As strange as it sounds, one of the things I love most about my job is analyzing stats. I love looking at the interplay of dozens of different analytics to determine the reach and level of audience engagement of a potential client. And when I sign an author/blogger/entrepreneur who I think is incredibly talented, I love to spend our first few months tweaking and optimizing their platform so that it can grow in the ways that will give them…to be totally wonky…the best ROI.
So what to prioritize? Here are the numbers I zero in on when I’m assessing a potential client’s platform:
- Views. This is the very first number I look at when I’m assessing the size of a potential author platform. Most of the time I’m looking at page views and unique visitors on a blog, but vlogging and podcasts have come back with a vengeance. I think having a website with some form of regularly produced, valuable content (text, video, or audio) is the absolute most important part of building an audience for your work. Since it’s self-hosted and completely controlled by you, your website reach will never be at the mercy of the ever-changing algorithms of social platforms. Build this, and actually enjoy doing it, and you’ll have a powerful platform to share your message and help others.
- Email Subscribers. It wasn’t so long ago that email subscribers was the last number I looked at, behind Pinterest, Facebook, and other social. But things change fast in the wild West of the Interwebs. The last year or so has proven the volatility of networks like Pinterest and Facebook, and so it’s become incredibly valuable to actually own a channel that gives you direct access to your readers. Remember that, in this chaotically loud online world, you’re counting on a lot of serendipity if you hope that readers will remember to check in on your website a few times a week. It’s much better to have new posts go to them, right to their inbox, where it can happily sit until they have a few free moments to read it. This is what permission marketing is all about—letting your audience self-select, so that only the people who are most interested (and who you can help the most!) will become loyal readers.
- Pinterest Followers. Ah, Pinterest. I love it. I can still remember being the first on my editorial team at a publisher to sign up for the site, even though none of us really understood how it worked yet. Now, whole empires have been built through it, and it’s the #1 referral source for most lifestyle blogs. But in the past 3 months, Pinterest has started making changes to its algorithm, which is changing the way pins reach followers. But just like with any algorithm (including the Amazon author ranking algorithm), there are ways to make it work for you. (Update for 2016: I now weigh YouTube subscribers as more important than Pinterest followers. This is simply because I think video creates a deeper connection between the creator and the viewer–you’re able to see the person as they speak to you and that creates a deeper and more lasting impression. And as I discussed here, depth of connection is just as important as breadth of connections.)
- Facebook Fans. Facebook is an incredibly powerful platform—it can combine text, video, and audio, and it’s a platform that’s already populated by basically everyone and their grandma. This is why Facebook was king for years, and why it used to be #2 on my list. But in the past year or so, Facebook has started to ramp up its efforts to generate revenue, and so they changed their algorithm to begin muting certain posts to certain people. Now, anyone with a fan page (versus a personal profile) has to pay Facebook to “boost” their post, so that it will actually reach their full fan base. I’ve been hearing from so many bloggers that this is throttling their referral traffic from Facebook. But there are ways to game the algorithm, which leaves me feeling confident that Facebook still matters.
- Twitter/Instagram Followers. In my opinion, Twitter is a fabulous conversation hub for writers, especially fiction writers, while Instagram is a better match for nonfiction authors and bloggers. With the kind of highly illustrated nonfiction I do, I think Instagram is the more valuable platform for sharing images and behind-the-blog sneak peeks. Both have yet (to my knowledge!) begun messing with the algorithms that control the reach of posts. So both of these platforms are still fun places to share your work and reach new readers!
As you can tell, this priority list can change year to year, and even month to month. There’s no way of telling what the online landscape will be even a few months from now, so all you can do is ride the crazy wave and always be open to experimenting and adapting. And the one thing that will always hold true? Quality content matters.