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How I Started Existing on the Internet

taillogs profile image Ryland G Originally published at cdevn.com ・12 min read

Warning, this is a detailed post. If you want to just see the results click here

Intro

For those of you who don't know me. Hello, my name is Ryland. I'm an engineer/product manager working for Binaris (a startup) in the Bay area.

About a month and a half ago, my company was going through some significant changes. We launched an effort to get feedback about a new idea I was pushing through the company. As part of this effort, I had to create some content (blog, video) and then subsequently evangelize that content across social media.

Not wanting to lose momentum that the work event had given me, I decided it was the right time to start working on my social presence.

Getting Acquainted

Most people who know me also know that I'm not a fan of social media. I really believe that current platforms are designed to manipulate and hook users, instead of encouraging genuine social interactions. Although I feel very strongly about this, I also strive to be a pragmatic person. And since social media is such a key aspect of modern day business, I knew that I had to get with the program.

Until about a month ago I was completely off social media. I had a Facebook account in high school, but it's been mostly deactivated for the last 6 years. I do use Reddit constantly, but mostly as an informational tool, not for social interaction. I originally created my twitter account two years ago, but until ~1.5 months ago, I had only 40 followers (entirely made up of personal friends) and I hadn't tweeted (anything at all) since making the account originally. Here is my non-activity from April of this year.

april_twitter

After doing some research, I decided that twitter was the best bet for establishing myself. Even though I didn't understand the culture or the platform, I believed Twitter had the strongest demographics relevant to me (tech and lifestyle). I started by following a number of top influencers and quickly started to learn what type of content works well on Twitter.

From May 15 to May 30, I gained ~600 followers purely through tweeting arbitrary thoughts, posting joke tweets and replying to interesting content on my feed. Having done my research, I knew that hashtags were critical for tweet visibility, so I used them generously. During this time my average tweet was doing pretty decently, but the content wasn't represenative of "me".

My most successful tweet of May

Towards the end of May I started to realize that although people were following me, I wasn't establishing any credibility. If you're relatively unknown on Twitter, establishing credibility is incredibly difficult. I strongly believe that this aspect of twitter contributes to the incredible toxicity of the platform and really hurts meaningful discourse. Trying to stay pragmatic, I looked for other avenues I might use to expedite my growth.

MyOS

Based on my observations from Twitter, I hypothesized that creating an open-source project was a pretty reliable way to get traction. Many social media tech influencers were creators of popular open-source projects, giving them both technical credibility and an already involved audience that was likely to follow them outside of Github.

I had been working on a personal project for a few months, and it was something that I was eager to share with others. I realized that it would be very difficult to spread the word through Twitter alone, and that a blog post seemed like a more appropriate medium. I'm very comfortable with webdev, so I spent a day or two building a blog using Gridsome.

I then moved onto cleaning up my code and writing the accompanying blog post. I really believed in the value of the project (it's something I had already been using every day), so I decided that I would do everything I could to make it visible. When everything was ready, I published the project to Github and started posting the corresponding blog post everywhere I could.

myos-reddit-post

Someone gave me platinum on /r/vim

myos-reddit-posts

MyOS Reddit posts

During my quest to post MyOS across the internet, I heard about a newer, community-driven content platform, Dev.to. I liked what I saw after an initial visit, and decided to cross post my blog there too.

myos

I also considered cross posting to Medium as well, but it was then that I discovered the lack of canonical_url support on Medium.

MyOS was more of a success than I initially expected. As of today the project has ~120 stars and 16 contributors, not bad for a first try. Unfortunately, the MyOS model doesn't scale. It took me months to get the project into a place I was willing to share, there was no way that a multi-month process was an efficient (not to mention the risk) method of gaining followers.

But something else came out of the MyOS effort, I now had a personal blog.

may-twitter

Twitter stats for May (includes MyOS traffic)

The Best Medium

A week before the MyOS release, I started seeing a lot of negative attention directed at Medium on Twitter. After doing some research, I realized that most of the anger was misguided so I did my best to combat the disinformation.

