I feel dirty. I feel manipulative. I feel like I’m part of the problem. I feel like I am capitalism incarnate. I feel like a sell-out.
But not really when I actually force myself to think about it.
I wrote a post last year about how Facebook advertising sucks. My main issue with it was that based on your metrics, you find yourself targeting people that are your core audience. To use a political example: if you write some liberalesque blog posts and set up ads targeted towards conservatives (in an attempt to not be biased and to get people to see another opinion outside of their comfort zones) you’ll either be ignored or totally shit upon. Since money is at stake with advertisements, the natural tendency for yourself is to market only to like-minded people so you’ll minimize your cost per reach metric. It makes sense and this is how capitalism works. No one spends money on shit that is pointless. You find yourself narrowing in on the demographic that already agrees/cares about what you’re writing and contributes to echo-chambers online.
(Big Note About Facebook and Self-Promotion: I took all my rambly Facebook-inspired posts and glued them together into an ebook. If you want to read it here’s the link.)
This post, while sort of similar, is complaining about a different aspect of advertising. I want to write about how advertising makes me feel morally corrupt for some reason even though I know it’s perfectly justifiable. It’s one of those deep-seated personality traits I have that I can’t seem to shake. If I advertise or try to sell anything — even if what I’m advertising is totally legit and real — I feel awful about it.
I’ve been dabbling in Facebook advertising for a few years now, but have never seriously been involved with it. I’d “boost a post” here and there, and back when my sister and I were trying to sell shirts I’d toss some money towards ads. It was never that much, perhaps $25 or $50 here or there, and we never found much success with doing so. I advertised my two ebooks on Facebook and Reddit and once again didn’t find much success with it. Yesterday I decided to give it another shot. I started another ad for my personal authors page on Facebook (gimme a ‘like’ if you’re feeling like it) yesterday and have been suffering all over again with it. The moral dilemma that always comes up. Is this really the way to success? Paying Facebook money to market my page?
It works though. Back in October I advertised for the page and actually hit some success with it. In a week my page’s ‘likes’ went from about 20 or so (all close friends and supporters) to over 100: people actually liked my page after seeing it forced upon them. I’m always curious about who actually likes advertised pages because they stick out like a sore thumb to me. But I’m glad some people don’t notice, don’t care, or are actually impressed by what they see. I think this cost me $50 or so. Then peak season began at work and I didn’t worry about marketing myself. I’d worry about it later, like maybe around January 10th.
We live in strange times. The internet has changed what is possible in the past few decades. It’s strange to think back to times before the internet existed. I think of how “easy” it is to do your own think with the internet; anyone can set up an Etsy shop, self-publish on Amazon, have a blog, sell artwork, make fanfiction stories…anything. Your talents can now be visible to the entire world. Wow. I think we’re literally in a golden age of creativity thanks to the internet. I think of what people did to be authors or writers before 2000. Think of physically printing and sending manuscripts to publishers week after week in an attempt to actually make a name for yourself. We don’t need to worry about that. Anyone can make an account somewhere and start writing, painting, etc. Anyone can be creative and get themselves out into the world, and isn’t that what we all want to do? Express our souls and have people notice what we’re saying?
The problem with the openness of the internet is that everyone else is also trying to do their own things. You get lost in the fray of the millions of people trying to make content. Us WordPress bloggers know what the fight means; out of millions of blogs how do you make your site something unique and worth reading? Let alone the question of monetizing and making a job out of it. We’re all tiny bits in some massive machine and how do you get anyone to notice you? You usually don’t. That’s what the struggle is. It isn’t creating or being consistent, it’s being noticed. You could have the best blog/story/music/paintings/poem in the world, but if no one knows about it, who cares?
Sure there is “organic growth” but that is tedious as fuck. As someone who feels like their life is on a timer tickinging down until you either burn out or die, waiting on “organic growth” feels terrible. What if I write some masterpiece when I’m 60 and about to die and no one even hears about it? What if I’m lost in the crowd, out-viewed by people slightly more talented or better at marketing themselves than I am? It’s a scary thought. Being a successful creative person seems to entail being able to market yourself successfully. Hell, even untalented people can market themselves and sell stuff. Think of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. Think of Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
This is why I decided to toss some money into Facebook advertising again. I feel like I’m hitting my stride, actually making some small but consistent progress towards my goals, and who is there to take notice? Just a few hundred subscribers and
people close friends who ‘like’ my Facebook page. It’s a strange place for me to be in. I’ve struggled with self-esteem recently and still do, but I feel like I’m past it in a way. I don’t feel like the main challenge is being good anymore — this is just hard work, consistency, and stubbornness; a blind eye towards failure — I feel like my main challenge is being noticed. This is the main struggle for us creative types in 2020. It doesn’t seem so much as being good but being noticed in the crowd of millions of people trying to do their own thing.
I feel terrible for advertising though. Once again, logically, I know it doesn’t make sense. I wrote this whole post complaining about “people finding you” and how else do people “find you” besides paying money to make yourself appear on their Facebook feeds? I think of the horror stories on Twitter where people simply buy followers and at least I’m not doing that, right? The people that see my shitty and contrived ads don’t have to ‘like’ or ‘follow’, but some of them do. Am I selling out to capitalism and the tempation of being famous or am I just wanting people to find something that they might enjoy to read? I really think it’s the latter, but my gut still tells me I’m a sellout. I think I naturally want to slave away in total obscurity and never do anything notable and it seems like a conscious effort to sabotage myself in that way. Yes, I feel bad for advertising, but I know I shouldn’t feel this way. I’m not gaming the system. I’m not “cheating.” I’m not cooking books or making shady contracts. I’m just trying to get people to notice the stuff I’m creating which I’m actually proud of even if I don’t like to admit it. And in the writing/blogging/self-publishing market, isn’t this what the big challenge actually is?
Even after writing this I still don’t feel good about it.