Here are the site analytics for Offbeat Families, six months after it ceased publication:
This traffic is mostly Facebook-driven, and the sad truth is that the posts that seem to do best over there are always the most Jerry Springer-ish and/or sad:
When it comes to Facebook, it’s all about ABORTION! TWIN ADOPTION! SEX! I HATE YOU MOM! There are a couple surprises, but for the most case, what does best on Facebook is scandal, sex, and sadness. There are also Facebook algorithms to consider. Even if YOU’RE interested in happier posts, if other people aren’t, then Facebook won’t show that link to you. Scandal, sex, and sadness get momentum and traction with Facebook’s algorithms, which means more people see them.
I don’t know how to feel about this. On the one hand, the predictability has finally made Offbeat Families consistently profitable, after years of it losing money. On the other hand, the fact that that profit comes off of a steady stream of drama and sadness and omg intrigue makes me a little uncomfortable.
Comments on Offbeat Families traffic 6 months later: it’s all about scandal, sex, and sadness
I still applaud your decision and I’m sorry for the ambivalent feels.
I’m glad to see that your decision to shut down the site to new content obviously been the right one, but am also concerned about what the popular posts figures say about the world we live in. It would seem people are most interested in stories when they have an element of drama (*draaamazzz). I’m sure those posts have helped a lot of people through bad times though so I guess it could be a good thing.
Congrats on the making money I guess??
Yeah, I like to think that even schadenfreude (which I think drives a lot of this kind of cynical clicking) serves a purpose for folks. “Wow, this post is really sad… I feel less sad about my own life now!” There’s a value in that.
Just to give another perspective; I read controversial or drama-laden articles to help myself understand those situations. I’ll be honest; sometimes I am glad that my own life is less complicated. But most of the time I ask myself what I would do if I WAS in that situation, how would I handle it, would I have done anything different? It helps me learn about myself and in some real life events that was actually pretty handy knowledge to have, as I had already gone over it in my mind, so I knew where I stood on the subject 🙂
Me too. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being interested in posts about difficult and challenging subjects. It all has to do with how they are presented (“omg this person sucks at life!” vs. “here’s how I dealt with x,y,z and what I learned”) and how one responds to them.
For a few months, I obsessively read the column Dear Prudence on Slate.com. I was eating up the questions about complicated and difficult family situations. Part of it is the tendency to gawk, but I also felt like I gained perspective on how to address any kind of difficult situation. Sometimes my mom asks me for advice, and sometimes I find myself giving her (useful? apparently?) advice based on some of what I’ve gleaned from those difficult posts on the Offbeat Empire and from Dear Prudence.
I’m having difficulty articulating this, but….I wonder if it’s sorta like the museum effect. Like, people visit museums, and in my opinion museums seem to be about death/sadness/drama (think Holocaust Museum, or even Natural History museum (look, all the things that have gone extinct!), or any other thing that’s sorta a relic of the past. This feels different than visiting a culture/community and having (getting?) to engage with the living, rather than simply observing artifacts. I know when I visit museums I get drawn into the things that are shocking because I don’t have the time or ability to engage in the whole gamut of connection. I look at the mummies and don’t actively reach out to real-life-Egyptians going through real-life-Egyptian things in 2014.
Does that even make remote sense?
That’s a super fascinating theory, and I totally love it.
That said, there’s a sizable portion of Offbeat Families followers on Facebook who don’t seem to understand that the posts aren’t new, or that there was ever a separate website. The page’s follow count has grown by a third since the site shut down — so 5000 followers on Facebook don’t remember a time when Offbeat Families was publishing new content. It’s always just been what it is now: a Facebook page that links stuff. Despite the original publish date reflected in the link URLs, many Facebook followers do not understand or care that it’s not new content.
So I’m not sure these folks have the same relationship with the site as those of us who lived through its birth, growth, and death do. It’s not a museum for a third of its followers… it’s just interesting links.
But oh man, I love the museum concept!
I DO THIS! Actually I take it one step further and work in an actual museum and then on my lunch hour/down time go through the archives! I have this habit of just going to the last pages and working my way forward. I think its interesting to see the different perspectives on the same subjects! Also when it comes to controversial things sometimes I’m more comfortable with reading about them because I can think about them on my own and respond in my head rather than having to actually discuss these ideas with someone in person. Plus lots of answers to questions that you sometimes can’t ask because it’s awkward or you don’t know how to phrase things tactfully. I also link lots of offbeat articles to friends who ask about social norms because I know that the articles are generally well written and that the comments are polite and constructive even if they are no longer active!
