How To Keep Blogging From Being a Popularity Contest

Ever felt like someone was befriending you for the sole purpose of benefitting themselves? Or ever felt like someone was visiting your blog only to get you to come back over to theirs and follow them?

As writers working on building platforms, how can we broaden our online presence without coming across as self-serving? On the one hand, we need to befriend others if we hope to build an online presence, but on the other, we don’t want them to perceive us “using” them.

Tessa Hall recently asked me this question: “I don't want to seem as if I'm trying to be friendly with everyone only so I can have a rise in followers on my blog. How do you have such a strong online following, but still remain humble through the process?”

I don’t think too many of us would argue that having an online presence is critical in today’s over-saturated book market. It’s definitely helped me in countless ways. In fact, it quite possibly could have helped my book to the CBA Best Seller List. Of course there were many other factors involved in getting onto the List. But certainly having an established online presence gave my debut book a boost.

Yes, as writers we need to be using social media. But how can we go about expanding our online presence without making blogging (or twitter/facebook) into popularity contests?

Focus on learning how to write.

I don’t feel like I can write a post like this without emphasizing the importance of growing as a writer. If we spend more time on social media than on writing, then we need to pull back from blogging, twittering, or whatever, and we need to re-prioritize. Writing should always get the bulk of our best time, and social media should get the leftover. As I’ve said many times, a solid platform won’t do us any good if we don’t have a stellar book to go with it.

Start developing online friendships early.

Although I believe a “young” writer should spend the majority of time on writing, I also think that when a writer starts social media efforts early, they can do so without the pressure to “market” that comes later. The beginning friendships often lay the foundation for later increased efforts.

Reach out the hand of genuine friendliness.

For the most part, I approach online friendships the same way I do real life friends. I have an open heart to building new friendships. My circle is never closed. Yes, I do have some friends I’m naturally closer to than others. And no, I don’t have as much time as I’d ideally like to devote to putting into all of the friendships I’ve made online and real life. But nevertheless, we can socialize in a truly friendly way with whoever comes across our paths.

Work at being a good friend.

Think about all of the things we like in our friends. We like it when friends take an active interest in our lives and listen to us, instead of just talking about themselves. We appreciate when they encourage us and share in both our joys and sorrows. Sometimes we need a helping hand, word of advice, or even a kick in the pants. Whatever qualities we want in our friends—those are the qualities we need to exhibit. In other words, when we work at being a good friend, we’ll make good friends.

Remember it’s about real people and not numbers.

I don’t make big deal about my numbers of followers. Sure, I like to see my following increase. To some degree, increasing numbers help us see that we’re on track with our effectiveness. But I never want to forget that behind each tiny profile picture is a real person, with real feelings and needs. The numbers really won’t mean much if we’re not building relationships.

Extend grace to one another.

As writers, we’re all in this together. We’re all working at developing our platforms. So, I completely understand when other writers follow or “friend” me for the purpose of developing an online presence. It’s the nature of the business. I also understand when others get too busy to stop by. Or have to pull back for a while. It’s happened to me, and I realize there are just times when we can’t keep up with social media. Hopefully, during those times, we can still give each other the benefit of the doubt and know that we’re still friends, even if we can’t visit each other’s blogs as regularly anymore.

~My Summary: Relate with real people in real ways. That’s what social media is all about.

What about you? Have you ever felt like blogging was a popularity contest—the more blogs you visit and follow, the more you’ll get back? What do you do to expand your online presence without making people feel used?


  1. Great stuff Jody! It most definitely is all about real people. Realizing that the people we're communiating with via our computers have faces and hearts and feelings and hopes and dreams and fears - just like me. That helps a lot.

  2. Good morning, sunshine! Can't believe I'm first!

    I really appreciate your post today, as it's something I was talking about to a friend yesterday. Since I've pulled back on blogging and visiting blogs, I have noticed a HUGE decrease in visits to my own blog. Not a big deal, since I'm not really trying to build my platform yet, but it's been interesting, nonetheless.

    Look at you with almost 1000 followers! ;)

  3. What a great post. No, I've never felt like it as a popularity contest. And the only way I go about expanding my online presence is to care about and support others. And I DO genuinely care. I'm not looking for the 'I scratch your back and you scratch mine' attitude.

