Platform

Book Review-Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World

If my experience with The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide has taught me one thing, it has taught me that marketing is far more important in today’s world than having a great product. It doesn’t make any difference whether you’ve got a good product or even a great product if no one knows about it. While word of mouth marketing might have made a difference in the past, it’s not enough today. That’s why I’ve been trying to figure out how to get my ideas and my products noticed in an increasingly noisy world.

In my work with knowledge management and information architecture I speak about the challenges of information overload and how we’re now in an attention economy where the real currency is the ability to get someone’s attention because it’s getting increasingly harder to do. Michael Hyatt – who was previously the CEO of a Christian book publisher (Thomas Nelson Publishers) – published a collection of his blog posts called Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World which is designed to help folks like you and me learn how to get the attention we need – and we deserve.

Contradictions and Challenges

Before I continue with my thoughts on the contents of the book, I have to pause to say that I was greatly conflicted by the book’s message. Conflicted because Michael says – as I would say about this blog – that he blogs for himself. The blogging process forces you to clarify your thinking which is a point that Michael makes well. However, the challenge and contradiction for me is that Michael also has a number of rules about the length of blog posts, the reading score for the resulting post, and many more. So on the one hand blogging is about clarifying his thinking – but at some level it isn’t.

When I reached out to Michael to get clarification on this I received a response from an assistant who told me to search his site – a brush off. What’s challenging here is that Michael tells us in Platform to “Engage in the conversation.” So at one level we’re supposed to participate in the conversation but at another level the conversation isn’t important enough for Michael to engage in – or so thinks the folks working for him.

It’s with this disclaimer about the authenticity of his message that I suggest you read the rest of the review. I know that Michael’s guidance through the book is sound guidance because it’s worked for me, because others have said the same thing, and because it just makes sense. However, I’m suspicious of how much of what Michael says is to be true to himself and how much is a show for the rest of us.

Put Out the Fire

Why Am I Here?

I’ve been reading and writing book reviews on a variety of topics for some time. However, I’m quite aware that there aren’t many people that regularly read my blog – and those that do are often friends I’ve developed over the years who are looking for the latest tidbit about SharePoint or some bit of wisdom about some technology question. Certainly ten years ago when I started the blog I thought that was all I was going to share. I was going to put things here that no publisher would buy. Maybe it wasn’t positive enough. Maybe it was too short … or two long. The subtitle of the blog is “Not fit for print.”

I don’t ever intend to be what Michael describes as a professional blogger – however, I’d like to find a way to get the message out more broadly. I think that my reading and connecting diverse topics is interesting and useful to others. Some of those who’ve stumbled across my blogs have said the same thing either directly or through the commenting system. So the question that brought me to Platform is: what can I do to attract more people to join me in the journey of learning more about the world?

What I’m Doing Wrong

I’ve been semi-conscious of the things that I’m doing that are holding back my success for some time. I know that I need to get my blogging platform updated. I know that I need to make it easier for folks to participate in the conversation. I know that my blog posts don’t have enough pictures and that they’re too long. I consistently get feedback from friends and colleagues about the depth of the content that they find on my blog – and simultaneously they indicate their desire for bite sized chunks.

I recognize that I’m giving people full-meal-deal posts where I’m ripping apart a book and connecting it with the others that I’ve read. I’ve been leveraging a strategy called pearl growing for a long time. Pearl growing is connecting topics via links so that someone can follow links to learn more. It’s acknowledging that the growth of the Internet is based on this concept – that links allow you to go fill in areas of your knowledge. It’s also an awareness of how adults learn (See The Adult Learner) and the heart of knowledge management – making knowledge accessible in context. (See The New Edge in Knowledge: How Knowledge Management is changing the Way We Do Business)

Some of what I’m “doing wrong” I’m committed to changing. Updating the blogging platform is a big part of that. It’s been on my mind for a while. Some of what I’m “doing wrong” I’m committed to not changing. I’m not going to stop writing the long-form blog posts which are the reviews and the connection of all of the topics. However, I’m looking at how I can’t extract sections of the longer posts and put them into a more consumable format. So I might have two blogs – the one which I use to expand my thinking and a separate feed for bite-sized chunks for those on the go.

Start with Wow

Platform has five parts, each one with a different focus for helping you get your audience. The first is Start with the Wow. The idea is that you have to have something interesting to share or no one will ever listen to you. Getting to the wow in Michael’s perspective has seven steps:

  1. Create a Compelling Product – This seems a bit obvious but the key is asking compelling to whom?
  2. Bake in the Wow – How do you take an ordinary and make it extraordinary?
  3. Exceed Market Expectations – As a consultant I know that you always under commit and over deliver – in product terms you set a lower expectation than you can deliver.
  4. Beware of Obstacles – The hasslemap (See Demand) between your customer and your product is where you need to focus. Eliminate the barriers to get more people.
  5. Don’t Settle for Less than Great – At some point we all have to ship – but don’t do that before it’s time. Make sure that the product you’re creating is done – not that you’re just done with it.
  6. Give Your Product a Memorable Name – Memorable isn’t necessarily about what it does, it’s often about the aspirational vision that the consumer can achieve with the product.
  7. Wrap the Wow in Style – Packaging and the support around the product need to have a Wow too.

