Why I Got a Record Number of Fans (Clappers) Yesterday

And why you shouldn’t care, because it’s a completely irrelevant statistic

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Every morning I check my stats on Medium. Yeah, yeah, some people tell you that you shouldn’t obsess over stats, but I see this as my business. Why wouldn’t I want to know core data about how my business is doing?

I refer to this process as “unwrapping my Christmas presents.” I take a moment to give gratitude for the abundance that I am about to receive. Then I open my journal notebook and jot down my number of followers, the views and reads my articles received the previous day, and the previous day’s earnings in the Medium Partner Program. Those are what I consider my KPIs — key performance indicators.

But wait — the statistics chart shows you views, reads, and fans. Why don’t I consider fans a key performance indicator?

For those new to the platform: What are fans, exactly?

You can leave claps on an article to tell the writer “I liked this.” You click the clappy-hands icon at the bottom of an article (and on the side, if you’re reading on a non-mobile device) to leave these.

A fan is defined as someone who left your article claps. It doesn’t matter if they left 1 clap, or 50, or some number in between.

Normally I don’t even check how many fans my writing got each day. However, yesterday I did, and found that I had a record number:

Screenshot by author

In case you’re wondering, the dots are a feature of the Medium Enhanced Stats plugin (you can read more about that here) and indicate the days on which I published.

So, yeah. I had a huge number of fans yesterday. Let make it clear, I appreciate everyone who clapped for my work, everyone who commented, and everyone who followed me because they liked something I wrote. Thank you!

However, the businessman part of me didn’t care much about the fan count. Why?

Fans and claps are largely an irrelevant indicator of how well your article is doing

Although this website is designed for readers, a large number of those readers are also writers. Therefore, Medium readers are much more likely to applaud articles about writing than other types of articles.

My top writing-related article and my top non-writing article the past week have very similar numbers of views. But:

A record number of fans does not necessarily mean that I’ve written my most financially successful work recently. Nor does it mean I’ve written my best work recently. It means I’ve written about writing recently.

I’ve also noticed that positive topics get clapped a lot more than negative ones. I would expect an article about names for a new puppy to have a claps-per-view ratio 5–10 times higher than an article on what to say to a rape survivor.

What this means for you: If you study the work of top writers — if you reverse-engineer them as I do — you can’t look solely at the number of claps to determine if an article was one of their “best.” It depends on the topic and the audience.

If not claps, what should you strive for?

Claps were once the gold standard on Medium because the company based its payouts on the number of claps articles received.

However, in late 2019, Medium changed its method of awarding payment. It now uses your share of total read time to compute your piece of the pie.

How do you run up your read time? There’s a wrong way and a right way.

The wrong way is to insert unnecessary filler into your pieces to make them longer. Smart readers will smell that mess a mile away. It’ll end up decreasing your read time. Readers will see your name and think, that writer wastes my time. They’ll move right along without clicking into your stories.

The right way is to leave bits of value all throughout your article. Don’t dump it all in the introduction or the first main bullet point. Give away a little throughout your piece’s body. If you have a bonus, save it until the conclusion or as near the conclusion as possible. This will condition your readers to read your stories all the way to the end — if they don’t, they know they might miss something!

Are claps completely meaningless, then?

I do tend to believe they have some meaning, but not as much as they used to.

I believe The Algorithm takes claps into account. If an article has 2300 claps, that’s a sign that many people were educated, entertained, or inspired by it, or some combination of the three. On the other hand, if an article has 23 claps, people may not have found much value. The Algorithm is likely to show the first article to more people than the second one. Therefore, the first article’s chances of sustained financial success are greater.

To sum it up…

Fans and claps are a rather pointless metric. You can’t look at the number of either and accurately determine a writer’s best, or highest-earning, pieces of work.

Stories about writing receive a high number of claps per view — not surprising, since many of your readers are also writers. Stories with a positive topic receive more claps per view than negative ones, but don’t necessarily earn better. (My top-earning article to date has an unpleasant subject.)

Claps have some value in that they may assist The Algorithm in figuring out what articles to show more often. However, shooting for increased read time, not claps or fans, is the way to supercharge your earnings. Do this by leaving bits of value throughout your articles, all the way to the conclusion. Train your readers that every word you write is must-read.

Let’s keep in touch! Feel free to sign up for my newsletter. Here’s another piece I wrote about writing:

I write about writing, ideas, creativity, intuition, spirituality, life lessons. Ex-college teacher https://www.buymeacoffee.com/paulryburn Twitter: @paulryburn

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