What It Takes

What It Takes

Counting

By Callie Oettinger | Published: March 25, 2011

When I was twelve, counting my age in silverware got me to the end of my unloading the dishwasher chore: five forks, five knives, two serving spoons and a butter knife to grow on.

When I was in college, just over a thousand steps, counting every other time my right foot hit the ground, got me from my dorm near the corner of Mass Ave. and Beacon St., to classes closer to Beacon and Berkley.

When I run, 450 steps, counting every fifth time one of my feet hits the ground, gets me to the one mile mark.

These days, counting followers, friends, likes, and visitors is getting me nowhere.

I keep hearing people say they need to increase the numbers. The numbers are being used to gauge worth.

Did you know that Charlie Sheen set a Guinness World Record for “Fastest Time to Reach 1 Million Followers” on Twitter? How many of his followers are there for the long-term? And how many are hoping to catch a train wreck?

As I write this, 37,808 people are in line for Scott Forstall’s first tweet. Ad Age‘s article “Your Followers Are No Measure of Your Influence” turned me onto Forstall’s stats: thousands of followers, listed almost 2,000 times, is following one person (Conan O’Brien) and has (drumroll please) ZERO tweets. So people follow him for what he might say on Twitter, based on what he has said/done elsewhere.

More words of wisdom from Ad Age: Your brand’s fans and followers may not only be disengaged, they may be comatose—or literally dead. A little freaky—your followers might be six feet under. . . .

Olivier Blanchard did a three-part series on Digital Influence Recalibrated, which is where I found the link to Thomas Moradpour’s post, asking:

So is there another way to measure Influence?
We can think of many other ways… such as measuring the “personal bonds” between members of a family, team or group of friends, which explains why close ones will always bear more influence than stars and celebrities of any kind… or measuring the “passion” that some individuals may have for an idea, activity or cause – something others will feel and respond to… or the “thought leadership” of those who project authoritative points of views and can ignite ideas or debates with others.

When I was a kid, friendship pins were popular. Almost every girl in my third grade class had five-to-ten bead-decorated safety pins dangling from her shoelaces. Then there was Stacy, who had a gazillion. She was super popular and everyone liked her, but we all wondered how she ended up with so many.

Back then, we whispered a bit, but we all brushed off the numbers thing, and ignored how many she had because we were her friends and that’s what friends do. It’s kind of like what Thomas Moradpour was saying, about personal bonds being important.

But now, when I see all these numbers and I have no personal bond, all the people and the brands look like Stacy’s shoeful of fake friendship pins and those TV gameshow doors, which keep you guessing about the value behind them. The doors look the same, but is there a new car or a pile of crap on the other side?

When I first joined Twitter I focused on getting my numbers up. And then I stopped, realizing that I was doing what Stacy did—upping my numbers to create worth. And in the process, I was creating useless noise. It’s like being in a crowded nightclub, where everyone talks just to talk, because the quiet is too uncomfortable. What if the focus was on content and not numbers? I’m thinking Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman are right: Content Rules! (thank you David Reich for the head’s up on this one).

Am trying to count passion and creativity instead of numbers these days. Counting has moved my life along, as long as the focus is on more than the numbers. Ready to get back there.

Posted in What It Takes

18 Responses to “Counting”

  1. Paul C
    March 25, 2011 at 4:46 am

    I was thinking the same thing. There’s absolutely no correlation between the number of followers, facebook likes, etc, and quality. I receive email updates from Quora on various topics. The email notices don’t tell me how many followers or votes. Just what was posted by that person. I noticed that the quality of the posts didn’t have anything to do with the person’s popularity, or background. This is why I don’t like Seth Godin’s “tribe” thing. To me, this is just a clique wrapped up in business jargon. And from a historical perspective, tribes always lose in the end.

    • Callie Oettinger
      March 25, 2011 at 8:39 am

      Paul – Thanks for leaving this comment. When we’ve seen spikes in visitors to Steve’s site, it’s been related to content. Readers share what they like – which means they like it enough to do more than hit a like button. If the content stinks, people don’t share, which leads some to make their own friendship pins . . . On Tribes, I do like that concept myself. I’m an Army Brat—moved every two-to-four years until I was 26. And while moving around, it was finding those like-minded people that made the difference. Seth might call them a tribe, in high school my parents would have called them a bunch of clowns . . . No matter what their names (tribe, bunch of clowns, family, etc) these groups were always more supportive than the larger groups, with which I didn’t have anything in common. Same thing holds true in business. Small groups of supportive people are always better than large numbers of fair-weather friends. But it goes two-ways. And that’s the only issue I have with the tribes/groups thing. I’m not a fan of building a tribe, just to use those individuals to sell a product. Has to be a give and take on both ends. Taking all the time doesn’t work. And it ain’t cool. Callie