I’m one of the followers who started following after new content was published, mostly because I am now in the time of my life where OBF is now relevant! I totally think it’s interesting to read the articles, even if they aren’t new, but keep thinking of questions or kind of hoping for new stuff, but it is a bit of a glimpse into a period of time and certain group of people. I’m glad there are still the posts to look to, though!
Yeah, I think I’ll be continuing this Facebook strategy through the end of the year, and then considering just allowing the site to rest in peace quietly. At this point, I’m still trying to recoup on the $40k I invested in the site over the years… But that strategy will only last for another 6mo or so.
While I do read (and reread) articles about problems and unusual situations I anticipate having, I mostly read about breast feeding, baby wearing, etc. Some people do like the ordinary, but I agree that most people are looking for excitement (war! topless women painted on airplanes! spaceships! artists with unique sexual lives!) and sometimes I enjoy some of those museum exhibits and articles, too.
As a side note, while I understood the death of Offbeat Families, I was devastated because I had been looking forward to raising my children with its assistance. I had been thinking of it as the second parent in my future family. But fortunately, I have recently found a real, flesh-and-blood, second parent to my future child, so my heartbreak has been resolved.
As a parent, I can say that a real flesh-and-blood parenting mentor is always going to be a better support than some random strangers on the internet. I love random strangers on the internet, and I hope I’m a helpful one, but parenting advice is one of those subjects that I personally have come to believe does not translate well to the internet format.
I agree that a real flesh-and-blood mentor is ideal; however, the Offbeat Families archives have been really beneficial to me personally–we’re ttc and our family will probably be supportive if we have a child, but not so much if they knew we were trying while not super financially stable. Even though the site draws in a lot of drama seekers, there are some of us who have always been lurkers in the Empire, using each site as we reach various stages in life. While it’s the drama fans who help keep the ad revenue going, the rest of us really appreciate the continued access!
I don’t think it’s only about ogling-all-the-dramz. Yes, it is fascinating to look at and I’ll click a salacious-looking title, but another part of it is that these things just don’t get talked about much elsewhere. Especially when it comes to families and parenting, it’s normal to keep the struggles private and present a rosy picture to the rest of the world, in real life when catching up with acquaintances, or virtually on Facebook, Pinterest, blogs, etc. It’s just not normal to talk about having an abortion, or struggling with infertility, or how sometimes you just want to run away from it all.
But suddenly there’s a space where people write thoughtfully about miscarriages, abortions, breastfeeding struggles, and so on, and (the key bit) the comments are moderated to weed out assholes and mean criticism. Even if I haven’t gone through that particular issue myself (I’m not a parent or trying to be, so that knocks out a lot of Offbeat Families articles being directly relevant to me), sometimes certain things in my life are shitty and hard and it’s nice to look and see people coming to terms with their own hard things. Or, if a friend were to confide that they’re going through it, it gives me more insight on what they might be experiencing. Over on Offbeat Home, some of my favorite articles are the ones about the tougher stuff, because I can learn more about people and especially because I can expect a lot of deep and thoughtful conversation in the comments.
Basically, a splashy title may get me to click, but it’s the content and community that get me to stay around.
I agree with Jackie above. Part of it is that these things are not talked about, I think. I am interested in people, their experiences, and how they deal with things. It’s very thought provoking and challenging. In a way, I feel like learning and reading about these topics helps me become a better person, because it makes me think about what I would do in that situation. I don’t plan on being a parent, but I regularly read Offbeat Families for that reason.
I understand your dilemma, though! I work in news, and part of news is social media. I’m not in charge of the social media at my workplace, but I do know it’s a balance to have to think about facebook’s algorithms and be like, “oh…this will get a TON of comments and shares…but is it news?” And then many of those comments are asking where the good news is or something. BUT the “good news” or “real news” stories people say they want get a fraction of the social media love the crazy ones get. Rant over.
I don’t have an answer for the confusing feelings, but I think it’s about balance and intention…not ONLY sharing and pushing the stories that are “scandalous,” but sharing a variety. It seems like the Empire is doing a good job of that!
I make a point to share a variety of posts, but how long can I ignore that the non-tabloid posts perform poorly? At what point do I shrug and focus my time on sharing the posts that I know the majority of folks will click?
