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The First Month of Growth

Connect A Book is well into its second month of existence, and at this point I’ve measured enough of the community’s growth to have some thoughts.

First thought? This is hard.

Second thought? Numbers are an uncomfortable, cold truth.

A month ago, I wrote that I’d “track active users and total connections as indicators of people’s interest and commitment to Connect A Book,” so each Sunday I checked those numbers (as well as social metrics for Facebook likes and Twitter followers), wrote them down, and noted the percent change from the week before. If the number was above 7%, I’d mark it green, celebrate, and plan to repeat whatever I did the previous week because it seemed to have worked.

If the number was below 7%, I’d mark it red, panic, and scramble to come up with ideas to address that area directly.

The area that caused the most Red Scares? Number of users.

So here are the monthly averages of the four categories. Unless otherwise noted, each week saw greater than 7% growth.

Total Connections = average weekly growth of 14.5% 

Number of Users = average weekly growth of 8.5% (only 1 week above 7%)

Facebook Likes = average weekly growth of 23.75% 

Twitter Followers = average weekly growth of 15.75%

The monthly averages, while solid, mask what was an alarming first three weeks for number of users, and a crisis averted for total connections. It took a concerted effort over this past week of reaching out to friends, colleagues and book club members to get the number back on track, and to make the last month’s average palatable.

As for total connections, the rate dropped each week (while still staying above 7%) until the final push for more users brought with it a bunch more connections. To me, that’s an indication of people creating connections on their first visit to the site but not returning to interact with the community, and not inviting other people to join them. We need to get stickier.

Finally, while I care about having active Facebook and Twitter communities, I don’t care about those numbers as much. Because there is an abundance of ways to inflate those metrics with services like Tweepi and Crowdfire, or through targeted ads, I don’t believe they are true indicators of the growth of Connect A Book. That being said, it is important to me to insure they grow at a similar rate because they are often the first impression an author or reader has of our community. While a large number doesn’t necessarily say much, a small number, or a steady number, might say the wrong thing.

Much of my concern is about keeping users interested and active, and fortunately, I am not alone in that concern. There are plenty of books and articles written about the subject, including Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers. Given that I’ll exhaust the friends and family circle of users within the next few weeks, I’ll start applying those strategies and seeing which avenues are best for Connect A Book.

The numbers, as uncomfortable and cold and bare as they may be, are just that. They’re numbers. They impact the site, but they are only laying the groundwork for the big goals I have for Connect A Book. I want it to be useful and interesting and enlightening and *fun*, but I’m not sure how to get there just yet. I’m not sure which metric measures fun. How do you gauge enlightenment? Are those concerns I should even be having? Or can I have them once I’ve learned more about the baselines of users and connections?

In the New York Times recently there was an article written by Jamie Holmes called The Case for Teaching Ignorance with the following quote:

The larger the island of knowledge grows, the longer the shoreline — where knowledge meets ignorance — extends. The more we know, the more we can ask. Questions don’t give way to answers so much as the two proliferate together. Answers breed questions. Curiosity isn’t merely a static disposition but rather a passion of the mind that is ceaselessly earned and nurtured.

There is much to be learned, different angles of the website to address, and potential features to be implemented; yet there is little time, and only slightly more money, to do those things, and I want to do those things well.

So here we go – after a successful first month,we head full steam into the next month, loose plans laid out and big dreams ahead.

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