A year ago, I stumbled eagerly (and ignorantly) into this whole existence I call “Flying Squirrel Outdoors”.
My mission had nothing to do with blogging, or a social media presence – it was (and is) really about the observation that we are increasingly turning inwards toward things of our own creation. These things are, themselves, increasingly “virtual”, having no physical substance, and increasingly dominating our entire existence. Our world is literally becoming “made up”. The victims in this transformation include everything “real”, by which I could mean the vast sum of human knowledge that’s already been forgotten, but for the purposes of Flying Squirrel, I mean that entire portion of the non-human world that lives day-to-day trying its best to avoid us. We increasingly don’t pay attention, don’t care, and unwittingly destroy it.
I’m an outdoor advocate because I think the world outside our walls is important, and perhaps selfishly, because I feel we (whether we know it or not) can get a lot out of slowing down and appreciating it, testing ourselves against it, remembering where we came from, so to speak.
So with all this in mind, my objective is really to expand what I’m already doing – spending lots of time outdoors – but also sharing, demystifying, and teaching others to enjoy it as well. I do a lot of this already with youth, and I’ve certainly expanded that this year, both with Boy Scouts and with a couple programs I’ve insinuated myself into (e.g. Lunch and Learn, other Public School programs) in a way that adheres to this mission.
So what’s with the blogging?
Well, for one, it would be silly to ignore the potential reach. Blogging gives me a platform, a repository, a place to be heard outside my own community, and a place to build a presence that in turn builds some credibility and a body of work. In addition, it keeps me focused on a regular basis, and forces me to take time from the “real” job. The trick has been to make the blog serve the mission, rather than the other way around.
I know some things about living in the woods. Social media – well, not only am I/was I ignorant, I was blissfully so. When I started this, I was given the advice to just “start”, and see where it went. Being a complete social media neophyte, it has been a fun ride, and I thought I’d share some of my observations, and humbly solicit your feedback on those obvious oversights and things I still just don’t get.
I currently simulcast my blog posts onto Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. I also have built an “almost” daily portfolio of photos, mostly taken by my wife, Lynn (I can say they’re excellent, since they’re mostly not mine!) – those reside on this blog, but not pushed/published to followers except in a monthly recap. They are also shared to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and Yonder. (You’ll be forgiven if you don’t know what Yonder is – think “Instagram”, but specifically for outdoors enthusiasts). At the same time, I manage a YouTube channel, which was envisioned to be a “companion” to the blog – this webiste (www.flying-squirrel.org) was to have been the hub, with all these other sites as spokes.
The Story Thus Far
As of this writing, I’ve published 230 “things”, not including featured Instagram/Yonder photos (there are 229 of those, alone). Because of the work involved, I count a YouTube video (43 public this year) and a blog post on the same topic (if there is one) as 2 “things”. Sometimes the video came first, sometimes the blog post was the foundation of the idea and served as the YouTube script. Simulcast of a post to 5 different platforms, though, is just one “thing” – because with minimal exceptions, the content is the same.
What I’ve found most interesting is that, despite consistency of content, there is almost ZERO crossover between platforms out there. I can count the number of YouTubers who look at my blog on one hand. And seemingly (though it’s hard to tell), vice versa. I think I maybe have 2 Instagram followers whose usernames I recognize in other places. They are, for all intents and purposes, completely different communities.
These divides follow subject matter too – and maybe that’s to be expected, since certain topics do better in certain media. It’s also because these platforms just work differently. I’m not into chasing numbers, but of course it is nice to believe you’re not yelling into the void…so followers/subscribers form the basis of determining engagement, in the absence of other metrics. Here’s a quick breakdown:
WordPress – http://www.flying-squirrel.org (62 subscribers)
I’ve been very happy with WordPress as “home base”. The community has been very supportive of new bloggers, great customer service, good mechanisms for establishing connections, etc. I have subscribers from several countries, and regularly get hits globally, with about 5,000 views for the year. One interesting nuance – I very quickly started a weekly Astronomy segment (with the focus on cool events of the week, overlapped with getting to know the stars as a tool for navigation and situational awareness), not because I wanted to be all about astronomy, but because that was a good topic to get people outside in January, when cold-weather camping was a bit of jumping in the deep end. As a result, I had the completely unexpected result of an early, and very engaged, community of astronomy enthusiasts following my blog. FWIW, to my astronomy followers, I love you guys – the commenting and the discussion that erupted from this was a great hook!
On the other hand, I’ve not been using home base for photography (again, Lynn’s) nearly as well as I could, primarily because of the way the “Portfolio” and “Posts” are differentiated in my theme. When I started participating in the “Weekly Challenge”, it opened doors to an entirely different community. I may change the way I push photos in the coming year, and add my own curating twists to the photo library.
Facebook – flyingsquirreloutdoor (55 subscribers)
No offense to my followers here, but Facebook is a difficult-to-navigate mess. It’s a flood of noise pushed at you by an algorithm, half of which is ads, and a place where I can’t even find what my closest friends are up to on a daily basis (which is it’s primary purpose!), much less track a site that posts random thoughts and pictures a couple times a week. This was “social media” as I understood it this time last year – and one of the reasons I was reluctant… I don’t have the patience to browse Facebook, and I don’t blame others for having the same issues. Regardless, there are some die-hard contributors here whose interest I really appreciate! (Hint: If you’re primary a Facebook follower, really of anything, you might get more out of it by finding the original source and subscribing directly. I use “Feedly” to keep things much better organized!)
