Social Media Is Not About Followers, It Is About Getting Read – Lessons From Susan Orlean

Here is author & journalist Susan Orlean on why she engages in Twitter and social media:

“I didn’t say ‘I want followers.’ I am a writer, I write because I want to be read. Because the private act of writing doesn’t feel sufficient to me. What is sufficient is for the circle to come around, and to feel heard. I am excited by the idea of being heard. Of making someone think or laugh.”

So often, I hear the objections about social media from writers: that it steals away time that they could be writing; that they are writers, not marketers; and that social media is merely a waste of time.

But I love hearing about writers who value getting read more than getting published, and who see connecting with their audience as a powerful effect and opportunity, not some “obligation” that only takes their precious time.

Susan Orlean gave a wonderful talk at Boston’s Grub Street recently, which they graciously streamed and archived online. I have embedded the video below. Susan has slowly developed an audience of more than 230,000 followers. I rounded off 1,034 followers there, which is a follower count that most people would be thrilled to have.

In the video, she explains how she grew her audience, and you hear her perspective as to why a busy and successful author & journalist would consider engaging in social media every single day.

Here is the full video of Susan’s talk:

Thanks to Grub Street and Susan Orlean for sharing such a wonderful talk!

-Dan

Build Your Author Platform

Free Webinar: Why You Need an Author Platform

Too many writers publish books that do not get read. My friend Jane Friedman said something to me once that gave me chills:

“The most disappointed writers I know are not the unpublished writers, but those who have been published.”

What she means is that these writers were disappointed because after years of hard work, only a few dozen books were sold. That no one cared about their book.

Are you a writer who is passionate about your work, but find it difficult to build an audience? What you need is an author platform – a strategic way to communicate your purpose to the world and establish trust with those who can help make you a success.

This FREE 1-hour webinar explains the value of building an author platform, the biggest challenges to creating one, and some of the essential steps in the process. I will also be outlining the upcoming online course I am teaching: Build Your Author Platform.

My last webinar filled up, so please register early for this one which takes place on Thursday August 23rd at 3pm ET. You only need your web browser to attend.

There are limited spaces for this webinar, to reserve your spot, click here:

Register

If you have any questions, please reach out to me at dan@danblank.com or 973-981-8882.
Thanks!
-Dan

No, You Don’t Have a Tribe

This word “tribe” has become so prevalent online, that today I want to address how it has become a marketing term we feel comfortable with, but is otherwise somewhat hollow.

No, you don’t have a tribe. My apologies, I am sorry to break this to you. You are not a tribal leader. Yes, I know you have people who signed up for your newsletter list; people who follow you on Twitter, who Like you on Facebook, who subscribe to your blog, who attend your conference, who buy your book, who volunteer to assist you, and who generally rave about you and tell all of their friends. But you are not their leader, and this isn’t a tribe.

When I first heard the term “tribe” in relation to online communities, I liked how it cut across traditional boundaries in our lives. That perhaps many of us are defined this way:

  • I am a husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend
  • I am a father/mother/aunt/grandmother/sister/brother
  • I do _______ for a living
  • I live in _______ town
  • I graduated from ______ school

But this list above didn’t really reflect the other stuff I may be passionate about. That which inspires me, or is a hobby I am obsessed with. Or a group of people I align with who aren’t my family, college buddies or colleagues at work. This “tribes” word seemed to solve that.

That if I am passionate about healthy living, but don’t work in that field, saying that I am a member of a healthy living tribe made me feel more whole.

In the early 2000’s I remember a friend who was very active on the Tribe.net social network. She found person after person who was passionate about the same things she was. And that is pretty much awesome.

