About an hour ago, I received the following message from a reader of my Times of Israel blog.
“Big deal!” you might be thinking.
Typically I’d agree with you.
But it brightened my mood enough that I felt motivated enough to write a short note about it.
I’m sharing the email I received not as a humble-brag — because I hate humble-braggers (apparently I’m not alone in that) — but rather to point out a couple of things that I think might be instructive.
One of those is for people in general and the other one is for my fellow writers.
1. Kind Words Can Enormously Elevate The Recipient — Potentially At A Time of Need
The few people in this world that know me very well know that I detest few things more than receiving compliments.
Yes, I should probably raise this with a psychotherapist rather than with Medium. There’s probably some clue into my soul there that I’m missing — or else it’s simply indicative of a lack of self esteem.
Whatever the cause may be, despite generally hating compliment with a capital ‘H’, periodic notes of appreciation such as the above never fail to raise my morale.
Why that strange dichotomy, you might be wondering?
My Times of Israel blog is a pet project — although it serves the ancillary aim of creating a pool of writing samples when most of the work that I do these days is ghostwriting that does not bear my byline or any evidence of my authorship.
I update it when I can — which is usually once every few months.
But it’s neither the subject matter that I typically write about (technology) nor is it client work.
I don’t write it because I think I’m the best writer in the world and I want others to know that. I’m learning and always trying to improve — and if you told me that you thought my writing were great it would make me feel decidedly awkward.
I write it, rather, because I care about the viewpoints that I’m expressing.
And I want to try influence, in some small way, the vast marketplace of ideas. In order for that to work, they need something called ‘reach’.
There’s only one problem.
My posts — like these ones on Medium — tend to receive little in the way of apparent engagement.
I get why.
I’m not a big name writer. I’m not great at self promotion (in fact, it takes excruciating effort for me to even share my own writing on Facebook).
And — in a crowded marketplace of ideas — why would anybody care to read what some random guy from Ireland has to say about Israeli politics?
So although I care deeply about what I write — and try to pour as much energy as I can muster into each post — this lack of engagement does not surprise me.
Maybe it will change. Maybe it will not. I don’t take it to heart. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.
Like most websites, the Times of Israel provides a social likes counter which is proudly emblazoned near the masthead of every post that one contributes there. It’s in the archive pages too. This isn’t a criticism of their UI — most news sources carry this feature and it exists for a reason.
Sometimes, I don’t get page views statistics for the places in which my writing appears. So this social KPI is, for me, a proxy indicator for reach and it’s the only information I have to go by about how my posts are performing. And so, when what I write tends to peak out at about 20 shares, it can sometimes feel discouraging.
And so, this brings me back to the email I received.
Sharing your appreciation for a writer’s work, or a business’s service, can enormously lift the latter’s morale, or brighten their afternoon, in a way that you, as the sender, may enormously underestimate — or fail to appreciate at all.
This pleases me enormously because — just like those that occasionally send me letters — I often also write in to my favorite authors, bloggers, and businesses to tell them how much I appreciate what they are doing or writing. I’ve been doing this my whole life. Now in fact, I’m beginning to think that I may not do this often enough.
And I’ll be honest — doing so sometimes feels like an exercise in futility.
Or worse — it makes me feel like a bored online stalker.
Because when I get determined to reach somebody in order to express my praise, I get determined: I can track down an email address from Hunter.io, a WHOIS page, or wherever else it can be found.
I won’t lie, I’ve opened a fan mail letter or two over the years with something very like “Hi, I ran a search for your name and found you referenced in your high school magazine with your email address”.
This feels — and indeed it may sound — a little bit stalkerish.
I don’t always get a response or manage to start a dialogue with the author. Although really I’m just writing in to say ‘thanks’.
People might be justifiably weirded out. But my intentions, in all cases, are good — to communicate with the recipient that their work has been appreciated.
Sharing a kind word can show a business, writer, or author that you appreciate what they are doing.
It can shine a light that might lift whatever bleak mood they might be in. If they feel like their writing is a waste of time, it might help show them that it’s not.
Don’t underestimate the positive impact that a few minutes of your time can have.