This is a general question about the state of journalism on the internet, but anyhow –> I wonder if at some point switching to tabloid-only posts will stop paying off? The list of online media outlets that I’ve ceased reading because they only post junk is growing. Who remembers when Huffington Post actually had real articles about interesting things instead of only click-bait nonsense? I used to read (and enjoy) Huffington Post, and now it’s essentially unreadable. It seems that these news outlets are, understandably, posting things that get clicks and shares and whatnot. But they lose my interest when they do. (though the Offbeat Empire is unlikely to lose my interest any time!)
Yep, it’s super interesting. I continue to post non-clickbaity posts, but the results don’t lie.
Just today, the highest performing link on Offbeat Families’ Facebook was “Don’t Think of Ugly People”: how parenting advice has changed while Birthing Without: a birth plan for the plan-adverse sank like a rock because honk-shooo, birth plans. UGLY PEOPLE!? CLICK CLICK CLICK.
There are also Facebook algorithms to consider. Even if YOU’RE interested in birth plans, if other people aren’t, then Facebook won’t show that link to you. Tabloid posts get momentum and traction with Facebook’s algorithms, which means more people see them.
Part of it could be the titles, too- I’ll admit I clicked the first one because “Ugly people? Don’t think of them? WTF are you talking about??” whereas the second one is clearly about birthplans which I give no fucks about as someone who’s not planning a birth. Same with “I HATE YOU, MOM!” and “This post was controversial”… they make you wonder wtf is going on.
I’m kinda pleased to see that articles about not having kids/poly folks having kids are topping the charts though.
Absolutely titles. I’ve done marketing writing since Clinton was in office, so I know how to write some clickbait. (As do the editors who write each post’s original title.)
When I’m in the mood, I write disturbingly effective clickbait on Facebook. I’m a pretty dark cynic under all these rainbow platforms and polkadot dresses. 😉 I think that’s where the discomfort comes in. I can be super good at doing this. It just marking that’s more manipulative than I usually do.
As I’ve said before though, clicks don’t lie: https://offbeatempire.com/2012/12/clicks-dont-lie
Definitely with the algorithms. I saw the ugly people article and chose not to click, but never saw the birthplan article until I read this comment, which I actually *did* click. Obviously the ugly people one was more popular in the first place, but then it’s popularity grows exponentially as more people click it and it gets displayed more heavily, making it skyrocket.
I don’t know if it’s really controversy that’s the clickbait but things that relate to the universal human experience vs things of specific interest to specific people. I was certainly interested in reading about baby wearing and nursing when I was doing or making plans towards either, but now it’s not really interesting. By contrast, I’m going to be interested in how human beings wrestle with tough decisions (abortion, adoption), or how social trends have changed over the decades (whether parenting or otherwise). So those articles are going to still be worth reading or re-reading to me after I’m past (or, depending on your reader, not yet at) the baby planning/nursing/wearing phase.
Does that make sense?
That is the questions I think any content provider is struggling with. I sure don’t have an answer. The whole thing (and facebook’s algorithms) can be frustrating and confusing.
I know at my job we’ve also looked at time of day–like when it’s best to share certain posts…maybe playing with that to see when/if there’s a time certain types of posts hit big? (You guys probably already do that though!)
Like maryr said too– there’s a loyal community that wants all the articles and sometimes those people get frustrated with “CLICK ME” things…but you’re also running a business!
I don’t know if this struggle will go away anytime soon. One of my favorite music blogs I read posts a mix of reviews of underground/indie bands that don’t get much attention elsewhere…he also posts entertaining and profane rants about current popular music and things like that. Guess which ones generate the most clicks, etc.?? He’s been open about the frustration of people bitching about not wanting to read about these popular artists, and “where’s the review of Underground so-and-so’s new album?” but clicks, comments, and shares don’t lie.
In conclusion, you’re definitely not alone…and SIGH.
I’m going to echo the people above. There are two reasons I’ll read a post – if it looks like it is particularly relevant to my life, or if it looks interesting. Sometimes that means something that I don’t read about frequently, or possibly never heard of before. It’s curiosity, not schadenfreude or a love for drama. It’s like, oh no, why do you hate your mom? I have to read this post to find out! I’ve also got to admit that knowing it’s from an Offbeat site makes me more likely to want to read that kind of thing that seems scandalous, because I like the way Offbeat communities approach these topics. Like Offbeat posts on polyamory aren’t going to be salacious, they are going to have real explanations about how real people make it work in real life. That’s SO not like Jerry Springer, which I don’t really watch but I imagine they would make diagrams about who has sex with whom or something if they ever discussed it on the show.