    I really value the friendships I've made online. And because I started really early, before I ever published anything, I think it helped make those friendships more solid, because I clearly wasn't hanging around to 'gain' anything except more 'knowledge'.

    I guess if you start blogging 'after' you publish, it might seem like you're just trying to make sales. But I guess, in that case, you have to keep in mind, not to constantly plug yourself and your book. You have to interact with everyone as if you're not out to gain anything other than a good friendship. If bloggers see you as a person who they would love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with, then they will automatically want to support you. Because they will grow to like you and want to know more about you.

    That's my two cents anyway :o)

  4. Thanks Jody. Yes, I've felt this way quite often and I try not to look at the numbers any more and if I don't know someone or don't develop at least a minimal relationship with them and they want to friend me, then I don't. I prefer as real as relationships as I can get as those are the lasting ones.

  5. Good morning, everyone! Enjoying hearing all of your thoughts this early morning!

    Sherrinda, I think there are definitely times when we have to pull back from blogging and visiting other blogs. I know I haven't had the chance to visit other blogs as much as I'd like to this fall. In fact, I think many regular bloggers have had a lot on their plates this fall. So while the decrease in visits to your blog may have to do with your decreased interaction in cyberland, it also has to do with the fact that a lot of bloggers have pulled back.

  6. I've been blogging for a few years. I started it before moving to England as a way to keep our family/friends updated on our adventures.
    I have noticed the popularity contest theme. It makes me think of "fake friendships".
    I follow others to learn from them and about them. I follow blogs that are of interest to me, because I feel there is a common ground that can serve as a foundation for a friendship to be built upon.
    In the end blogging is a way to be a blessing to someone, you may not see the harvest or even know about it...but at least you planted the seed. Perhaps a seed you don't realize you even planted. :-)

  7. This is such a tough balance for all of us, Jody. Like Sherrinda mentioned, I've noticed my blog visits are less when I'm not visiting others. Just goes to show it's a 2-way relationship. I appreciate your comment about focusing on writing first, social networking second.

  8. Great thoughts today, Jody.

    I've considered my goals in blogging a lot this fall. I've thought about what keeps me visiting other blogs that I frequent. I've come up with two main reasons I blog/read blogs.

    One, there are a few bloggers whose blogs I hardly ever miss. Why? Content. I learn or enjoy something from their posts every single time. (I don't necessarily comment on every one of these blogs, but I try to from time to time - everyone likes to know when they've written something that moved another.)

    Secondly, the main reason I love blogging is to socialize with other writers, so there are also blogs (whose content I also like) that I visit and comment on because I like the online conversations about writing (or whatever subject they're writing about) with friends I've made.

    I strive to use the same guidelines when I consider my own blog. I try to produce good content (although I sometimes miss), and I hope to create something to think about and discuss with those who stop by.

  9. Such a great post, Jody! I've always worried about both sides of this and really tried to look at my own goals in blogging and using social media. I'm not always as good at it as I would like, but I really want to socialize with my fellow writers and this is such a great way to meet a very diverse group of people.

    Your points really struck me as one of the best recaps of how to develop an authentic online presence. I think people really can tell if you're just using them for their own purposes.

    Thanks for posting this!

  10. You know what I struggle with, not so much the popularity thing (gave up on that concept years ago), but more I worry I'll spread myself too thin. And sometimes I do. I have to fight to accept this. I establish a cool connection w/ someone and want to offer more of my time, but sometimes expectations can be tricky things to work with.

    Good thoughts (as always ;)
    ~ Wendy

  11. Great post, Jody! I sometimes struggle with keeping a balance between spending time online and writing. The key, for me, is not worrying if I don't have the time to comment on other blogs.

    I have made so many online friends over the past few years I don't know what I'd do without the interaction from my blog.

  12. Thanks for reminding me to focus on my writing. I do get caught up in the black hole that *can be* social media. Sometimes I need to be reminded that the hour after dinner I spend reading blogs can be better used writing. Thanks!

  13. When I started blogging a year ago, I was guilty of visiting other blogs for the sole purpose of luring them back to my own. I'm not naturally an outgoing person, and I found it awkward to comment. When I learned to comment with true feelings, I began to develop authentic online friendships. And in the process I got more visits to my blog.

