a social media experiment: at the outset

I have committed to posting a short poem every day on Instagram to build an audience for my writings and my books. These weekly updates will capture the progress I make and the challenges I face along the way.

a social media experiment: at the outset
Photo by Trust "Tru" Katsande on Unsplash

Sometime in November, I found out that I'd turn 15,000 days old on 15 December 2021.

I don't exactly remember how I found that out. I was likely looking up how many days I've spent on earth and there was a website that showed when I had crossed or would cross certain milestones, such as 1,000 days, 2,000 days, 10,000 days, 15,000 days, and so on.

15,000 is an interesting number. Multiple of 5 and 10. It has a wholeness to it that, say, 16,000 doesn't appear to have even though it too is a multiple of 5 and 10.

Evidently, I had turned 10,000 days old more than a decade ago. And if I were to skip count by 5,000, the next milestone of 20,000 days is more than a decade away.

So anyway, I felt a certain thrill and wonder looking at the upcoming number 15,000, and conjured up a lot of reasons in my head as to why it is meaningful and special, and how I could possibly do something with it, though there is definitely not a single other person in this world who has paid as much attention as I have to my turning 15,000 days old.

In the few weeks between my 41st birthday and this milestone day, I was seized with the idea of embarking on a content marketing strategy.

I must backtrack a bit here to explain how I arrived at this point. For most of October and November, KrA and I were working on setting up a newsletter/mailing list for me. I'm an independent author, and owning a mailing list helps me stay connected with people who like to read my books without being at the mercy of social media platforms and their vagaries when it comes to sharing my works with old and new readers alike.

As with everything else in this business, I feel like I am already years late to this game, but this is where I am right now. Moaning about how I could have done all of this years ago is nothing but a waste of time and effort. Regret serves no function if it paralyzes me and does not motivate me to move forward in the direction I wish I had travelled ages ago.

So anyway, once we had narrowed down our choice of newsletter provider – MailerLite, I started to read up on the basics of what constitutes a good newsletter and how I should look to set mine up.

One of our key criteria in choosing a newsletter service was its compatibility with Ghost, the awesome platform on which this website is built and hosted.

Now, Ghost offers its own newsletter service, which I have only begun to use to send out #talesfordreamers to subscribers. I still haven't announced the availability of this newsletter service to the world at large, as I'm still testing, debating whether to commit to sending weekly emails as each Tale for Dreamer gets published on the site, or whether I should stick to a monthly email with updates on the writing and books front, and links to all other new content, including the Friday tales, posted on the site in the interim.

Ghost has great resources on how to build an audience. There were several excellent articles that laid out a strategy to build an audience from zero. 'Content strategy for creators: How to grow an audience' is the one that spoke to me, especially given where I stand now, at the precipice of creating something entirely new, from scratch. This was something I felt I could implement.

In fact, this is something I have been doing in a haphazard way for years now with #talesfordreamers, only I've been giving up too soon each time, allowing self-doubt to creep in and deflate my morale and abandon the project altogether, only to come back to it several months later.

(This makes me think if I'm what you'd call a chronic starter – someone who loves to start new things, but has trouble finishing them or sticking with them for long enough to see any tangible results – and this is something I want to address this time because I don't think there is any finish line as far as content marketing is concerned. Right now, my goal is to acquire 100 true fans of my work. Once I cross that milestone, I'm sure I'll up my goal to 1000 true fans and so on.)

Coming back from that digression, I penned a short poem for myself to mark my (then) upcoming 15,000th day of existence on earth. Poetry is my first love, and I keep coming back to it no matter how many times I let myself believe that no one reads poems anymore, especially the type that I write.

It's funny how I've been telling this to myself for the past two decades. In my twenties, I wrote angsty words fuelled by heartbreak and the desire to find my way in life. In my thirties, I wrote about magic, nostalgia, that heartfelt longing and searching for something bigger than myself and my little life, something meaningful, something that would help me feel good about me taking up breath and space and light in this world.

Now, in my very early forties, I have written poems on motherhood, and my current works revolve around the mystical elements of life – spirituality, the God within, divinity, self-love, surrender, trust in the Universe, conscious parenting, conscious living, compassion towards myself and my family, narrowing down my focus to what really matters to me. If you want to call all of this 'New Age woo-woo', that's fine with me too. Hey, maybe that's the hashtag I ought to be using to find my readers.

While I've seen plenty of motivational messages on social media, short, pithy ones that never fail to lift the spirits, I felt there was room for me too to share my poems on mysticism and deep contemplation, with beautiful imagery and similes and metaphors, drawing links between the human spirit and nature, our souls and the indescribable essence life is made of.

And so was born my plan of posting a short poem to Instagram every day, starting on 15 December 2021.

At the outset itself, I knew I'd be tempted to abandon the project at some point. I had assumed I'd run into this predicament after about five or six weeks of posting. What I wasn't prepared for was for me to start questioning the merit of this project on the third day of posting itself!

