The first step in the seven-step process for building an effective platform is to define what your ideal platform looks like. As an author your goal is to build a platform that makes people so excited about the solution your message and/or product offers that they cannot stop themselves from sharing it with other people (this is free advertisement for you!).
The best way to start defining your ideal platform is to answer a series of key questions.
What does your platform meet your follower’s needs?
People are not going to talk about your message or product just because they like you. It must offer a solution that they value. It should solve a problem that they are already motivated to solve but don’t know how to without your message or product.
For example, if you are a Certified Marriage Educator who wrote a book about how to develop a healthy marriage relationship, the platform should not be limited to the tips and examples in the book. Unhealthy marriages come with all kinds of issues, and a platform that attracts husbands and wives who are determined to improve their situations will want to see a variety of solutions. Because you are the source, they will consistently come back to you for information and tell their other unhappily married friends about you. Ideally, they’ll eventually buy your book and sign up for some of your one-on-one sessions.
As an author interested in building a platform, your first challenge is to understand what your target audience wants and blend their answer into your platform.
How does it allow you to interact with your followers?
In an earlier post we listed examples of online and offline communication mediums that can be used to build your platform.
The communication mediums you choose to build your platform- whether they are offline or online mediums-will shape the way you interact with your followers. You should choose the platform options that are best suited for your message and that highlight your strengths.
For example, if you are shy you may get overwhelmed by interacting with people in large group settings. So leading multi-day conferences is not a good medium for me to use to build my platform. However, if you are comfortable with interacting in small groups in more intimate settings, you may consider using live small-group seminars, presentations at conferences hosted by others, teleconferences, online webinars, or other online virtual events to share your message.
Just keep in mind that it is not all about what you are comfortable with, but understanding how your target audience prefers to experience your message is also important. If your book addresses a personal topic like coping with death, a conference in a large stadium is not the best way to share your message. A better alternative may be a subscription service where members receive a CD with a message they can listen to so it seems like they are having a one-on-one interaction with you.
Content Marketing Institute offers an e-book with 100 content marketing examples, each of those content marketing examples are platform building tools. Register for their e-mailing list and claim your free e-book to help you brainstorm platform ideas that will help you develop a relationship with your followers. (I am in no way affiliated with them, I just know a good tool when I see it.)
How does the platform allow your followers to interact with each other?
Sometimes students can learn just as much from each other as they can from the teacher when they talk with each other about what they have just learned. How will your platform allow followers to interact with each other?
Some people use a private Facebook page, LinkedIn group or Google+ group to foster conversation between community members. This approach works well as part of both online and offline platforms.
Bloggers often try to foster conversation through the comments section.
My undergraduate college hosted community forums with free food to encourage students to share their thoughts.
This can be as simple or complex as you choose to make it. But don’t overlook this dynamic part of your platform. You can always learn things from your followers that improve your message or product when you allow them to talk together. (Notice that these options involve allowing followers to communicate with each other in an environment that you control.)
How can they interact with people outside of your platform about your message and/or product?
Do you give your followers information that they can share with others? Is it an email that they can forward to others? Are there blog posts that they can share with their social media network? Are there useful tips on a postcard that they can pass along to a friend? Are there CDs or DVDs they can loan to a friend?
As an author, you are already providing a book they can loan or gift to a friend to share the message, but you do not need to be limited to the book. You can get creative.
There are more ways to build a platform than you can count, but not all of those ways are ideal for you. Take your time answering the questions above and it will help you narrow down your best platform building options.
Just keep in mind that building a website is must for every author platform-even if you do plan to use mostly offline platform tools-because it is the one place that everyone can go to learn more about you no matter where they are when they hear about your message.
Question: I’ve already mentioned that a website is a key part of a platform, but do you think that authors need to have a blog?
Image by: Unnamed photographer in employ of National Photo Company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons