I'm going to tell you a sure-fire secret to success with any creative endeavor right now. All you have to do is mix the ass end of a salamander with the tears of a gelded snow leopard at twilight on any given Thursday.
Actually, that's something else entirely. Sorry about that.
This other secret doesn't require any tears of gelded apex predators. It's not even really a secret, but some people ignore it and then wonder why they've spent a shitload of time doing something that turned out not to work.
The secret: have a loyal audience.
What's the matter? You seem disappointed. You were probably hoping for a magic bullet or something. Except that's just it. That is the magic bullet. Think about it. No audience = you talking to yourself like a crazy person (soiled underoos optional). No readership, viewership, listeners, fans, followers. No customers. I hope that makes sense to you. Build it and they will come, if they can drag themselves away from the steady barrage of memes and click-baity articles on social media enough to magically visit your specific corner of the web and dig through your dumpster of a website. That's how the internet works. The shit that has no activity gets buried by, hopefully, more relevant and entertaining shit. But don't feel bad. A lot of people think you can just put a piece of content out there and it will somehow spread like syphilis at Spring Break. Don't ever count on that. Imagine how many books go up onto Amazon and never sell a single copy. The number is staggering (I can't find a link to it, but Seth Godin mentioned it somewhere). In fact, half of all self-published authors earn less than $500 bucks. Total. A quarter of all books never even cover the cost of production. The average traditionally published book sells less than 250 copies a year.
Don't think I'm only picking on authors here. This is the case with any creative modality. While some unknowns may get lucky and strike the right chord with the right audience and gain viral traction, that is far from the norm. Most creative shit goes into the ether and ends up at the back of the bar, clutching onto a cold beer bottle while scoffing at the other creative shit that's getting laid later tonight.
Never count on luck as the vehicle to your success.
The good news is it doesn't have to be this way. You can experience success (whatever that means to you), but you're going to have to work for it.
The Platform Paradox
There's something I like to call the Platform Paradox. It's like the Mr. Miyagi of the creative world. You won't know you're actually learning karate until afterwards. Here is how most industries work: Getting traditionally picked up (record company, publisher, etc.) involves submitting your work to some curator, whether that be a producer, an agent (screenplay, book, modeling, comedian, etc.), whatever. The idea follows that if your work is good, they will agree to take you on and help you get your art sold.
And the paradox: the bigger your audience when you submit your query, the more likely you are to get representation. Yet the bigger your audience, the less you actually need that representation.
Is your mind blown? The system skews itself in favor of people who have already done most of the work. It's like if someone were to run up at the last minute after you've walked ten miles with 600 bags of groceries and offer to hold the door for you. If you have a big enough audience, you're not going to be turned away. This is because an audience is the most valuable part of the equation. These companies know this. That's who they sell to! You'll have done the most important part. They can tweak their marketing plans now. They're not trying to screw you (well, not all of them anyway), they're just trying to minimize risks and maximize returns. It's smart business. But if you already have a throng of rabid followers, you have the leverage to skip the middle man, which is what a lot of artists these days are doing. This is not to say that you shouldn't try to get picked up, even after you've built an army of loyal followers. The record company/publisher/whatever will handle tasks that you will have taken upon yourself up to that point, which will free your time to create more of what your audience wants. So there's the age-old trade-off there, and that's going to be something you'll have to decide for yourself.
Having an audience is the key to success, whether you are trying to go solo or get picked up.
Building Your Followers
Now that we've established that you
want need an audience, where should you start? Good question. Here are a few pointers:
- Pick something you'll be able to do consistently without losing interest. Consistency is important. If you pick Facebook or Twitter, you'll need to post something at least every day, preferably throughout the day. Things like Youtube, a podcast, your blog, you'll want to do at least once a week. You have to stay in front of your audience or they'll move on to someone else. Also, by being consistent, the audience can trust that you're going to be there. Reward them for their time. And try not to die.
- Focus on only a few networks. You don't want to try to build followers on every single one of these, you'll run out of time trying to keep up with the work load. Posting on social networking sites isn't about just sharing the link to your latest video or post. You're basically a dirty rotten spammer at that point. You need to interact with your fans and customers. The interaction is what will build loyalty and trust. You can't do that if you're trying to keep up with 100 different things. Pick a network that is more conducive to what you are trying to do. If you create more visually appealing content, try Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube. Some content is better suited for shorter soundbites, so maybe consider Twitter or Tumblr.