But then, in early June, a leaked email from the Free Code Camp founder Quincy popped up in my feed. It was obvious that Quincy was unhappy with the leak, and because the tweet was relatively unseen, I figured it would dissipate.

A few days later, articles started appearing referencing the leaked email and I no longer felt morally/ethically inclined to keep quiet about it. I was already frustrated from my experience with Medium, and I felt that the actions alleged in the email crossed the line. I quickly wrote a post discussing the leaked email, along with my personal issues with Medium. I knew the post was controversial, which is almost always a good thing if you can handle it. I once again posted across many "mediums" (I'm funny), this time immediately posting to Dev.to.

medium-devto

I also decided to post to hacker news, which I had never done before. Many will probably argue with me, but I think Hacker News is one of the most negative platforms in existence. And because my story was negative in message, the post took off and was #1 on Hacker News for most of the day.

hacker-news-medium

I accidentally posted to /r/javascript thinking it was /r/technology and was shocked to come back and see that it also did quite well.

medium reddit post

At this point, I was primarily linking to my personal domain instead of Dev.to, here's the google analytics.

google analytics medium

Dev.to

The Medium post did pretty well, but more importantly, it showed me the potential of Dev.to. From just the MyOS and Medium post I had nearly 500 followers on Dev.to. I'll be honest, my first guess was that Dev.to was inflating my follower count for some sort of social psychology.

I started looking into it and realized very quickly that nothing malicious was going on, in fact it was the opposite. Because Dev.to does not publicly display follower counts, readers tend to follow based on content they like, not who they think is popular. This resonated with me deeply, as it perfectly solves the issue I have with platforms like Twitter. On Dev.to what is being said matters much more than who is saying it.

At this point I was still very uncomfortable writing blogs and getting "out there". It may seem hard to believe, but I'm not a very extroverted person. Having overcome personal deficits like these in the past, I knew total immersion was a quick and reliable way to normalize yourself to an uncomfortable experience. In light of this, I decided I would do my best to post something every weekday for the next month. This was a serious undertaking considering I work fuller time at a startup already.

Blog Blog Blog Blog

Week One

The first week was easy, there was only one day left after the Medium post. I hadn't fully committed to the plan, so the post was essentially a discussion thread.

first-week

Week Two

Things ramped up during the second week. I was posting everything to my personal blog, but I was only giving out links to the Dev.to versions. This was a hard choice but it mostly stemmed from users existing familiarity with the Dev.to platform as opposed to my personal site. I predicted that people would be more willing to engage/interact if they already had an account.

second week

I started experimenting with different types of content during this week. It was obvious that I had the technical chops to produce highly technical content, but it was much easier to produce high quality non-technical content with my limited time. You have to understand these are each full-fledged blog posts, they take a lot of time to write. I also started to get familiar with my content pipeline, each day I would post my new content to the relevant platforms.

As you can see from the above tweet, my content start getting more engagement. This was a combination of a growing twitter following (was up to nearly 800 followers) and the added Dev.to traffic that I previously wasn't receiving.

Week Three

I was getting into a real rhythm by this point. As they say, the best way to get good at something is by doing it. Writing became less of a painful experience which translated into more time and better content.

third week

The biggest win was the first post of the week which actually ended up being one of my best posts yet. I definitely attribute some of its success to my corresponding Reddit posts.

know-nothing-reddit-post

Note: If you try and self-promote on Reddit, you're going to have a bad time. I don't post everything to Reddit, and when I do I make sure it's in a digestible Reddit friendly format. I also made a rule that for every piece of content I posted to Reddit, I needed to comment on 5 other peoples posts and help/respond to them.

The post about disagreement also did quite well, I assume mostly due to this fortunate tweet by Dev.to on Twitter.

The biggest surprise of that week was actually my post about K-Means. I really felt that it was higher quality writing/content than anything else so far, which led me to realize that there is essentially not a data-science community on Dev.to.

For those wondering why I did an AMA instead of a proper post on Jun 21, it's because it was a Friday. After looking over general statstics of content posted to Dev.to, I realized that Friday was practically a dead day, and therefore I could be more lax with what I posted. I also felt that the AMA was a nice way to establish credibility.

