Does building a platform mean you have to give up control?
Before Facebook, Twitter, and the plethora of also-rans, blogs were all the rage. A writer could build a following because they talked about things that interested them, maybe talk about the craft or the industry, gave tips to newcomers, and maintained a space to be themselves.
This started to change a few years ago as Facebook especially increasingly became a platform for publishing, and why not? Everybody was there anyway. This company was offering to give us a place to publish for free and to connect with the already intact audience. You could post your thought and have instant input from the potential pot of over a billion members of the network. Creative people felt like they had stuck it to the man by going directly to their audience.
But then it began. When the big network captured all these content creators that were now publishing on its platform they started monkeying with the algorithm and the organic reach began to dwindle. This could be fixed, of course, by paying to reach the same audience you previously took for granted. All of a sudden the streets of publishing gold transformed into golden handcuffs. People started asking questions like can I afford to abandon the platform where I connect with my audience?
For authors, I think it’s fair to ask if social media actually moves the needle on book sales. Not to say that social media isn’t good for meeting and connecting with people that like what you do, but if you’re looking at it as a place to sell books, I don’t know that it’s the right place or the right motivation for being there.
I think we’re at the place where we need to be asking hard questions about platforms and what we’re using them for. If you’re an author, and I know a lot of you here are, then ask yourself if you’re in it for the short term dream of selling a ton of books before you go do the next thing you’re interested in. If you write because you believe you have something to say, and you want to form long-term relationships with readers, I think you need to be building systems that will outlast whatever mechanism is hot at the moment. Blogs might be old hat, but when the social media basket that you put all your eggs in fails and you’re left out in the cold, you’ll appreciate that old hat.
I am inherently distrustful of systems that don’t produce anything but rely on other people to do all the creating and provide no lasting benefit to the creators. Not only that, but these systems control who sees what you publish and share and own your work. Is that worth the convenience the seemed to provide? It might be painful to start taking back control of your content and connecting with a whole new audience, but I believe it’s worth it in the long run.