Everything You Fear About Platforms Is Wrong

How One Critic Got It 180-degrees Backward—and Why It Matters for the Rest of Us

Every now and then I read something so ridiculous I think, this must be a joke. But then I read deeper and realize, no, sadly, the writer is serious.

That happened to me the other day when I read an article about why platform-building supposedly “threatens to throttle the church.”

The writer starts off with a few examples of platform builders who seem disingenuous and ego-driven. And then he tries using those examples to paint an entire culture full of helpful, humble, servant-hearted people who are busy building their online brands.

In my view, this caricature is a “straw man.” It doesn’t represent reality.

His basic argument goes like this:

  • Platform building is self-promotional.
  • Ministers shouldn’t be promoting themselves.
  • So, platform building is bad for ministers.

That shows an embarrassing level of ignorance about what platform building is. But worse, it also misjudges the intentions of literally millions of people. Sure, there are jerks out there. But I’ve personally worked with thousands who are some of the most generous and selfless people I’ve ever met.

There are at least three things this article got 180 degrees wrong about online personal branding.

1. Platforms Only Amplify What We Already Are

The post makes it seem as if building a platform turns a person into an ego-stroking narcissist. I’ve met a few of those in my life, but it had nothing to do with the medium they used.

Technology is morally neutral. It’s about how you use it. Put it this way: Do you blame the car or the driver that cut you off this morning on your way to work? The car enabled the driver to cut you off, but the fault is the driver’s.

A platform amplifies what you are. If you’re humble, helpful, and kind, a platform won’t turn you into a Me Monster. It’ll enable you to leverage more of what drives you—and your humility, helpfulness, and kindness will have even greater impact.

2. Platforms Are About Serving Others

Far from being about self-promotion, building an online brand is about connecting with others. Why? To address their needs and serve them. This is why the platform-builders who succeed are the ones who are the most generous.

If the writer of this post had paid any attention to what I—or just about anyone else in a similar position—actually teach, they would know that platform building is all about serving readers and adding value to them. Platform builders who don’t do this, don’t succeed.

That’s why I advise my students to make use of reader surveys and really study the needs of their audience. Why? So they can better serve them.

And the truth is that most platform builders I know personally—and that’s everyone from the guy just getting started to major, established brands—are not driven by ego or even money (though there’s nothing wrong with that).

They get up every morning with a sense of calling, with a deep desire to make a contribution in the lives of their readers and the world around them. Just check out what Mike and Kristin Berry are doing, and tell me that’s about ego.

3. Platforms Are How You Communicate Today

Platforms are how you get your message out in the decentralized media market of today. Why wouldn’t you build one if you are serious about getting your message heard?

When Ezra needed to communicate the Law of Moses to the Israelites, he didn’t try doing it standing down with the crowd. Instead, he stood on a literal platform so he could be heard. It would have actually be more self-centered if he feigned humility and spoke so people couldn’t hear.

Ministers like Ezra have always used whatever tools were available to get their message out. Think about the printing press, radio, and television. And now, many do it through blogs, podcasts, and streaming video.

All of those are susceptible to pride and ego, too. But that doesn’t mean we should avoid them. It means we should get over ourselves and serve others—and that’s happening every day.

Why We Elevate Our Messages

While we’re talking about how we communicate today, I want to underline this point: All communication involves some sort of promotion.

Someone has to think highly enough of an idea to express it. That goes for the handyman hanging a sign, the billion-dollar corporate ad manager, and the minister with a message he thinks could help more than the people who gather to hear him each week.

You need to elevate the message or it won’t get out, and building an online brand is one critical way to do that in today’s marketplace of ideas.

So, like I said a the start, this critic got it backwards. And worse, he was judgmental about the motives of people actually working to build online platforms. Beyond that, his position is just plain counterproductive.

People that don’t advocate for their messages usually don’t get heard. If you believe in your message, you should believe in it enough to share it. And for most communicators in today’s environment, that means building a platform.

Question: What message would you share if you had a platform?