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Hi there! It’s Jason Loch again. José asked me to do another post about my experience as a content creator, this time focusing on my interactions with my readers and how I’ve used their feedback to shape my online persona. These can be some of the scariest parts of being a creator. Not only is the Internet not known for kindness and charity, but feedback can easily leave you feeling overwhelmed and confused.

Who, exactly, am I?

In case you missed last week’s post, in addition to my work with Newstex, I also blog about the British constitution over at A Venerable Puzzle. I went into more detail in that post about my journey as a content creator, but the TL;DR of it all is that developing my persona was a gradual process that took place over the course of many years. 

Resistance is futile

I mentioned last week that it took me a while to figure out how I wanted to use social media. I’m old enough that I didn’t grow up with it. Consequently, it never really became second nature to me in the way that it has for many people born in the early 2000s. 

Facebook was my first foray into social media. The site was very different back then–for one thing, you had to be a college student to use it in those days. In those halcyon days, there was still an illusion of privacy on social media, bolstered by the fact that the limited audience meant that your friends list was likely to be mostly populated by people you actually liked. That all changed when Facebook opened the floodgates and allowed anyone to join. I more or less stopped using social media for many years. It was exhausting when even banal posts on Facebook generated controversy, and I grew tired of political rants from people I hadn’t spoken to in decades. 

My attitude started to change when I started A Venerable Puzzle. I came to realize that it wasn’t enough to simply let my writing stand on its own. If I wanted people to read my stuff, I had to be a lot more proactive about promoting myself. But at the same time, I couldn’t just post links to my latest post and call it a day. I actually had to find a way to engage with people. 

A virtual symposium

Eventually, I decided to try my luck on Twitter. It was a challenge, at first, but I eventually discovered that it was actually a good platform for engaging with my readers. In many ways, it’s like a virtual cocktail party. But there were definitely challenges. A lot of the standard social media advice just didn’t work for me. For example, a lot of social media gurus encourage you to use lots of hashtags in your posts, but I noticed that a lot of people in my particular niche weren’t doing that, or they were doing it sparingly. Hashtags can also be a double-edged sword. Yes, they can get more eyeballs on your posts, but more isn’t always better. Indeed, I found that hashtags were more likely to fill my mentions with reply guys and keyboard warriors. Now I was fortunate–many creators who are women or who belong to historically marginalized groups receive truly atrocious comments that drive them off the platform. In extreme cases, it can even leave them fearing for their physical safety. Still, I was reminded of how one of my professors was put off writing for the Internet for good after encountering a particularly persistent commentator who picked a fight with him over some obscure detail that the commenter didn’t even understand. 

Sifting and winnowing

I learned an important lesson: not all feedback is created equal. A comment (whether negative or positive) from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about is worth far more than the cyber-bloviations of random netizens. At the end of the day, I realized that I didn’t mind having a smaller audience since it meant less stress and more meaningful feedback overall.

I also realized that I wasn’t going to please everybody, and that’s okay. Sometimes, people ask me to write about the latest royal drama, but I have no interest in writing about what ‘Princess Kate’ wore or weighing in on the Sussexes’ behavior. That might get me more views, but I wouldn’t enjoy writing it. Plus, I’d likely turn off my core audience. 

Finding a niche

That being said, feedback has nevertheless shaped my persona. I’ve noticed that tweets about constitutional arcana can be surprisingly popular. For example, although Britain has become increasingly secular, the established status of the Church of England means that there are still some strange sectarian prohibitions on the books.

When Rishi Sunak became Britain’s Prime Minister, I tweeted to highlight an incongruity. Although he’s a practicing Hindu, Sunak is not barred from advising the King on ecclesiastical appointments for the Church of England.  However, when Boris Johnson was rumored to have converted to Roman Catholicism during his premiership, there was talk that he may have broken the law.

Of all the non-Anglicans faiths, only Roman Catholics and Jews are specifically prohibited from offering advice on ecclesiastical matters (when Parliament removed most of the legal disabilities imposed on Jews and Roman Catholics in the 19th century, they nevertheless specifically banned adherents of those faiths from advising the Sovereign on ecclesiastical appointments.)

Anyway, my tweet about this strange situation did quite well–a friend of mine here in America who has no particular interest in British politics mentioned that their friend actually retweeted my tweet. And given the fact that Downing Street’s role in ecclesiastical matters has become largely (but not entirely!) vestigial, it’s fair to ask whether those 19th-century prohibitions serve any purpose, so I was glad to be able to make a minor contribution to that discussion.  

I suspect people like tweets about constitutional arcana because they’re easily digestible. Luckily, these tweets are a lot of fun for me to write because they allow me to bring people’s attention to obscure sources that they might not even know exist. However, I’ve learned not to beat myself up if a tweet doesn’t do as well as I would’ve liked. You can’t win them all, as they say, and it’s best to just move on. 

Shake it off

Inevitably, some of the feedback you receive will be negative. It can be galling even if it’s expressed with the utmost respect. In such cases, it’s important to take a step back and resist the temptation to fire off a defensive response. It might be cathartic, but it’ll almost certainly add more heat than light to the discourse. It can also make you look decidedly unprofessional, thus harming your persona in the long run. If the feedback comes from a place of misunderstanding, it can be tempting to respond to educate the person. But I learned the hard way that this can be a mistake, as you can find yourself enmeshed in a never-ending series of exchanges. Some people just won’t allow themselves to be convinced. 

It’s also worth remembering that you’re not obliged to accept every piece of valid feedback. De gustibus non est disputandum (there’s no accounting for taste) and all that. There isn’t always an empirically correct approach, and trying to gratify one reader’s preferences could easily annoy someone else. 

Let feedback shape you, not rule you

Interacting with your audience can be a wonderful experience that helps you add value to your content. But you need to maintain a healthy sense of perspective. It should guide your persona, not rule it. Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this sort of thing. Don’t feel you need to adopt a certain strategy just because some big-shot marketer says so. Similarly, while it’s important to create content with your audience’s needs in mind, you still need to do it in a way that makes you comfortable. Doing something you hate isn’t a recipe for long-term success. 

Looking for more information about online personas? Check out "Why should I have a strong online persona?"