“How do I build an audience? Should I try guest posting or focus on building a community on my own site?”
I asked myself those questions when I started blogging. I’ve learned that there are three types of options when it comes to building an audience:
- Post your articles on every platform that allows publishing (LinkedIn, Medium, Facebook, Tumblr). Some argue that it will increase your traffic.
- Only post your articles on your own site, and drive visitors exclusively to that site. Some argue it’s better for SEO traffic.
- Find a balance between the two above strategies (which is what I do, but more on that later).
You can be successful with all strategies. Some successful writers publish everywhere and syndicate their articles to a bunch of outlets (James Altucher). But other bloggers only stick to their own site (Mark Manson).
I’ve experimented with both. And as of right now, I’m sticking with strategy 3, primarily publishing my articles on DariusForoux.com and publishing some of my articles on Medium.
In the past, I’ve published on LinkedIn, Medium, HuffPo, and at publications that accept guest posts like Observer, Fast Company, TIME’s Motto, The Muse, and others.
Even though I appreciate the traffic and exposure I get from other publications, my main focus is always to build my own audience.
I never recommend to exclusively blog on other platforms for one reason: You’re building a house on someone else’s property. You don’t know what’s going to happen with that property.
Protect The Downside
Take Medium. I really like their recent move. They stepped away from the ad-based revenue model and went to a membership model. They shifted the focus on the readers and writers, which is great.
But we must stay realistic. Medium has changed their strategy several times over the past two years. And large publications like The Ringer, Backchannel, and others, weren’t happy with Medium’s shift.
We don’t have a guarantee they won’t change their strategy again. And the best way to mitigate risk is to always build your own blog and newsletter as a writer.
Also, Medium’s business model supports competition between writers. On the Medium blog, they write:
“The more claps you give a locked post, the more share of your membership fee that author will get.”
Sounds reasonable, right? Medium rewards writers by claps, not by the number of articles, clicks or views. Again, I think that’s a good decision.
The only thing that writers must be aware of is that they don’t focus on their competitors. W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, authors of Blue Ocean Shift, shed light on why competition is bad:
“Focusing on building a competitive advantage has an unintended and deeply ironic effect, because it leads to imitative, not innovate, approaches to the market.”
How can this be? At first glance, it looks like Medium is trying to reward quality writing. But if you look deeper, you’ll notice that human behavior prevents their mission.
When Medium promises writers a piece of the pie, what are writers likely to do? We can turn to business examples from Blue Ocean Shift for an answer.
A writer is just like a manager or business owner who tries to beat the competition. It’s a win-lose game.
Chan and Mauborgne argue that managers who are set out to beat the competition, do the following:
“They [managers] automatically look to the competition, assess what their competitors do, and strive to do it better.”
This is conventional thinking. You see it in every industry. And writers are exactly the same.
I must confess, when I started blogging, I was no different. I started looking at competitors and strived to do it better. And exactly as the authors of Blue Ocean Shift write, I started imitating others. Now, this happened unconsciously. I didn’t set out to copy others. But I did.
That’s why I think writers should not spend much time on other platforms. Competition promotes imitation and that will in turn destroy creativity.
Because you know who the victim of all this is? The reader. And if the reader suffers, you will too.
Create Your Own Pie
When you start writing, other platforms can be helpful to find your initial audience. That’s what happened to me. Many different publications helped me to get traction in the beginning. But I don’t think that writers should be loyal or feel obligated to stick to one platform or publication.
I’ve tried many different platforms and I currently like Medium the best. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t publish on more than one platform. Personally, I like to focus on one thing at a time. Maybe I’ll focus on LinkedIn next year.
But no matter on what other platforms I focus, I will always spend time on my own website. If a platform decides to change, I always have my own.
Writing = Business
I like to look at writing like business. And what do successful businesses do?
They don’t try to beat the competition. They make the competition irrelevant.
So, stop competing for a piece of the pie. A pie that you have zero control over. A pie you don’t own.
Instead, create your own pie. In my case, I built my own website and published all my articles there.
Even though I syndicate some of my content — my focus has always been on building my own site.
And since I’ve stopped publishing my articles all over the place, my search traffic has increased. That’s also one of the main reasons I’ve built my own site. On the long-term, that’s what will benefit you the most in terms of SEO and audience building.
For that same reason, I also don’t like guest posting. I think that a single focus on guest posting is the biggest waste of time there is. You help other publications to build their audience. If you only do guest posts, you will never build an audience for yourself.
It’s different if you syndicate your articles to publications, which is a win-win situation. The publication gets content to publish, and you get additional exposure.
But to me, it’s not about better SEO, more traffic, building a large audience, or any other tactical reason. I prefer to build my own place, where I focus on providing value to my readers.
When you do that, you can stop worrying about the competition, and start focusing on what matters the most: Your readers. That’s why I prioritize my readers over traffic.
And if you do it right, they will reward you with the traffic you deserve.