Kind Words Tell The Recipient That Somebody Cares About What They’re Doing
The second benefit of writing nice things to people — and this time to writers specifically — is that you show them that somebody cares about what they are writing.
Sometimes, this sentiment can also arrive at a time that — for the recipient — might be badly needed. When they feel as if nobody does and wouldn’t it be better just to pack things up?
I know that this might all be beginning to sound a little naff.
But bear with me for a moment.
Humans these days — writers no less — are obsessed with what I sometimes term vanity metrics: How many times has a post been shared, liked, or syndicated?; how often has a podcast been listened to?; how many times sometimes played, or liked, a video on YouTube?
Public relations practitioners, in particular, invest enormous time and effort in trying to measures and quantity ‘reach’ — in order to try demonstrate a positive return on investment for sometimes skeptical clients who are perpetually seeking answers to why they are handing over several thousand dollars a month in professional fees to them.
And yet both the social share counts and the column inches quantified sometimes fail to account, entirely, for the hearts and minds that your words might be slowly — but silently — shifting, influencing, and connecting with.
Sadly, this fact is often unbeknownst to the authors themselves — who may assume that because nobody is liking their LinkedIn statuses, or reading their Medium articles, that they are wasting their time and that they are falling on deaf ears.
There are countless reasons why this discrepancy between your blog’s apparent and actual reach might differ. But let me provide a few examples.
Sometimes people don’t ‘like’ your posts on social media because they were about to but then the microwave bell went off and they realized that their pasta was ready. And then they ate their pasta and promptly forgot about whatever it is that you had written.
Sometimes people don’t like your post because they don’t have a Facebook account from which to like your post.
In fact, sometimes they didn’t like your post at all — and so they won’t express their appreciation for it on social media!
Sometimes all of this is true.
And sometimes it isn’t.
It might depend upon a variety of circumstances completely beyond your control: whether the microwave pings in 30 seconds time or now, whether your demographic has a social media account and is feeling sufficiently motivated to express their appreciation for your work that day. Etc, etc.
But there’s good news.
It’s in your power, as an appreciative reader, consumer, or fan to change all this.
The next time that you read something that you greatly appreciated consider dropping the writer a clap, an encouraging comment, or even a short email.
Sometimes, as the sender, you cannot fathom the positive and uplifting impact that this little engagement will have.
Positive Language Creates Positive Effects
I’ll admit that I’m no great touter of positive psychology — so am probably not the ideal person to be penning this post.
My mindset can be negative at times.
And my online writing sometimes unashamedly points out things that I perceive to be wrong — with governments, policies, and even cultures.
Increasingly, however, I try to do so in a way that (to the best of my understanding) is in accordance with the Jewish concept of lashon hara — the religious laws regarding negative speech and the ancillary concept of gossip-mongering and slander.
I try not to interject religion into my posts here on Medium. It’s not the platform, I realize. But it’s also my frame of reference for this.
Because it likely isn’t yours, if you’d like you can substitute lashon hara for ‘negative speech’ — even though, in Judaism, it’s meaning is more precise and controlled than that.
But however you’d like to call it my point is simply this.
Religious Jews study, in depth, the precept of what they believe is the commandment to avoid negative speech.
But perhaps it is about time that they — and we — start thinking as well about lashon hatov (“good speech”)— and what speaking positively about other people might be able to achieve in a world brimming full with so much negativity and hurt.
This isn’t a recipe, I hope, for creating an echo-chamber effect, for becoming self-righteous, or for fawning praise. For saying that everything is wonderful and rosy. But sometimes holding your tongue and staying silent is a better approach than saying something critical — if the latter serves no constructive purpose.
5 Customer Service Stock Phrases— To Make the Internet A Less Angry Place
Few of my friends are aware of this, but — in addition to being a marketing extraordinaire (just kidding) — my resume…
Last week I wrote a piece, on Medium, about how one can use stock customer phrases to defuse angry online arguments. It’s above.
It’s in that same vein that I write this post.
And what better time than now? When so much divisiveness and hatred — much of it spewed online — permeates our societies.
If you follow an author whose work has positively influenced you, or bought from a business whose goods or services delighted you, then consider taking five minutes out of your day to write them a short note of appreciation.
You might never know the positive effect which that small act of kindness can achieve.