Fan fiction in this case isn’t about numbers, or so many people suggest. Social media is. But social media shouldn’t be about numbers. Social media should be about having quality conversations where there is some return that you can measure from that, so numbers shouldn’t matter that much. And the fan fiction community might say it isn’t about numbers but lots of people obsess about the number of readers they have and how they can improve those numbers…
… and the quest in both social media and the fan fiction community is often characterized by that chase for numbers. The goal is to increase your metrics. More readers. More followers. For fan fiction, that’s measured in hits to your stories. In social media, that is sometimes measured in the number of followers on Twitter. In both cases, the conventional wisdom is that if you provide high value content, quality content, people will discover your work and read more of it. You’ll eventually get more followers on Twitter, become a Big Name Fan or even possibly leverage a book deal drawing on your fan base from your high quality fan fiction. CONTENT! CONTENT! CONTENT! This post on problogger Darren Rowse is just one of literally dozens that suggests that in social media. And in fan fiction communities, just go to almost any community and you’ll see people try to reaffirm that idea. Quality content is king! If you have high value, quality content, people will gravitate towards you! Content! Content! Content is king!
Except it is not. If you’re chasing numbers, quality matters very little. What actually matters is figuring out how to game the system in a way that is not black hat and that gets results. This is true both with fan fiction and with social media.
If you want readers for your fan fiction, don’t write Savage Garden hetfic or Wheel of Fortune Pat/Vanna White fan fiction. There isn’t an audience there. (If you do it right, there might be an audience for it that could be leveraged if you can get it to go viral. But there probably is not a large established audience for that.) You write something more popular like say… Twilight, Naruto, High School Musical. You then write popular ships. You feedback popular writers to get great name recognition and feedback lesser known authors to get niche attention. You create a LiveJournal account, a twitter account and possibly a mailing list dedicated to your work. You follow all the cool kids, join the biggest communities and post your stories there. You interact with your readers, participate heavily in meta-discussions, and generally become known for your activity as much if not more so than your fiction. All of that makes your content pretty secondary to what you’re doing story quality-wise. You find other ways to game the system to get readers. You write long serialized stories, which tend to draw more readers and help maintain an audience over an extended period of time. You make sure the story features popular pairings. You link to it in your sig everywhere. You submit it to sites like Fan History and FanworksFinder. You submit your personal fansite to sites like DMOZ, IMDB and FanPop. You find out what days to post to get more traffic. The content is secondary to what you do in order to get readers.
Social media is pretty much the same way, only with Twitter? It pretty takes much less work than fan fiction in order to get your numbers up. You want to get a lot of followers to the tune of 2,000+ so people will take you seriously as some one who knows what they are doing in social media? First, you find some one who is following a lot of people in a short period of time and then follow everyone who follows them. (Ideal ratio? They are following 4+ for every 1 following them.) Go to Twitterholic and following anyone with 1,000+ followers/following where there is an imbalance with more people the person is following them than people following them because those people are likely trying to inflate their follow count too and are likely to follow back. As you’re doing this, people will start to follow you who are meet those criteria. Follow them and followers who look like auto follows. Make sure you have some content on your account that isn’t obvious spam and update regularly so you don’t totally set off alarm bells. Try for some minimal interaction. You can easily get 2,000 followers a month after starting that. In ramping up those numbers, quality content matters little because the system is built in with a huge number of people also trying to game the system to get followers. Yeah, you can try to produce quality content on Twitter but if your goal is numbers, it isn’t the best and fasted way to improve your metrics at all. Quality content is again secondary to working the system.
The ideal of quality content leading to followers and readers is a myth. Yes, it can’t hurt… but that would lead to the conclusion that those who have the best talent and produce the highest quality results always come out on top but a quick look at the music, movie, television, acting and book publishing industries would tend to disprove that. Plenty of sub-par product succeeds where quality languishes in obscurity, and promotion tactics (or lack thereof) can often be the reason why. I think a lot of people putting forth this myth assume their content is quality, or they are part of a system that doesn’t want to be honest with how people get ahead with some of these metrics that people value: Follow counts and number of times your story was read.