Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 22, 2017

Helpful Hacks to Build a Strong Online Brand

Our current brave world of publishing demands that an author "build a brand." What does that mean exactly? 

Simply put, your brand is the picture that pops into people’s mind when they hear your name. Your author brand is how your fans identify you.

How do you figure out what to talk about online? [I can hear all you introverts moaning already. Just go with me for a bit here.] How can you intentionally create a brand that makes you happy?

As long as you can engage the people who interact with you, via your books, your blog or social media, your topic doesn't really matter (though I warn you away from politics or religion unless that is your brand). What matters is that all your online efforts foster the picture you want to create in people's minds.

The most important thing to know: 

You can blog about anything as long as it's something entertaining or relatable about you or a character/motif from your books. In my early months of blogging I wrote Mad Love for My Zucchini and a post on Chocolate Philosophy. I routinely blog about underpants and we all laugh ourselves silly.

I'm not kidding about the "anything," y'all. A-ny-thing that interests you and helps create the picture you want in readers minds when they think of you.

For established authors, this picture is usually tied to one (or many) of your books. For the new or unpublished author, you need to get started on forming that picture in people's mind as soon as possible. Interacting via a blog or on social media is one of the easiest ways to quickly build a brand.

How do you distill the complexity that is you into a few words or topics?

In her book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, social media Jedi, Kristen Lamb, recommends you free write 100 words about all the things that make up the complex story of YOU. Be prepared...This exercise will be harder than you expect it to be. (Platform building isn't for sissies, you know.)

I took Kristen Lamb's class several years ago and here's my final "100 word" cloud:

Wife, mother, sister, daughter, writer, blogger, teacher, blood clot sufferer, survivor, pregnancy fact-gatherer, loyal, software trainer, loves to dance, intravenous coffee, night owl, gardener, funny, books trump TV, reading, wine, gluten free, beach, walking, barefoot, dance the night away, play, loathe sweating, love to talk, shower singer, wish for fitness-while-sleeping, I MISS sleeping, love my Little Bean, grade school is my friend, Pacific Northwest gives me Zen, travel, technology, fascinated with software, rarely bored, Disco makes me laugh, bars fascinate, romance, holding hands, sunshine, planner, organized computer, disorganized with paper, hate to file, love organized files, value friendships, miss my mom.

If the cloud idea doesn't work for you, try the 'ten phrases game.' (aka the "How many words does it take to get to the center of YOU" exercise.)

I will throw myself under the bus here so you have an example of what I mean. Here's Jenny in 10 Bullets or Less:

  • Rejuvenated by creativity
  • Nurtured by family and friends
  • Love to give back
  • Teaching lights my fire
  • Growing things hits my Zen button
  • Gluten-free eating changed my life
  • Thankful to be alive
  • My guilt muscle is strong, but my humor muscle is stronger
  • I dream of being an organized person (and a good singer)
  • Morning mantra: Give the scary lady some coffee

And I still left plenty out, and you will too when you try this for yourself. (This exercise is hard!!)

If you're coming up blank on how to convert these topic ideas into action, here are some tips to make the process easier:

  •  Effective social media is a thousand drops of water sprinkled across months, not throwing a big bucket of updates out at once. High volume sharing tends to tire out most followers.
  • Pick only one (or two) social platforms and really embrace them. You can do more if you have the time but DON'T do 5-6 different apps with no interaction. Pick the few you're most comfortable with and visit at least once a day for the first few months.
  • Look up the people you already know and see what they're posting about. Jump into those conversations. If it's online, it is open to the public...just be polite about it.
  • Find the hashtags for topics you know a lot about or have interest in.
  • If you're just starting on a platform like Twitter or Instagram, go look at someone you admire and follow all the people on their list who look interesting. 
  • Be sure to use the 12:1 rule by responding or retweeting twelve items/links/conversations from other people for every one of yours.

As marketing genius Seth Godin says, "The reason social media is so difficult for most organizations: It’s a process, not an event." More awesome Seth quotes can be found here.

Seth Godin

How can you learn about "building a brand?"

For more detailed information on branding, here are some of the best blogs I’ve found on the subject from people who say it far better than I do.

In my own experience on social media and my blogs, your online pals become your friends. We spend time with these people, whether it’s chatting on Facebook or sharing Sunday morning coffee. People are seeking authentic connections online and, by joining in, an author is opening themselves up for connecting. For introverts that can be a scary prospect. Just take your time and conserve your energy.

The best part of all this? Seemingly disparate people throughout the world are connecting through social media (and sometimes in real life!) and enjoying the hell out of each other. And if you create a brand that attracts readers, they might just be inclined to buy your book. Even if they don't,  you'll have made scores of new friends.  That's a beautiful thing.

