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A few days ago, I visited the blog by my new friend, a San Diego photographer, Russel Ray (no relation).

I was intrigued by one of his posts, entitled: “Is there a WordPress store where one can buy likes and comments?” It sounded kinda funny, yet kinda disturbing. To make a long story short, Russel stumbled upon more than one blog, which were started as recently as one or two months ago and had very few and very lack-luster posts, yet boasted hundreds and hundreds of likes and comments per post and had over a thousand followers.

Here is the link to this very interesting post: http://russelrayphotos2.com/2012/06/04/is-there-a-wordpress-store-where-one-can-buy-likes-and-comments/

If you blog, you would know that oftentimes a really great post generates just a few likes and comments, especially if you are new to the blogging realm. I’ve been blogging since January, 2012 and can personally attest how much hard work goes into creating great content, and how hard earned each and every like and comment is. It takes a while to generate loyal and interested readership. Getting 600 likes and 800 laudatory comments for a tiny, 2 paragraph entry that hardly says anything at all, if you’ve only started blogging 6 weeks ago and have 6 posts all together, seems more than a little incongruent.

The post on Russel’s blog generated tons of comments, in which people were speculating what could have caused such an anomaly. Suggestions included: this individual had another blog and when he transitioned to the new one, he took his readership with him (highly doubtful with that kind of puny content); he has great following on Twitter/Facebook and these followers come to his blog to comment and like; he has great search engine optimization and gets lots of hits from Google.   Interesting suggestions which I’ll analyse and refute below.

Russel mentioned several different blogs and here are the links to two of them:

http://travelagos.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/happy-1050th-follower/#comment-744 (notice: in this post he’s bragging about having 1050 followers, and this is comment number 744)

http://2gallants.wordpress.com/

Now, I want to mention that in the past 6 months I met some wonderful bloggers, who put out a truly awesome content. There is a number of people I could mention here, but suffice it to say, any praise they get is well-deserved.

And then, there are these… I went on both of the above-mentioned blogs and confirmed that indeed Russel was correct: way too many likes, way too little content!

I am usually not the one to complain, lament, or point a finger. I usually look ahead, concentrate on doing my best, and see the silver lining, however slim. But this one hit too close to home. And so, I wrote the following comment:

“Russel, this is a very interesting post and food for thought. I looked at both blogs, and it really is very, very curious.

What someone suggested, that these guys have a huge following on Twitter or Facebook doesn’t hold water. I looked at their stats, and each has 2-3 Twitter/FB mentions per post. Which means that these posts have hardly ever been tweeted/FBied. Which means that Tweeter/Facebook are NOT the driver here at all.

You can trust me on this! I have over 6,600 Twitter followers and if you look at my blog, http://LadaRay.wordpress.com, especially older posts, there are 40-100 tweets each and at least several FB mentions. I get mentioned on Twitter a lot, yet very few of my tweeps have WordPress accounts. Many still use Blogger. And unfortunately, these two blogging platforms don’t talk to each other. So, there goes this idea.

Then, what is behind this situation?
I think it would be useful to compare these two blogs to the Lada Ray Blog.

It is a good comparison, since I started my blog not too long ago, in January, 2012. But I think that’s where the comparison ends. I have written something like 55 posts by now, many very substantial, highly informative posts with tons of really great pics about world cultures and travel, especially Russia and China, 2012 Predictions, feng shui articles, and other unique and great stuff you won’t find anywhere else. As a result, I get tons of search engine viewings. In 6 months I have over 20,000 hits. I noticed that one of the blogs Russel mentioned has something like 22,000 hits with what, 6 short posts?

Every day I get at least hundreds of hits, especially for my posts about Russia and China. Many, as I mentioned, originate from the search engines from all over the world. Someone suggested in a comment that search engine hits may result in likes. This is almost NEVER the case, because people who visit your blog that way are interested in specific info they were searching for. They, most likely, don’t have a WordPress account, therefore can’t just click on like that easily. I think they have to sign in, provide email, possibly answer security question, etc. Very few have time and patience. Even if they really loved your post. I get comments sometimes, often from foreign countries. But these people hardly ever click on likes.

