Wednesday, March 17, 2010

10 Keys to Platform Overdrive

I get a question once a month from someone who wants the NASCAR version of platform building. They see all those fast cars wrapped in sponsorship dollars racing toward the finish line and they want to know the secret. They see the finish line, but they don’t see how much time it takes to not only finish the race, but to get invited to race in the first place. 

For instance, the Checker Auto Parts 500 in Phoenix is actually 312 laps and 312 miles long. These days, creatives think everything is like American Idol. One day you’re standing in line with your “pants on the ground” and the next, you're a Supa’star. (If you need a footnote then make sure check out Steve Martin’s, “Born Standing Up,” and you’ll get a glimpse for what 12 appearances on prime time TV talk shows, won’t do for your career).

Everybody and their brother wants to be in the race now. Everybody and their brother wants to see the checkered flag now, but very few people want to spend the time to complete the 312 laps.

“Hey, I heard if I start a blog, I’ll be making $50,000 by the end of the year?”

“Hey, I heard if I start Tweeting, I’ll be totally famous by the end of next week?”

When did anything that was ever worth anything get birthed into the world without effort? If you doubt me, just ask your mom how easy birthing was. Whether you have a great platform and a great career or a crappy platform and a crappy career, good ol’ momma went through a lot to get you to where you are now.

A lot of what I have to say about Platform Overdrive comes down to basics. In fact, there is simply no other way around it. Building a platform is no different from running a presidential election. (Sure, texting was an essential part of Obama’s election, but it only comprised a small part of his success). It’s still done one handshake at a time - one relationship at a time. Social media applications that give you short cuts to get you more friends or more follows won’t change this.

Even if everything below seems obvious, it’s worth it to re-examine your relationship to each of my points since half of them involve social media applications. The fact is, things are changing constantly and what worked 3 months ago can sometimes be obsolete by the time you put it into practice or even master it.

I believe building a platform is really about having conversations with individuals. And so, I’ve broken 10 Keys to Platform Overdrive into 2 parts. The first part is about places to have your conversations and the second part is about the types of conversations you should be engaging in.

The 5 Conversation Platforms
In terms of the 5 conversation platforms, Facebook is the most limiting because there is a fence around it that denies you access to the outer web world. Search engines can’t get in to see what’s going on in Facebook (except for the Fan page, which I oppose – see my article 10 reasonsWhy You Should Kill Your Fan Page Now).

So, in many ways, Facebook is like a little cult on a big ranch that is kind of secret to the rest of the world. This is Facebook’s greatest weakness and greatest strength. As a weakness, if you’re not a member of the cult you’re denied access. As a strength, it also has the potential to create your tightest bonds because there’s a huge common denominator connected directly to your profile.

Know that Facebook is more than your number of friends and your status bar. Facebook is a platform where you can shape your image much better than a website will allow you to do. Why? Because it allows you to create an on-line image and then have others reflect on your image. Because of these reflections, potential fans (as voyeurs) get a much better idea of who you are and what your mission is all about. Whereas a website is a one-sided your version of you, your Facebook profile is your version and then a reflection of your version as told to the viewer by others through comments and status updates.

To use Facebook effectively you should look not at how many friends you have (it’s not My Space), but how aligned those friends are with your mission. Facebook is a community and communities like it when you participate in conversations that inform, challenge or inspire. To get the most out of Facebook it’s a necessity to give others a glimpse of you in photos (lots), videos, links to important and recent media coverage about you, and notes that will inform, challenge or inspire your friends. Remember,as a rule, Facebook is more than a website and must be maintained.

In terms of the 5 conversation platforms, this one has the steepest learning curve. Anyone can get a free e-mail address. Anyone can sign up for Facebook. Anyone can become a parent. Twitter is a little more difficult to use. After a tumultuous start to my own relationship with Twitter (See my Break-up Letter to Twitter) and seeking Twitter counseling from friends, this social media application has not only become my favorite, but has the most potential for getting the attention that your platform so desperately desires. Better to bite the bullet now, keep your judgments out of the way and open a Twitter account. Before you do though read my “10 Ways to Love Twitter Better,” it will soften the hard knocks you’ll experience on the way up and down.

If you put a sign in front of your apartment or house that reads, “I’m selling Radiators,” do you think anyone would stop by and buy a radiator on the first day? The second day? How about a year later? The idea that a blog = instantaneous fans is a myth.

It takes time to not only develop your blog voice, but to develop a following. Just like with anything else connected to your creative endeavors there will be two parts to it:
1) The creation of your creation
2) The marketing of your creation.

