Building an Online Platform
Updated: Feb 24, 2020
Agents say it. Editors say it. Publishers say it.
You have to have a platform.
And in today's day and age, it's easier than you'd think it is to get the numbers to wow those people who keep the door shut in your face as you bring your book baby, the door that only opens when you have numbers of followers in the thousands.
Well, I have both good news and bad news for you.
Should we do the good news first?
It's easy to get those numbers. Between follow trains and writing groups who exist to help you gain those numbers, if you find the right places, follow the right hashtags, and engage with the people posting there, you can jump your numbers easily.
I say this because I did. Let's look at Twitter as an example. After all, this is by far the easiest place to get in touch with writers and writers groups willing to help you boost your numbers. In June of 2019, I had 1320 hard-earned followers. In January of 2019 I had just over 300, and each follower I gained or lost was heart wrenching. At 1320? The ten followers I begged for in January didn't matter so much. Now, in December of 2019, As I write this, I have 3254 followers.
That is over 2000 followers in six months.
It's possible. If I wanted to continue the method I was using to do this, which brought me hundreds of followers every week, I could easily reach five thousand by March.
Between the hashtag Writerslift and hashtag FollowFriday in the WritingCommunity on Twitter, it is beyond easy to gain followers, if you're willing to follow everyone back.
So what's the bad news?
These follow-for-follow relationships are draining, making social media less fun, give you less control over what you see on your feed, and can mess with your head.
If I went through and unfollowed the people who I initially followed during those Follow Friday trains, most of them would go unfollow me as well. (It's the same way on Instagram as well. People unfollow you if you stop following them, if you followed them through one of those trains or loops or lifts, whatever people are calling them at the time being.)
You all know the story of a guy who built his house on the sand and a guy who built his house on a rock?
Yeah. Building a platform like this is like building it on the sand. You stop playing by their rules, and your platform crumbles. And anyway, the numbers are there, but the loyalty is not.
The point of the platform is the loyalty.
You buy Harry Potter because you love Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling. You don't buy Harry Potter because J.K. Rowling promised to buy your book as well.
So how do you build a platform on the rocks, a platform full of people who won't desert you because you shift things just a little?
In one of the videos I was watching about starting online businesses through YouTube, a free class by Kong, one of the speakers referred to this as needing "True Fans." He says that if you have 1000 True Fans, you're set for life.
Kong defines a True Fan as someone who will buy whatever you put out simply because it's you who put it out.
This means you're not dependent on ad revenue, which is fickle due to the people providing the ads, but rather the money you receive to live comes from those who care about what you produce.
You see this with successful YouTubers such as Malinda Kathrine Reese or the Vlog Brothers. If they put out t shirts and merch, people buy it. I preordered Hank Green's book because John Green said to. I had no idea what the book was about when I put down those twenty dollars.
I qualify as a "True Fan" for the Vlog Brothers.
The hard thing about this is that you get maybe one true fan for every 1000 fans you attract.
So how do you attract and reach those people who will become your true fans?
As I was researching Instagram algorithms, I came across an Instagrammer claiming to be able to teach me how to organically grow my Instagram following into the millions in one month. It sounded too good to be true, so I checked it out. (I'm sorry, but for the life of me I can't remember her name. I'd love to give her credit though, so if you know who this is, please let me know.)
She quit her job and studied successful Instagrammers. You know the ones. They're the influencers we all aspire to be. They don't have to use hashtags, they weren't celebrities until Instagram, and they get thousands of likes and comments on their posts.
What she discovered was that they weren't creating content just to create. They didn't need hashtags to reach people, because their content was appealing. It drew you in.
Those are the secrets to building an online platform on a rock.
Draw people in. Don't try too hard. Be yourself. Get out of the toxic situations that make it not fun, and let those who will love you for what you create and who you are come to you.
Create a personal brand that will allow people to identify you immediately. Create a code of contact for yourself online. Run yourself like a business. What would a business do to reach a larger customer base?
The sooner you start viewing yourself and your writing as a business the sooner you'll accomplish your goals without the emotional turmoil of the personal side of things.
After all, marketing now is moving toward a "for life" sentiment. Once Apple converts you, it's hard to convert back to Samsung. There's a reason for that. It's good marketing.
That's all a platform is. It's good marketing of yourself to people who will unquestioningly buy what you offer.
Learn how to do that, and you're way ahead of the curve. It's not about numbers. It's about loyalty.
So go out there and build loyalty among your followers, and you'll be doing something right.
J. J. Hanna graduated from Taylor University with a degree in Professional Writing. She's currently working with literary agent Cyle Young, learning to be a literary agent, and working as a freelance writer and editor. To hire her for editing, writing, speaking, or consulting, see the services tab. In her free time, she can be found cuddling with a cat, reading the latest suspense novel, or filming YouTube videos about the publishing industry.
Follow her on most social media @authorjjhanna