I blame Facebook. And Gmail. And, to a lesser extent, Twitter.
Used to be, back in the day, everything I wrote on here got talked about. And it wasn't just my stuff. We all got talked about. Even Matt Morin got talked about. It was simply golden.
And then, overnight, it all changed. People stopped posting in that big blank space you see to the right of the columns. It wasn't that they had less to say; it was that they had other outlets through which to say it.
They could e-mail me their thoughts (and they do). They could comment on my Facebook status update when I link to my latest Intrepid Media piece of brilliance (and they do). They could simply re-tweet and count that as their good deed for the day (and they might; I have no idea).
What they don't do (not nearly as often, anyway) is share their thoughts with other Intrepid Media readers specifically on Intrepid Media. I mean, when someone posts on my Facebook page, they're often quickly engaged in some sort of back-and-forth with other Facebook friends of mine who have, ostensibly, also read my column. So it's not that different. Maybe a little more intimate, however. Just a little, but enough.
Because when I sat down to write this column, I took a look at the stats for last month's column (the topic is unimportant; trust me - you really liked it when you read it) and I currently have upwards of 250 reads for the month, but 0 comments and 0 critiques. No, I'm not rounding down. Nor am I even going to entertain the suggestion that my column wasn't compelling enough to warrant commentary. I mean, come on. It was about me.
What's interesting, though, is that, on average, my first month's readership has been trending up. I imagine this is due to the positive aspect of posting the link on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Friendster. (Kidding. No one uses Friendster. Every now and then, I'll get an e-mail update from them and I'll think, "I still have a Friendster account?") But, yes, not surprisingly, social media is, well, social. I have a lot of Facebook friends and many of them can read. So when I put up the link, sure, I'm going to get more hits. But, as you'll see if you keep reading, not necessarily more comments.
The truth is, it wasn't just last month's column and it wasn't just me. But I intend to do something about it. I've gone back through all of my past columns trying to identify that, pardon my French, je ne sais quoi that accompanied those columns that got the greatest response. And tried to ignore the ones that got the antisemitic rants. And deleted the one where I admitted to being jealous of women who wear garters. Oops.
I plan on publishing my discoveries in the New England Journal of Medicine (or New Eng J Med, as those of us in the medical editing profession call it), but I wanted to share my findings with you wonderful people first. Especially since I made that first part up. So you know, here are a few simple rules you can follow should you want extensive commentary on your column:
1) Take an unpopular stand, or at least give your column a controversial title.
I once got a bunch of, well, vitriol from a woman I totally lost any chance of dating when I published an essay called, "Men are easy; it's women that are the problem."
No, that was really the title. Yes, I knew there might be a little blowback. The actual subject matter wasn't even that inflammatory; I think I'd written about trying to find a male character's motivation when writing fiction versus finding a female character's motivation. And I still hold that men are easy. We're motivated by the need for food, sex, sleep, and whatever it will take to make her stop giving us that look. You know the one.
But I think I meant it as complimentary when I said that women were a lot more complex. I know I mean that right now this minute. It is fair to say, however, that some of the more complex women I knew read it differently. But I got a lot of comments.
2) Write about something that most people either totally hate or completely relate to.
This works especially well when you can find a topic about which everyone thinks they're an expert. This works especially well when they also feel everyone else, subject-wise, is a moron. Two of the columns on which I've received quite a high number of comments were about, respectively, bad driving and bad song lyrics. I can only assume I lead a charmed life, as my readership seems to be made up of the only people on the road who know how to drive well. How do I know this? Simple; they told me.
As far as the lyrics column went, it wasn't that everyone was convinced they were the next Bernie Taupin, but, rather, that everyone has his or her own mental list. In some cases, it was actual musicians discussing the difficulty of writing lyrics; in others it was people pointing out things they felt I'd overlooked. And a couple in which our publisher threatened our editor with blackmail, which, while entirely off-topic, still counts as commentary (tomato, tomato ... hmm, that works less well in print).
3) Write about having surgery for your life-threatening disease the same week that terrorists fly planes into two or three national monuments.
