could it be that others, as well, are looking for more thought-provoking, in-depth material?

Go for Quality

Marketing, as a practice, requires a serious look at ROI.  But to the chagrin of many CFOs and CEOs, great marketing sometimes defies measurement, at least in the short-term. Using numbers indiscriminately is a dangerous quantity over quality game.

Keep in mind that social media, blogs included, are about building relationships – quality relationships.  Playing the numbers game is akin to being a spammer. After all, that’s what spam is – messages sent to quantities of people who could care less about you. The goal of a blog is to make people truly care to follow – not you as much as your thinking and/or progress over time.

Using a list when warranted is a good writing technique. Using lists exclusively for each post is simply lazy writing. It makes the blogger into a “scammer” if not a “spammer.”

Rhona Bronson

Rhona Bronson started down the social media path in 2006 with her blog and there’s been no turning back. “It opens you up to the world of possibilities,” she notes. She has helped dozens of executives enter into the social media world as part of their marketing growth plans. Her background spans both the B:B and B:C world with experience in publishing, printing, consulting, association, small business and corporate marketing and communications. She came to marketing from the communications side, starting with training in journalism from Syracuse University. With experience in all marketing genres — from Twitter to Transit Advertising — she brings a broad toolkit of skills to any marketing project. Her ability to integrate clear writing with creativity has made her a sought-after expert in developing results-oriented marketing programs for today’s challenging times. Today, she leads the Plaza Consulting Group as its Marketing Strategist specializing in integrating social media into business marketing plans. 


  4 comments for “The Numbers Game

  1. October 26, 2009 at 2:36 am

    This is a good point, Rhona.

    I also figure that, in a busy society, people may perpetually have a lot on their minds. So, they are perhaps drawn to publications that tend to break topics down in to numbered lists — a format seemingly easier to digest in rapid fashion.

    I find myself drawn to lists. And yes, I’ve noticed that the posts here that involved lists tended to generate the greatest number of visits.

    But all-lists, all-the-time strikes me as making a print/online publication — say a magazine — come across as kind of superficial after awhile. So the readers of such publications may go elsewhere to get deeper info/analysis from other print or online resources. I know I would :-)

  2. October 28, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Rhona — you make some excellent points. I do think that busy people are attracted to lists because they are so easy to scan. But are these the people we want to engage with in a serious conversation? There is no right or wrong answer — but I agree that lists should be used where they are appropriate, as in teaching instructions, or in sharing several resources on a subject. I think we’re all too focused in rushing to Google Analytics for the numbers, when we should be counting on how many new relationships we’ve established that day.

  3. October 28, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Jeanette – I am as taken by the list headlines as anyone else. The last few times I realized the information wasn’t all that list-worthy and was disappointed, causing me to re-think my own knee-jerk reactions to list promising blogs and tweets. The data seems to support that they work, and I believe them because I, too, click on them, but I’m starting to stop. The marketing person in me recognizes the trick and I’m all tricked out. As an old ad said, “Show me the beef,” and anything else is a waste of my time.

  4. November 2, 2009 at 6:58 am

    Good post. You can count me in the group that is attracted to “lists.” A list tells me that the writer has organized and prioritized the information so I can get in and out quickly. To me, that’s added value (productivity) and not a “trick.” In my writing I often use Headlines that ask a question. As long as the question is relevant and doesn’t over-promise “Do You Want Rock-hard Abs in 2 Minutes a Day?,” for example, then I think that’s also a fair tactic to attract readers. But as Denis Miller used to say, “Of course, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.”

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