Week Four (The Final Week)

Week four started very strong. My first post of the week was about Elon Musk, Elon Musk isn't related to either of the topics that had been working for me so far. Regardless, I knew that it was niche content and had a lot of appeal because of how popular Tesla was.

fourth-week-part-1

A lot of writing successful content comes from understanding the topology of society and the internet. For example, because I knew Elon Musk has a semi-cult level following, content that positively depicted him might do quite well. Especially when posted to communities dedicated to that type of content.

elon-musk-reddit-post

I also learned that when someone is controversial like Musk, writing content about them will also bring that controversy back home.

A Response to My Elon Musk Blog Post Tweet

I really was short on time for Tuesdays post. I actually ended up scrapping my entire post about 1 hour before I went to sleep and then writing something entirely new in a panicked rush. That post, "How to Write a Good Piece of Code" ended up being my most successful post by a HUGE margin. I attribute this almost entirely to the fact that it sat on the frontpage of /r/programming for over an entire day.

good-code-reddit

The Tweet Also Did Very Well

Wednesdays post was special, or so I thought. It was a project I had been working on for a very long time, and walked through the process of building a simple AI (Multilayer Perceptron) only using Google sheets formulas. I use Google sheets all the time, and I figured it was something that nearly everyone can relate to. I was wrong. The post didn't do terrible, but not good enough to justify the number of hours I invested. This also confirmed my previous suspicion that there isn't a data science community on Dev.to.

fourth-week-part-2

Even by Thursday, "How to Write a Good Piece of Code" was still dominating my social media. Every morning I would wake up to tons of notifications from people sharing it. Partially due to this (and just being so exhausted), for the last 3 posts of the month (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) I kept things very casual.

june-twitter

June Twitter Stats

Outcome

The story I told is great, but what about the results? We'll start with Twitter, as the initial goal was to get more Twitter followers.

twitter-stats

Over the course of 1.5 months I essentially went from 0 twitter followers to ~1250 Twitter followers. I have no real way to gauge this but I'm personally pretty satisfied. I also think, because I shifted my focus more towards blogging, it slowed my twitter growth.

The biggest gains were actually on Dev.to. In exactly 30 days of having a Dev.to account, I gained 3500 followers and accumulated ~54k views from scratch.

totals

For any of you still wondering if Dev.to is a good place to get started, wonder no more. Lastly, this is the karma I gained on Reddit from posting my content and helping random redditors with tech questions.

reddit-stats

Disclosure: I had never purchased "ads on the internet" before and was curious, so I spent ~$200 across Reddit, Twitter and Google trying out the respective ad platforms. Either ads suck or I suck at ads, they did very poorly and resulted in almost no increased traffic.

Takeaways

  • Some content isn't going to do well This is something that I 100% expected going into the process, which made it really easy to stay productive throughout. The biggest benefit of making yourself do this every day, is that you'll eventually post so much content that a few poorly received pieces aren't as meaningful. Often, those who are "afraid" to blog have a lot of anxiety that what they make will not be well received. Posting frequently allows you to solve this problem with scale. Yes some content won't work, no it's not because it sucks (maybe wrong audience, maybe wrong format).

  • It's not as scary as you think I won't lie and say that the blogging/social media process is something I enjoy. But I definitely don't feel the same stomach knotting I did when I started a month ago. I know a lot of people out there struggle like I did, but I promise its all in your head. As long as you go out there with a self-improvement mentality, and are willing to fix your mistakes, it will be a smooth ride.

  • Write Outlines: I recommend that you never start writing a blog post without at least a rough outline. Not only do outlines make it easier to write content, it also usually makes the final product a lot more concise and focused. I wasn't using outlines at the beginning of the month and things were rough.

  • You have to evangelize your content: I see so many great posts that never gain traction because the author doesn't share it adequately. I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with this (including me at the beginning of last month), but you really shouldn't be. If you spent the effort to make a quality product it's illogical to not at least put some effort into sharing it. You can see how much extra traction my posts got from me making sure it was visible in multiple platforms.

