Where do BitB readers come from (and why I like Facebook better than Twitter and Google+)?

I’m not obsessed with blog stats, but every now and then it’s interesting to take a look and see what information I can glean from them. One of the stats provided by WordPress is “Referrers”—which sites readers came from. This is good information to know, as it can help guide decisions on which sites to put effort into as a referral site. It was precisely this stat that caused me to leave Google+ some months ago. I tried G+ for a time as an alternative to Facebook, cross-posting links to new posts and occasionally posting separate photos to maintain a consistent level of activity. But after several months I decided the interactions I was having on G+ weren’t very satisfying—no conversations about the subjects like what happens on Facebook, just brief comments of the “Nice shot” variety. Moreover, my WordPress Referrer stats showed virtually no traffic coming from G+. This was puzzling, as I found myself continually being added to G+ circles (thousands eventually, which in itself seemed very “spammish” to me), but since there was no automatic mechanism for linking new posts on G+ (like there is for Facebook and Twitter), I decided the tiny amount of traffic it drove was not worth the effort. I stopped posting to G+ (yet continued to be added to circles, which made me even more suspicious and eventually led me to deleting my G+ account altogether).

As my involvement with G+ waned, I became more involved with Twitter. I get Twitter—really, I do, although I had trouble getting it at first. It’s quick, it’s fun… it’s a great way to keep tabs on a lot of people who like to post links to things I am interested in. Nevertheless, I still find myself having trouble staying consistently involved with Twitter. My problem is the 140-character limit—again, I’m more interested in conversation than quips, and in this regard Facebook is a much less limiting—and thus more enjoyable—venue for interacting with like-minded individuals. I also find Twitter to be rather clumsy when it comes to sharing photos compared to Facebook’s more elegant (Google+ inspired?) model. If I can’t converse on Twitter the way I’d like to, then all I really have left to use Twitter for is to provide links to new posts on BitB. A few hundred followers may be modest, but one would still think it enough to drive a fairly good amount of traffic to the blog. Curiously, recent review of Referrer stats show this not to be the case. Over the past 30 days, only 43 visitors have come to BitB from Twitter—less than 1.5 per day! WordPress enables automatic linking of new posts on Twitter, so it doesn’t really take any effort on my part to maintain the account, but I still have to wonder if such little return warrants even this amount of effort.

Of course, search engines—primarily Google—reign supreme in driving traffic to BitB, with the past 30 days yielding 6,180 visits. But among non-search engine sites, where do most of my readers come from? Facebook! In the past 30 days, 232 visitors have clicked on a link to BitB through Facebook—either on my own page or that of somebody else who liked a post on BitB and provided a link to it. Considering how much fun I have on Facebook aside from providing links to posts on BitB—whether it be quick photos of experiences as they happen, enjoying photographs of other expert insect macrophotographers, or involvement in multi-party conversations about the finer points of insect taxonomy—the fact that it also drives a large amount of traffic to BitB almost seems like a bonus. People like to make fun of Facebook, and the recent exodus of many bug bloggers to Twitter and G+ cannot be ignored, but for me Facebook continues to be the supreme medium for online interaction.

I realize this a one-case study and don’t intend to generalize my experience to others. It does, however, raise some interesting questions. Why are Facebook users so much more likely to click on my links that Twitter or G+ users? What prompted thousands of G+ users to add me to their circles but almost none of them to actually click through to my content? Is my experience typical? Any insight on these questions would be appreciated.

I should also mention another significant referrer for BitB—Alex Wild. Combined stats from his Myrmecos and Compound Eye blogs over the past 30 days resulted in a cool 99 BitB referrals. While this is not quite at the same level as Facebook, it is remarkable for an individual blogger to be the source of so much traffic for my blog. I doubt Alex himself is responsible for all of these visits (although I’m sure he checks in from time to time), rather it is likely that a portion of the enormous reader base he has uses his sites as jumping off points for other bug blogs they like. No other bug blogger, and not even WordPress Reader or Blogger themselves, comes close to sending as much traffic to BitB as does Alex Wild. So, Alex… thank you!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Have you googled yourself lately?

I recently came upon a post titled, What will I find if I google you?, written last year by Scientopia blogger gerty-z at Balanced Instability. Although written from the perspective of a new, tenure-track academician giving advice to students with similar aspirations, the main point of the post is relevant to probably any profession: “SEARCH COMMITTEES WILL GOOGLE YOU.” That this is true for industry as well as academia is a fact—over the course of my now three-decades-long career, the past 22 in industry, I have been involved in many a search committee, and particularly over the past 3–4 years a Google search has become a standard part of my resume screening process as I try to whittle down the 10 or so resumes that have survived my initial screening to those 3 to 5 candidates that I will recommend for an interview.