    Thanks for this post. You're so right.

  14. Fabulous post!

    When I began blogging in February around the time my book deal was announced, I didn't give much thought to that little "followers" widget on the side. When it started climbing to 100, 200, 500, etc. it felt nice, but I still didn't think that much of it. Then I got a message from someone who told me she was "unfollowing" my blog because I didn't follow hers back. Wait, what?

    I get that as a blogger, you want to do everything you can to support the people who support you. At the same time, I'm not comfortable with the notion of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours, and if you don't do exactly what I want you to, I'll scratch your eyes out." I do what I can when I can, but it's hard to know where that line is between obligation and friendship (even just a casual online friendship).

    Thanks for this post!


  15. What a great post. I have enjoyed some great blogging friendships. I also know that there is a certain amount of self serving blogging done by myself and those that follow me. I dont mind that at all because I know what is expected of us if we are to be published. I dont mind people visiting my blog for the sole purpose of getting noticed - I am happy to return the favor to help promote them. It's the game and the publishers and our public demand it. I think most bloggers are truly willing to help each other in the platform building process.

  16. Stopping by to say hi. I really appreciate your posts, Jody. They're so thoughtful and helpful. This has been a really busy season where it's been hard to nurture online friendships. I'm hoping winter will be a good time for that!

  17. super great post. I DO feel this way at times. And it's hard b/c I also feel I should follow back when someone follows me... but then I like to try and actually keep up w/the blogs I'm following. Hello! Time crunch much??? :D

    Thanks for pointing out the pitfalls of "networking"~ <3

  18. Jody, you're a wonderful example of blogging for the right reasons. You give your visitors an honest look at the life of a published author while offering valuable information we can use in our own lives. Your number of devoted followers and the success of your debut novel are testimonies to your talent and to the quality person you are.

  19. Great post. I feel this way as well. It's a balancing act. I looked back at my followers the other day and wanted to see how many are still coming to my blog. I think it's worthwhile to try to remember something about the people who are commenting.

  20. Fall is the busiest season for me every year, so yeah, if blogging is going to take a hit, it's going to be in fall. However, I've never been a consistent blogger, so fall is not an excuse!

    I have difficulties with online friendships because I am the kind of person who likes relationships to be personal, and the internet automatically sets up a barrier between people. And there is an etiquette that shouldn't be breached, as well. For example, just because I visit Jody's blog doesn't mean I should look up her # and call her on the phone. E-mail is a little less personal, but I only e-mail other bloggers when the situation calls for it. A whole new etiquette is required, since people are so close on the internet, yet far, far away from each other.

    All that said, I've made a few very good friends online, people whom I would feel comfortable meeting in person and whom I interact with regularly via e-mail.

  21. Jodi-
    Great post! But your posts as always good, helpful content, which is why people come back and back again. I'm new to blogging and learning a lot from you and other experts. Yes, I'm calling you an expert! :) Nina

  22. Great thoughts today, everyone!! Am really enjoying your comments.

    And Nina, you're way too nice! :-) I'm definitely not an expert! But I'm glad that I can share a little bit of what I've learned along the way! :-)

  23. Great post, Jodi--and terrific comments, too! I especially liked Tawna's "scratch your eyes out" example! LOL.

    I blogged from 2005-2007 and made some really wonderful online friends during that time, but then life became overwhelming when I added teaching to the mix (on top of full-time freelancing) and I found I didn't even have time to work on my novel, so I stopped blogging about it. I've been excited to find many of my "old" livejournal friends on Twitter.

    It's very difficult to balance blogging and reading other blogs with everything else. I don't feel I can do it right now, so I'm still not blogging.

  24. Great, thoughtful post. I've heard lots of times that in order to have visitors, you must visit. I try to do that, but try not to leave just 'Nice post' comments - I only comment if I really have something to say about the post. I guess without really thinking about it, I had an idea similar to yours - you don't want to sound artificial.

