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How To Grow A Following Without Compromising Everything Good In Your Life
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I won’t bury the lede.
Respond unabashedly to everything that catches your eye
Casually link to your writing where relevant
If something feels uncomfortable, give it a few tries and see if you feel better or worse.
Abandon anything that doesn’t feel good.
Now to my essay.
Selfishly, I would like you to share and promote your writing1.
I don’t mean an ambiguous you. I mean literally you.
You, who is reading this from your toilet, your couch, your uncomfortable work chair balancing a dog in your lap and a child pulling your hair.
Your writing is good. It’s interesting. I’m a fan.
Ask yourself, “what good thing could happen if more people read my writing?”
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to be a mentor with the writing course that launched my own online writing success, Write of Passage.
The theme of the week is the “D” word, distribution.
This caused a bit of an uproar. Promoting is icky!
People don’t like distributing their work for a lot of reasons. Here were some of mine:
Being Anti Social media was my thing.
What if nobody reads my stuff?
What if somebody reads my stuff?
What if I say something so wild and controversial that I’m run out of this small town?
What if I’m boring?
I was lucky. All these fears went through my head two years ago, when I started a podcast with my sister.
My stages of distribution grief for my podcast looked like this:
I don’t want to share the podcast with anyone.
It would be nice if *someone* listened to my podcast.
I’ll create one Instagram post.
Why am I not a raging success yet?
Ok, this will take some effort but it’s worth it if people find and listen to my podcast.
While I was trapped in a cage of perfectionism, my sister texted our friends to let them know we launched a podcast. She created our first posts on Instagram. She even shared those posts on her personal social media pages, something I still find hard to do today.
Initially, I was annoyed because I wanted her to be stuck in the cage of perfectionism with me. But almost immediately, we heard back from our friends. They told us they had already hit play and were so excited for our next episode.
Over the last two years, I’ve seen how promoting our podcast and building an audience helped to keep us publishing every week.
When someone told us they started an emergency fund after listening to our episode on the topic, we knew we were having a small impact. Little moments like that made it worth showing up each week.
If we hadn’t made an effort to share our podcast, I have no doubt that we would’ve given up. The effort to create and publish to a silent void week after week would have been too much.
When I started writing online, I felt the same hesitations I felt before about promoting our podcast. This time, I decided to immediately step out of my cage of perfectionism and lean into the fear. I launched my Twitter account to share my writing.
When I started on Twitter, I didn’t know where to find my private messages, let alone how to grow a following. I had yet to enter the corner of productivity Twitter where there were no shortage of people promising to show me how to 10x my Twitter following.
I happened to hear someone say on a podcast that all you had to do was tweet everyday to build an audience, so I decided to try that.
I started tweeting every day and my only followers were two of my best friends and a random guy I knew growing up who somehow immediately found my pseudo pseudonymous profile.
I thought I said don’t share my data, Twitter.
For the first month, I tweeted pretty consistently and no one liked any of my tweets. Not even my three followers. It’s ok, I still love you, besties.
I had one hit when Tim Ferriss retweeted my comment about how cozy he looked in his podcast video. I got 15 likes. 0 to 15! How’s that for 10x-ing my followers?
When I joined Write of Passage and started writing consistently online, I realized that Twitter and Substack were great ways to stay connected to all my new writer friends.
I added everybody I met, unconcerned that the list of people I was following was lapping my followers. The optics weren’t good, but I didn’t want to have to self select who to follow2.
During this same time,wrote about how people have “Twitter pods” which are basically a group of people who will quickly like or engage with your Tweet so that the almighty algorithm will see that it’s popular and boost your tweet.
Instead of thinking about putting together a Twitter pod, I took this as permission to engage with any Tweet that caught my eye on Twitter.
“Look at me,” I thought, “it isn’t creepy that I liked my friend's Tweet 2 minutes after they posted. It’s engagement.”
With that permission, I was soon roaming around Twitter, commenting on everything. It felt like I was crashing a wedding, engaging with the guests before anyone could tell I wasn’t actually invited.
Need a podcast rec? Here’s one of Jay Shetty’s that inspired me.
Photo of your dinner? Yum! I love sushi.
Stressed about your day? Sending good vibes ✨.
Recently, a few people have told me that they love my “reply game” and that it’s worth emulating. I didn’t realize this was a thing. I only knew that I liked when people engaged with my Tweets. I figured there was no harm in me showing up in their comments as well.
The surprising thing is, this worked pretty well! People not only started finding me on Twitter, they also started reading my Substack as well. This was my main goal, to share my writing. After the Substack platform, Twitter is my #2 source of subscribers.
The numbers are simply numbers though. I’ve made connections on Twitter and Substack that have turned into real friendships and opportunities to work with people I admire.
Back to you.
Don’t worry, I’ve tested it out. You can be a kind, authentic person on the internet and still find your people. You don’t have to go to the depths of Dante’s inferno to build an audience.
Choose a platform you feel comfortable with. I like Twitter because I enjoy writing and it’s easy for me to share links to my Substack and podcast.
Share every day3. If I have two interesting thoughts in a day, I’ll schedule the next one for tomorrow morning before I wake up. The added benefit is that if I do that, I don’t immediately second guess myself and panic delete my tweet.
Comment and engage with your internet peers. Look at my comment section on Substack! I love giving and receiving comments. Apparently, this is also “engagement.” I give you permission to be loosey goosey with it.
Casually share your own links and promote your work. This doesn’t have to be icky or weird. The best people who do it do it so well you don’t notice. Look, I promoted my own work three times in this essay. Oops I did it again!
Chances are, you will run across somebody saying something relevant to something you wrote. It’s OK to leave a nice comment and then say, “I wrote about it here too, for reference.”
Your writing is good. That one essay you wrote? Hilarious. Beautiful. Moving.
Help people find it.
Selfishly, I’m hoping this means my Twitter feed will be better too.
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If you are thinking, “hey! first I need to publish these dang essays,” detour here: Hit Send Early.
The only Twitter milestone that got me more excited than a kid on Christmas morning, was when my followers finally surpassed the amount of people I was following.
If you’re willing to write a thread every now and then, you can expedite your growth, but I don’t want to stress you out.