      • Paul C
        March 25, 2011 at 7:36 pm

        Callie,

        I agree with your view of tribes that are based on real relationships. It just seems like there are a lot of fake tribes built on who can milk the most of a casual relationship. One of the reasons I read the sites of both Seth and Steve is that I am fascinated by the cultural and social implications of what they write and believe. I grew up in the kind of tough environment in a factory town that produced its own warrior ethos in athletics. Heisman Trophy winners, Super Bowl champions, NCAA champions, Olympians, all of them possessed the tribe mentality of a Spartan warrior. To me, the “American tribe” is about getting up, not sucking up.

        • Callie Oettinger
          March 26, 2011 at 5:56 am

          Paul – Am in agreement with everything you wrote. Finding myself clinging to that last line – “American tribe is about getting up, not sucking up.” You nailed it! Callie

  2. March 25, 2011 at 6:31 am

    Congrats on reaching this realization.

    As I say all the time, we as humans always want to feel validated and numbers always help us, but we far to often get so focused on those that we never actually do anything with them.

    Quality OVER Quantity has always been my motto. I’d rather have 100 really dedicated people following what I create than 1000 passively interested people.

    Great job on this post and I have a feeling the next time I empty the dishwasher I’ll be counting. Never done that before. *grin*

    • Callie Oettinger
      March 25, 2011 at 8:54 am

      Thanks, C.C. The counting thing is a little crazy . . . Clears my head, when I don’t want to think of the long list of other things to do. But when the counting turns to stats and all that jazz, I get sick… You and Ann have done a good thing, being advocates for content – quality over quantity. Thrilled to have been introduced to both of you, and your book, Content Rules. Also likin’ that man cave on the internet, Digital Dads. I know it isn’t for moms, but I keep sticking my head in there… http://www.digitaldads.com/about/

  3. March 25, 2011 at 6:47 am

    Amen!

    And what you probably know but didn’t say, Callie, is that there’s a whole industry set-up around inflating those numbers. You can buy software to seek out people and follow them, just to trip their “auto-follow-back” into following you. And then software for sorting all your fake follows into one category so you can keep track of the people you’re really following according to different lists. Pathetic.

    I think that if you’re following more than, say, 3X Dunbar’s number of people, you’re just playing games, IMHO. There’s simply no way to keep up with more than that and still have a life. So you are following people only to screen them out, or your just skimming the surface, or not paying attention at all. Why bother?

    Anywho, great post. Been loving the whole “What It Takes” series, as well as every other series on this site. And isn’t that the real test of influence? People who find value (and expertise) in what you have to say?

    – Jeff

    • Callie Oettinger
      March 25, 2011 at 9:02 am

      I KNOW! Craziness. And I was buying into all of it. I remember wondering how people hooked in all sorts of high numbers and really losing it, chasing the numbers. And then when you look behind the curtain, the great Oz isn’t so great… He’s just a regular guy, who figured out a way to amp his image. And that’s what a lot of people want, but there’s more value (and it’s more satisfying) when you earn – instead of buy – respect. I thought a lot more of Oz when he tried to help Dorothy and pals, than when he was hiding out, faking it.

  4. marianne
    March 25, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    Gives a spin to the saying “you can count on me”. I loathe being used as a statistic. Thanks for the count down..

    • Callie Oettinger
      March 26, 2011 at 5:57 am

      Thanks, Marianne!

  5. March 26, 2011 at 8:33 am

    Hey, Callie, I agree with Jeff, this “What It Takes” series is terrific. I’m recommending it to Jane Friedman @JaneFriedman at There Are No Rules http://ow.ly/4mUWk . Jane does an amazing job of rounding up some of the best material relevant to writers (and other humans, lol) and gets it out to her huge following, which — not to get into counting! — your fine observations here deserve.

    Your thoughts on real influence, quality, quantity all come at a good time for me. I’m encountering a lot of quantity folks who mean very well, but are far happier talking about marketing than about having something to market. When things are like that, it’s not a long countdown to zero. So thanks.

