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.