    'Following' seems like it can get to be a complicated game. :) I just follow the blogs I actually read consistently. My blog is fairly new, and I must confess that from time to time I find myself thinking "Is anybody actually reading this?" when no comments come in. I guess I've just got to learn patience, and keep writing. :)

  25. Yes, genuine friendships are so important and so worth the effort to obtain! Since I've started blogging a few years ago I feel like I've met some great friends and you are one of them!

  26. Great blog as always and a resounding AMEN!

    This is one of the reasons I highly recommend writers begin building a platform early, especially in the unpubbed years.

    As writers there is so little of what we can control. We can't control what topics are hot or passe, or if people are reading more or less or if e-books will take over...but we can control the quality of the writing and building a solid platform.

    I base all of my social media habits off the Servant's Heart. My attitude? Don't worry about you. Focus on others. Be the friend you want others to be for you. People will surprise you. Actively look for ways to support and encourage others...and expect nothing in return.

    Zig Ziglar has a quote I love. "You can only get what you want by helping enough other people get what they want."

    Great blog and thanks!

    Kristen Lamb

  27. I have to say I don’t. I don’t feel like it’s a popularity contest. I often forget to even look at my followers gadget. If someone leaves a thoughtful comment, I automatically visit them and try to comment back. I typically read though several of their posts and if I like them I follow – whether they follow me or not.

  28. Thanks for sharing this!

    Social media involves much, so thanks for the reminder to spend more time on writing than building an online presence. I think being genuinely friendly and focusing on the fact that it's about real people and not numbers is a great way to avoid the whole "popularity contest".

    Thanks again for this advice. Your posts are always so informative and helpful.

    Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!


  29. nice blog... have a view of my blog when free.. .. do leave me some comment / guide if can.. if interested can follow my blog...

  30. When my children were young I remember telling them, "To have friends you must be one." I love poking around online until I find bloggers and tweeps who I feel comfortable with, or whose blogging philosophies appeal to me, and I return to visit them frequently whether or not they return the visits. On the flip side, I hope I'm welcoming on my site and I love the exchanges with visitors, but I deliberately don't include a site counter or 'follow' widget because I don't like to show off numbers. The one-on-one emphasis seems more personal, more friendly, and I hope is more appealing to my online friends than being part of a statistic.

  31. Good reminder! And while I like followers (I'm celebrating 50 followers at my blog today with a critique giveaway!) I see them as mutual friends whom I'm able to visit their blogs and learn from.

    I don't even mind when someone visits me in order to have me visit them, really. It's all about helping others; it's fun boosting someone else's follower count!

  32. Amen and Amen!! This was great! I love getting to know folks through their blogs and wish I had time to comment on every single one (and read every single one). It is extending a hand of genuine friendship ... and virtual coffee - don't forget the coffee

  33. I do feel that blogging can be a popularity contest. A large number of followers can be a good thing, or it can be misleading. I feel like you do, that it's more important to be genuine then it is to inflate my numbers!

  34. I think one of the early lessons I learned about blogging, or rather, making your presence known was . . . commenting respectfully. A good portion of my followers came to my blog after seeing my comments on the blogs I follow on a regular basis.

    As for popularity contests . . .well, I wasn't a fan of them in high school, and I'm not know, ahem, a few years later.

    Yeah, it's great getting new followers, but, while I check out every followers blog, I don't necessarily follow said blog because, well, only so much time in a day.

    I also have to admit that, of all my followers, there are only a handful that I consider friends, and those friendships were formed through the comments on their blogs in the first place.

  35. my blog is just 3 months old but I follow pple for diff reasons and i try to follow all my followers back because when i was just starting out blogging and having no followers was not the best feeling in the world.
    There are some pple who have never visited my blog in the 3 months I have been commenting on theirs but i dont mind bcos I learn a lot from them.

  36. Reading your post and these comments has been so helpful to me, because I've been a bit mystified by the "numbers" game (w/twitter, facebook, and blogging) as well as the etiquette all along.

    The only advantage social media has for me right now is for learning about the publishing industry and developing genuine friendships. Being popular sounds like a burden! LOL!

    So I don't expect anyone to follow me or return visits. I sincerely appreciate that there are many writers/agents/editors who share so extensively and generously of their knowledge and experience for free.

    Truly, it is a blessing.

  37. Reading and following blogs is no guarantee for one's own blog readership, or I'd have tons of followers!

    I read the blogs that I do because they interest me. I comment because sometimes I just can't help jumping into the discussion (as you can see).