What has surprised me as the word “tribe” became more popular, is this distinction:

  • MEMBERSHIP OF A TRIBE: When I first heard the term “tribe” I thought it was used to mean alignment. That you have found others who care about the things you do. That this was a relationship of kinship, and the word “tribe” symbolized the connection you feel to these other people. As equals, as members of a larger tribe of like-minds. That it was being respectful that this is not a speaker vs audience relationship. Everyone is equal, and the audience isn’t passive. All have something to contribute.
  • LEADER OF A TRIBE: But what I see again and again is not that; what I see is people needing to take a leadership role. That if I sign up for someone’s newsletter list, it is THEIR tribe, they are the leader, and I am the follower. I am now in his or her tribe. They are tribal leaders. They say “my tribe” not to indicate that they BELONG to a tribe, but that they are leading a tribe.

And that is, well, bullshit. At that point, the idea behind the word “tribe” becomes a mere marketing term. Like many marketing terms, it’s goal is to make you feel special, and in doing so, it sells something. Maybe not with money, but adherence to an idea.

Seth Godin released a book called Tribes, and from my vantage point, seemed to really popularize the use of this term in online communities in a much bigger way. Now, sure, Seth wants to sell books, but someone like him is selling something else too. You can call it “thought-leadership” or a thousand other things. But Seth wants you to feel special. I analyzed this exact thing with Seth in terms of his recent Kickstarter campaign. That it was framed not as a way for him to raise money, but as an “us vs them” battle, where if you supported his campaign, it became an identity, support for a larger cause. But really, it was just marketing. Funny how supporting the idea meant giving him money.

When I think of the term “tribe” in the context of how we connect online and off, this is what I think of:

  • You don’t build a tribe, you join a tribe.
  • You give back to a tribe, you don’t try to establish your own power center within it.
  • You serve the group, while, over time, they support you back.
  • Value is measured in anything BUT quantitative measures such as followers, fans, likes, subscribers or customers.

What does it mean to really be a member of a tribe. To support a tribe? To pledge allegiance to a tribe? How many allegiances to how many tribes is too much? If I subscribe to newsletters from 10 people, follow 200 people on Twitter, and pay to see 20 people speak at a conference, am I now a member of 230 tribes? What does this even mean anymore?

Looking at Wikipedia, it seems there is plenty of discussion about what constitutes a tribe in the traditional sense, and some believe that “tribes in general are characterized by fluid boundaries and heterogeneity, are not parochial, and are dynamic.”

But we use the word because we intend for it to mean something, this word “tribe.”

Where does loyalty fit into this? Or sacrifice? Or suffering through the bad and the good? To me, these are some of the components that make a meaningful affiliation, something worthy of the term “tribe.” Even with something like being a fan of a sports team seems to require these things… it is not allowed to just be a “fan” of whichever team is winning at the moment.

Case in point: recently, it was revealed that Jonah Lehrer made up some quotes for his book. Now, where is his tribe? Do they suffer with him? Do they answer for his mistakes? Or, do they just say snarky comments, ignore it, wait it out, or unsubscribe from his newsletter list?

What is the role of a “tribe” in this context? If Jonah is either a member of, or even leader of, a tribe, do his misdeeds banish him from the tribe, to walk alone in the desert forevermore? Does “his tribe” try to rehabilitate him? Do they help him when he is down? (obviously – the Jonah Lehrer situation is a bit more complicated because there seems to have been intentional trickery on his part.)

The word tribe has become really useful in marketing:

  • It give people an identity, which is the underpinning of most of marketing.
  • It makes people feel a part of something. That, by putting a label on themselves as a member of a tribe, the attributes of the tribe IMMEDIATELY reflect them. The barrier for entry is so low.

    They don’t have to really work to do it, pass a test, or sacrifice anything. Just agreeing with a Tweet makes you a tribe member. Disagreeng with the next one comes with no penalties. It’s a fluid motion to go in and out of a “tribe” from moment to moment. Kind of like how buying and eating certain fast food is akin to making a political statement nowadays. Politics never tasted so good.

  • A modern “tribal leader” is often selling something, somewhere. Now, I do NOT mind people selling stuff. I sell stuff, my courses, workshops and consulting. But I don’t pretend that by signing up for my course, you are representing some ideal, and the only way to prove your allegiance is to give me money.
  • It allows us to avoid traditional marketing terms because nowadays, marketing is all about “authenticity.” So we just change the language, but not the underlying tactics.

