exploring the difference between having readers and having FANS
A writer recently told me that she felt a need to develop her “social media presence” because, even though she’s had a string of novels successfully published, she doesn’t think she has fans. “I have readers,” she told me, as we drove through Beverly Hills looking for a place to have a drink, “Not fans. There’s a difference.”
It’s an interesting distinction.
There are blogs I soak up for information, just as there are books I read for the value of the story without feeling a sense of resonance with the author that would make me say I’m a fan. So what is it, exactly, that tips me over into fandom? Is it some kind of star quality, some X factor?
Or is it a quality or set of qualities that you can develop online, that pulls people to you and converts them from strangers to readers to fans…maybe even True Fans?
MJ Rose compares a writer’s use of social media to standing on the sidewalk with a
sandwich board with your bookcover on it while you chase and chat with anyone you can corral and who is willing to talk to you.
Would that be a valuable way to spend a chunk of time? What size chunk of time? How would you decide?
If four people stopped to chat with you?
If, on the way out, two stopped to tell you they bought your book?
And how can you be sure the people you are talking to are even enjoying what you are saying? Are you reaching them? Or annoying them? How many of them might have bought your book if they saw it on the table but the sandwich board turned them off?
It’s a fairly ridiculous scenario — right?
And yet that’s what many authors are doing every day by investing incredibly valuable writing time on what might turn out to just be tomorrow’s MySpace — Facebook and Twitter.
We’re doing it because we’re anxious and desperate to sell our books and to keep our sales high enough to keep our careers viable.
I, for one, have never bought someone’s book just because they DM’d me on Twitter, or posted an especially amusing status update.
You might indeed, at least in the beginning, have to find your fans one at a time, but what they want is good writing, good storytelling, truly useful insight and information.
And as all writers know, you need to show not tell.
You show yourself on your blog. You make a personal connection not by chasing down strangers but by revealing your mind through what you write about; you flash out your voice like a lighthouse to orient the like-minded and allow them to find you.
It’s not a one-to-one relationship but a one-to-many relationship.
If and when Kelly Diels writes a novel, I’ll be first in line to buy it. Why? Because I’m a fan of her blog – and her.
As soon as Chris Guillebeau’s first traditionally published book came up for pre-order on Amazon, I pre-ordered it. (I went on to host a book party for him at my house.) Why? Because I’m a fan.
This morning I sent Jonathan Fields a Twitter DM asking for an advance copy of his new book Uncertainty because I am soooo eager to read it. Why? Because…you get the idea.
I don’t read their blogs just for information – in fact, I go for stretches when I don’t read their blogs at all. But that doesn’t dislodge them from my affections. And although I’ve had personal contact with these writers, it wasn’t the contact that caused my fandom but my fandom that inspired me to reach out for contact.
They have what I would describe as online charisma. They inspire a sustained interest in what they have to say and how they say it. Their voices aren’t just delivery vehicles for information or chit-chat, but full-bodied entities in their own right. So you seek them out again and again. You form a relationship with that voice even though the bearer of it doesn’t know you from Adam (at least at first). Because that voice isn’t the person so much as a projection of that person. (You might even call it a ‘brand’.)
And some projections are more interesting, and truthful, and authentic than others, until the gap between the projection and the person is a narrow one indeed.
We are what we share, which is a statement about what we think and care about. Which means that your content can become an expression of identity: your own…and someone else’s. This is, I think, what the most successful and powerful brands do. Their identities overlap with yours because they convey the same values, ideas and beliefs. You can relate to them, and use them as a kind of extension of yourself, a way of signaling your identity to the world. And the more that image is backed up with actual substance and meaning, the more resonant it becomes.
So to resonate, a voice has to have substance and meaning. It has to deliver a consistent point of view that is true and authentic all the way through. It doesn’t stop at the surface while something different goes on underneath. It doesn’t act one way in private, and then spin those actions a different way in public.
It it what it is.
It doesn’t try to be everything to everybody, or please everybody. It chooses what it stands for by stripping away the excess and expressing the truth at the core. The voice DNA, if you will.
And so what you get is a sense of essence, of who that person is on some fundamental level.
Eckhart Tolle observes that visionary people “function from the deeper core of their being – those who do not attempt to appear more than they are, but as simply themselves, stand out as remarkable and are the only ones who truly make a difference in the world…Their mere presence, simple, natural and unassuming, has a transformational effect on whomever they come into contact with.”
I would say that a powerful voice has something of a visionary: that depth, truth and authenticity: it comes from the core of a person and rises all the way up online so that, when you meet that person in the flesh, they sound and seem like someone you already know. That sense of essence – online and off – is just naturally aligned.
