Growing an online audience is completely misunderstood.
Many writers look for growth hacks, or headline tricks, or new platforms that will make them the Pamela Anderson of the writer’s world. I’ve built and continue to build an audience online. Instead of staying in one place, I’ve ventured out into the deep end. From Substack, to Bitclout, to Mirror.XYZ (coming soon), to NewsBreak-my-balls, to LinkedIn.
To grow an audience you need your work to reach more people. The problem is an audience doesn’t grow in front of your eyes. All the statistical dashboards in the world can’t show you why your writing actually gets shared.
I learned this lesson the hard way the other day. I jumped on a call with a stranger. Because the call happened at the crack of dawn I didn’t have time to learn who they were, or even what they do for a living.
A few minutes into the call it became clear they were a somebody. They were a talent agent that dealt with some of the biggest cultural icons of the last ten years. They could drop names like Billie Eilish as if it were normal. Despite all their connects, it did nothing for me.
I hate fame. Fame is a nightmare I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
About thirty minutes into the call the spotlight went to my writing. They secretly shared with me how some of the biggest New York Times Bestselling authors had noticed, and even, shared my work.
It’s hard to believe when you’re a nobody from the Australian desert that any notable writers would care about your simplistic form of glorified self-help. I currently publish twelve articles a week and tonnes of short-form content on LinkedIn, Twitter and Bitclout. It’s nearly impossible not to get a tiny bit better when you’re putting in that many hours.
The quality of your work improves the more you write. Quality writing gets shared because there’s not a lot of it.
These are the extra ingredients required to have your work secretly shared behind closed doors (they’re not obvious).
Too many writers try and blackmail us into reading their work. It’s stupid. They overload our newsfeeds with links to their work. They clog up our email inbox with notifications that feel like begging. They tell us too many times to follow them. They have way too many digital products that require our credit cards. Good writing sells itself.
Increase the quality of your writing. How? Do more research. Edit ruthlessly and kill some of your darling dot points that you know suck.
Create tiny advocates who whisper your name
It’s easy to take a follower or subscriber for granted. The temptation to think 100 followers is a small number has been hardcoded into our innocent brains by ‘like factories’ such as Instagram.
The key isn’t to build your followers.
I focus on tiny advocates. I look for the people who are most vocal about sharing my work and then engage with them. Or I find out what problems they’re struggling with in case I can help. These small good acts may sound stupid if you’re time-poor. But they’re not.
When you create an advocate they tell all of their friends. They hunt you down on places like Twitter and watch all of your tweets. They build a library of your content in their head that they can recite to strangers.
I learned that some of these tiny advocates (without me knowing) did the following:
- They shared my stories with their email lists.
- They tagged me in their articles to expose their audience to my content.
- They self-published books about writing on Amazon and recommended my work (with links to my website).
- They suggested certain book publishers reach out to me.
- They told writing platforms to contact me and see if I’d be interested in putting my work in their app. This led to more ways to monetize. One of the reasons I hear about new writing platforms before most is because of these recommendations.
- They asked their workplaces to have me at their team days as a speaker.
- They introduced me to other writers who became friends.
Takeaway: Think of writing as community building. Create advocates who become smaller leaders of tiny factions, full of people that share one thing in common: your work.
Be a good person when nobody is watching
In front of a crowd it’s easy to act like a saint.
Go to a conference and watch the speakers hang out backstage. You’ll be mortified. I’ve seen this firsthand. The person on the stage who is confident and nice is often a giant a-hole with an ego the size of a gorilla when you meet them in the green room.
What you do as a writer when nobody is watching is what counts. I like to give stuff away for free. Maybe it’s a Q&A. Maybe it’s a free book to someone who really needs the content to solve a huge problem. Maybe someone bought a course from you and wants to exchange it for another product. It’s not necessary to do it, but when you do, you do the right thing.
Doing the right thing is always the right thing. It’s a superpower for writers.
Then there are times where you’ll write something stupid or that’s tone-deaf. Behind closed doors it’s easy to pretend you’re always right. I recommend you admit when you’re wrong, or at least admit you could be wrong.
Another missed opportunity is writers who are better than you. I see way too many writers shitcan another writer because they’re having a stellar month. This is the sign of an emotionally immature writer. None of us will sit at the top of the writing mountain forever.
Better writers force us to grow.
Instead, build up other writers who perform better than you when the eyes aren’t watching. The practice shows humility, and humility will see you reach the greatest heights of writing.
Show genuine gratitude for all of this
Not yoga-mat gratitude taught by a guru. I mean gratitude for the fact you can even write online. So many countries don’t have access to Stripe. If you do, then you’re extremely f*cking privileged. If you have an email list or even a handful of followers then you’re doing better than most writers. Why?
Well after years of teaching online courses, I’ve learned one thing: the biggest barrier to writing is publishing anything. Most writers won’t publish. If they do, they’ll give up way too soon. If you’ve got a few followers then that means you’re not the majority. This is huge.
Five years of writing online will make you wildly successful.
Few writers get this and squash their dreams in the first innings, when if they’d played a few more rounds, they would have easily made 6-figures and probably got a book deal like Mark Manson did.
I can’t believe anybody reads words from a weird-looking dude from Australia with big ears. But here we are seven years later. Gratitude shows your audience that you won’t turn on them if your work takes off. That’s so rare and, without thinking, they’ll share your work because of it.
Nobody likes an ungrateful writer who gets lost in their own awesomeness and forgets where they came from. To be able to write a single tweet is a miracle to 100-year-olds. Think about that.
Be the person on the Zoom call that you are in your writing
Let me translate:
- Talk like you do on a Zoom call.
- Keep the profanity in.
- Leave the slang terms.
- Let your personality shine.
Followers are bullsh*t. Make friends instead.
I want to finish with this one. Too many writers focus on followers. When the number goes up they have a brain orgasm.
Ten friends you make through writing are worth more than 10,000 followers.
Let me explain. Some of my best friends are other writers. We collaborate. We support each other. We reach out when one of us has been bitchslapped for no reason by a critic. We wish one another all the best on each other’s wedding days. We jump on a Whatsapp call when a parent is terminally ill. We randomly ask how each other is going. We invite each other to our podcasts. We edit each other’s work.
I used to be a follower zombie. I didn’t give a crap about other writers. I ignored them and ghosted their emails. One day a fellow writer changed my mind. I engaged. I found a friend. That friend became my business partner. My output and income doubled because of them.
Followers don’t share your work because they’re disposable — they’ll happily trade you in for another piece of dopamine content without thinking twice.
Friends, though, support your writing, and advocates share your work secretly without you knowing.