I think a good amount of it is the side-show, hate reading effect. I mean, some of the articles from OBF are somewhat controversial from the stand-point of a person who’s more mainstream. Even if not hate reading, I would think there is a curiosity effect and, if someone is “caught” with the link up, they can brush it off as “I saw this on Facebook. I HAVE NO IDEA GUYS WHAT IS THIS??” even if they don’t actually, deeply, feel that way.
Since the reading is only serving to help the Empire and doesn’t look like it’s hurting the rest of the properties (I assume, as I didn’t catch you mention that), I’d celebrate the small victory in the profit boost while making sure to keep a watchful eye that there isn’t a “spillover” from special friends who may be hate-reading or trying to gawk at the freak show (to their mind).
Thank you so much for that second paragraph. You make some really powerful points that I need to read and reread and sit with for a bit.
If I sound like an alarmist, that’s not my intention. In my time on the internets, I’ve seen the well get poisoned by people who just come over to troll and stir shit up. Luckily here, you’ve got a solid, solid, solid, clear and concise commenting/participation policy, so I don’t think it’s going to be a problem as the moderating on the site is, in all reality, spectacular.
Yeah, every once in a great while we’ll have someone hate-following Offbeat Bride, but they’re so easy to spot that it’s a quick drop/kick. And I’m not too worried about Offbeat Home & Life because the topics just aren’t that sensitive… who wants to hate-read a post about alternative urns!? BORING!
Ugh, what monster would ever use an urn?! The only acceptable way to dispose of the dead is a pit in your basement filled with biolumenscent space-worms that consume flesh and convert it to chocolate chip cookies!! I can’t believe OBHL didn’t acknowledge this!!!
Beatrix, you win the internet today.
One other thing to think about, maybe – in my brief experience of OBF, the ‘controversial’ posts were the ones that demonstrated more comment and debate, and I’d click on them for that reason. I use feedly to read the majority of the articles on the OBE, but I’ll click if the subject of the article is something that might open up interesting chat, because the Offbeat commenters are usually very good at that.
In my own sick way, I appreciate a little bait and switch. The titles imply drama, a freak show, or something to hate-read. The reader clicks on it and receives a well-written, thoughtful article with a heavily moderated comment section full of open-minded debate. If they’re clicking just for a little adrenaline rush of schadenfreude and don’t find it, they don’t read the article but the clicks still count. Some may stay a while, maybe even tweek their perspective. It’s not really about how they find themselves here, it’s what happens when they arrive. I know the Offbeat Empire has changed the way I relate to things in the real world.
Great point! Maybe I can reframe this to myself as sneaky/deep offbeat public relations — “Oh, you thought you were getting some Jerry Springer shit?! SURPRISE!! Let’s talk about tolerance and respect! JOKE’S ON YOU!”
I completely agree with this. Any sick fascination with minorities makes me fiercely uncomfortable – I was born with dwarfism and being stared at is the number one social problem dwarfs have to put up with – but I don’t know a single human being who isn’t somewhat curious about things they’ve never seen before. (Even those who know very well that it’s not polite to stare have to suppress the urge to stare.) We don’t have much chance of expunging the curiosity impulse, but what we can do is decide what we feed it and how.
The difference between a sensitive, awareness-spreading documentary and a voyeuristic freak show lies in the presentation, the curation of the content, and in how much freedom and agency is given to the subjects. If Jerry Springer exploits its subjects – I had a friend with dwarfism go on his show once and learned only minutes before taping that she’d be flanked by some circus clowns – then what The Offbeat Empire is doing the very opposite.
Ultimately, I think it is all about balance. You have to get clicks to make a profitable site, it just the nature of the beast. One of the things I like about Offbeat Empire, and particularly Family, was that even the “Jerry Springer” controversial posts weren’t off the deep-end crazy. There is always a well presented side of a possibly controversial topic followed by typically well thought out comments to dissect the topic at different points, showing the many sides of the topic at hand.
I don’t think those drawing clicks is something to be too worried about. Of course you want all of posts to draw clicks, but not all posts are going to draw clicks from every person. You get someone in with the flashy post, you add a good reader/contributor by showing them “Hey, here’s links to these other awesome posts…if you like those you should stick around”. For every few hundred clicks on a flashy facebook post, you gain a few Empire-minded people who will continue to come back to the sites for all they have to offer, not just the flash.
A couple of months ago I had a miscarriage. I went back and read through the posts about miscarriage on OBF. They helped me to process what had happened and helped me along the path to feeling OK again. On the same day I probably also clicked on some click bait what inanimate object are you/10 reasons Londoners are miserable/KITTENS!!!!!!! post. The clicks don’t lie, but not all clicks are created equal.
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