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Is “Platform” Saturated?

I was speaking with an author friend the other day, and she explained how she felt “platform” is saturated. That there are so many people out there trying to develop their own brand – their own audience – their own platform, that it has become a crowded market of people screaming “look at me!” “look at me!” “look at me!” Of course, they don’t actually say that, they say “this is my tribe,” as if the terminology somehow changes things.

Her conclusion was that with so many voices online, that the scale has gone up for attention. That it’s not enough to just get 100 followers on Twitter, or even 1,000. You have to go big or go home. You have to do increasingly crazy things to get attention. The phrase she used is that it is a “reckless chase.” A reckless chase for attention.

She went on to explain how some of the inspirational stories of those who build amazing platforms are those who had a head start. They had found success in before the web boom, and are now increasing that lead by leveraging social media, Kickstarter, and other means.

I loved this conversation.

I have known for awhile that the term “platform” will eventually wane, even if the concepts beneath it are evergreen. One day, we will look back at 2011 and 2012, and remember the term “author platform” as embodying this time period, much as we will remember TV Shows such as Silver Spoons or the A-Team embodying 1984.

For my friend, calling “platform” oversaturated allowed her to make some hard decisions: to blog less, to focus more on content creation than get her name “out there” as an author. The decisions she made are very positive, because she really has several platforms, but that’s another discussion.

And while the term “platform” will indeed come to represent a jaded view of marketing and publicity, I feel that the value of it will not go away, we will simply find a new name for it.

For many writers, the real value of “platform” is about adding muscle, not unnecessary fat. About growing their skills, not about chasing celebrity. It is about building a meaningful connection with others, not becoming a bestseller at all costs, screaming at the top of your lungs.

Some people think the metaphor of a platform is that you stand on it. That the platform you build is one in which you raise your voice and profile above others, so that an audience can see you. I don’t view it that way. To me, platform is about enabling communication. It is about understanding those you hope to connect with on an incredibly deep level. And it is about understanding the language that engages, a language that best embodies what you are about. A platform is nothing more than solid footing. One that is at the same level of the community you engage with. One that they can share, that supports them as much as it supports you.

Why do I still focus on helping writers develop their platform? Because every week, I speak with authors who have made meaningful connections with readers. That their work takes on a life of it’s own, growing, spreading, becoming something more than just a “thing.” It lives. Because a book is not about being an object, it is about having an effect. It is what happens AFTER a book is published that matters. How it shapes peoples lives; how ideas within it are adopted by others, remixed, and executed on. It is about the legacy the book creates, shaping people’s lives in small ways.

I know, I know, the author’s goal is to “write the best book possible.” I get that, and I agree with that. But once you do that… how do you ensure your book has an effect? How do you open up that channel of conversation with those you hope to engage? Because the book itself, as awesome as it is, will just sit there on the shelf. It’s up to you to ensure it matters.

Thanks.
-Dan

  • Lisa Tener

    Yes! My colleague and I recently had a conversation about whether the word “Platform” was outmoded, since it’s isn’t about being on a speaker’s platform, raised above your audience (the derivation of the term) but more about connecting with your tribe, communicating, having–and affecting–conversations. Many aspiring authors come to me for help writing their book or book proposal, but have little or no “following” and, if they want their book to have a big impact on others, they need to find ways to reach their “tribe.” It’s when we think we need to “scream at the top of your lungs” as you put it that we get into trouble and lose heart, lose our way.

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Well said Lisa! Thanks.
      -Dan

  • Susan

    So very true Dan, and authors struggle with time just to get their books written let alone spend a lot of hours blogging and plugging into social media. I agree with you, it’s much more important to connect to my readers later on after they’ve experienced my book.  I haven’t spent much time on platform yet but will when it matters. For now, I’m writing, writing, and writing some more! Thanks for the refreshing post. 

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Thanks Susan!

  • http://the-educated-imaginary.blogspot.ca/ Meredith Lorimar

    Thank you, Dan for this insightful post. I am on the cusp of publishing my first book and everywhere I read about the author’s platform as an essential component to success. Your perspective on the authenticity of the connection with your readership is welcome and I have no doubt of its truth. I cringe at the thought of endless self-promotion. It can be likened to inviting friends over for an fun evening and everytime is turns out to be a Tupperware party.  No one wants to be sold-to all of the time.