(The irony of this is that it takes a lot of practice to be ‘natural’. There’s an artfulness to appearing perfectly artless. But the more you exercise your voice, the more relaxed you become in the doing, and the easier and more natural it gets.)
Someone once defined ‘intimacy’ to me as two people opening up their inner lives to each other.
When someone online opens up some aspect of their inner life, and it connects with your own inner life, the experience can be profound.
There’s a thrill of recognition. It’s a connection that extends not just from the writer to you (even if the writer herself is totally unaware of you), but from you to something bigger than yourself: an idea, or a set of ideas.
We are extremely social creatures, after all, constantly reading and tuning into each other, influencing and being influenced. We crave connection and belonging. So when Chris Guillebeau says You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to, you feel like something essential in him has recognized, acknowledged and named something essential in you. Not only that, he has connected you to a movement of people who can also recognize themselves in you, and vice versa.
You can’t create this sense of resonance if you don’t drink your own kool-aid, if you know what I mean. Or if you’re too cool for school, unwilling to be earnest and passionate and in love with your ideas. We get enough of the ho-hum, the jadedness and the cynicism, in daily living. That stuff isn’t the stuff that makes us feel alive.
A charismatic voice has snap and spark and intensity. It reaches into you and on some level lights you up.
A charismatic voice has credibility and conviction. You can trust it to lead you somewhere you haven’t been before, to deepen your knowledge and awareness, show you the world at a slightly different angle.
A charismatic voice evokes emotion as well as intellect.
A charismatic voice is relevant to you. It offers you something that you actually want and need.
A charismatic voice is distinctive enough so that you can recognize it at a thousand paces. No two people are exactly alike…which means that no two voices are alike (or should be). A charismatic voice is infused with the originality of soul; it has been influenced by other voices, maybe a lot of other voices, but in the end has figured how to strain those influences through its own mesh of self and synthesize them into something unique.
A charismatic voice is engaging. In his book THE LIKEABILITY FACTOR, Tim Sanders makes the point that the primitive part of our brain is always scanning for what is safe and unsafe. The first question it asks when encountering a stranger is, Friend or foe? In other words: is this person likely to kill me and eat me, or invite me for coffee?
So when someone is friendly, they are putting the other person at ease by silencing that wary, fearful part of the brain. Once you bypass that initial anxiety, you can progress to the next stage in the relationship and start to enjoy and benefit from each other.
This is why, I think, the most successful voices online are conversational. They don’t sound academic. They’re not trying to impress you. There’s a sense of casual intimacy to them, a rhythm and cadence that signals to your brain, Friend, and allows you to relax, trust and enjoy.
A charismatic voice tends to be provocative. There’s an element of risk to putting yourself out there, and stating a passionate point of view that evokes an emotional as well as intellectual response. A charismatic voice isn’t afraid to go to the edge, to show you something new, even if you don’t agree with it. The purpose isn’t to shock – shock value is momentary value, there and gone, so what – but to challenge your perceptions, and maybe shift them a little.
And finally, a charismatic voice is someone who most likely writes for herself even while thinking she writes for her readers. As the blog Pushing Social put it:
the blogger’s needs are so closely matched with their readers that they honestly believe they are writing for them….
Steven Pressfield, author of the War of Art, explains how artists tend to have one of two mindsets: hierarchical or territorial.
Hierarchical artists focus on their audience. They write want their audience wants and takes their creative cues from the market place. These artists, copywriters, poets, and photographers work for cash.
I don’t believe this is evil. Artists need to get paid. However, the hierarchical mindset doesn’t inspire. It just puts the artist at the disposal of fickle public with a ravenous appetite.
The alternative is the Territorial Mindset.
The territorial artist possesses a domain. Their territory is where they eat, sleep, love, and breathe. They work solely because it fulfills them. It doesn’t matter if their audience appreciates or desires their work. They perform their task out of love for the game.
Pressfield offers Arnold Schwarzenegger as an example. Schwarzenegger’s territory is the gym. He owns this domain and he has put it decades of training to master it. When Schwarzenegger enters the gym he instantly becomes its ruler. He doesn’t need to get paid, admired, or retweeted to dominate this territory. He just does.
The territorial blogger publishes no matter what. They publish work that is controversial, provocative, unpopular, and revolutionary. They appreciate their readers but they don’t work for them. They recognize that their reader wants leadership and they offer gleefully offer it.
Inspirational leaders, artists, and entrepreneurs won’t let their customers or readers handcuff them. They fight against the hierarchical mindset because their dreams depend on it.
Do you have a territorial mindset? What is your domain? If you don’t have one, do you think you can find one?
Who are you online? Who are you really?
What would you say separates a voice that wins fans from a voice that has readers?
Did you resonate with anything in this post?