Twitter – squirreloutdoor (20 followers)
I’ve found I don’t have the patience for Twitter either. Again, don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate the re-tweets, the comments, the shares — but what I’ve learned is that this is, maybe, what 90% of Twitter is. It’s sort of got the feel of a crowded animal rescue shelter, everybody barking out their 140 (now 280) character bursts, hoping to get noticed. The louder and more persistent barkers are those who get noticed – so people are encouraged to tweet… constantly… often with mysterious click-bait titles that point to another obscure link of somebody else’s material, but generating traffic. It seems like those with huge followings are endlessly re-tweeting everybody else’s content, or having bots do it, all day long. Of course, I’m ecstatic when one of these “curators” picks up on my content as something to share, and happy that we both get more reviews as a result… but I don’t plan to have the constant presence required to share whatever appeals to me in order to build a brand and following through Twitter. What happens, happens – though I must admit, it took me about 6 months to figure out the power of hashtags. Amazing what audiences those little tags open up.
(BTW, as an aside, WordPress adds data from itself, Facebook, and Twitter to determine total followers, hence the 137 followers WordPress advertises for Flying Squirrel.)
Google+ – flyingsquirreloutdoors (No idea…)
Google+ just doesn’t feel easy to navigate or engage with. I throw stuff in that direction, and really have very little idea who sees it. I’m surprised by the number and frequency of “+1’s” I get… but there’s little actual interaction there.
Instagram – flyingsquirreloutdoors (85-ish followers)
Instagram has been fun, and interesting. Again, took me a while to realize how useful hashtags are, and it will be interesting to see what happens as hashtag-following takes off. What’s really entertaining is the number of “likes” that happen almost instantaneously. Like, 20 within one minute of posting, from all over the world. Some are, no doubt, bots. But still. I’ve also just discovered using Instagram to post teasers to YouTube (though with limited success, since Instagram doesn’t like embedded links). Of all the platforms, this has to have the most volatile follow/unfollow dynamics. Hence the “-ish”. Again, I’m not fishing – just happy to see things continue to trend upwards.
Yonder – flyingsquirreloutdoors (275 followers)
Yep – the site that nobody has ever heard of is the place where I have the most followers, and I’ve done absolutely nothing to promote it. I attribute this to a couple things – one that the audience is by design interested in the stuff I do, and that the community (relative to other sites) is smaller to begin with, so my potential “market share” is higher. Those numbers are nice, and I’ll keep posting, but there’s little to no engagement other than “likes”.
YouTube – flyingsquirreloutdoors (125 subscribers)
I’ve got to say… I LOVE YouTube. It takes a lot of effort to produce content – where I can sometimes bang out a simple blog post in an hour or so (if the muses are willing), even the simplest YouTube video requires the actual DOING, plus the editing, the video/audio, the extra graphics, the printed material and links that go with it, etc. It’s not easy! Yet, because it’s video, there’s an actual connection with a real, vibrant community here. It took me a while to realize that I had to basically go beg people to find my channel – but once I started to engage along these lines, I discovered a very open, conversational group of folks that I actually feel like I’m getting to know. A bushcrafter in Trinidad. Off-the-grid cabin-dwellers in Canada, Kentucky. Thru-hikers based in California, Alabama, South Carolina. Weekend warriors in Missouri and Connecticut. I know who to ask for advice on backpacking locations in south Texas.
And EVERY time I post, I get a conversation – not just a like – from these folks. We’re learning from, and sharing with, each other. And yes, there’s a bit of an echo chamber here in talking to the already-interested, but it’s still in alignment with why I started this in the first place. When I get people telling me that my video inspired them to go try cooking with a dutch oven, or to explore a particular place, or to try orienteering for the first time, or more recently, “just to get out and go DO!”… that is success!
I’m committed here – I just passed the 10,000-view threshold, I’m starting to work on my 100-subscriber special, and considering adding astronomy videos to the mix next year? Maybe? It’s totally different than the blog, and it isn’t… if you’re not following me there yet, I encourage you to come check it out.
If I were just working the interplay between YouTube and WordPress, I think I’d be happy with the result. The rest is nice, particularly with the photography focus – but it’s gravy that tie these two together. These two are where the heart is, where the effort is – though again, the content is the same, and I’ve learned enough to recognize that users look for their content in very specific places! I invite you to join me wherever YOU feel comfortable! The effort is building community, it’s keeping me engaged – and it’s opening doors and opportunities to keep doing things in the “real” world, in a way that aligns with my original intent.
Resolutions? I’ll tweak a couple things… but mostly I want to Get Out There myself more!!
I’d say it’s been a successful journey and I’m just now getting things in gear. Though of course, as always, I’m very interested in hearing what YOU have to say! And if you don’t want to engage, that’s ok, so long as you…
Get Out There!