I also have close to 200 subscribers, but still get VERY few likes. Sometimes, I get more comments than likes. It actually saddens me, because I put all that work into my posts. I put them out so people could learn something, experience things they wouldn’t be able to experience otherwise. In return, I’d like to see at least some response and validation. At the same time, I see other blogs, with posts that are puny, oftentimes not even remotely interesting or even nonsensical, and they somehow get tons and tons of likes and comments. I do realize that perhaps these people have been around for a while. But looking at examples Russel provides, this argument flies out the window.

Yes, it is possible that these people had previous blogs with a large base of followers. It is also possible that they bought following. It’s even conceivable that they are somehow famous or notorious in certain circles, but it would not be FB/Twitter for sure. See my explanation above.

What I think though is that these new bloggers are using one trick. They go from blog to blog and subscribe to lots of blogs, as well as flood them with comments. And people reciprocate. Unfortunately, many people who like as return courtesy, don’t even read the posts. But all these hundreds of likes stroke one’s ego and make one look good, even if there is absolutely no content to back it up. Meanwhile, the really great blogs seem deserted, because their authors actually spend time creating content and have no time left to fleet around randomly.

As a result, a potentially great tool, which is supposed to be used as validation and recognition of someone’s efforts to provide great content, is corrupted. Unfortunately, social media can be a blessing and a curse. And often, it is too easy to manipulate it.”

One of these bloggers, named Lagos, actually responded to Russel’s question, defending his blog by saying that it is beautiful, that TO HIM it is the greatest thing since the sliced bread, that he has lots of friends and relatives who support his blog, and also that different people like different blogs.

Here is the link to the exchange between Russel and Lagos: http://russelrayphotos2.com/2012/06/08/extended-hours-at-the-san-diego-zoo-begin-june-22/#comment-3953

I decided to contribute to this conversation:

“Hi Lagos, I read the exchange between you and Russel and I checked out your blog. Unfortunately, I have to agree with everything Russel said. I started my blog in Jan. 2012 and created 55 great, substantial, unique and beautiful posts since then. I have over 6,600 Twitter followers and close to 200 blog followers. My blog is not only informative, but also beautiful, with lots of great pics, history, etc. I also got 20,000 viewings in 6 months. However, since I don’t have time to randomly go around clicking on likes for people I never met and because I don’t have a family who’d like my posts to death, I get 8-12 likes per post. And these are all hard earned likes.

I am inviting you to visit my blog to see for yourself. So, my friend, I am afraid, the verdict is that you are using some kind of trick(s). This is not real, and that’s sad. Very sad.

The question is, what’s the point in putting out great info? Let’s all create this illusion of being popular, instead of actually doing something worthwhile that justifies these likes. Yes, people are different, but they are not stupid.”

The way I see it, we all have a choice: why bother creating content if you can go around clicking on likes and flooding other blogs with comments. Some will reciprocate. This will provide the illusion that one is popular – a great ego-stroking tool! Let’s forget content, let’s forget beauty, humor, information. Let’s be mindless, indifferent, let’s exist in an illusion.

Tempting? Perhaps.

But I chose another road – in blogging and in life. It may take longer, and it may be a lot of hard work. And perhaps, I’ll never get 800 likes and 900 comments per post, or perhaps I will. But I’ll do my best to make each post unique, entertaining, intelligent and beautiful! And I’ll always make it real.

In the end, I know, my reader will find his/her way to my blog. And if each reader takes away a piece of knowledge they didn’t have, an inspiration they needed, or a chuckle that brightens their day, then my work is done!

A note to my readers: And what’s your opinion? I am thinking about bringing this post to the attention of WordPress admin. Don’t get me wrong, it is marvelous that bloggers talk to each other and visit each other’s blogs. But as Maddy @ 1EarthNow blog has pointed out in her comment, “likes” should represent feedback, not a popularity contest like Facebook likes. Blogs should be more meaningful.”

Great point, Maddy! Worpress seems to be taking a somewhat dubious turn with its overemphasis on likes and underemphasis on genuine blogging. As a result, it becomes gimmicky and discourages great content.

How do we strike the right balance between the two? That is the question!

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