Should You Use Video to Grow Your Platform?

Video may be the next step in connecting and engaging with an audience

Should You Use Video to Grow Your Platform?With advances in technology, and the power residing on every smartphone, it has never been easier to record a video and start a vlog. A vlog is a video blog. I’m a huge proponent of blogging and in the past tried the audio version of that: podcasting. (See The Power of Podcasting and My Experience With Podcasting.)

Moving a blog to video is the next evolution in communicating with our audience. Some people, such as Michael Hyatt, videotape their podcast sessions so they end up with a two for one deal: a podcast and a video.

Though a growing number of people consume information in video format this is mostly for short-form video: content lasting only a few minutes. Video increasingly pops up in social media, and starting a YouTube channel is a great tool to share and disseminate video content.

Longer form video, however, has one key disadvantage. It requires viewers to sit in front of a screen in order to consume the content. While video can be most engaging it requires commitment on the part of the viewer to dedicate the time to watch it. With our short attention spans, few people are sufficiently patient.

As one adverse to being on camera, I know that vlogging is not for me. Yet for those who are comfortable being videotaped and enjoy the experience, vlogging may be the way to go.

A second consideration is our audience. Does our audience consume content via video? If so, this is another reason to pursue it. But if they prefer other forms of communication, then vlogging is a waste of our time.

While producing video to grow our platform and connect with our audience may be an ideal opportunity for us, don’t jump in without considering the ramifications. First, are we ready for it? Second will our audience watch it?

What is your experience with video? How could a vlog grow your platform? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

How Building a Platform Almost Ruined My Writing Career

The more I focused on platform building, the less I enjoyed writing. I almost quit.

A few years ago, when I was still looking for an agent, I received some unexpected feedback. The agent liked me and my writing. He thought my book had merit. But despite all that he chose not to represent me. His reason was direct: “You have no platform.” Ouch!

How Building a Platform Almost Ruined My Writing CareerHe didn’t say, “Your platform isn’t big enough,” “We want to see a bigger following,” or even “Your platform is too small.” Each would have been a true statement, and I could have accepted that. But no. He said, “You have no platform.” His words smacked at the core of my being. It’s as if he stuck a knife in my heart and twisted it.

I doubt he meant to cause me pain, but he did. Words have impact. I know. I write for a living.

So with renewed focus I dove into growing my platform. I studied books, took online classes, and listened to podcasts about platform and branding. I followed blogs and copied what the big-platform people did. I put greater effort into blogging, looked at each social media platform I used to make it better, and developed a consistent message across them all. I sought to engage with people online and build community.

I followed the steps of the gurus, the holders of grand, successful, platform-building outcomes. Eventually I realized the truth of the oft-spoken disclaimer: “Individual results may vary.” Indeed few of their followers ever achieved their if-I-can-do-it-anyone-can-do-it results. That included me.

With so much emphasis on platform I had little time to write. I wrote infrequently and enjoyed it less. My fixation on platform drained me of my passion for words. The size of my following became a burden, one harder to bear as time moved on.

Then one day I’d had enough. “If this is what it means to be a writer, I quit!” I gave up. But instead of relief, I grew even more miserable.

That was when I realized I could never not write.

I scaled back my mostly unsuccessful platform efforts to what was doable without being overwhelming. I cleansed the evil of platform fixation from my soul and reclaimed my joy of writing.

I suspect I will always consider platform building and self-promotion as the dark side of writing, but as long as I keep the former in check, I can continue with the latter – and thoroughly enjoy it.

Frustration with my platform almost caused me to stop writing. But it didn’t. I’m still here, and I’m still writing – regardless of the size of my platform.

What do you think about the need for a platform? How do you balance platform building with writing? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Avoiding a Spectacular Podcast Crash

Avoiding a Spectacular Podcast CrashTwo weeks ago we talked about the benefits of podcasting to grow an audience for our books. Then we discussed possible downsides of podcasting and how podcasting isn’t right for everyone. Today we’ll look at one more consideration: the crash and burn.

