Do You Have What You Need to Build a Simple Platform? – The Impact Equation

On the Same Stage Martin Luther King Spoke From in 1963 (2)

There’s nothing quite like filling a room with people eager to see what you have to say. You feel quite a giddy energy mixed with the fear that this one time will finally expose you for the fraud your Inner Critic really knows you to be. Above all, you have this feeling that you’d better deliver something of value to the people who’ve turned up to see you. It’s the whole reason to have a platform of value: to serve others.

But how do you do it? With all these tools around, you’re being told a lot of conflicting things: get on every social network. Share your content everywhere. You must do this. Only jerks and newbies do that.

The Impact Equation And WHY should you do it? Why have a platform? What does it even mean? Oh, the questions we will ask. Let’s get started.

What Do I Mean By Platform?

Your platform is the combined resources you have at your disposal to share your ideas. It’s whatever “stage” you have, and more. It might be how many people you can reach in person, by traditional media means, by all the new media means. It’s your outreach.

My platform looks like this:

  • Blog – 200,000 unique monthly views.
  • Twitter – 220,000 followers.
  • Google+ – 101,000 people
  • Newsletter – 16,000 subscribers
  • Keynotes live – anywhere from 500- 3000 people.
  • Books – Who knows?
  • Success Magazine – no idea, but not tiny.

So you’ll note that a lot of my platform is online, but that doesn’t mean that yours has to be. It doesn’t mean anything. You don’t even have to have all the list above that I’ve named. Maybe you have a great podcast or an astounding TV show or whatever. The parts don’t have to look like mine. You just have to think about (and list) what defines your platform.

Why Bother?

Perhaps the most fundamental shift in business over the past handful of years has been the strong adoption of the social web and moving beyond homepages by the buying public at large. (Quickly, so as not to lose you: this also includes the B2B buying market, as well, but to a different degree.) There are very few businesses that don’t benefit from having an online presence, even if your product or services are a face-to-face endeavor.

Why have a platform of any kind? Because what we humans are doing with our time online falls into some categories that will help you understand:

  • Communicating with friends and relatives.
  • Researching purchases.
  • Entertainment.
  • Learning and Enrichment.
  • Etc

So why should you bother trying to have a place to share what you think and believe and feel and what you’re selling? Because people are using more tools to decide what they want to buy. Because we buy from people we like. Because in the past, you didn’t have access to all these various paths to be seen and heard and understood. “Regular” people weren’t media publishers of any size or style. Now? Anyone can do this, or some part of this, or whatever fits.

There Are Two Categories of Platform That Matter

There are traditional media and new media platforms. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the mainstream sticks to one and amateurs use the other. FastCompany magazine is quite prolific on their blogs. The Washington Post received an Emmy for their video blog in 2006. Similarly, realize that the upstarts have quite often moved from an amateur status to the mainstream. The split in these platforms is more around the notion of who is the typical audience and how do they tend to consume their information.

You should know that there are benefits to both, depending on your needs. But also realize that most people misunderstand the value of traditional media, and they undervalue new media. A newspaper article does nothing for your Google search results. An appearance on Good Morning America might boost your goals or it might not. But anything done online, even briefly, is stored and indexed (most times) such that it can be found again later by people searching for what you offer.

The way I did it, right or wrong, is that I built my new media platform more and more and more, and then that spilled into opportunity in the traditional media space. I was asked to write a mainstream book years and years after blogging. I didn’t get magazine opportunities until Bryan Elliott recommended me for something.

But by the time I had the traditional media’s attention, I already had a good sized platform of value, so it was more of a plus than a need. I’m passing this on to say, “Don’t ever think the goal is to start in new media and transfer into traditional media, unless that’s your real goal.” There’s plenty of people who do quite well for themselves in these places.

So Where Does One Start?

The truth is, you can start anywhere, but it’s important to work a few details:

  1. What’s your goal for having a platform? What do you need it to accomplish? (Selling? Sharing? Building Relationships? All?)
  2. How many people do you need to reach for your business goals versus your community goals?
  3. What do you feel comfortable doing? It doesn’t matter if video’s all the rage, if you’re not interested in shooting any.
  4. What can you maintain?
  5. What will help you be found?

Remember, always, that your goal drives the choice of platform, not the other way around. People who start a blog and then want to figure out what to write about are far less successful than people who have a goal and use a blog to tell the story. And who’s going to give you a book deal for just tweeting? There has to be some substance underneath it all.

You could add another several questions to the list, but these are a great start. The idea behind asking them all is to understand what you want to put together, what your goals are, and what you’re willing to maintain.

Serving Suggestions

You can do anything, really, to get the platform ball rolling, but here are some quick thoughts:

If I started today, I would pick 3 pieces of the platform pie to start from: a blog, an email marketing list, and Twitter. The reasons are that a blog is my own real estate and I can do a lot with it by sharing interesting material (like this post), and still, I can sell from it, either directly or indirectly. An email newsletter is a lot more intimate, or it can be, and I’m finding great value with my free newsletter. It nets me quite a bit of useful interaction, and actually pays well, when I have something of value for my buyers. Twitter, of all the social networks, is the simplest, lightest weight, and easiest to share information across. That’s why I’d pick all three of these.

From that, I’d get similar results as above. I’d be able to build a bunch of useful connections between all three properties and use them to grow my reach organically and with an eye towards sustaining a value-building channel strategy.

Other “pairings” might be email marketing and a podcast or videoblog. You might get your start writing for a much bigger new media publication, and then convert some of your more loyal followers or readers to your own site later on. You could be very active on Google+ and also in face-to-face gatherings. It’s up to you.

Feed Your Community

Okay, I won’t talk too long on this because this post is already far too huge. If you’re going to build a platform, you need to perform regularly. You need to produce. People have a lot of choices in this world, and they will forget you as fast as they “discovered” you if you’re not creating something of value for them to experience. What counts as “of value?” Information that either entertains or informs (or ideally, both) is of the highest level of value to people. Beyond that, your use of the platform is best met when serving others.

Here’s a super giant big hint: The more you talk about your own damned self (except as an example), the less people can play along and feel like they’re part of the story. People don’t come to see what makes you even more awesome today. They come to see how they might learn to be awesome themselves.

Wrapping Up for Now

There are many more questions you might have: what goes where? How do I promote without seeming like a jerk? What’s the right balance between this and that? These are all valid. I’ll talk about this more, the concepts behind platform and what it means for your business.

If you want something else to read on the topics, Julien Smith and I have a book coming out called The Impact Equation. What I’ve talked about above is some of the nuts and bolts stuff that the book covers in a more strategic fashion. If you want the more holistic view, do consider picking up the book.

And if not, please feel free to ask questions in the comments. I’ll answer where I can.

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