Everyone who publishes online writes for different reasons. Probably the majority of aspiring writers do it because they want to build an online presence and be successful. It’s a pretty normal thing to want to do. Many of those people have no idea how to go about it, though.
If you are a writer who wants to build a solid following on your blog or on your social networking accounts, and your primary goal is to grow your audience and brand yourself as a writer in a specific niche, good for you. I’m glad you’re here to learn. There are a few things you need to keep in mind as you’re taking the necessary steps to make it happen.
Pick one platform
I think at some point we have all made the mistake of thinking we could only be successful if we started publishing things on every platform possible (myself included). It’s a strategy many experienced writers use; a.k.a., those who already have a solid foundation and following and want to expand their baseline. You cannot do this if you are just starting out, or don’t have much of a following. Why? Because your confused creative person’s brain can only focus on so much at one time. You need to focus on one thing and publish as much quality work as possible before you can even think of trying something else on top of that.
You can’t be everywhere. There’s a big difference between promoting your work on different social media platforms and trying to divide your time between all of them equally. For our purposes, let’s say you want to start a blog using Medium. Medium is now “your” platform. You use Medium to house your blog posts, and link people to your Medium page when showcasing your work. Medium is where people follow you. When you share blog posts on Facebook and Twitter, they link back to Medium. If that’s the platform you want to focus on, focus on it. Don’t also try to blog on Tumblr and Blogspot and WordPress at the same time. That’s overwhelming for everyone. People won’t know where to follow you: most of them don’t want to follow you multiple places at this point, to be honest. That takes time.
Be consistent (no excuses)
The more consistent you are with publishing things online, the more you will be rewarded. The first thing I typically ask people when they want to know how to grow their audience, second to what they are using to gain an audience (e.g., Medium) is how often they are posting. Once a week? Great. Once a month? Awesome. Twice a day? You do you. It’s the “I just post when I have something to say, which isn’t very often” responses that surprise me. Because expecting to be able to grow an audience when you don’t have a schedule just doesn’t make sense. You have to have a schedule and stick to it.
If you’re going to post something every day, post something every day. If you disappear, people will forget about you, and they won’t come looking for you again. If you can’t post something every day, then don’t say that’s what you’re going to do. Weekly, twice a month, once every three months: it doesn’t matter. But you should not, cannot, commit to something you can’t stick with. People come to expect when to look for your posts, and when they aren’t there, eventually, they stop checking. If you’re OK with posting only when you feel like it, that’s fine. Just don’t expect your audience to grow. Some people don’t care about that. If you’re just here to write for the sake of your own sanity and nothing else, you have nothing to worry about.
Be responsive and communicate well
Here’s the thing about the online social scene: everyone wants to be heard. Sure, people say things that shouldn’t be said and make uninformed, unnecessary commentary all the time. But some truly believe they have important things to say. And when someone interacts with something you have written, unless it’s spam, you’re basically obliged to respond. It’s part of the deal you make when you decide to publish something online, regardless of the platform.
People don’t just want you to respond to them: they expect it. It doesn’t have to be a 500 word-long response to a comment. When someone mentions me in a tweet promoting one of my articles, I either like it or retweet it. I thank people for sharing on Facebook. (I’m really, really bad at email, but nobody’s perfect, all right?) There are always going to be certain things you don’t respond to, but even a short, “Hey, thanks for reading!” is better than nothing. People need to know you’re a real human and not a robot. This is why I personally don’t trust blogs without obvious authors.
Please stop obsessing over numbers
This weekend, this blog reached its follower goal for the year. Did you see me posting about it? No … not because it’s not a cool thing that happened, but because numbers are much more of a behind-the-scenes, business-y thing when it comes to building followers and strengthening communities. I set a specific goal to motivate myself to keep working hard so the blog would grow. I could lose all my subscribers right now and it wouldn’t change the way I run things.
Numbers are a measurement tool. They do not really reflect how successful you are, mainly because most of the people that follow you on social media don’t actually pay any attention to you. That doesn’t mean you aren’t good at what you do. It doesn’t mean growth is meaningless. But you have to stop obsessing over how many people are reading your stuff. Those kinds of things can drive you to write and post things you wouldn’t normally write and post – out of desperation or because you’re basing the value of your work on an inaccurate, meaningless number. The quality of your work, and whether or not you are enjoying what you are writing, is really the only thing that matters. Stop wondering how to get more followers on your blog. Ask yourself instead if you’re happy with your content. If you are, then you have nothing to be concerned about. Period.
Don’t expect to grow quickly
It’s really as simple as that. There is no decent way to “grow fast.” Building trust with your readers and proving you can produce quality and credible content on a consistent basis takes months, sometimes even years. If you can’t wait that long, then this whole online writing thing might not be for you. Good growth, growth that really matters, is slow. Especially if you’re trying to publish things online (because every other aspiring writer out there is doing the exact same thing, or trying to).
I mentioned above that we just hit our subscriber goal for the year. I set that goal back in December, and at that point, we were gaining probably a few new followers every month, if that. It was never something I worried about, because honestly, I’m not just an internet creator; I’m also a consumer. I don’t immediately follow everything I come across. It’s too overwhelming. You can’t take it personally if people aren’t interested in what you’re doing. Those who really appreciate what you’re doing will stick around. You want those people standing with you. Why are you so concerned with growing quickly, if that might mean people visit your site but don’t really care about what you’re doing?
Online writing success is slow and often unrewarding. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. I wish more people would publish online because they truly enjoyed it. I don’t know about you, but I can tell when someone is posting things online just because they think it’s “the thing” to do. If I were writing only for that reason, I would have quit six years ago. I do this because I genuinely love doing it. I don’t do it for me. I want to help people grow and learn and be successful. I hope you have a genuine purpose for publishing, too. I hope I can help you learn to be confident and patient and smart.
I’m not really here to tell people what they’re doing wrong. I suppose in terms of the big picture there is no right or wrong at all. There’s just better. Granted, you can’t force everyone to learn what you have to teach. I can only offer wisdom from my own experiences. What people do with it on their own time, that’s up to them. What’s most important to me is that you find the kind of writing and the platform you enjoy, and that it’s something you want to wake up in the morning and work on right away. That is my biggest hope for you: that you will fall in love with writing over and over again, and keep doing it because it is what gives you meaning every day of your life.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.