Zach’s ugly mug (his face) Zach Leatherman

A Web Developer Fumbling with Social Media

January 26, 2013

As a curious web developer that’s moderately obsessed with statistics, I decided to go back and look at my history of side projects, blog posts, and other junk I’ve posted on twitter to see what has had the biggest impact on my ‘social reach.’ Yeah, I know. It felt wrong typing ‘social reach’—I’ll put a dollar in the jar. I’ll probably owe a few of those before this post is done.

It’s a common sentiment that as developers we should focus on making cool stuff and the rest will solve itself. While that has been my general plan for my career and side projects, in hindsight I don’t believe that to be the complete truth. I think developers should spend time on self marketing—larger professional networks (not just social networks) lead to more opportunities.

So as a blind squirrel, I come to you with the nuts I’ve found: seven events that have bumped my network size and what I’ve learned from studying them. Note that Facebook is not mentioned here. I don’t use Facebook for career development.

Share and Be Shared

Out of those seven events, three were the direct result of Mr. Paul Irish. While I have no idea what I did to get in Paul’s good graces—I appreciate his concerted effort to share RSS feeds (Event 1), people to follow on Twitter (Event 2), and Google circles (Event 3). Paul increases the number of people consuming web development content which leads to more well informed developers. A rising tide lifts all boats. This is something we can all do. Look for some similar posts from me soon.

Silos are Lonely

Trailblazing can lead to isolation. Solve problems collaboratively or competitively—don’t solve your own problems alone.

After BigText came out, I was getting 2 RSS subscribers per day. Four months later when Paravel released FitText (Event #4) and linked to BigText that number jumped to 6. Even though the two plugins were competitors, we were both trying to solve a similar problem and our growth became intertwined.

Concentrate on the Right Network

It’s a lot easier to get an RSS subscriber or get circled on Google than it is to get someone to follow you on Twitter. It would seem that Twitter users curate their Twitter friends very closely since it’s one big unconfigurable stream (don’t get me started about how useless lists are). RSS and Google both let you self-organize your incoming posts in such a way that makes it easier to ignore content without unsubscribing.

If I had to choose, I’d take a Twitter follower over an RSS feed subscriber over a Google follower. But it ain’t a zero sum game.

  • Average RSS feed subscribers per day (2.4 years): 4.1
  • Average Google followers per day (1.1 years): 2.03
  • Average Twitter followers per day (4.3 years): 1.09

Name-drop Yourself

Plaster your name on everything you do. Link to your Twitter account and RSS feeds.

I’ve screwed the pooch on this quite often—most notably on SocialCount and BigText especially. I’ve had people say to me: “Oh—SocialCount? You built that?” Obviously not ideal. Personally, I felt that both of those plugins were higher quality than parseIntimate (Event #5), but parseIntimate had my twitter handle right on the front which bumped my followers more than SocialCount or BigText (prior to FitText).

Align Career with Community

Despite my ghost town of a profile on Google , my circled count jumped when I joined Filament Group (Event #6). Of course, working for a company that is so heavily invested in the community and open source is great.

Give Talks and Encouragement

For the Front End Engineering Manifesto (Event #7) I followed my own advice and put my twitter handle on both the top and bottom of the presentation and added SocialCount widgets for easy sharing. However, F2EM almost didn’t see the light of day.

  1. If Ryan Versaw hadn’t personally encouraged me to present a topic at Nebraska Code Camp, I wouldn’t have created the presentation.
  2. After giving the talk I sat on the content because I felt it was a little too preachy and dogmatic and was nervous about publicizing it. About 17 months later, Todd Parker stumbled onto it and encouraged me to release it.

Sometimes you just need a little push and I was lucky to get it from those guys. And at the end I’m very glad I posted it—F2EM was one of my most successful projects.

While I haven’t dipped my toe into the professional speaking circuit, I should thank Rey Bango for encouraging me to submit a talk to the jQuery Conference awhile back. I’ll dive in some day Rey!

I’ll keep my eyes open for someone that I can give a little push to and I encourage you to do the same. If you need my help or advice, I’d be glad to do what I can to help. Hit me up on Twitter or on Google Plus.

Graph depicting history of RSS Subscribers, Twitter Followers, and Google+ Circles

Full data available on Google Spreadsheets. RSS subscriber data provided by Feedburner (even though my first post was in 2007, I switched from naked RSS in 2010). Twitter data was provided by TwitterCounter and Google data by Social Statistics.

