Come here a minute; I have something personal to ask you.
How many friends do you have?
Oxford anthropologist Robin Dunbar says most of us have 150 friends, give or take. Those 150 people include your family, your close friends, and some of your friends’ friends.
Science writer David Bradley , who says our personal networks are “all about separation, connection, gossip and grooming,” thinks we can use social media apps like Facebook to form “specific cliques” of 150 to 200 people and expand our friendships that way.
(No, I have no idea what he meant by grooming either.)
But what does the Dunbar Number have to do with blogging?
When you blog, you have the potential to reach not 150 people, but thousands.
The temptation when you try to reach people is to try to make them friends by not offending them. After all, aren’t we all trained from childhood to be nice so people like us and want to be our friends?
The trouble is, if you’re trying to build a blog readership by being your readers’ friend, you’re doomed to failure.
Because as much as readers want solid content delivered in a friendly tone, they want even more to be entertained and challenged. They want you to take a stand and defend it to the death, and tell them to do the same.
They want you to stomp on the bull shitters and hypocrites (provided, of course, that they agree with you on who the bull shitters and hypocrites are).
A few days ago, columnist Andy Borowitz , commenting on the Iowa Caucus, included this sentence:
“Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich addressed speculation about whether he would leave the race: ‘Not unless it gets cancer.’ ”
Now either you think that’s brilliantly funny or you’re offended beyond belief.
Borowitz is a Democrat and proud of it. Conservatives don’t read him; liberals like me forward his blog to their friends.
In the blogosphere, we have people like Johnny B. Truant , who has a loyal following because he’s smart, prolific, and offers mega value.
On the other hand, if phrases like his “magic fucking pixies” offend you, Sonia Simone may be more your style. Sonia also offers great style and content but seldom talks about fucking pixies. (Probably never, I haven’t done a search on all her posts.)
My guess is that both Johnny and Simone are not interested in building a big following for its own sake, but to build a following of their kind of people.
Johnny calls them “raving fans”; Seth Godin calls them “tribes.”
If you like blogs about writing (which I assume you do, since you’re reading this one), you may dig James Chartrand of Men with Pens .
Chartrand is a fine writer and coach, provided you can get past her constant shilling for her “Damn Fine Words” writing course. Frankly, it bugs the hell out of me.
I also like Jeff Goins who recently described a typo on a menu as “like a squirt of lemon juice to the eye.” Beautiful.
Jon Morrow is in a class by himself, which I say with the disclaimer that I’m in his GuestPosting class.
You are never in doubt where Jon stands. Yet he manages to be both kind to others and wide open about himself.
So. Whatever you write, don’t try to make friends. Kick enough ass to make a few enemies too.