    And going back to Paul C’s comments and yours above on the Godin operation, I have to say that I’m realizing I have qualms about it, too. That’s not to say that I don’t understand Steve’s high regard for Seth’s work. And I’m glad if their association is good for Steve’s career. But appreciating some “tribal” affiliations of my own, as you do, I worry that what I see these days in the Godin/Dominos/Poke/Amazon thing is less tribal than cultish. Paul, I think that’s what I hear in your “clique” perspective on it, most of us on the outside, lucky clique members on the inside close to the bald guy. It seems to hinge so heavily on Seth himself, and a big machine pumping out those “avoiding failure is counterproductive” aphorisms of his. I can’t help but recall Werner Erhard of EST, whose legacy includes, like Chairman Mao, a Little Book of Aphorisms. Here’s one: “Don’t change the beliefs. Transform the believer.”

    I hope I’m wrong in Seth’s case. But when these motivational types roll around with their stand-it-on-its-head ways of looking at success, the success you’re usually looking at — and paying for — is theirs, not yours. They’re the ones shipping. To you.

    So I like your thoughts on counting better. Because theirs just doesn’t always add up. :-)
    -p.

    • P-dawg
      March 26, 2011 at 8:02 pm

      Paul, I can see your points on Seth. But I think any cultish atmosphere is a creation of his followers (tribal members), not him. He’s just putting it out here, and he’s upfront about it. Like, “I’m giving you this so you’ll buy my other book.” I can handle an honest offer like that way better than the typical crude cons (cf. pharmaceuticals, car dealers, magic vitamins, financial “advisers” and the rest) that saturate our commedia.

      As Seth often has said, anybody can lead the tribe at any time. But you got to come up with something worth following. As Steve has said, awhile back he started this site to promote his books because the publishers have bailed in that critical function. But look what we’ve been getting–an awesome continuing outpouring of inspirations, kicks in the butt, insights and connections we didn’t have before and couldn’t find anywhere else. All told, it’s like another War of Art Plus written just for us–for free. And nobody’s pushing us to do anything but enjoy the offerings.

      When you think and act “outside the box”–like Steve, Seth, Hugh MacLeod and some others–you’re in new creative territory making it up as you go. You’re inventing a new paradigm while helping us see the timeless verities in new light. You make mistakes, you make breakthroughs. I like my chances in that kind of place. Because as you can see when you look around, the present box this world is in is full of crap and hurt.

      Callie, I like your posts. Thanks, and keep banging’ em out here.

      • March 27, 2011 at 4:53 am

        P-dawg,

        Hope I’m not presumptuous to jump in here, but I think it may be my reference to a “cultish” effect you’re referring to as Paul C’s (which might be a transfer of terminology he doesn’t appreciate, lol). And I want to say that I like, follow, and agree with your thought that if there is such a cultish response to Seth Godin’s work, it could very well live in the reaction of his followers rather than in his intention. You’re correct, and this is an important point to make, thanks for it.

        What’s more, I couldn’t agree more with your appraisal of the boon to all of us in Steve’s, Callie’s and Shawn’s superb work here at stevenpressfield.com. Great way to say it, a “War of Art Plus” — I’d add that it’s in rolling deployment. I like seeing the breadth of these discussions. To the degree this big benefit reaches us as an answer to a publicity fall-through Steve and his folks correctly perceived, more power to them, I’m grateful.

        And lastly, I’d simply add that while I know “the box this world is in” can look “full of crap and hurt,” as you put it, I wonder at times if that viewpoint really helps us. At any point in history, a long list of injustices, even atrocities, failures, and stupendous unbeaten struggles can be drawn up and presented to us to prove how “full of crap and hurt” things are. But maybe with advances in medical science (the damned common cold notwithstanding), maybe with growing applications of technology (setbacks and all, some nuclear at the moment), maybe even in too-slow but still-evolving understandings that violence rarely puts things right (all hot-spots sadly recognized), we’re making progress. Certainly the very medium through which we’re talking now, and its astounding reach, is not crap. When we use it well with the civility we share on these pages, it’s not hurtful. And it’s new, man. Not in history have we had this chance to reach each other.

        I see hope there for “the present box this world is in” as I enjoy with you Callie’s great posts.

        Cheers,
        -p.

        • P-dawg
          March 27, 2011 at 10:56 am

          Yo Porter, please pardon me for the name confusion. And thank you for your thoughtful considerations.

          My viewpoint as you see it may not be helpful. I’m just a realist grown weary of the illusions–and the people who manipulate them–that continue to capture humanity’s consciousness. It’s only part of my viewpoint, but essential, I think, to avoid getting bamboozled again by politicians and their global corporate sponsors. (My only explanation is that I’m a Viet Nam vet who came, saw and wept. And that same scenario keeps happening over and over again in new times and places.)