  • Dev.to is hot: If you're not already considering writing content on the site, you should be. The amount of growth I've seen in the month I've been here is astounding. I've also had many interactions with the Dev.to team and can safely say that they are some of the most reasonable, positive, level headed people you'll meet. I probably get on their nerves constantly and they've never complained. The community is also pretty non-toxic, but I fear that's simply a factor of its size.

  • Engage back: If you just write posts and don't respond to comments/reactions, you're missing out. I did my best to give a genuine response to every reasonable/non-troll comment I received. Yes, it's time consuming, but it also is highly visible and helps build a positive image of you in the community.

  • I can't post every day The month of June was ROUGH for me. I didn't have a single moment of free time. I was either working at my startup or writing content for the next days post. I would say that I was averaging 12-16 hours of just working, writing and editing, every day (including weekends). And that's almost entirely productive time. I eat only 1 meal a day, and I live 5 minutes from work, so very little overhead.

Wake up -> Work -> Go Home -> Work -> Go to Bed -> Repeat

Discussion

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chrisrhymes profile image
C.S. Rhymes

Great post. Very informative. Just make sure you give yourself some downtime every now and then.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never really used reddit. I’m going to check it out and see what it’s all about.

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

Great post. Very informative.

Thanks, really glad you got value out of my work, that makes me happy.

Just make sure you give yourself some downtime every now and then.

I'm going to give myself an easy week, I'm very exhausted so not a hard sell.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never really used reddit. I’m going to check it out and see what it’s all about.

It's one of the best informational resources that is available to you, please do check it out!

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quinncuatro profile image
Henry Quinn

I’ll be honest, I’ve never really used reddit. I’m going to check it out and see what it’s all about.

But also God help you.

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

What he said

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dpashutskii profile image
Dmitrii Pashutskii

If be honest it's still the best site out there. Yes, it could be cruel, but stick with the right subs and you'll be okay. When I first discovered Reddit several years ago it replaced me pretty big amount of websites I used.
Also, there are very unique subs which you won't find anywhere else. I'm taking Photo class on Reddit right now for example.

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akashic seer

I signed up to reddit years ago. I tried to do a post. I clicked the post button and nothing happened ever. No error, no message, nothing. So I left and didn't try again. I figured it was some sort of reputation system thing or something.

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Max Ong Zong Bao

Awesome article, I really like dev community. As I cross post a lot of articles most of it.

I always have a worried feeling of posting since I don't really know if those posts will be controversial with tons of backlash.

Especially those that are non developer topics.

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

Thanks for leaving such a genuine response. I'm happy to hear the article provided you value.

I always have a worried feeling of posting since I don't really know if those posts will be controversial with tons of backlash.

That's the best case ;)

Especially those that are non developer topics.

I would expect those topics to do less well on Dev.to. That doesn't mean you shouldn't post them. I still plan on posting more data science stuff.

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steelwolf180 profile image
Max Ong Zong Bao

Hahaha I'm inclined to post more python and startup stuff as well hahaha.

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jackharner profile image
Jack Harner 🚀

A very interesting look at the growth on the different platforms. Dev.To is definitely my largest audience by far (~1,700 followers) and it's a wonderful place for conversation.

The month of June was ROUGH for me.

Ya.. that schedule sounds super hectic and not very sustainable in the long run.

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

A very interesting look at the growth on the different platforms. Dev.To is definitely my largest audience by far (~1,700 followers) and it's a wonderful place for conversation.

I'm glad you took that out of it too. I think if there's one thing to takeaway from my post it would be "Don't limit yourself to one audience". I also think Dev.to is wonderful and I enjoy my interactions here more than anywhere else.

Ya.. that schedule sounds super hectic and not very sustainable in the long run.

Completely agree. I was still getting enough sleep etc, but it was too draining. That being said, sometimes it's nice to be able to push hard for a month and overcome personal deficits quickly.