Now, if you use the word “tribe,” that’s fine by me. I am definitely not picking on anyone in particular here, I just want to point out the difference between creating real meaning, having a real impact, and building a real legacy, vs marketing terms and tactics. Oddly, it’s a fine line. And those who use the word “tribe” are doing so with the very best of intentions. I do not, in any way shape or form, think that they are trying to pull the wool over on anyone’s eyes. But the term has become so pervasive and been contorted to mean so many things, I just wanted to reframe the conversation a little bit.

Words come into vogue and move out of popularity. At this moment in time, “tribe” is one of those words. We sort of “get” it in the context of how we build a following online. It makes us feel better about trying to accumulate followers on Twitter. It just makes us feel better than the word “marketing” or (get ready to feel icky) “sales.”

Recently, I talked about this in terms of the phrase “author platform” as well, that a phrase comes to represent something, and over time, comes to represent something other than it’s original intention. That phrases come in and out of style. But the thing is, that doesn’t mean that the underlying meaning doesn’t still exist. I continue to teach an online course called “Build Your Author Platform” not because I am riding a trend, but because I know it teaches basics that authors need to grow their career, regardless of whether we call it “author platform” or something else. Likewise with “tribe,” that term will fade from fashion eventually and a new term will pop up. A new metaphor that makes us feel better about what we do other than “marketing” and “sales.” Ugh, now I said that word twice. Icky icky icky.

Thanks for reading this post. I am NOT your tribal leader, even if we do believe some of the same things. I do appreciate your time.

-Dan

The Importance of VOICE In Your Author Platform

The other day, I was having coffee with Matt Mullin, Manager of Digital Content at Barnes & Noble, and he made an interesting observation. We were discussing writing conferences and he was saying that they are often broken down into tracks: writing and marketing. How to create great work, and how to find an audience for it.

He mentioned that the one thing that connected these two tracks was the value of VOICE.

Voice is an interesting, and sometimes controversial topic. Christina Katz warns that while voice is critical, you want to be wary of creating one “branded” voice that MUST remain consistent throughout your books:

“Do not make the mistake of thinking that a writer’s job is to come up with one trademark voice and serve that voice throughout a career. That’s just ego talking. Beware of branding experts in this regard. That is not the kind of advice that is going to serve your writing career in the short run or the long run.”

So let’s talk about the value of VOICE outside of the books themselves. What is your voice as a writer, as someone building connections with your audience? How does your skill of creating voice in stories relate to crafting the voice of your writing career?

Oh, I know, some of you are already screaming: “DAN! IT’S ALL ABOUT BEING AUTHENTIC! VOICE IS CRAFTING A FALSE FRONT! THAT’S ICKY MARKETING STUFF!”

And I think about that all the time. But why do I tuck in my shirt, ensure my hair isn’t a total mess, why do I not curse out loud when in mixed company? Why do I refrain from constantly talking about my son who just did something really cute? Why do we speak differently when at our jobs – a different tone, pacing, language and interpersonal skills – than when we are with our closest friends at a barbecue?

The truth is that we edit ourselves all the time. We craft the person we WANT to be perceived as. There is no trickery going on here, identity is a fundamentally important part of who we are. Well, it IS who we are! And this is a useful skill to “fit” into a wide range of situations. You adjust, and perhaps you are able to explore the complexity of your personality by acting differently in different situations.

Voice encapsulates so much more than just WHAT you share with your audience. It’s HOW you share it, and as Simon Sinek tells us, WHY you share it.

This voice can be crafted. I am always shocked that we talk so much about the craft of writing, but not the CRAFT of developing and engaging with an audience. It is a craft. Have you ever been a part of an organization and discovered someone who was an inspirational embodiment of it’s values? A subtle leader who was charismatic in all the ways you appreciate? Someone who was so painfully honest that it resonated with you to your core?

