What IS platform and how do you build it? Last week I spoke at Houston Baptist University’s Writer’s Conference all about platform. I had some great questions and thought it would be really great to unpack and define platform since it’s a word that gets tossed around so much. What do you really need to have a platform? How can I deal with the struggle to promote my own work? Let’s dive into that.
Listen to Episode 93 – What Is Platform and How Do You Build It
What Is Platform?
The idea of platform, for writers or bloggers, wasn’t even a Thing years ago. If you were an author, you wrote books and a publisher (were you so lucky to find one) would handle most of the marketing for you. As a blogger, you would write blog posts and people would just appear to read. That’s how it worked!
Now, there is the need to build a bridge to connect with readers. You can either draw them into your site with SEO (search engine optimization) or be present with social media to push out your content.
If you shudder at the idea of platform, stop thinking of it as a burden and consider it the way that you can directly build relationships with your readers. Who doesn’t want that?
So here is my three-step process for building your platform: your blog, your email list, and your social media.
Your Website or Blog
The beginning of your platform, whether you are an author or a blogger is your website. The term “blog” generally refers to a site with a series of posts, but these days, blog and website are more synonymous. Blogs look more like traditional websites and often are now a PART of a site, not found on the main page.
I would highly recommend if you HAVE a blog, to integrate that into your main site. I’m a fan of using your real (or writer’s) name dot com. If you have an awesome blog or brand name that’s working for you, you could always own your name and have it redirect, or even have the blog page have your unique blog title.
When I started my parenting blog, it was called I Still Hate Pickles. People always said I would love pickles (my most hated food) when I was pregnant, and since I started the blog when I got pregnant (and STILL hate pickles), this seemed like the perfect name. Switching to Kirsten Oliphant made sense from a writer standpoint, but plenty of people missed the Pickle-Hating theme. And it is always a little weird to say, “Check out my blog, Kirsten Oliphant dot com!”
Whether you consider it a blog or a site with a blog on it, this will be the main hub online. People can find out the basic info about you and where to connect with you on social media and also sign up for your email list. At the most basic, your site should have a main page where people can find out basic info & sign up for your list, an about page, a shop page if you have books or products, and a blog page if you have a blog.
Here are some helpful resources if you’re trying to get this whole thing started. I highly recommend starting with either WordPress.org or Squarespace. WordPress is great for the long term, but has a larger learning curve. Squarespace is GREAT for people just starting out, but not just for newbies. You can drag and drop and even set up a shop, all for about $8 a month.
- Jane Friedman on author platform
- A Newbie’s Guide to Setting Up Your WordPress blog*
*I would NOT recommend BlueHost, who I used for years until my sites were constantly down, but Siteground for hosting. I’m an affiliate because I use and strongly believe in them! Click HERE to sign up with my affiliate link.
- What You Need to Know to Start a WordPress Blog
As an alternative to a whole blog, you could set up just a landing page just to collect email addresses. You could do that with an email service provider like ConvertKit (read why I love them so much!) or even Mailchimp, though it won’t be so pretty. This will take some of the overwhelm out, but will still get you starting on having a central hub.
Though I mention your site first as the public face and place for people to connect online, your email list is the foundation that goes underneath it all. This is where you KEEP the connection you’ve made with people and retain it. Your email list is more permanent than anything else you have. It’s your best digital asset.
I’M A HUGE EMAIL NERD, Y’ALL. And there’s a reason. It’s because I truly believe email is the most important and long-lasting connection you can make with your audience. (I literally wrote the–or A–book on email, Email Lists Made Easy for Writers and Bloggers.)
Don’t wait to set this up. Set it up first and make sure you have some great opt-in places on your blog, not just a “Subscribe to Our Newsletter” thing in your sidebar.
No one is just going to find you, unless you are KILLER at SEO, which also requires usually being present online for some period of time. So you need to promote and connect with your audience. Social media is where you put yourself out there. It’s where you talk to your audience and share your content. But it can be super overwhelming!
Start with ONE platform and rock that platform out. It’s really hard to manage multiple platforms, even with great tools.
Things to consider:
- What do you love using?
- Where are your people?
- What can you create?
It’s important to think about what YOU like, because if you don’t want platform to be a huge burden. If you can find something that you enjoy, you’ll interact better and resent it less. So take into account what platform speaks to you.
People really are EVERYWHERE these days, but your people might be more likely to be on one platform than another. Everyone is on Facebook (at least 30 years old an above) and a lot of the world is on Twitter. LinkedIn tends to be much more traditional, both in terms of publishing and the corporate world. So consider your audience hangs out as well as where YOU want to be.
Consider what skills you need for each platform. Instagram, for example, needs great photos. For YouTube, you need video. If you can’t easily integrate into the platforms because you don’t have the tools or skills, then DON’T CHOOSE THAT PLATFORM. Or, take a course or really work to get your skills up to snuff for the platform.