For me, the post had it’s intended effect, as I started wondering what, really, I would find if I googled myself. Of course, I’ve done this in the past, primarily in the early days of my online and social media presence and more out of trivial curiosity than as part of an effort to critically assess what impression the results might give to a prospective employer. Not that I am actively looking for another job—I love what I do, have a reasonable amount of autonomy, and am fairly compensated. Nevertheless, one never knows what opportunity or circumstance might arise and the timing of such, and a favorable online reputation is much easier to maintain than to create or repair on short notice. In my case, that presence is extensive—I’ve blogged regularly for almost five years now and participated to greater or lesser degree in most of the other social media outlets frequented by entomologists—BugGuide, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Flickr, etc.—for much of that same period. This blog alone contains nearly 650 posts and averages somewhere between 500 to 1,000 words per post—that’s in the neighborhood of one-half million words tagged with my very searchable name. Add to that my 3,601 comments here, innumerable comments and mentions on other blogs (including 1,158 on BugGuide alone), and perhaps somewhat sillier musings over on FB and Twitter—well, whatever reputation I’ve accumulated by now I’m probably stuck with, good or bad!

I didn’t think I would find any problems, but gerty-z’s post did convince me that I should at least take the exercise. What if I did suddenly find myself on a candidate short list for that dream curatorship at the U.S. National Museum (right!)? Would Terry Erwin, Steve Lingafelter, and the other members of their search committee be impressed or concerned by what they found when they googled my name? I probably represent the best case scenario for a prospective employer wanting to search my online presence—my first and last names are both fairly uncommon, and add to that the fact that I always sign with my middle initial. Enclose all that in quotes and one has a very specific search term with little likelihood that the results will be diluted by other people. What did I find? 40,800 results! (I made sure to turn off “Personal” results so that I would see the same search results that somebody else googling my name would see). Nevertheless, the results were largely what I expected. The top 4 and 7 of the top 15 results (see below) linked directly to Beetles in the Bush or one of its posts, and all but one of the remaining top 15 results linked to my various online profiles—all but one of which are either professionally oriented or highlight my entomological expertise. That’s a good thing—I’m happy for anyone to see my list of publications, research interests, professional capabilities, etc. The one exception is Facebook, and that is the only social medium I use that might possibly contain content that someone, somewhere, might find objectionable (I generally stick to entomology and photos from travel or my family while avoiding contentious subjects, but sometimes my touch of irreverence sneaks through). Still, it’s not like one will find photos of drunken excess or poor choices on my FB page, so I think my relative FB risk is small. I doubt many prospective employers would look much past the top 15 results, especially with such a consistent picture of who I am (at least who I project myself to be) having already been painted by that point, but those who do choose to look further will find several dozen subsequent results largely linking to blogs on which I have left a comment or been mentioned by name (the latter usually referring back to Beetles in the Bush or thanking me for an insect identification). I also conducted the search on “Images”, and the result was largely the same—page after page of images from Beetles in the Bush or from other blogs on which I had left a comment or been mentioned by name.

gerty-z suggests that Google searches by potential employers have either neutral or negative impacts on their decisions but rarely have a positive impact since anything “awesome” about you that can be found online should also be in your application. I’m not sure I agree with this latter point. Awesome can include more than simply a long list of publications or multiple summaries of degrees earned and experience gained—things that are easy to include in a resume. Awesome can also include a well-practiced commitment to high quality writing, or consistent involvement in outreach activities, or demonstrated taxonomic expertise far beyond that implied by a list of publications, or even a solid foundation of knowledge in subjects beyond one’s immediate area of expertise but that nevertheless enhance perspective. These are concepts that are much more difficult to capture or highlight in a resume but that might tip the balance in a candidate’s favor if all other considerations are equal. The point is, don’t look at your online presence only as something to manage to prevent failure, but rather as a potential tool to help build a positive reputation and enhance the information provided in your application.

Top 15 results from search on “Ted C. MacRae”

  1. Beetles In The Bush
  2. About the Author « Beetles In The Bush
  3. A visit to the Dallas Arboretum « Beetles In The Bush
  4. Ted C. MacRae (tcmacrae) on Twitter
  5. Ted C. MacRae – The Coleopterists Society – An International …
  6. Ted C. MacRae – BugGuide
  7. Ted C Macrae | ResearchGate
  8. Ted MacRae | Facebook
  9. Ted C. MacRae – Gravatar Profile
  10. Ted C. MacRae – Wikispecies
  11. Program Announcment: 2012 ESA Annual Meeting « Beetles In The …
  12. MacRae, T. C. 2000. – Beetles In The Bush

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012