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James Turner

That's pretty great growth on DEV and on Twitter! I've been using both for longer and have no where near that progress. I guess besides writing more frequently (on DEV and on Twitter), I just have to write more interesting and/or controversial things. 😂

I did see your Elon Musk post, that was pretty clever to capitalise on that topic.

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

That’s pretty great growth on DEV and on Twitter!

I agree. It still requires a lot of manual effort, but for the time I’ve been doing it, the progress is great.

I just have to write more interesting and/or controversial things

I really think more is better than controversial. I didn’t write a ton of controversial articles (only 2 actually). Once you’re writing frequently, you’ll feel comfortable playing around with topics until you find a good fit.

I’m glad you liked my Elon Musk post, I didn’t just write it for the controversy, but that was a nice bonus.

Thanks for taking the time to write such a genuine comment!

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Drew Town

Great write-up, Ryland. I've also recently started "putting myself out there" and it is pretty intimidating at first having my name attached to things.

Being consistent and just trying things seems to be the most important lesson. You really do never know what is going to resonate with the crowd.

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Bradley Wells

Do you always cross-post (with canonical_url) the full contents of the article from your blog to dev.to? How has your organic search traffic responded?

I have only been posting excerpts here, without using canonical, and I'm thinking about changing strategies.

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

Yes I always cross post with full content and canonical. As for the organic traffic, obviously it’s suffered. But that’s more from me distributing dev.to links instead of my personal site links.

I just realized the network and distribution is much better here than it is for my unknown blog. If I didn’t answer your question, please let me know!

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Caleb Rudder

This is definitely great information! Thank you for Sharing.

As a current student about to graduate and wanting to get into more meaningful positions as well as be a constant learner, I've been trying to figure out what mediums I was going to start using. Dev + Twitter has been something that I thought would be a great place to start. Thanks for sharing your experience! It was encouraging.

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Nadine M. Thêry

I've been engaged and worked as a copywriter in my previous job. So yes, gaining popularity is about 50% quality of content (it doesn't always have to be GOOD, just interesting for somebody), 40% constancy of publishing and 10% engagement and sharing.

You did an amazing job. Copywriting is hard and laborious but once the wheel starts spinning it gets easier.

From the developer side, as a newbie, I always feel that I don't have anything as interesting as anybody else. Or just that I do not have enough authority to write about something. But as you perfectly said, it is all in our heads.

Dev.to community is welcoming, patient and friendly :)

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Mike Ekkel

These are great insights! I've been wanting to get into blogging but wasn't sure how to get started or if I would be credible... I suppose credibility comes from just putting yourself out there and putting in the work.

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

Just get yourself out there. That’s the hardest part and once it’s over it’s a bit exhilarating.

Credibility comes a lot easier from blogs than from twitter because of the average length of content.

Thanks so much for the positive feedback, glad I was able to provide value.

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Niko Heikkilä

Documenting a learning or growing process is an important skill for any developer. Having said that you just gained a new follower. 👍

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

I appreciate the follow and the time you took to leave this positive and insightful comment.

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Greg Edelston

Great article, Ryland. I love the story-telling and the concrete advice.

You said that you don't enjoy the blogging/social media process. This makes me curious: why do you dedicate your time to it?

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

What I enjoy/don't enjoy doesn't dictate my life. I didn't like or eat vegetables for most of my life, but I realized that was a shortsighted and irrational decision so I made myself change. I see this very similarly.

Sorry for the late reply, I hope that answered your question. Thanks for the great comment!

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gredelston profile image
Greg Edelston

Thanks Ryland! This explains why the non-enjoyment doesn't deter you from blogging. But I am still curious what drives you to write and to promote yourself as a writer.

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

It's a skill I have, and others don't, and that's a strong differentiator in a capitalist economy. I definitely see myself writing for the rest of my life, just not as a full time thing.

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Mikhail Panichev

Thanks for a good article!

