Yeah, this is a kicker for someone who spends so much time blogging and tweeting as I do. Yeah, I should follow my own advice except for one thing: I enjoy blogging. I like tweeting. But I don’t consider it a worthwhile, money making pursuit.
Look at all the people who built a platform only to discover that all they had was a bunch of posts that slowly faded into obscurity.
See, if you spend the time creating a platform instead of creating content you are, in effect, creating an cloud castle. It might look big and impressive but a single gust of wind and it’s all gone. A platform, built for a platforms sake, is worthless to both its creator and its consumers. You can tweet as many lolcats as you want and still be unable to do anything with your lolcat followers.
But if you’d spent that time creating content to spread on your platform: Wow! Lolcat bonanza!
Take a look at Chris Guillebeau. The guy built a platform and made $50 000 in less than a year (279 days to be specific – if you haven’t read his “279 Days to Overnight Success” do so now, I’ll wait). Except that he didn’t build a platform. He built content. He slaved away for three months creating nothing but content before even sending anything out into the interwebs. Then he updated every time he said he’d update. He let his followers know when, he stuck to his schedule. He was prepared, he had done his homework and even then he got luck, separating him from every other blogger who did their homework but didn’t quite catch on.
Howard Tayler has posted his free webcomic Schlock Mercenary ever day for 5 000+ days now. He makes enough to support his family. He didn’t do his homework but he did the whole learning-by-doing for four years while working full time at Novell. He created the content and with the content came the platform as an add-on.
Both Guillebeau and Tayler and pretty much every successful platform creator I’ve ever heard of created their content first. They had something that they were offering before they started building their platform. It’s the whole “value first” thing. Value first works. Manically clicking follow/unfollow on Twitter is just as empty as paying someone $25 for 1000 followers. You don’t want followers, you don’t want readers, you don’t want supporters, you want fans. And fans are only created by repeatedly serving them great content.
Brandon Sanderson said on his Writing Excuses podcast that the reason it’s better to write three books and have no platform than to write one book and build a platform is because in writing one book you’re putting all your eggs in one basket. If that single basket is faulty, or even good but doesn’t hit the market at the right time, you’re out of luck.
So what does that mean in practice? Only this: if you like creating platforms then do it because you enjoy it. You will gain some fans and you will have a way to reach people when you do have content. But if you view writing a blog or chatting on Twitter or posting lolcats in Pintrest as work then you better treat it like work and make sure that you get a good ROI (that’s Return On Investment), meaning that you should get more of a reward from your platform than if you put the equivalent amount of time, money and effort into creating content.
It’s as simple as that.