Prepare to Launch

I can remember watching the countdown to launch of the Space Shuttle on TV as a child. I can remember what it felt like to have the anticipation that something special was going to happen. Michael has nine steps for your launch:

  1. Accept Personal Responsibility – This is your product and your passion. No one can sell it like you can.
  2. Think Bigger … No, Bigger – Those who have big dreams may not accomplish their dreams, but they accomplish more than folks who have smaller dreams.
  3. Define Your Platform Goals – Do you know what you really want out of your platform? If you don’t know where you’re going than any road will take you there. Know where you’re going.
  4. Create an Elevator Pitch – Distill your message until you can explain the core message to someone in 30 seconds – as if you’re in an elevator with them.
  5. Set Up Your Branding Tools – There are certain expectations for business. It used to be a business card. Today it includes an email address, email signature, and a web site address.
  6. Assemble Your Pit Crew – While you’re the best person to promote your product it doesn’t mean that you have to do it yourself. Find the right help to get the word out.
  7. Secure Raving Endorsements – Have you ever noticed how much you trust someone’s claims about a product? That is someone other than the author’s claims? Find others who can endorse your product.
  8. Get a Great Head Shot – A head shot conveys a lot about you. You need someone who can capture the image that you really want to convey to the world.
  9. Develop an Online Media Kit – When others want to direct people to you, how do they do that if you’ve not created the things they need to do it easily? Make it easy for folks to send people to you.

Build Your Home Base

Whether you’re trying to be a professional blogger or an author and speaker, learning how to manage your media presence is key. Michael lays out the process for creating your presence starting with your home.

  1. Understand the Model – Learn about home base (your space), embassies (where you have a registered presence), and outposts (where you go to listen to the conversation happening about you.)
  2. Focus Your Efforts Online – Focus on creating good content. You don’t need another web site – you need to make the one that you have compelling.
  3. Beware of Self-Proclaimed Social Media Experts – There are many people who will tell you that they’re experts at social media or SEO or something else to quantify. Make sure they really are experts. I have, like Michael, run into plenty of wannabes when it comes to social media marketing.
  4. Start a Blog (or Restart One) – At the core of what Michael does is blogging – and it’s no surprise that you create one. I believe they’re important but am cautious about making sure you know what you want out of the blog.
  5. Create the Content Yourself – Michael believes many things can be ghost written but not your blog. I create all my own blog content – but that’s because my blog is about my better understanding the world around me.
  6. Use a Blog Post Template – Sometimes writing comes easy and sometimes it hardly comes even for the most seasoned (what I’d call production) writers. Having a template helps lower the barrier for writing and makes it easier for you to get started when you’re blocked.
  7. Maintain a List of Post Ideas – Comedians keep a list of kernels for jokes (See I Am Comedian). Bloggers keep a back log of things that they want to talk about.
  8. Write Posts Faster – Michael will tell you that consistency in writing is key to developing a following on your blog. If you want to write consistently, you’ll need to write faster.
  9. Create Video Interviews – Too many words can be dry. Change it up by interviewing folks that you want to speak with. Use Skype and recording software (I use Evaer.)
  10. Don’t Hire a Proofreader – Michael believes that you don’t need to delay posts by hiring a proofreader. I disagree, I put my blog posts in a queue so that I can even out my writing schedule (I’ll often write two or three posts at once.)
  11. Protect Your Intellectual Property – The greatest problem you have as a “small time” blogger isn’t people stealing your content – its obscurity. Protect your property but not to the level that you forget to get noticed.
  12. Avoid Common Blogging Mistakes – Here it’s all about getting a cadence to your writing that is short, to the point, and on schedule. That and creating engagement and participation.
  13. Create a Better About Page – Since blogging and your web site don’t make you money directly, how do you make sure that you get people to reach out and talk to you about things that do make you money.
  14. Develop Your Landing Pages – For every product, service, or offering you have there should be a home. That home is a landing page.
  15. Build a Speaking Page – If you’re going to be a speaker, you’ll need a page that talks about your speaking services.
  16. Forget About Metrics (for Now) – Metrics aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. Don’t worry about metrics until you are trying to adapt what you’re doing. Activity for the sake of activity isn’t really interesting.

