When you stop being yourself

A long time follower told me the other day, “You’re a good writer, but you shouldn’t use profanity. You don’t need that. It ruins your writing.”


I want to show you something.

This is a chart from Draft’s social analytics, showing traffic to this blog going back to its beginning: April 5, 2012. As you’d expect, as I started ninjasandrobots.com traffic was low. But soon, I started getting spikes from my posts every 2-3 weeks. Then there is a long lull from the beginning of July until November 15, 2012. What happened?

The Obama re-election campaign.

No one told me that I had to stop blogging. No one told me what I could write about.

So when I joined the campaign in May, I didn’t stop. I kept writing. At least once a week. You even see the spike in a post I wrote on June 6, 2012 that made it into Lifehacker.

Some people in the campaign office saw that June 6 post and congratulated me on it. That just made me worry.

It made me so much more aware that I don’t write in a vacuum. My words are starting to travel. Here I am working with all these people who represent the President of the United States of America.

I represent the President of the United States of America.

I don’t want to be an idiot you read about on FOX News. I don’t want to be the guy who says, “I hate peas.” And now President Obama has lost the pea farmers’ vote, because it becomes a long news cycle about Obama and his staffers hating pea farmers. I believe this was a West Wing episode.

So I censored myself. I was still very proud of what I was writing, and worked equally hard on it. But I made sure I only wrote really positive non-controversial articles. I made sure not to use profanity. Even more so, I worried about and second guessed everything I put on this page.

On November 15, 2012, I no longer gave a shit. :) The election was over. I published my first post-election article.

It’s my second highest visited post.

It’s not just a few spikes. It’s a constant increase in traffic to my blog after the campaign.

Here’s another chart from Draft’s social analytics:

That’s the average number of Tweets posts of mine get when they contain profanity and when they don’t. Calculated over many blog posts, there’s a significant improvement of traffic when my posts contain profanity.

Correlation doesn’t mean causation. I doubt I can easily create a more widely read blog by sprinkling in some shits and fucks.

What I believe is happening is that when you catch me using profane language, you’re probably catching me when I’m most honest. When I’m most passionate about what I’m writing.

I know we all have things we worry about when we put ourselves out there. Will I look silly posting this? Am I embarrassing myself with this idea? Will I offend someone?

I used to sweat this a great deal when I spent my time writing on my “corporate blog”. What are clients going to think of this?

However, a year and a half ago I found myself without a corporation to run anymore. So I started investing in a personal blog. All of a sudden, a lot more people were reading my work.

But as you saw, when I started worrying again about what people were going to think, something got lost.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn into Tucker Max. But I am who I am. I talk like I talk. And I want to write with that same voice. My voice. I want you to know who I am. I teach better that way. I enjoy life better that way.

You lost part of me for 5 months. That was an extreme circumstance. It won’t happen again.

Are you censoring your work?


What day of the week does Seth Godin have the most success blogging?

If you’re interested in doing a similar analysis on blogging content, check out Draft’s social analytics. Just hit the “Reports” button.

I analyze my own blog of course. But I also keep tabs on how Dustin Curtis blogs. And 37signals. And Seth Godin. Just add multiple RSS/Atom feeds you’d like to explore.

You can see how a blog’s popularity changes based on:

See which attributes have the greatest influence on traffic to your blog, or where you could experiment.

It’s only available to premium Draft users right now.


P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter: here.

 
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