I watch a lot of vloggers on YouTube, people who have amassed a following of thousand or even MILLIONS of subscribers, just by talking into a camera about their thoughts. Here is one of my favorites, Charlie McDonnell. This is him telling his 1.5 MILLION subscribers that “yes,” he does indeed have a girlfriend, something he has hidden from them for an entire year:

Now, Charlie is being COMPLETELY authentic. He is himself, and makes a pretty big deal about his own social awkwardness. But, when you watch video after video, you see the subtle ways he has crafted a “Charlie” voice for YouTube, that is likely different than the one you hear sitting around on a couch with friends. The way he cuts/edits the footage removing breaths, the way he moves, the tone in his voice, the pacing, etc. A lot of thought, a lot of takes and edits went into this.

Want to see something even more “authentic,” his girlfriend’s video response:

She is obviously being 100% herself and honest here, but it did take five takes to craft the right kind of honest response. You see the similar talking and editing style as Charlie has in his videos. She admits she got dressed up for the video, and is even wearing perfume. She crafts a voice that honors the relationship she wants with others.

And you know what, people LIKE their voices. Let’s compare Charlie’s “voice” to a YouTube video he shared 5 years ago:

HUGE difference, isn’t there? And I will say this: what I love about voice is that it can EVOLVE, it can be multifaceted, it can represent many sides of you. It should not be restrictive, but it should be considered.

Thanks!
-Dan

Build Your Author Platform

“I Tried Facebook, It Didn’t Work” And Other Ways Authors Mistake Social Media For Publicity

There is no magic button to build your audience. No secret button in Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest that will suddenly get the word out about your book to 20,000 people, or increase your followers by 300% overnight.

An author said this to me recently:

“I tried Facebook, it didn’t work.”

This is common feedback I hear from writers – they tried a certain social media platform or a specific marketing tactic, it didn’t drive more book sales right away or didn’t result in significant audience grow right away, so they become jaded and stop using it.

What is missing here is something simple, and profound: RESPECT. Respect for the audience of readers that you hope to engage. Social media is amazing in how it has provided us new ways to connect with others. But don’t be mistaken that it has somehow changed the nature of how human beings establish trust and behave – it hasn’t.

The basics still matter, and those authors who leverage social media best are those who focus on the basics of understanding, caring about, and truly engaging with their audience.

Are you writing in a genre or topic that hundreds or thousands of others are too? Do you want to differentiate yourself from them? Well, first, obviously, is to write a great book – hone your skills. But beyond that, focus on understanding your audience better than anyone else. Become an expert on those people who buy books like those you write.

Why? Because most writers have only the vaguest idea of who their audience might be. And the truth is, they are scared to find out more, they want to idealize them and keep them at a distance.

If you aren’t talking to your ideal readers every week, you are keeping a distance. You are putting a barrier between you and the understanding of who buys these books, why they buy them, and so many other things that are critical to understanding the BUSINESS side of publishing.

Maybe you are an author who writes just to write. I love that, and support you 100%. But if you are someone who wants to have an effect – who wants to develop an audience for your work and actually sell books – make an effort to learn about your audience. Focus on the basics, not the buttons.

Too many authors mistake social media for publicity.

Developing your platform as an author is about focusing on the basics, not tricks. Simon & Garfunkel once used this line in one of their songs:

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away

The implication is a pining for the heroes we knew, the embodiment of a simpler time when we had role models we could look up to and emulate.

There are many writers who look at social media in the same regard. They bemoan the idea that “authors must be marketers” when really that isn’t the case at all. Joe DiMaggio famously responded to the song saying he hasn’t gone anywhere. And this is the case with marketing and authors too.

Nothing has changed. If you feel that you need to do “slimy” marketing things to publicize your books because the world of publishing has changed, you are wrong. You have a choice. You can focus on building meaningful relationships with your ideal readers.

Thanks!
-Dan