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Oooh, great metaphor with the Tupperware party! Thanks so much Meredith. And good luck with the book!
      -Dan

  • http://www.facebook.com/stacy.whisenand Stacy Green Whisenand

    Really loved this post. Platform is so tricky, and I often wonder if I’m wasting my time blogging. A few months ago, I decided to put the majority of my focus on my Thursday posts, because it ties directly into my writing. As a result, I’ve got more time to write and work on the overall quality. 

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Awesome! Thanks Stacy!
      -Dan

  • Kiko

    Platform it is not necessary. Margaret Mitchell did not have any platform.

    • karen einsel

      Hi Kiko, I’ve often wondered the same thing. How did pre-internet writers get the word out? They didn’t have a platform and yet look at the success of Stephen King his early years. 

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      For many writers, don’t fool yourself into thinking that before the web, they were just sitting home, writing without a marketing care in the world. Here is Hemingway’s appearance in a beer ad:

      http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/05/01/books/review/Perrotet.html
      :)
      -Dan

      • http://soniamarsh.com Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living

         I wonder if that ad would work today. :)

  • http://www.pixelhallpress.com/ Sally Wiener Grotta

    Marketing has long been a key in publishing success, but first you need quality books to market.

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Sally – very very true. But I do find that some authors use that as an excuse to not learn about their audience or consider marketing until it is “too late.” Their quality book comes out and drops like a lead weight, selling only a few dozen copies. I’m a realist when it comes to the business side of the publishing industry, with it’s challenges, and of course: OPPORTUNITIES.
      Thanks so much.
      -Dan

  • http://soniamarsh.com Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living

    I don’t care what you call it, but as Lisa said, you have to build a “tribe.” That sounds primitive too, but one person who is brilliant at this, and I met him early on, is Chris Guillebeau. Now there’s a “shy” man who built a fantastic global tribe.

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Hi Sonia,
      Yes, what Chris has built is incredibly impressive, but also incredibly rare. I am sure we can find other examples, but I do compare the number of people trying to bottle what Chris did (thousands and thousands and thousands, many in the same industries) with the few who really just truly truly engage on a level that Chris does.
      Thanks.
      -Dan

      • http://soniamarsh.com Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living

         Dan, what I would really like to know is how someone like Chris, can respond to people. I asked him if he remembered the “Gutsy Living” lady from a few years ago when I met him at Book Soup Indie bookstore in LA. I also attended his fantastic WDS conference in Portland in 2011. I then asked my blogger friend in London to say “Hi” from the Gutsy Living woman when she met him in May 2012. When my ARC came out, I DM’d him and asked if I could send him the ARC. He answered me. I have no clue how Chris has time to answer his “tribe” unless he’s got a whole tribe working for him on Twitter, e-mails, etc. etc. Anyway, I truly admire him, as well as everyone else I know–many of us are middle-aged women–who are working at building relationships online. Our poor husbands never see us anymore.

        • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

          Sonia,
          He does seem to have that gift of really listening and remembering. 
          -Dan

  • Belinda Nicoll

    I agree about a platform being no more than a solid base from where you operate in a give-and-take manner. But all platforms aren’t equal, even when you’re focused on your ‘tribe.’  The various platforms all require a different approach because they’re driven by different sentiments. I’ve found that I’m more effective on certain platforms than others, and that tells me something about myself. So, it’s one thing to ‘know’ your audience, but you shouldn’t lose sight of yourself in the process; don’t engage in a conversation when you’re not comfortable with it, or try and force your ‘expertise’ where you have none – sometimes you have to talk and other times you have to listen, and you’ll be remembered and respected for that too.

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Great advice – thanks!

  • http://josephratliff.me/ JosephRatliff

    I’m fascinated by our debates and discussions taking place around the various “labels” and terms in various industries.

    From my perspective, who cares what it’s called? I don’t think we need a new name for it, I think we need to pay closer attention to how we execute… how we develop… our platforms.

    It isn’t the term or label, it’s the people and your influence that make the difference.

    • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

      Good point Joseph. But as someone who works with writers, I do keep tabs of the labels because some come in and out of style quickly. So I am always trying to be aware of them, but look beyond them.
      -Dan