    I annually review my blog readership and pare it down by half, only to have it expand to a greater number than I started with by year's end. Happens EVERY year. It's kind of like dieting. Always gain back more.

    I agree that blog friendships come out of genuineness and sharing, and on occasion, being willing to express an unpopular or uncomfortable viewpoint in a respectful manner. We self-edit so much, even more so online I'm starting to believe. Some, like myself, appreciate and are attracted to candor.

    So I blog because I enjoy it, and I hope others find value in it. Occasionally I get a comment or an email that suggests at least a few people do. ;)

  38. And this is exactly why we all love you so much, Jody! You walk the walk with us. You are such a great role model for things like this, because you really do "practice what you preach". Wonderful advice! :-)

  39. Terrific post as usual. I blogged about annoying Twitter behavior today and my annoyance was mostly regarding the things you mentioned. It's so important to be real and genuine. Social networking is SOCIAL. It's amazing how many people forget that part.

  40. I liked this particular post so much I retweeted it. It's important to be a real online friend rather than a number hunter. The real relationship is far more rewarding anyway!

  41. Always enjoy your posts, Jody! Sometimes I do feel the pressure of the 'popularity contest.' But I've thoroughly enjoyed meeting wonderful writers and kindred spirits as a result of blogging. Just today I had the incredible opportunity to meet a blogging friend all the way from England! What a blessing! Writing IS definitely most important, but getting to experience true friendship as a result of blogging is the icing on the cake!! Have a great week & God bless!

  42. I frequently get comments where visitors will ask me to follow them. Often, they haven't followed me, which is even more perplexing.

    I read every single blog I follow. I couldn't possibly follow everyone.

    But I do also stop following blogs where the writer never acknowledges me. It doesn't have to be all the time and they don't have to read mine, but if they can't even acknowledge that I exist and visit then I'll move onto someone else.

  43. Great post, as always! To me, social media is all about cultivating relationships and helping each other. I learn so much from other blogs, and I hope my blog can be a helpful tool as well. Or even just a place to stop by, knowing we're all in this together.

  44. I adore this post. :)
    The reason I blog is because I enjoy the relationships, the sharing, the fellowship. I enjoy reading blog posts by friends and fellow writers/industry pros/book lovers. And I've definitely made some real friends through blogging, many of whom I've gone on to meet in person, talked to on the phone, critiqued for, sent/received cards and gifts, etc.
    There is some snobbery and cliquishness in the blogosphere and on Twitter, sadly. But that is am unfortunate part of every facet of life.
    I try my best to treat others with kindness and respect, and I try my best to get around to as many wonderful blogs as I have time for...but, as you mentioned, finding a healthy balance between writing and networking is vital. (and, boy is that difficult!).
    Again, thanks for a terrific post.

  45. I love this post a lot, Jody. I liked what you said that behind each profile picture is a real person. Thats so true. Its not just about numbers, but about the genuine friendships we make.

  46. Another good sense post! Without real connections, networking just doesn't work.

  47. This was such a great post Jody. I think it's a constant challenge to be a friend online. I think you are so right about getting started early. I love the friends I met right at the beginning of blogging. We've had over a year to get to know each other and to care about what is going on in each other's lives. That's the key, I think.

    Thanks so much for your comment the other day. You are a sweetheart.

  48. Your thoughts here are good ones and I agree. Friendliness and courtesy are important.

    I tend to be more of an "influencer" as an unpublished writer, which is fine. I appreciate a simple "thank you" from the author for my review or efforts on her (or his) behalf. It's a nice gesture.

    There is one writer I've written reviews for and influenced for, who usually tweets and blogs about every review EXCEPT MINE. I have since ceased following this writer on her blog, and may not even read her future writings, because courtesy is not shown.

  49. As soon as what I'm doing starts to feel like a popularity contest, I back off. I hate that feeling and refuse to go back to middle school. I don't put pressure on myself to have 1K followers. I put my writing first and have fun with my writing friends online.

  50. Hi Anonymous,

    Wow. I'm truly sorry if that was me. I am. And not because I want to keep from losing a reader (although I would be sad). But I what bothers me more is knowing I hurt someone's feelings. It wasn't intentional in the least.

