The power of invisible, silent audience

If you have been creating and sharing content online, on any of the social media platforms, there is a natural tendency to look at the ‘engagement’.

Social media platforms have conditioned us to consider Likes, Shares, Comments, Replies, Retweets, Reshares, etc. as the yardstick of how what-we-said (‘content’) is ‘performing’.

If there are no ‘engagements’ on these parameters, our mind assumes that the ‘content’ did not ‘work’.

Generally, this is an approach that mirrors ‘mainstream content’ like books, movies, and ‘content’ by celebrities and professional content creators. For such mainstream content, the idea is that every piece of ‘content’ needs to ‘perform’. Such performance is usually compared with previous content or content from similar people to gauge whether it was a success or not.

So, new books compete with the number of books sold by similar authors/themes, movies are compared to similar movies or previous movies of the same star/director/production house, online celebrities compare their latest content’s numbers with their own previous content, or similar content creators… and these decide what success look like, and what they should aim for the next time.

But if you are not a professional content creator (that is… you earn money by creating content and get paid for it) and you write for other reasons (mainly to build and maintain your personal brand, and corporate brands sharing content to assert their brand personality to build their perception among people), then the kind of ‘performance’ that you should be tracking must be quite different.

Why? Because, of the total number of people who view/read your content, only a tiny fraction actually bother to let you know that they have some reaction in the form of Likes, Shares, Comments, Replies, Retweets, or Reshares.

Hitting ‘Like’ is the easiest thing to do, and social media platforms have made such easy hits so obviously simple that we assume that the total number of digitally visible reactions are the ‘readership’ (or ‘views’) of such content. But this is terribly misleading.

Take most YouTube videos that cross million+ views. The number of Likes, Dislikes may be a much smaller subset of the million+. Ditto for the number of comments (most of which may be pointless or rubbish too, but that is beside the point here). This gets particularly bizarre for heavily promoted videos on YouTube – the views would be 3 million+, but the comments, Likes, or Dislikes may be in a single-digit!

Things get a lot more complex on other platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram, because they do not showcase ‘impressions’ (the rudimentary equivalent of ‘views’) up-front at all. All they show is digitally visible conscious engagement factors like Likes, Shares, Comments, Replies, Retweets, and Reshares.

Now, there is a lot of debate on how social media platforms measure ‘impression’, particularly for video content. For instance, Facebook and Instagram supposedly count a 3-second view as a video view! Twitter too does the same but also adds that 100% of the video should be on one screen – if the user scrolled up or down, the video would cease to play. Mix these tactics with how most platforms default auto-play of videos, you get the idea of how murky the metrics are. But, do not worry too much about this – this is a problem for professionals and the advertising industry.

For the purpose of content for personal branding and content for corporate reputation building, such details don’t amount to much.

The point is this: we tend to view visible reactions as the only metrics of success. But there is a HUGE world out there that views your content but doesn’t let you know in any visible way!

Back in 2006, Jakob Nielsen popularized the 90-9-1 theory of participation inequality for online communities.

Source: Christopher Allen

Since then, it has moved to be 70-20-10, as defined by Paul Schneider in 2011.

Source: Paul Schneider

But whatever theory you take, the basic premise is the same – the largest segment is usually the one that is silent/lurking.

This is the invisible, silent audience. And because it is invisible and silent, we ignore it completely because no online platform consciously shows this to you!

This is a blunder.

Why? Because you are not creating and sharing content to become popular (in conventional terms) when it comes to personal branding or corporate reputation/perception building. You are creating and sharing content to define yourself (or your brand) better, sharper and clearer… so that people form an opinion about you (or your brand).

If such content also gains visible engagement like Likes, Shares, Comments, Replies, Retweets, and Reshares, then so be it. But that should NOT be the primary motive for content intended to build personal branding or corporate reputation/perception building.

A better primary metric worth tracking (besides visible engagement) is impressions/views. This is the universe of people who are reading/watching your content WITHOUT engaging or letting you know consciously with a click that they did. Your content simply appeared on their timeline by nature of the platform’s algorithm picking it up and throwing it on their timeline. This happens in assorted ways – a follow, a reshare/retweet by someone who follows you, second-level or third-level connections on Facebook or LinkedIn, and so on.

Twitter shows you impressions per tweet, but only in the Twitter analytics (free for everybody!).