Expand Your Reach

Once you have a home base, how do you start to get more followers? How do you build your tribe? Michael suggests these 19 ways:

  1. Kiss Marketing Good-Bye – Fully bought into Seth Godin’s idea of Tribe marketing, Michael encourages us to build a following.
  2. Understand What’s Not Important – Plenty of people will tell you what’s important – however, mostly that’s based on context. Focus on the things that actually do correlate with more traffic – and engagement.
  3. Generate More Blog Traffic – Sales is sometimes a numbers game. A certain number of cold calls leads to a number of prospects leads to opportunities and ultimately sales. Getting more traffic to your blog is a similar thing. The more followers you have the greater number will hire you or buy your product. Michael generated more traffic through a consistent schedule and shorter more consumable posts.
  4. Build Your Subscriber List – One of the things I’ve heard from several folks is that having an email address of followers is valuable because it allows you to reach out to them. One of the best ways to get this list is to give something away for free.
  5. Promote Your Older Posts – If you’ve been blogging for a long time it’s highly likely that your readers aren’t familiar with your older posts. Find a way to pull older posts back into the collective consciousness.
  6. Write Guest Posts – It used to be link sharing. Today it is writing guest posts on someone else’s blog to help people discover you. Michael has some direction for engaging with others to write guest posts.
  7. Give Stuff Away – People love free. A free sample. A free trial. The more you can take the stuff you already have and turn it into something that you’ll give away for free the more engaged they’ll be.
  8. Stop Losing Readers – Writing is at the core of your readers following you – if you’re posts are too long, infrequent, or poorly focused you’ll lose readers.
  9. Watch These Metrics – Hits don’t matter. However, unique visitors per month is. As are the number of comments per post. Look for metrics that demonstrate you’re increasing your following and your engagement.
  10. Embrace Twitter – Michael spends several chapters talking about Twitter. It’s been my experience that Twitter is interesting but not nearly as powerful as Michael believes – at least in my business to business world.
  11. Understand Twitter Basics – 140 characters. Check. What can you say in a short space?
  12. Don’t Write Off Twitter – Michael deals with the most common complaints about getting started with Twitter.
  13. Devote Thirty Minutes a Day – Social media, like writing, needs a relatively consistent feeding to be healthy. You wouldn’t water a plant one month then come back and water it twice in a month because you forgot to water it after a week or two. Social media is the same. It needs some level of consistent involvement – you can do that in less than 30 minutes a day if you commit to it.
  14. Get More Twitter Followers – Getting followers on your Twitter account is possible by strategic following, and using services like automatic responders that help folks feel engaged.
  15. Keep from Getting Unfollowed – Too much off-topic, irrelevant, and boring content may cause you to lose followers as they reach over to turn up the squelch.
  16. Use Twitter to Promote Your Product – This is what you’re doing it for, right? To be able to launch your product or service. Learn how to promote it.
  17. Set Up a Facebook Fan Page – Michael suggests the power of Facebook can work for you – here too I believe that this works in a business to consumer mode but not in a business-to-business way. It’s more effective, in my opinion, to do LinkedIn.
  18. Employ Consistent Branding – People have to feel like they understand you. That means seeing consistent views of you across all of your embassies.
  19. Be Prepared for Traditional Media – Traditional media will eventually reach out if you get enough followers – be prepared to respond to them when they do.

Engage Your Tribe

Presuming that you’ve managed to start to develop a tribe of people who are interested in what you have to say, how do you engage them? How do you get them to really connect? Michael has these nine ideas:

  1. Get More Blog Comments – End your post with a question to encourage people to respond.
  2. Don’t Respond to Every Comment – You don’t have to respond to every comment – particularly the “great” type comments.
  3. Keep the Conversation Civil – Invariably in any forum there will eventually be an argument erupt. Just keep it civil. You don’t have to agree but you can acknowledge the other person’s ability to hold an opposing view.
  4. Develop a Comments Policy – There are some posts that just need to be deleted. Some things that just can’t stay. Make it clear how you’ll handle comments. What is allowed, and what isn’t.
  5. Practice the 20-to-1 Rule – If you’re going to ask folks for something – by promoting a product or service. Make sure that you’re depositing twenty times as much as you’re making in withdraws. You have to continue to add value – or they’ll stop following.
  6. Monitor Your Brand – Using Google Alerts and other services you can quickly and easily follow what people are saying about you – good or bad.
  7. Defend Your Brand – Sometimes the best way to defend the brand is to admit a mistake and make it right.
  8. Don’t Feed the Trolls – Some people just want to tear you down and engage you in an argument – don’t do it. Trolls die when they’re not fed.
  9. Monetize Your Blog – You can make money on your blog by more than selling products, advertising and product endorsements can be a good way to get a few extra bucks.

In Summary

Michael has 60 chapters in Platform … there’s a reason for that. He’s culled blog to create the book and when you keep your posts short your chapters will be that too. The good news is that if you’re interested in something that you can read in 5 or 10 minutes a day for 30-60 days, Platform is it. Michael’s writing is lots of lists and short punchy posts. If you’re looking for a primer and collection of thoughts on a variety of topics for building your platform, it’s worth picking up Platform.