- Once you pick your platforms, learn everything you can about it. When are the best times to post on Twitter? What third-party software will help make posting easier so I can free up time to do my art? What are some of the biggest mistakes others have made that I can avoid? How do I do this without annoying my fans? Should I pay for advertising on this platform?
- Be patient. Building an audience takes time. Don't follow the numbers closely or you will pull your hair out trying to figure out what you did to make someone unfollow you. (Could be a Twitter account that automatically unfollows if you don't follow back. Shit happens all the time. Let those people go.) Forget the numbers and focus on the content.
Give people something they want to consume.
- Consider advertising to promote your page or profile, but also be mindful of the drawbacks. Quality is more important than quantity, so you need to tailor your ad to maximize the likelihood of getting people who actually will enjoy your content. Having lots of visitors is good, but what if all those visitors also shared your stuff?
- Last tip: use each of your profiles to push traffic to your blog. Your blog is your home, your hub, your hive. It is your portfolio of work. That is where you want people to go, not only for traffic and search rankings, but it's where you'll get people to buy your products and sign up for your mailing list. Remember what I said about how the internet works? People aren't likely to just stumble on your stuff, so sending them to a central location increases the chances that they'll see something else they might take a fancy to.
With that being said, let's get into the top 3 platforms (in my opinion). And bear in mind, since there are tons of platforms, you may find some other platform that better suits your needs. Investigate them all and see what works best for you. People are experiencing success with every single venue.
This is the number one social network of them all. It has the most users, and it's the king because people don't want to leave because that's where their friends are (that's why a lot of teens migrate to tumblr or twitter also...). It's likely not going anywhere anytime soon, either. It's hard to replace. So what can you do to build an audience?
- Start an official page. Don't argue, just do it. Pages function differently than profiles and you're also not limited to 5000 friends. You'll also be eligible for that little blue check mark that says you're verified (you can request this). Pick a good name, because you are limited on how many times you can change it. I fucked up by making my first name "Help This Page Get More Likes Than Dane Cook." Basically wasted one of my tries.
- Post stuff relevant to your brand, and post often. Facebook and Twitter posts can get buried pretty quickly. Consider your Facebook page a way for you to hang out with your fans. Post things that are interesting, fun, things that will promote interaction, and which showcase your specific talents/brand. Basically, don't post the same stupid shit they're seeing already, but post more interesting stupid shit. I guess.
- Share things from your page that your audience will enjoy or benefit from.
- If all else fails, look at what other successful pages in your industry are doing. What do they have in common?
If you do it right, you can succeed solely through Facebook (same with any of the other platforms). Here are some helpful links for you:
Twitter is the second most popular social networking platform. I admit, I'm no Twitter guru. I haven't had much success on there because I don't have the time to cultivate strong relationships there. If you can't cultivate relationships and interact with others, you probably won't do so well on Twitter (or any of them, for that matter). If you haven't used Twitter before, you may be wondering why you should use it. Here's a pretty decent list of reasons, but some of my favorites are:
- Celebrity access - it is, quite literally, the easiest way to get in touch with people who are normally out of your range. Whether they will respond, though, is another story. It's also one of the best ways to make fun of them and almost believe that they're going to see it.
- Totally different style of interaction. Twitter's primary mechanic is the sharing of small, 140-character posts. This forces people to be more engaging, so you come across some really interesting people. (And apparently, under 100 characters is optimal.)
- You can post more throughout the day with relatively little effort and people won't get pissed off at you for posting too often. In fact, it's been shown that the more you tweet, the more followers you're likely to get. But don't overdo it. You can post too much. Spread them out unless you're doing a hashtag conversation or something.
- There are lots of extra apps that help you with Twitter, like Hootsuite. You can schedule tweets in advance to stay on top of a regular schedule. (Note that Hootsuite also has tools for other platforms.)
So those are some pretty good reasons to get up on Twitter. Some tips for utilizing all its features:
- Post often. Schedule them in advance for times when you're unavailable.
- Interact with others. Many people won't follow someone whose posts only consist of spammy links to buy stuff. Not only that, but building relationships is what it's about anyway.
- Retweet cool content. If you can't see something in your feed, search a hashtag for something to retweet on the fly. Thank those that give you compliments.
- Don't follow everyone who follows you.
- Retweet with comments. Add something of your own.
- Don't automate DMs.
- Don't beg people to follow you.
- Limit your hashtags.
- Consider the purpose of hashtags.
- Limit your fucking hashtags.
- Offer a balance between original content, promotional material, replies, and retweets.