I listen to a lot of podcasts, about ten altogether. Some are monthly, others twice a month or weekly, and a few are more often. Three of them had spectacular fails. As a loyal listener they let me down, and because of the increased connection that a podcast affords over a blog, I felt my disappointment in them more profoundly.

Peters Out: The first podcast started out aggressively, with daily podcasts. It actually provided too much information too often. After about one month it went to weekdays only and later to three days a week. Months later new episodes appeared haphazardly and eventually stopped altogether. After four months of silence, the host launched a new podcast, with a different format but the same theme. He’s doing them three days a week. Since the host lost my trust with his first podcast failure, I’m not so interested in following him anymore.

Goes Dark: Another podcast started with one podcast a week and kept it up for several months. Then some things happened in the host’s personal life and she missed a few weeks. She never did get back to once a week and hasn’t posted anything new for a couple of months. I have no idea what happened.

Takes a Long Break: The third podcast was also once a week. It had an established track record but stopped abruptly with no notice. After no new episodes for six months, a couple of random ones showed up, with an explanation that the host took time off to write a book. Now the regular weekly schedule is re-emerging, but my enthusiasm still lags.

With each of these podcasts the host build an online rapport with me and then effectively abandoned me. I feel betrayed and let down. I don’t trust them as much as I once did.

Although the second podcaster gave some initial explanation for missed episodes, all three of them stopped without notice. Had they issued even a short podcast to explain what was happening, I’d have understood but to just go away feels disrespectful.

To avoid falling into the same trap: have a sustainable schedule, be consistent, and keep listeners informed. This demonstrates respect for your audience and reveals your professionalism.

Have you ever been disappointed by a podcaster? What do you think is a good podcast frequency? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

My Experience With Podcasting

Last week I mentioned four benefits of having an author podcast to build our platform. The reasons are compelling. But before jumping in, we need to consider if podcasting makes sense for us.

My Experience With PodcastingI was an early adopter of podcasting. Though I don’t have the dates, it was shortly after I started blogging, so around 2009 or 2010. Those podcasts are no longer online so I can’t even verify when.

My process was simple. I’d interview people at conventions. I used a digital recorder with a cheap mic, didn’t prep for the interview, and made no edits afterwards. I just posted the raw files. Overall it wasn’t bad – as long as my subjects were extroverts and didn’t clam up in front of a microphone. However the results were far from professional and wouldn’t meet the much higher expectations of people today.

So before you jump into podcasting, consider the following five questions:

Do You Enjoy Public Speaking? Some people can stand in front of an audience and offer an interesting monologue with little prep and no anxiety. Accomplished orators usually make for good podcasters. However, if public speaking terrifies you, podcasting won’t be much better. Yes, a podcast doesn’t have people staring at us, but we also don’t have any visual cues from our audience to know if we are connecting with them.

Are You Blogging? Are you currently blogging? Are you doing so consistently, according to a schedule? Do you have enough content ideas? The reality is that if you’re having trouble blogging, you will most likely struggle even more with podcasting.

Do You Have Time to Prep? Six years ago I got away with doing no prep work. That won’t fly today. For interviews you need to research your guest and formulate twice as many questions as you will need. If you’re not doing an interview but a monologue, the prep time is even greater, the same as for a speech.

Are You Willing to Do Post-Production Work? You will need to edit the recording. No matter how much you planned or how good you are, you will need to edit the file. You’ll also want to add an intro and an outro. Though you can outsource this, that costs money.

Will You Invest in the Right Equipment? Though you don’t need much of an investment to produce a decent podcast, you do need a quality microphone, as well as software to record and edit the results. Then you’ll need a site to post the files. (Putting them on your website or blog could crash your site if too many people try to listen at once.) You’ll also need a computer with a good Internet connection and a quiet place to do the recording.

Starting a podcast can be enjoyable. It can also be taxing if you aren’t the right personality for the task or ready to do what needs to be done to do it well.

Weigh the benefits and costs before you begin.