          My evaluation of the “present box” refers only to its prevailing content–fear, greed, disconnection–not the evolving technology providing new ways to express that content. Technology is neutral. Naturally, people use it to serve their various interests, which it seems are pretty much the same as they were aeons ago. Technology only magnifies our personal chatter a few billion times. Now we get to hear the whole world talking to itself–amazing indeed. Some of it’s very helpful. Most of it’s the ageless con game whether personal or global.

          You can now sit at a video monitor in the Pentagon and direct smart bombs to strike villages in Pakistan and anywhere. Same consciousness, new tools. It’s the old dog mind reaching out in new ways. Only difference is you don’t have to smell the blood stench and hear the children screaming.

          Fortunately, thousands of enlightened souls are here too, holding the line, anchoring the flame of mindfulness and compassion. Naturally, we don’t hear of them on the news media. They’re still a minority trying to reach critical mass. Like Steve and Seth who keep reminding us to “Wake up and launch your soul!” We might yet reach a beneficent tipping point before we ruin this planet and everybody on it.

          Carry on, matey. yr hmbl compatriot,
          Printer Bowler

          • March 28, 2011 at 7:06 am

            I do get you, P-dawg, and appreciate your thoughts, your keenly felt purview, AND your service to the nation.

            There is, yes, a sense sometimes of dreadful repetition to the darker impulses. And yet, I’m going to hold out hope that the interests aren’t all “the same as they were aeons ago.”

            I do think the species is getting smarter. And it’s intelligence that will make the difference. So slowly.

            Hang on, and thanks for the fine exchange.
            -p.

        • Callie Oettinger
          March 28, 2011 at 7:54 am

          Porter – I’ve enjoyed reading the back-and-forth comments here. I’ve learned from them myself. I’m glad you’ve continued to post. Good/thoughtful. Thanks, Porter! Callie

      • Callie Oettinger
        March 28, 2011 at 7:47 am

        Thanks, P! :) You nailed it. We’re all adults – if we choose to drink the funky Kool Aid instead of the rejuvenating health drink, that’s our own decision. Different people put things out there and it is our responsibility to decide what to keep and what to toss. I tend to keep the stuff from people I think are being honest. The B.S. stinks too much to keep around.

    • Callie Oettinger
      March 28, 2011 at 7:43 am

      Porter – Thank you for sending info. to Jane Friedman. Darrelyn Saloom did a wonderful guest post there a while back, which shared info. about Steve and his work.

      On cliques/cults/etc – It’s the followers that make a cult, not the leaders.

      On shipping – we’re all trying to ship something to someone. At work I try to help my clients do this, at home I’m trying to sell my kids on an early bed time, and officials are trying to sell their messages to me, so I’ll vote for them – then there’s the supermarket trying to convince me to buy more because something is on sale, or the phone company which comes through with a great deal when I say I want to switch providers – rather than giving me the best deal from day one. We’re all selling and shipping. Nothing wrong with that. It’s the how of it all that’s the issue.

      Transparency: I’m hoping my work is helping Steve sell books. I like Steve. He’s one of the nicest, coolest, creative individuals I know. I could go on and on. He’s the man! I want him to sell books. And I want to help share info. about him and his books, hoping that others will buy his books, too. So yeah, all this work is because I’m hoping to help ship something to someone. But the difference is that I don’t want anyone thinking that’s all they are – a place/person to ship. You have to create, you have to ship, and you have to say thank you and value those to whom you are shipping. We have sellers and buyers. And the relationship between the two is what makes it last. A couple of years ago, I saw the Rolling Stones in a huge open-air concert in Jersey. It was awesome. They were still creating and performing, and I was still buying. I don’t have a problem buying because they’ve given so much creativity in return, and as I stretched out to slap Mick’s hand as he walked by on the catwalk, I was a happy, fulfilled fangirl. I knew what they were selling. I bought it, and they kept providing the best possible in return.

      With the What It Takes series, we’re trying to share what we’ve learned because we’ve benefited from the advice of others. And through Writing Wednesdays, I know I learn so much from Steve each week. And we all do this sharing because it is the right thing to do, not because we hope you’ll buy a book. But, end of day, do I hope books are sold? Yeah, I do. I hope Steve’s books sell. I hope we ship tons. I hope readers are pleased with them in return. I hope they value what Steve is creating and that they know Steve values them, and because he respects them, is striving to provide value in return. Creating, shipping, selling, valuing, thanking, and start again . . .