    I'm incredibly grateful for each and every single person who reviewed my book, hosted me for an interview, and helped promote it through Amazon reviews or elsewhere. And although I may not have the chance to personally thank each influencer, I've tried to express my thanks in various ways.

    As far as being able to tweet or provide links to all the reviews and interviews, I tried to do the best I could. For a while, during the days following my book's release, I was incredibly busy with all of the work and just didn't have the time to keep up with everything.

    But I also wanted to be careful about overwhelming my followers with tweets and facebook messages regarding my book. If I had tweeted all of the many interviews and reviews, I would have turned my social media sites into billboards for my book--which is truly not what I want them to become.

    I hope this might give you an inside glimpse into perhaps why an author may "miss the boat" in showing gratefulness. And again, if it was me, I'm really sorry! Because I am VERY grateful for ALL of the support from everyone! :-)

  51. This is such a great post with such a wonderful, important message for those of us blogging and reading.

  52. Oh yes, what to do about those reviews? Jody - I'm with you. I get kind of icked out when writers put up dozens of "Another great review for my book!" posts. For my first novel, I tried to post as many reviews as I could out of courtesy to the reviewers, but felt myself straying into "ick-land." For the second book, I posted the biggies - Booklist, RT Book Reviews - and a few others. And with those, I try to make it more about the reviewer's blog than my book ("check out her super-cute blog while you're there!") However, I make a point to leave a comment for every review I find (and some don't pop up in Google alerts for days to weeks!)We authors truly do appreciate what our influencers and reviewers do. Word of mouth is everything in the book world, and we know the influencers and reviewers ARE that word of mouth.

  53. Good post! I don't know how to do it, I don't think. I mean, I'd like to visit everyone but when I'm pressed for time, it's those who've visited me that I visit first. I hope it never becomes a popularity contest. I was never the popular type. LOL

  54. I try to find blogs I really like and follow them. There are so many great ones is the problem for me.... :O)

  55. I absolutly agree. When I started online networking I thought it was to promote my book. I soon discovered myself more interested in discussing topics of interest with others, helping others by sharing what I think might be helpful and more recently promoting others. I love it when I find another author who's work I like. I've even started giving out awards.

    With this intention I've found it very satisfying. Good site hit stats are nice though and I am hanging out to get 100 followers on Facebook for Lethal Inheritance, but it's not the main point anymore.

    I do mention my work when I first visit a new blog, but I figure people would like to know. I always like to know about other people's work. I've found some great books that way.

    So...I know you'll be far too busy, but if you every have a moment and are interested, I have ch 1 of my YA fantasy on my blog. I'd love to know what you think.

  56. Hi Jody -

    I took a four-day break from the computer over the Thanksgiving weekend. I missed everyone, the inspiration, the motivating posts, but it refreshed me.

    Unlike most writers, I'm not an introvert. I have to restrain myself from spending all my time blogging.

    Susan :)

  57. I wholeheartedly agree with your points. If you are genuine and blog/comment with a purpose, then the relationships will follow. I would rather have 5 followers that are truly interested in me than 1,000 that are only interested in seeing their name in the sidebar or the comment section. Good stuff, Jody!

  58. I've gained so many lovely friendships via blogging and FB. Even if I never publish a book, I am enriched by the support and kindness.

    And I believe my writing has improved by reading well-written blog posts! Now ain't that sumthin?

  59. Thanks for this post, and for all of your posts on blogging. I have a writing blog that I wrote on for a while while I was in an MFA program, but then took some time off to figure where I want it to go. Now I'm in the process of starting my blow anew and making it more professional. Your tips have been extremely helpful!

  60. I'm glad I found my way to this blog post. Clear advice in a genuine voice. Blogging is great - and fun - but it claws in and hoards time.

  61. Thank you for consistent, clear, and thoughtful messages. I have been a silent but faithful reader for a year now, and I almost always walk away from one of your posts with something to think about.

    I wrote a recent post in reflection on this one and another blog with an opposing worldview:

    Keep up the good work - I'm loving it!


© All the articles in this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without prior written consent from the author. You may quote without permission if you give proper credit and links. Thank you!