LinkedIn shows you impressions right under each post, but only for the content owner (not for viewers).

Facebook and Instagram do not have impressions for personal profiles at all! For videos alone, these platforms show ‘views’ (Twitter does too), but for all other kinds of content (text, images), there is no way to know impressions.

Wherever possible, track impressions and views as the primary metric. This implies the universe of your audience, and the inherent assumption that those people have ‘consumed’ your content and may have formed an opinion about you or your brand) as a result.

A secondary metric could be a call-to-action you may have included, like URL clicks. You may use 2 sources to find out clicks – one could be platform-led (Twitter analytics includes link clicks). But LinkedIn’s per-post metrics do not tell you link-clicks. For this, you need to depend on other tools, particularly when the link you share is not in a server owned by you (if it is from your own personal website, corporate website, or blog, the assumption is that you would have some form of analytics that could track where people are coming from – Google Analytics does this efficiently).

A good, free 3rd party tool is Bitly – all you need is a free Bitly account and the links you shorten (for social sharing) through your account give you a good amount of details – number of clicks, where those clicks came from (which social platform) and from which countries.

This is enormously useful in personal branding efforts. For instance, if your chosen area of perception building of yourself is human resources and you share a useful article from say Harvard Business Review (where you are not quoted – you are making a point about the perspectives in the article), a Bitly’d URL, shared on LinkedIn, helps you understand if people care for your share (this also depends on your perspective that you may have shared when you posted that URL – that works like an intro/hook to tempt people to click on the URL).

I have seen the power of invisible readers many, many times in my own life. I’m a fairly consistent online content creator and sharer, but not a professional content creator – I do not make money out of the content I share. I gain from it in indirect ways – it enhances a reputation I’m trying to build by being useful and interesting in topics around communications, social media, marketing, and PR (my chosen area for personal brand). That reputation leads many to call me to conduct workshops or rope me in for a consulting engagement. And almost all of them are from people I do not know – but they (think) know me.

Such calls/emails literally start with, “I follow you on LinkedIn (or Twitter). I loved that (points to one or more) post where you wrote about…! We are looking for a workshop on/consultant for…”! I cannot list the number of times this has happened – this is incredibly frequent at least for me.

All I do is be consistent with researching, thinking, articulating, and sharing content around my chosen topics. I do not track visible engagement metrics with any conscious interest, but I track impressions. Even here, I’m acutely aware that I cannot keep on getting more and more impressions for all kinds of content. Some content get abysmally low impressions, but that is important in the overall scheme of personal branding – it may be something I absolutely need to share as my point of view. Its ‘performance’ doesn’t matter as much as the fact that I had to get it out as my perspective on a given topic/news.

My primary driver to research, read, think, articulate, and share content is my own set of topics on which I focus. My primary driver to create and share content is my own interest to have my say. To air my point of view. Whether it works or not, or how much it works is a distant secondary after-thought. If it happens, so be it. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter much to me because I shared it with the intention of registering my voice.

And because my content creation process is independent of the reactions it gets, it helps me stay focused! If it was dependent on Likes, Shares, Comments, Replies, Retweets, or Reshares, I’d be trying to game those metrics instead of trying to focus on building my personal brand.

If you write/create content to enhance your personal brand, or to enhance your corporate brand, think about the power of the invisible audience more than the visible ones. It may change your perspective on content creation quite dramatically.

Cover picture courtesy: Christopher Allen



2 thoughts on “The power of invisible, silent audience

  1. Dear Karthik Sir,

    Thanks for sharing your valuable insights on this topic. I have a query sir.

    How can a content creator motivate the “silent lurking audience” to engage with their content? I am not talking about CTAs and free downloadable PDFs. In a sea of content-creators how can an individual strive to create something unique and elicit genuine and meaningful conversations/response from an audience? Look forward to your reply sir.


    1. Think of it this way – what would movie script writers do, to get the viewers to *also* talk about what they watched? They include nuances within the script in terms of scenes, dialogs or great cuts that *may* force people to comment/speak about on social media or with friends. Our online content is similar too – if the quality of the writing is great, the research is thorough, if the content is useful/valuable, people *may* consider engaging (hitting the Like button, commenting or sharing). But my point with the post is not to focus on adding gimmicks (“Hit Like if you enjoyed this post” types) but the improve the quality of the post/content itself.

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