Do you think you are the right personality to be a successful podcaster? Do the benefits offset the detriments? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

The Power of Podcasting: Four Reasons to Have an Author Podcast

It seems people are jumping on the podcasting bandwagon. They want to grow their audience and build their platform in order to sell their books (or whatever other product or service they have to offer).

The Power of Podcasting: Four Reasons to Have an Author PodcastThis makes sense. Look at the recent surge of interest in audiobooks, with people who “read” books by listening to a recording. They do this during their commute to and from work, as they exercise, or when they attend to projects around the house. They have become voracious “readers” without ever opening a book or turning on their e-reader.

Podcasting extends the audiobook mindset. A podcast simply becomes another audio expression for these folks to consume.

Here are some of the benefits of author podcasts:

Another Channel to Reach Readers: A natural communication channel for writers is the written word. Blogging connects nicely with that. Readers read books; readers read blogs. It makes sense, a lot of sense. However readers who listen to books won’t likely read a blog, but they will likely listen to a podcast. With podcasting writers have two ways to reach their audience.

Another Means to Connect with Readers: When we read a book or blog post we use the sense of sight to see the words. When we listen to a book or a podcast we use the sense of sound. With audio we use voice inflections, interject emphasis, and add timing to each sentence as we speak. These benefits of audio all allow us a better means to connect with our audience.

Another Creative Outlet For Authors: Writing is a creative art; so is speaking. Both communicate but in different ways. Both provide creative outlets, but which tap different aspects of our creativity.

A Fun Break From Writing: No matter how much we like to write, we all need to take a break. After all, once we spend a full day working on our book, do we really want to spend another hour writing a blog post? Not likely, but spending that hour on podcasting provides a nice alternative to writing. Then we can return to writing with a refreshed perspective.

Given these great benefits you might be ready to jump on the podcasting bandwagon. Not so fast. First you need to consider whether podcasting is right for you. Next week I’ll look at my experience with podcasting, which should provide some more insight into this intriguing communication option.

Do you listen to podcasts? Have you ever done a podcast? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Platform Building Gurus Should Issue a Disclaimer

The production of books is only the first step of book publishing; the second – and more important part – is selling them. To sell books, whether we traditionally publish or self-publish, we need a platform. This is something most authors struggle with.

Fortunately, many people will tell us how to build a viable brand-building, book-promoting, product-selling platform. Most take their personal experience, package it as a formula, and sell it in the form of a book, a class, or personal coaching. They will show us how they grew their Facebooks likes or Twitter followers or Google+ circles to astronomical heights. Others explain how to develop a huge blog following or compile a gigantic email list or generate enviable website traffic. They generally say something to the effect of, “Look what I did in such a short time. If I can do it, so can you!”

Unfortunately, I suspect that in most cases their formula is not replicable – at least not for the majority of people. When these experts experienced their success, they were in the right place, at the right time, with the right conditions. But as we attempt to follow their advice, we are in a different place, at a different time, with different conditions. With all the variables changing, it’s unlikely to expect we’ll enjoy the same results they achieved.

When they market their platform-building formula, they should include a disclaimer, similar to what is required for investments, such as “Past performance does not guarantee future results.” Seriously, this is critical.

Sure, they can likely point to a handful of success stories, but there are many more failures, of people who paid them money, followed their steps, and missed reaching the desired results. These people aren’t failures who didn’t follow directions, they are people faced with a different situation: in a different place, at a different time, with different conditions.

This doesn’t mean we should dismiss all the platform-building gurus. We can learn from them, and we can grow our platform, but we shouldn’t expect the same results, because “Individual results may vary.”

What’s More Important, Your Book or Your Platform?

Most writers, myself included, would prefer just to write. We don’t want to pitch, sell, or market our book or ourselves. Some may not even want to blog, develop a social media following, or build a platform. Yet, the reality is writers need a platform, a vantage from which to gain a following and move books.

Sadly, in most cases, platform is more important than writing. Really.

A person with a great platform and a not so great book is in a better position than a person with an excellent book and a small platform. Really.