I'm getting ahead of myself here, but suffice to say that from my earlier efforts at starting something new with much gusto only to give up within a few weeks or months owing to a lack of audience (which means a lack of recognition and validation), this time around I wisely decided I'd stick to this for at least six months. Until 30 June 2022.

I noted down the pros of the project.

  1. I love writing poetry, especially on mysticism.
  2. #Instapoets is a real thing, so who knows maybe one of my little poems could be the one to go viral one day and attract a huge audience for my other works - fantasy novels and short stories. And even if my posts don't go viral, at the end of those six months, I'd have nearly 200 poems that I could compile into a book and put up for sale.
  3. Writing those poems doesn't take me long. Usually an idea comes to me when I'm in the midst of some life-sustaining activity like doing the dishes or staring out the window or running an errand. Which means I'm usually not in a position to write it down right away. This gives the idea the opportunity to percolate in my head, and when I eventually get to the laptop or my phone, the verses and imagery are almost fully formed and I love what emerges.
  4. Once I have written down these verses and transformed them into an Instagram-ready image, and kept my hashtags ready in a note, it would take me less than a minute a day to actually post it on Instagram.
  5. This strategy is in keeping with the tactic for 'Stage 1: Discoverability' mentioned in the article: make short, free content and share that work on platforms where people already spend time. So short, free #Instapoetry sounded like an apt way to share my work with an audience who might then go on to be interested in longer works such as #talesfordreamers and eventually my books. Also, while posting on Instagram, I'm able to share these posts directly to my FaceBook page too. That's two platforms in a single click.
  6. In the days leading up to 15 December 2021, I even wrote several pieces and now I have a decent inventory to which I keep adding, which means I'm not under daily pressure to churn out something worthwhile for the day.

At the outset, it appeared as if there were literally no downsides to embarking on this venture.

The only con I could think of was my historical tendency to give in to self-doubt and abandon the project without giving it a chance. So I told myself before the beginning that I'd stick to this for at least six months, and so I set for myself a deadline of 30 June 2022. This deadline is not for stopping the project, but to evalaute at that point if my daily posts were indeed attracting the right audience for my works.

But reality is a different beast altogether.

What I did not account for was the fact that in these times, while there are countless opportunities for discoverability, given sufficient time and consistent work, there is also infinite room to be dissuaded, myriads of factors that could easily plant a whole jungle of doubt and worthlessness in my head and push me away from this pursuit in the blink of an eye if I allow them to.
That phrase "if I allow them to" sounds very empowering, as if I have a choice each time whether to give up or stay the course. Sure, the choice rests with me and only me.
But what I've seen in this past one week is that when I have to make the same choice of staying the course every single day, especially considering that I have chosen otherwise in the past, it takes immense effort and courage. It takes a heck of a lot of self-talk and self-encouragement.
Until such choice becomes so second nature that I don't even have to make it consciously – for instance, I don't wake up every morning and wonder whether I'd like to brush or not – this battle with self-doubt and self-criticism actually takes up a lot of headspace, heartspace, and physical, mental and emotional energy, and this is something I'm only just beginning to realize I need to account for on this journey.

When I read success stories shared by people who have navigated this journey well, there is only a passing mention of the day-to-day struggles involved. It is so easy to romanticize the struggle when it is viewed with hindsight and with some amount of success or growth achieved along the way.

The focus is more on the results achieved over time, and the eye tends to fixate on the hundreds or thousands of followers attained at the end of a certain period and not at all linger on the number of days the creator likely spent in relative obscurity.

Even if that duration were several months or years, to read about something that took place over that long period of time is very different than to actually spend that amount of time in that experience and all that it entails.

Besides, it is like reading a fiction story. You know the person has achieved success and emerged at the other end with a tale of victory to share, and that makes the struggles mentioned all the more poignant and meaningful.

What I find is that on a daily basis, none of this struggle and internal debate feels noble. Every day I wake up wondering if I am attempting something insane or whether I should just give it up altogether.

(Remember I haven't even kept at it for an entire week at this stage.)

My success is not guaranteed. At the end of six months, there's every likelihood I'd find myself with only a minimal increase in followers, and not a single one of them interested in my mailing list or my books.

All the old doubts come to attack me like angry hornets whose nest I have accidentally disturbed, and now I'm drowned in a relentless deluge of them.

So I want to write about it all as it happens. The good and the bad. The highs and the lows. So that when I talk about it again, six months down the line, I'll not be painting an overtly rosy picture of what transpired nor would I be inclined to write it off as something doomed.

I tend to process situations and my own feelings by putting it all down in writing. So I plan to post here once a week to capture my progress and also the challenges I face, whether external or internal.

Besides, I find such delight in composing those poems that I'm determined to take a more objective view of how they are received by the wider world outside, and not let the gap between my expectations and reality on that front take away from me what truly matters at the end of the day: the simple joy of creation.

Image Attribution: Photo by Trust "Tru" Katsande on Unsplash