It will take more time to market your blog than it will to create it. And if you’re just in it because you think a blog = instantaneous fans, you’re going to be sadly disappointed.

Blog readers tend to follow blogs where the writer allows his “human vulnerabilities” to shine through. As a blog reader myself, I just don’t want smart, quirky and intelligent writing, I want to get a glimpse into a blogger’s own struggles and vulnerabilities. If you’re wanting to hind behind your blog then it’s DOA – Dead On Arrival. If you want to use your blog to creatively and publicly track your path through life then you’re on the right track.

In terms of how much you should blog or what the typical length of a blog entry should be  is up for debate. Skull a Day met with great success because designer Noah Scalin created and posted one skull a day for an entire year. However, most fans of marketing and business don’t want to read a blog entry a day – it can be an overload.

Steve Pavlina who I interviewed for my book “The Art of Business for Creatives,” believes in lengthy blog entries, which are intelligent and thorough. And who can complain with a guy that has worked to gain over two million blog readers.

4. E-mail Database
So, yeah, it’s true even my 15 year old nephew thinks e-mail is old skool. But so is the post office and they haven’t gotten rid of that - yet. If you’re not collecting names at every single event you are a part of, you are way behind the times. You’re website should have an e-collection pot, your event should have an e-collection pot, heck you should even be carrying an e-collection pot around with you at all times.

Talent doesn’t cut it anymore when it comes time to taking your career to the big leagues. Agents, Publishers, and A&R music executives want to know how big your e-mail database is, how effective it is, and how you can leverage it. For instance, a typical call to action with my fans yields a whopping 25% return on any call to action  and my list is tiny. It’s a meager 10,000.

Until the e-mail succumbs to the same fate as the VHS tape, you better go to Staples and invest in a good clipboard and start collecting those suckers on a sheet of paper. And FYI, collecting e-mails doesn't mean you leave the clip board laying on a table. The word "collecting" is a verb. Nu-uh, you’re going to have to ask others to sign up on your list and have a pen available. (I know, life as an artist just got really complicated and extroverty all of a sudden, didn’t it?)

“Dude, I’m going to put a video up and go viral.” Yeah, right. Ask anyone who’s created a viral video and I’ll bet it was almost completely by accident. If there was a company you could hire to create a viral video it would have most likely existed in the front pocket of Jack Kerouac’s jean jacket.

Ask any marketing person and they'll most likely tell you, "You should be creating value with your work instead of thinking about what’s most likely to go Viral.” You should also know that You tube, although an important part of your platform, is shaped by the images you create. Shape a less than appealing image of yourself in terms of content and quality and it’s going to reflect poorly on your work as an artist. Remember, people have died of over exposure.

The 5 Conversations

6. Media Conversations
When an idea is in your head you are limited as to how many people know about it. Talk about it and it’s people reaching potential expands. Write it down and it expands further. Fax or e-mail it to your buddies and it’s just taken a huge leap. Send it to a radio or TV station, a magazine, or a newspaper and (pending coverage), you’ve just done something amazing!

You legitimized your idea, increased it’s value, strengthened your web presence, and expanded your audience tenfold.  How much media coverage have you received in the last year? If you’re not getting it 1-2 times month (at a minimum) it’s time to look carefully at #10 and begin to develop some realistic media goals for yourself.

7. Community Conversations
In the book “The Artist’s Way,” one of the homework assignments is to take yourself out on an artist’s date. Yeah, you read that correctly. You take yourself out alone on a date to an event that will artistically inspire you. A foreign film, a concert, a reading at a book store. Below, in #9, it is all about your own agenda where you have a high perceived value from the public. In #9, you are the rock star. In #7, you're a humble "no-body," a mere fan.

But this section is more than just taking yourself out on a date. This is what my new Twitter pal Patience Saldago would define as a random act of kindness. Yes, egoless kindness or paying it forward or tithing or mentoring or whatever you want to call it is a great way to earn some creative clout in the Bank of Artist Karma. The more you give, the more you get. Aaron Wong's blog "Looking for My Life," devotes much more to the topic that I can here.

I attribute much of my success with my PBS special, “The Neon Man and Me,” with tithing on a regular basis. Sometimes I couldn’t pay my rent, but that didn’t stop me from giving away at least 10% of everything I made on every show. On paper it doesn’t make sense, but most things in the creative world don’t. Try it for a week, a month, a day. Pay it forward, pay a compliment to someone every day for a week. Give someone your time or give someone your ear, you’ll be amazed at one can come from it.

