On Saturday, I posted Four Surprising Conclusions About Author Websites. Yesterday, I posted on Why Every Author Needs a Powerful Online Presence. Today I want to address the how of building your author brand online.
Let me begin with a disclaimer. I am not a web guru. I am not a professional. I am simply a guy who has been blogging since 1998 (before they called it blogging). I have some degree of success, but mostly I have just tried to be a student of what works and what doesn’t work. And, I have made a lot of mistakes along the way.
From my point of view, there are seven things that are important in building an online brand, particularly if you are an author:
- Read Tribes by Seth Godin. I reviewed Seth’s new book last Friday. It explains the importance of building a tribe of followers and exactly how to do it. It represents a paradigm shift in leadership and communication.
If you are an author, your tribe members are your readers—or, at least, that’s potentially true. The only question is whether or not you will become the tribe’s leader and equip them to communicate with you and with one another. Monologues are so last-century. Facilitating dialogues and polylogues are what is happening now. Authors who understand this and jump in with both feet are the ones who will succeed.
- Start Twittering. Do this before you do anything else online. It will teach you more about where the Internet is going than anything else I can recommend. I know, I know. You don’t have time. You can’t understand what all the fuss is about. You don’t get it. Blah, blah, blah. And you won’t get it until you try it.
If you aren’t on Twitter, I double-dog dare you to try it for 30 days. Start with my 12 Reasons to Start Twittering, then read my Beginner’s Guide to Twitter. You can read both posts in 15 minutes. Then sign-up and enter the fray. If Max Lucado, Donald Miller, Sheila Walsh, Colleen Coble, Patsy Clairmont, Rachel Hauck, and other successful authors find it valuable, you just might too.
- Open a Facebook account. This is an easy way to humanize your brand and help people get to know you. Your fans want more than just the output of your creative mind; they want to get to know you. Facebook is an easy, simple way to do this.
Again, this is one of those things you just have to try to understand. If you already have a Facebook account then connect it to Twitter using the Twitter app. This way, your tweedts will automatically update your Facebook account. By the way, I accept all friend requests on both Twitter and Facebook. Period.
- Create a website. Surely you already have one, but, if not, then make this a top priority. If someone hears your name or reads something they like about you, guess what they are going to do? That’s right, they are going to Google you. And, if your own site is not at or near the top of the list, they are not going to take you seriously. Worse, how will they find your other works or become a fan?
But having a Web site is not enough. If you don’t have your meta tag data populated, you are missing traffic and opportunities. This is not that difficult. Run your website through WebsiteGrader.com and follow the directions. If necessary, get your webmaster to fix the problem. This was the number one problem with most of my own top authors’ websites.
- Write a blog. A static website (one that never changes) is boring. You’re not going to build a fan base, loyal readers, or repeat visitors unless you offer your visitors frequently-updated content. You must give them a reason to come back, again and again. This is what builds a following.
A blog is like a lab for writers. It gives you an opportunity to try out new ideas and see if they get traction with your audience. It will also hone your writing skills. But you must make a commitment to write frequently. How often? That depends. I go through different seasons. In general though, I would say brief and more frequent is better. (I know, I could work on the briefer part.)
- Participate in the conversation. If you have a blog, you must—MUST!—allow comments. Today’s readers are not content just to sit at your feet and take notes. They want to interact. They want to challenge, question, and add their own comments. If you don’t allow this, you are making a big mistake.
Yes, people will sometimes hurt your feelings. But they will also provide you with near-instant feedback. Both are essential for your development as a writer. So make it easy. Don’t require them to sign in, have a valid email address, or have you approve their comments first. This only creates delay and unnecessary friction in the conversation. Occasionally, you will get inappropriate comments, but you can easily delete these. I am speaking from many years of experience here.
- Be generous and show the love. The more you give to your readers, the more they will give back. Reply to tweets, Facebook comments, and blog comments. Leave comments on other people’s sites. Promote things that you think your readers will find valuable, even if it means directing them to your competition.
This may seem like it will take a big investment of time. I don’t think so. But even if it does, you can establish some boundaries. Turn your email and other pings off while you are writing. Then, when you achieve your word count for the day, get out there and interact with your readers.
Finally, regardless of the online venue, be authentic. People today can smell a phony a mile away. The world is becoming increasingly open and transparent. The more you embrace this rather than fighting it, the more you will build a tribe of loyal readers.