After looking over general statstics of content posted to Dev.to, I realized that Friday was practically a dead day

Can you share ways how you collected these statistics? Last time I checked there was no open data from dev.to

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Mindaugas Jacionis

Cool article! A lot of great insights! I loved that it is so much in depth with all the numbers and goals and everything 🤗
I was wondering about your personal blog, do you post twice(one on dev.to and one on personal blog) or have some sort of setup, tooling or maybe API integration to avoid double labor? 🤔🙂

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akashic seer

Excellent article. This follows basically the same path I am following. My last app failed because I am an extreme introvert and had no one to tell about it. I had only family and a few friends I grew up with and connected on facebook with. This time around I am working harder on making the internet presence. I am determined to work as hard to make a presence as I am to code the actual app.

I started a blog akashicseer.com where I have been writing articles for several months instead of using a platform. I use the blog as a personal place to keep resources about subjects I am interested in. One part of the plan is to use the resource links in articles within my blog because it raises your SEO apparently.

Another reason I create lists of resources is because the internet is full of bad information. I screen the resources. You will see lists of videos that I have watched and documented what is in them and at what point.

On twitter I started to follow and promote tweets of people in the Developer community, mostly indie game developers. The social platform I am building is meant to help people get found in a social way. But it also includes some seriously unique features. For one much of the admin work will be done by AI assisted by humans.

But I don't want to build something no one knows about again. This article has convinced me that writing articles on dev.to will probably be a rewarding event so I will probably try to write one soon. I can still link to my blog in the articles here. So maybe I write a long article on my blog and write a smaller one or related one here and link to it.

I am going to try this to see how well it works. Thanks for the article.

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Ben Sinclair

I'm curious as to why you did this. What are you hoping to achieve by getting a lot of followers?

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

First and foremost, the last 1.5 months really helped me overcome some of my social anxiety.

Long term, I want to be very successful in business and a key component is having a large reach (followers). I could wait till when I need it to start the process, or I could get it over with now.

I also really believe that I have a unique and important view point to share with the world. More than that, if I can help others avoid making mistakes I had to, that would be really great. I really strongly believe that nobody has to lose for you to win. So if others can use my story to “win”, that would be wonderful.

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Jonathan P

Thanks for sharing!
It seems you focused on reddit, twitter, medium and dev.to. Did you also try linkedin?
If not, why?

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quinncuatro profile image
Henry Quinn

This is awesome. I'm starting a month of "learning in public" today and this will probably help a lot - similarly looking to create a small following.

Did you see any patterns associated about WHEN in the day you put posts up?

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Florian Rand

Wow this is an example of meticulously and strategically well planned work. Quite impressive 👏👏👏💪.

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

Thank you. I did really work hard but it seems to have been worth it. Glad you enjoyed my work!

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Vitor Reis

Interesting insights, thanks for sharing it.

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

Of course! Glad you liked it.

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Damjan Dimitrov

Great article! Just one question - what did you mean by "outlines" when you mentioned writing outlines as part of the conclusion?

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

Great question. I might write another post about it.

The basics. Most people start writing a post by sitting down at the computer and typing out paragraph 1 and then 2 etc. Obviously it’s possible to do it this way, but what often happens is that without planning, halfway through you realize something isn’t going to work. Maybe the paragraphs don’t flow as well as you like.

In my experience, this uncertainty is actually a big time waster. To solve this, I start every post just by putting the titles of the sections. That way I no longer start from top to bottom and figure it out as I go, but instead sort of “connect the dots” between sections.

Depending on the size of the post, I sometimes even put a few high level bullet points in each section. When it comes time to write that section, I simply turn each bullet point into a stand-alone paragraph.

I hope that answered, if not please tell me. Glad you liked the article, thanks for asking a great question too!

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Amine Hammou

A lot of honesty over here, great post!

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

Thanks :) Glad you liked it.

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Emmanuel Raymond

Really great article. Keep up the good work

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

Thanks for reading!

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Vaibhav Namburi

This is probably one of the best posts I've read in a while!

Well written, to the point and articulate.

U sir are gifted

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taillogs profile image
Ryland G Author

So glad you liked it. Thank you for giving me specific feedback because it helps to know what part of the articles worked!

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Cara Margot

as someone who is similarly wary of social media, I really appreciate this write up!