Following Feedback.

I have the start of an idea forming in my head so wanted to get some shape to it by putting it “out there” and getting some feedback on it.

There was a flurry of tweets at lunchtime today regarding a blogger for the Shropshire Star who’d written some potentially defamatory comments on her latest blog post. (Hat Tip to @jiminthemorning for posting the link I followed)

On the Shrops Star website they describe her as “inspirational”. You have to dig a few pages back to get an impression as to why. Emma suffers destructive aggressive rheumatoid arthritis. Emma is at her best when she’s talking about her direct experiences of the NHS and arthritis. Gives me a window into a world I have no experience of, illuminates situations and injustices and day to day life living with these medical conditions. In the same way I’m inspired and moved by Val Higgins’ posts for the Severn Hospice. (In fact, I prefer Val’s posts to Emma’s. Maybe the Shropshire Star could try running Val’s pieces and see the positive responses they get) The Shropshire Star declined to reveal how many hits her blog posts get on the website.

For me, Emma’s most recent blog could be a product of the wrong behaviour being reinforced by hits on the website. It’d be really easy to look at a summary of posts and say “Emma, those slighty contraversial posts you write are getting the most hits, write more of those please!”. Slowly the “point” of inviting Emma to write for you gets diluted by asking her to write more and more opinion pieces rather than “being inspirational”. (Mind you the idea of writing an inspirational blog post would scare the living daylights out of me as I wouldn’t know where to start)

Mark Wahlberg or Marky Mark (of the funky bunch and trouser dropping fame) spent much of his career as a rapper with his trousers round his ankles. He dropped his trousers and people screamed. Next appearence, remembering people screamed when he dropped his trousers, they come down quicker. Soon Marky Mark is famous for trouser dropping more than his lacklustre rapping.

As a performer (or writer or person) you yearn for feedback to let you know which direction to go in. Sometimes audience feedback can guide you in the wrong direction. Sometimes too much feedback is a bad thing. Hits, laughter, screaming may guide you but should you follow their lead?

(I get a sinking feeling that someone else has already had this idea, this doesn’t feel like a new revelation. Also the reasons I’ve outlined above is why I tend to write stuff I’m thinking or very specific inexplicable obsessional based project I’m working on rather than pithy political comment. If you want pithy political comment from a left winger- talk to Anthony Painter, he’s brilliant at it.)

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One Response to Following Feedback.

  1. Okay, I know your point was probably a LOT more cerebral than this, but I’m going to answer from a website content editor’s point of view.

    I would be surprised if Emma’s editor had just seen the numbers go up and had a kneejerk “write more of this!” reaction. (But then, for all I know, that might be how newspapers work and they’ve just applied it to the web… gosh, that would be bad.)

    If you were a single minded (simple minded?) website editor, you might see it like this: increased page views means an increase in revenue – either directly from advertising on the page, or indirectly when you go to advertisers and show them your stats. Therefore there’s no need to care why pages are getting views – just make sure they increase, yeah?

    But the website stats game is waay more complicated than that. Your point “sometimes audience feedback can guide you in the wrong direction” happens all the time, but the more responsible website editor learns to be aware of being misled by spikes like this. (I, rather pretentiously, call them “hit and run” page views.)

    The editor should be asking questions like: why are visitors reading this page? When they clicked that link, did they get what they expected? Where do they come from – is it a source that’s likely to link to more of my content in the future? Where are readers going when they leave that page – are they even staying on my site? The answers will allow the website to build reader trust and gain repeat ‘custom’, which is surely more important, both ethically and financially, in the longer term.

    Anyway, blah blah, I should really just start a ‘website editing’ blog to exorcise thoughts like this. Sorry.

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