Twitter can be a powerful tool to help you amass a throng of dedicated followers. Like having a cult manifesto that cuts right to the heart of today's disenfranchised youth. Anyway, here are some more tips:
The first two networks are obvious. Any time there is a list involved, its subjectivity may be contended. So while some might replace Youtube in this list with Google Plus (I'm kidding about Google Plus; the only people still on there all work at Google), Instagram, Linkedin, Pinterest - whatever - I have a few reasons for putting Youtube as the third network. For starters, Youtube is the "second largest search engine." It is the go-to place for videos. More people seem to get noticed from Youtube than from any other social network. It is also one of the best ways to gain followers for a number of different niches. I find Youtube of particular use to:
- instructional material
- anything where you are the brand (models, artists, writers, poets, etc.)
We are inundated with text all day long. About 54,000 words a day, in fact. Video and imagery help break up the monotony. One of the other benefits of video is that your audience can (depending on the content) put it on and listen to it in the background (one of the primary reasons podcasting is great). It's also a great way to teach something, since some people are visual learners. Other times, showing something is easier than explaining it.
Or you might just want to make a damn film. Whatever the reason, Youtube is the number one place for vids.
It also provides another excellent way to interact with your fans. It's as close as some people can get to actual face time with you, so video can end up being more intimate. You also don't have to post as much as with the above networks. Most people post once or twice a week. But the schedule is extremely important if you're trying to build an audience on Youtube (which is a great way to make money, by the way). Consistency. They need to know when you're posting or they're less likely to subscribe. Imagine joining an awesome group, say this Naked Male Bonding group, only to find out that they meet, you know, just whenever. While you might be tempted to still join, finding a group that meets more regularly, like this one for vampires, is going to be more appealing.
I don't think Youtube is for everybody. But it's especially for people who are in industries where performance and being front of people is the norm. Let's start with musicians.
People want to hear your music. That's your number one job. People especially love hearing your music live, even if you fail miserably sometimes. There are more people online than there are in your geographical location, therefore, the next best thing is video. Put up a song a week. Play the songs you want people to hear (be mindful that sometimes things get taken down due to copyright infringement). Or give a tutorial on how to play a different song each week. Or vary it up every once in a while and do a vlog style post and just answer fan questions. As long as you post each week. Showcase your talents. Get a decent microphone (you can get one for less than $100).
- Don't just lip sync or do karaoke. If you're really that musically inclined, you should have no problem learning an instrument. Do it already. An acoustic guitar can be obtained for as little as $50. Check Craigslist. Whatever it takes. You can be playing songs on a guitar within a few days or even hours. Don't think you need to be Slash to play a damn song.
- Don't worry about not having your own songs yet. Build the audience with consistent content. Take requests for the next song you'll play and people will want to stick around to see you play theirs.
- Experiment. Bring your own flavor to any songs you cover.
- Post videos of live performances also.
- Link to your music on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify or wherever so people can buy it.
Justin Bieber was discovered on Youtube. Arnel Pineda became the new singer for Journey because of Youtube. Don't underestimate the platform.
For comedians, Youtube provides a great way to showcase talent through sketch comedy and videos of performances. Do a sketch a week or start your own topical show and put out an episode once a week. I really like this guy, for instance. Record all your performances for those who can't make it to the comedy club. Engage with fans by answering questions in a funny way. Invite other comedians or personalities you know to participate in your sketches. A lot of these people cross-promote each others' stuff.
Youtube is a great way for other niche businesses and creators to gain exposure. People love to learn through video, and Youtube is a great way to gain followers and put yourself in front of people who wouldn't otherwise ever know about you. (Hell, you might even combine useful knowledge with comedy, like John Green and his brother, Hank.) Even if your thing is making something on Etsy, you can build a sizable following by teaching others what you know, which also brings awareness to your product. You're also providing something of value for free, which is always a bonus, and you can position yourself as an expert in your chosen area in order to build credibility, reputation, and trust.
Post something people want to learn and you'll get more views than you ever anticipated. I made a satirical video on how to make a Voodoo doll in 2011, which became my most popular video of all time by far (as of this writing it has 139,635 views; my second most popular video has 7,710 views).
How to succeed on Youtube:
- 21 Ways to Dominate Youtube
- 5 Ways to Build a Loyal Audience on Youtube
- Get Tons of Subscribers on Youtube
You need an audience, there's no getting around it. You need to put yourself in front of that audience on a regular basis, and you need to provide them with something they're interested in. Focus on creating quality content and building a relationship with the audience. Be patient. It will take some time. Don't overload and try to blow up every network in the world. Most importantly: have fun and be persistent.
And answer this question in the comments below: What are some of your favorite tips for utilizing social media?