Admittedly, this is much, much easier said than done. Or, rather, it's easy to do, but it requires a synchronicity that is exceptionally tough to plan for. And, honestly, planning for it makes you a psychopath, so there's that.
Truthfully, though, the column that came out of those experiences (10 years ago this week, in case you weren't clear as to which acts of terrorism I was referring) is one of the ones I take the most pride in. It was quite personal, but uplifting, I think, in the face of the horrors of 9/11, and it got a ton of comments for that reason. So that was a good one.
4) Write about relationships. Especially if you haven't been in one for a while.
For some reason, the bitter columns get good response, often from bitter readers. Actually, I got a girlfriend because of one of my relationship columns; ironically, I'd been writing about why I dislike Valentine's Day. That probably should have tipped her off.
I've gotten good response to the column I wrote on the occasion of my parents' anniversary one year. I also got a good response to a piece about things that, as a single guy, I'd noticed about friends' weddings. That one also came with a death threat from a florist, which is the sign we real writers know means we've made it.
5) Drop an ungodly number of pop culture references, especially celebrity names, in a column.
In 2002, I wrote a piece with the subtitle, "everything i ever needed to know i learned from hair bands." I quoted liberally. As of today, it's gotten nearly seven times as many reads as the columns that ran immediately before and after it. I think it's my second-most read column, actually. Probably because of Lita Ford. And Ratt.
Interestingly, the one that's gotten the most hits (by about 10,000 over the hair band one) only got, I believe, four comments. This is what I was saying above regarding hits versus postings. The column was on celebrity crushes, and I'd peppered it with links to photos that probably no longer exist. And my assumption is that most of the people inflating that number were actually just on the sixth page of their Google search for naked pictures of the daughters from "Just the Ten of Us." You'd be surprised how many people find my columns that way.
My point is that a high read count does not a populous conversation make. That said, if 17,000 people want to click on my column and only four of them want to type something, that's a tradeoff I'm willing to live with. I know the percentage isn't exactly mind-blowing, but again, 17,000. Actually, 17,928. Of which 17,925 were not my immediate family. Which is to say that, yes, sometimes I'm a big whore. Speaking of Bill Kirchenbauer.
Anyway, those are a few of the tricks I found. I was going to add a sixth: write a column about how no one posts in the commentary anymore and they're bound to take the hint. But I know you guys too well, and I'm reasonably certain you're never gonna write something there now. Jerks. Just for that, I'm going to stop writing this column in the mid
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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katherine (aka clevertitania)
9.8.11 @ 2:02p
While I hate to be the first to comment on commenting...
I've noted too, the massive drop in critique/comments. I also noted (yesterday) that, instead of having a standard reviews section, ThinkGeek has implemented a comments section that ties directly to FB. I think that's become the path to maintaining interaction; tying it to our social media. But as much as I like feedback and discussion, I avoid looking at the numbers. If I start writing to elicit an audience, my brain will start to melt.
9.10.11 @ 1:41a
I think I still find something to say on most columns....but the long discussions? Especially when they invariably devolved into examinations of movies or food? Gone. I miss the boards, too, because there's barely a post a week now, and it's all because of Facebook. Such a shame.
9.10.11 @ 10:25p
Damn, it's like you read my mind. I thought I was the only person who wondered why nothing I've written here over the last year or two was worthy of discussion here. (Except for the always appreciated comments of the wonderful Tracey Kelley.) Way to hit the nail on the head, sir.
9.12.11 @ 9:57a
Thanks. And thanks for commenting on the column. I always sort of felt that these side conversations, while fun, were also a direct indication of how engaged people were in what we were writing about. As I said, I do often get a bunch of responses on Facebook when I link to my column there, but it's only friends of mine who can read them, not all readers of Intrepid Media, which always seemed to me to be totally opposite the point of this site.
9.15.11 @ 3:04p
I had not written a column for ages. I wrote recently about what I thought might be a timely topic and received not one comment. I was about ready to pull it--thinking it might be of little interest. I'm glad I just read your column, Adam. It put things in perspective.
10.4.11 @ 4:00p
By the way, as of 10/04/11, 334 reads/5 comments.