8. Web Conversations
When you type your name into Google Search, you should be appearing on at least the first full 2 pages and then scattered about on subsequent pages. For your industry, you should be ideally appearing on one of the first three pages. For instance, if you are Steve Hofstetter, Comedian, you should appear under both your name and comedian. If you’re not, you’re not having enough conversations. #6, #7, and #9 are all about how you are expressing your mission into the world. What are you waiting for?

9. Event Conversations
You might be comforted to know that there have been creatives that have lived as utter introverts and still managed to carve out a successful place in the world for themselves, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. It’s a myth that someone is going to come along and discover you.

From my experience, each artist who was ever discovered (and I’ve interviewed dozens of artists who have “made it” for my book) has created her own opportunities. That’s why Tony Robbins is such a popular motivator. The guy’s no snake oil salesman. The guy can teach you how to create these opportunities for yourself.

I’ve seen unsuccessful creatives hide behind a litany of excuses that are rooted in myths of limitation that are better serviced by a good therapist than a fledgling arts career. You should know that unless you’re willing to get into the public eye on a consistent basis, it’ll be hard for #6, #7, and #8 to reach their full potential. 

During the first year of my career as a solo-performer and storyteller I did 4 public performances. The next year it tripled, the next it quadrupled and it’s doubled every year since then. Although I’m working on developing a 200 day tour this year, last year it reached about 150.

Meeting your fans and making new ones is essential to any creative career.

10. Your Goals & Objectives
There are all kinds of good quotes out there about goals:

Carl Sandburg: Nothing happens unless first we dream.
Ella Fitzgerald: It isn't where you come from, it's where you're going that counts.

As my 10th grade physics teacher used to say, “A person will self destruct without a goal.” It’s true, but you’ll not only self destruct, you’ll wake up hundreds of miles from where you really want to be.

If you don’t have time to write up a full blown business plan, I suggest that the least you can do is write down one thing you’d like to achieve in the next year on a napkin. I can’t tell you the number of artists I meet with on a regular basis who chase their tail year after year. (see my entry on How to Make a Business Plan in 6 Easy Steps).

When you have specific goals and objectives that are written down, it allows you to carry them out into the world and begin to have conversations about them. When we converse with others it allows our ideas to take root with others.

Photographer Gordon Stettinius writes down his top 100 goals each year on his blog. Guess what? By the end of the year he’s usually able to cross off a good chunk of his list. It’s amazingly simple. It’s so simple, you’ll most likely finish reading this and still not write down your goals. I’ll tell you what, to make it easy, leave one goal as a comment below. I dare you! Now, you really don’t have any excuses do you.

For more info about "The Neon Man and Me" and other storytelling projects by me - Slash Coleman - please visit


  1. Slash, I think you might have a typo here - I hope! Did your teacher mean a person will self destruct WITHOUT a goal?! Hope so! Otherwise I'm in trouble!

    As my 10th grade physics teacher used to say, “A person will self destruct with a goal.” It’s true, but you’ll not only self destruct, you’ll wake up hundreds of miles from where you really want to be.

  2. Ah, I just saw your challenge - one of my goals is to get 3 museum shows lined up by the end of 2010. (I've got one, two more to go!)

  3. Goal: Release on November 1, 2010 the book "Year of the Family: 12 Adoption tales to place in your home & to value the process today"

    By that time, I would receive at least 400 pre-orders so to raise $8,000 for personal adoption process

    Until we tell again,

    Rachel Hedman
    Professional Storyteller

  4. How about this for a goal - no typos in my comments! ;) This post was very interesting, thank you!

  5. Hey Slash. Thanks a lot for buzzing my post. You had a lot of great points about engaging the online community. You mentioned that although social media is a platform, it's about the personal relationships. I'm finding this to be absolutely true and very rewarding.

    Aaron Wong

  6. excellent article. it goes beyond any one thing. I wrote a similar one for writers, from my perspective as an author/editor. Here it is, if you'd like to check it out:
    cheers! anjanette

  7. Aja, I like your article better. It's quicker and cuts to the point! And you've got a great book out "The Heartbreak Pill." It looks like you've got your platform going on!

  8. Aaron, it was great finding you on seeded buzz. You write some really clear and thoughtful blog entries and I'm excited to follow more of your stuff.
    Susan, Rachel, thanks for your goals.
    Suzette & Donna ;)

  9. Thanks Slash!Wonderful entry.Much food for creative thought!