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Zach Leatherman IndieWeb Avatar for a builder for the web and the creator/maintainer of IndieWeb Avatar for https://www.11ty.devEleventy (11ty), an award-winning open source site generator. At one point he became entirely too fixated on web fonts. He has given 81 talks in nine different countries at events like Beyond Tellerrand, Smashing Conference, Jamstack Conf, CSSConf, and The White House. Formerly part of CloudCannon, Netlify, Filament Group, NEJS CONF, and NebraskaJS. Learn more about Zach »

  1. @cwebba1 Disqus

    28 Jan 2013
    What makes this a Great Post is your willingness to be honest, humble, vulnerable and raw. Because you hitched your numbers to vulnerable truths, you created an insightful map worth following. Very informative and to the point. Thank you!
  2. Randy Anderson Disqus

    28 Jan 2013
    Hi Zach! Thanks for your post. I am a web developer trying to reach a wider audience through Twitter and other social networking platforms, and I'm hoping that I can offer them some sort of advice and also learn something from them as well.I also love looking at statistics and analytics! I'm hopeful that when I get more subscribers and followers I'll still enjoy it.Anyway, just wanted to say that I enjoyed the post, looking to read more great articles from you soon. Thanks!
  3. Matt Polichette Disqus

    28 Jan 2013
    Thanks for sharing. As a developer just starting out, it can be hard to even know where to start. The more you guys share the better for us all. I look forward to reading more from you!P.S. One more twitter follower! :) -Matt
  4. Zach Leatherman Disqus

    28 Jan 2013
    Wow guys, thanks for the encouragement!
  5. Matt Smith Disqus

    28 Jan 2013
    Great write-up, Zach! I know more than a few devs who've yet to really touch social media as a way help their careers along so this was good to read about your journey with it.
  6. Edan Hewitt Disqus

    29 Jan 2013
    It shouldn't have to be this way (getting exposure from the higher ups) - but it does help if you're new to the game. Smashing Mag, and influential peeps on Twitter who share your projects are always a wonderful thing. And doing mini E-Mail campaigns asking others to upvote a link on Hackernews goes a long way too.I am not saying we shouldn't get others to make us temporarily famous, but as I said, your work for The Community should never have to rely on others' social media klout, or status, to be known (well).Other things play a part in getting recognition. It's also SEO, word of mouth, E-Mailing editors on blogs, posting videos on Youtube. Doing screencasts, editing wikis on Github, constantly harassing Big Tech blogs to get your name dropped in an article, Instant Messaging influential people on Facebook. Befriending higher-ups on Twitter and sending requests to mention a link.In short, it's about infiltration and constant harassment of every digital stronghold for the express purpose of being known and out there, and even more 'in' our little scene.And believe me, it's not hard. This is the Internet, remember?! I believe the best projects will rise to the top anyways. If your idea is shot down by The Community don't take it down. Just improve it until it becomes awesome. The Community welcomes all types of hard work. If it seems shoddy, or rushed, it will be rejected and ridiculed.
  7. Brett Disqus

    30 Jan 2013
    Good advice Zach. I can say that plastering your name over everything feels odd, but I see more and more the need to do it."Oh—SocialCount? You built that?" I can completely relate with this. It's nice to be recognized for our work. It makes creating open source code fun.
  8. AJ Disqus

    17 Mar 2013
    By association old people physically or mentally, require a developing young fresh vantage point to keep creation to its simplistic (KISS) essence. We all need to go to the well often. As we look in, we see inside the water and our reflection, depending on the light. Thanks for keeping ME mentally fresh. Good job!
  9. Dan Farrow Disqus

    20 Mar 2013
    hi Zach, thanks for posting this. It helped me realise that it's high time I was less of a professional recluse.By the way, your final Google+ link actually points to Twitter.Maybe you did this intentionally, since Twitter follows are worth more, in which case I have to admit your cunning ruse worked! I clicked the link and ended up on Twitter, then decided I may as well follow you there instead :)Cheers,Dan
  10. Zach Leatherman Disqus

    20 Mar 2013
    Dan: Ha! Completely unintentional. Fixed, though!
  11. Dan Farrow Disqus

    20 Mar 2013
    Great, now I'm following you there too :)Oh one other thing I just noticed: the notification email from contains links to (which I'm guessing is your local dev version) which aren't accessible.I can forward the email to you if you like - you've got my email address now so just let me know :)
  12. Zach Leatherman Disqus

    21 Mar 2013
    Naw, thanks though—this blog is moving from Wordpress to Jekyll soon.
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