If a writer’s best work still needs more work before publication, help is available. Editors, collaborators, and even ghostwriters can come in and rescue a needy manuscript. If that author has the means to promote and move books, a publisher will go to the trouble and expense to shore up their weak writing.

However, a well-written book by an author with no platform will seldom receive much attention from a publisher. Even if the writing is great, they will still be reluctant to publish it; the risk of losing money is too high if the author doesn’t have the means to move books.

Though it pains me to say it, if you want a book deal from a traditional publisher, focus on platform first, and then worry about writing. Really.

Integrate Blogging With Your Author Platform

As the final post in this series on platform building, we’ll address blogging. Although blogging isn’t right for every author, it is something that warrants serious consideration. After all, you are a writer and you wrote a book, so blogging is a natural extension of what you do: using words to connect with your audience and build a following.

Your blog should be integrated into your website, not a separate, stand-alone effort. (Conversely, you can expand your blog to become a website.) There are two aspects of blogging: the technical part of setting up a blog and the writing part of producing fresh content on a regular basis.

In upcoming posts, we’ll look at both, starting with a series on using WordPress for your blog and website. This website, by the way, uses WordPress.

This series on blogging will be a great primer for those who want to start blogging, provide helpful tips for those already using WordPress, and may even inspire bloggers not using WordPress to switch.

Six Tips on Using Social Media as Part of Your Platform

We’ve been talking about making your website the center of your book-selling, platform-building tool and not to depend on social media, which could change at any moment and thereby destroy your efforts. That doesn’t mean social media isn’t important, because it is. The point is not to make social media the star but instead, a supporting player.

1) Pick Carefully: Accept that you can’t be on every social media platform, or even the top five. No one has that much time. Pick a couple to focus on, and invest your time there. Choose ones you understand and like, but also look for where your potential readers are. It makes no sense to be active on Pinterest if most of your audience is on LinkedIn.

2) First Things First: Before you do anything, set up your full profile; don’t leave that for later, because if you’re like me, you may never get around to it.

3) Walk Before You Run: Learn how to navigate your chosen social media hangout. You won’t become familiar everything until you actually use it, but proceed with caution until you feel comfortable. That way you can avoid rookie mistakes and look professional instead.

4) One at a Time: With a good understanding of your first social media site, you may proceed to a second one, if you want. But don’t try to learn two at the same time. That’s just confusing and counter-productive. I know.

5) Include Links: Add links on your website to your social media pages. And most certainly, make sure your social media profiles point back to your website. That’s the main goal of social media.

6) Interact and Redirect: Use your social media presence to engage people and then point them to your website, your primary online station, the hub for all your activity. Your website is home base for your platform, and that’s where you want everyone to end up.

Although an important part of an author’s platform, social media is a means to get there and not the end goal.

Capture Email Addresses

A key to using your website as a book-selling, platform-building tool is to capture email addresses. You will use these email addresses to regularly communicate with your followers, such as through a monthly newsletter. Keep them up-to-date on your writing and share interesting or helpful content. Then, when your book is ready, let them know. They will be more likely to read your email because you have been in regular contact with them.

Offer Them Something: You can just ask for email addresses, but most people won’t share this information without receiving something in return, such as a free e-book or a subscription to your newsletter.

Provide Assurance: For those who may waiver, assure them you won’t misuse their email address. Let them know you will not share it in any way with anyone else, that you will not spam them with irrelevant content, and that they can unsubscribe at any time.

Follow Through: Provide what you promised (a free book or newsletter), when you promised (either right away or each month), and do what you promised (don’t share their email address or spam them; honor unsubscribes).

Logistics: When they give you their email address, have them sign up directly through your email platform. (I use MailChimp.) It will automatically handle the verification (that is, the double opt-in procedure), handle unsubscribes, and maintain the database. Use the final step in the sign-up process to provide a link to your e-book or incentive.

Example: You may have noticed, that I’m not following my own advice on this site, but I am doing it on my main website and blog. So check that out as an example – and feel free to sign-up for my newsletter and get my free e-book!