BlogSubscribers-main_FullA recent blog post by Anil Dash has everyone talking about what I thought was a long-assumed fact that just because someone is on the Twitter Suggested User List (or SUL) and has a million followers doesn’t necessarily mean they actually have all of those followers listening to them.  Dash, who recently had the opportunity to be on the Suggested User List himself, cited examples of various other Twitter accounts put on the list that saw absolutely no additional response after being added to the list.

I’d like to take this a bit further though and suggest something that, because of its open nature as compared to Twitter, just hasn’t been talked about much. That is the fact that, just like Twitter followers, a blog’s subscribers is also subject to this phenomena.  I’d like to suggest that despite that number in the upper-right-hand corner, it means absolutely nothing in the sense of how many people are actually reading that content.  It’s just a number.

Speaking From Experience

Let me start with this blog, since I vowed to be more transparent.  If you read the Feedburner number in the upper-right section of this blog it says I have over 7,500 subscribers.  Let’s start right off with the fact that 6,030 of those are because FriendFeed includes its subscription counts in with my Feedburner stats.  I have 6,030 subscribers on FriendFeed, and those are part of that 7,500 you see above.  If you subscribe to me on FriendFeed, that increases the number.  Still, that 6,030 still has potential of seeing my content.  It’s still just a number though.

Now, let’s assume those FriendFeed numbers don’t count.  That leaves about 1,500 subscribers  that assumedly subscribe to this blog through some sort of Feed Reader (Google Reader, Newsvine, etc).  I don’t believe that number at all.  I’d bet that at most, half of those actually read the articles I publish, as I usually average between 2 and 5 comments on each blog post I write.  As for traffic, any time I post I get around 200-500 additional visitors per post.  On a really good day that could be in the thousands.  The thing is that most of those come from Twitter, Facebook, and FriendFeed, as well as other blogs that provide commentary. Those numbers aren’t even reflected in my subscriber count!

The Big Guys

If that’s my experience, I can only imagine the accuracy of those with hundreds of thousands or even millions of subscribers.  I know their numbers can’t be accurate, not only based on my experience on this blog, but also after being linked numerous times by them.  I must admit that, directly, I usually average 100-300 visitors from the millions of subscribers on each of these blogs.  I’m very grateful for this traffic, and that they’re talking about me – the fact that they’re writing about me has much more impact and influence than just traffic (as I’ll show later).  However, the fact that only 100 out of over a million subscribers are clicking seems to imply a very similar truth to what Dash is implying with Twitter subscribers and what I’m seeing on my blog: while a few hundred thousand may be reading each and every article, the rest are simply casual bystanders skimming headlines if anything at all.

Let’s add to that how many of these blogs are on FriendFeed’s default list and other services, adding to their numbers there, along with how many are the default on the Kindle, or many RSS Readers out there.  Many users just get subscribed to these blogs by default.  Sure, some casually discover the blogs and start reading, but there is a strong possibility that many of those subscribed to these blogs never even read them, some perhaps not even aware that they’re subscribed!

Yet, Numbers Still Do Matter

As Dash implies with Twitter, the number still has an effect.  He mentioned the possibility of brand managers getting raises because their bosses see the number of new subscribers they were able to get for their brand.  From my own personal experience, I’ve seen this on both Twitter and my blog.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been introduced as “influential” because I’m one of “the most followed Twitter users in Utah”, or “he has over 7,000 subscribers to his blog!”  Like it or not, many opportunities have opened up because of this.  All that and I don’t even have a million subscribers!

Let’s add to that the fact that I can sell it for money too.  On my blog I can sell ads for more because of this.  People are more likely to subscribe and tell their friends because beyond just content, they see that number as “influential”.  I’ve been introduced to many consulting opportunities because of this.  Of course I insist on proving myself beyond the numbers (I sincerely hope no one would hire me or anyone else based on numbers alone!), but numbers do matter!  For instance, if you have more subscribers than anyone else you get to say you are the top blog on the internet – that’s a powerful statement!  You bet it works.

Numbers also lead to better content.  As I consult for others I can’t tell you the number of people that want to pitch to blog X or blog Y because they have more subscribers than the others.  Having more people pitch to you means you get the scoop on more and better content, and you’re given more control.  The articles written may not bring much traffic, but the fact that “a big blog wrote about you” also means you can feature this in Press Releases, on your company blog, or more, giving the entrepreneur more attention from VCs, big businesses deals, and potential acquisitions down the road.  But if you’re looking for traffic some times it’s better to pitch to numerous smaller blogs than one or two big blogs.  If you want influence pitch to the bigger blogs.

Organic vs. Inorganic

There are many bloggers like Scoble, Chris Brogan, Louis Gray, and others that have built their audiences by working to build relationships with their readers, one-by-one.  Yet, others that have built their entire business model around blogging do it by creating business relationships, signing contracts, and then interacting with their readers as they have time.  I think both types of bloggers have similar trust with their readers.  Producing lots and lots of good content vs. building relationships with content are both good strategies, and both can produce similar results in how they affect those that read their content, as well as individual opportunities for the bloggers.

I think in the end it comes down to which is most rewarding.  I’m not going to say which one that is as that’s a matter of opinion – can a pure focus on numbers and subscriber counts vs. building relationships and organically building your audience be more or just as rewarding?  In the end we know one thing – that little number up there doesn’t mean what you think it says.

Or does it?