Where do you commune with people online (and why do you like it)? Are there groups of writers that you recommend above all others? Finally, can YOU write your life story in 100 words? Take a shot down in the comments!

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or here at Writers In The Storm.

52 comments on “Helpful Hacks to Build a Strong Online Brand”

  1. Great comments, Jenny. I've found I like Twitter especially, much to my surprise. I can connect with like-minded writers/bloggers without the baggage of intense friendships, which are sometimes exhausting for me as an introvert.

    1. I really like Twitter too, because it's faster and less chatty than Facebook. I also enjoy the relaxation of Instagram. Still, I end up spending the most time on Facebook. (Dang it.)

  2. great blog - super helpful. Love these tips and will blatantly steal them for a presentation I have to do this Saturday on Author Platform. (Copying is the sincerest form of flattery, remember)

  3. Excellent one-stop rundown, Jenny! Love Seth Godin's quote the mostest.

    One more reason to engage - as you said - people become your friends! Three years ago I moved to the West Texas Outback, and I still have few friends there (retired, out of town, in my office writing, makes it hard to meet people), so my online FB friends have sustained me.

    And hopefully, bought a book or two....

    1. That Seth is the BOMB! I could read his quotes all day long. (Seriously, click that link.) And you have really shown me how important our online connections are, being so cut off from your normal tribe out in the Outback. I love that I can keep up, even when I'm busy doing all the mom things. It's such a blessing.

  4. Excellent advice and tips Miss Jenny. I love that you say to focus on only 2 or maybe 3 social media sites and not to try to do everything. So many folks say just the opposite and it's intimidating. So many sites to learn how to navigate and use for someone like me who's not very techy is an overwhelming prospect.

    Good stuff.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    1. Thanks, Patricia! And really, if you focus on a few, you will be engaged. Being engaged is what brings more followers. People don't want to be talked at - they just want to learn and make friends. And you, my dear, are a WONDERFUL online friend. 🙂

        1. TRUTH! And I have a bag where I keep all my knitted hats. Only I keep giving them away to friends and family. I'm doing one right now that screams your name.

    1. You are welcome! And I am in awe of how you, a dedicated introvert, manage social media so well. Seriously, I know it can be an energy suck, but your kindness and humor shine through all your interactions.

  5. I know this is necessary. Scares the puhwhoee out of me. Keep talking. I am trying to convert and be a believer...I don't think I'm an introvert, but I'm, well, ultra-classified, and you need clearance...

    1. You know I wrote this for you, and authors just like you, right? You can do this, Fae. And rock at it. I think you would do well regularly posting a blog, doing Facebook and Instagramming all your fun travels (after you get home from them of course). You'll be amazed at the friendships you develop.

  6. Thanks so much for the shout outs, Jenny! 🙂

    One thing I'd add is that we *really* don't want to over-extend ourselves in trying to do "all the things." Reason one for that is obvious: burnout. But reason two is something that I've struggled with for the past year: life and our career only gets harder. Um, yay? LOL!

    ...Actually, this triggered a post idea for me, as I could go on about this topic for several more paragraphs. Instead, I'm going to piggyback off this post for my post tomorrow. Hee. Thanks for the idea! 😀

    1. You are more than welcome. And AWESOME! I can't wait to see the post. How are you feeling? Do you still need guest posts? DM me if needed. I feel bad that I haven't followed up on you a bit more zealously.

      1. Yes! Unfortunately, my health issues have only gotten more complex. (Now I likely have a *second* antibiotic resistant infection--joy!) So I'll be eager for guest posts for the foreseeable future. 🙂

  7. Awesome as always Jenny! Going to take a stab at the 100 words tonight. I think of two words when I think of you: "funny" and "kind."

    I love Facebook and have tried to use twitter but it's really not my jam.

    1. Thanks, Debbie! I know you are a reluctant blogger and I think that 100 word exercise might open up ideas for you. When I did it, I stalled out at about 80 words and had to really dig deeper than I expected. It's really a fantastic endeavor to do for yourself - the sooner the better.

      And AWESOME that those are the words that come to mind. Those are words that I'd pick for a brand so you've made me a happy girl. 🙂

      I hear that a lot about Twitter. I find that the Facebook people seem to also enjoy Instagram and, believe it or not, the groups on LinkedIn, where much chatting occurs.

    2. Hey, do Y'all know that DEBBIE HERBERT finale in the freaking RITA CONTEST THIS YEAR? Deb, I'm so excited for you, I could pee my pants....

  8. Great advice here Jenny. I've read Kristen's book and recently took her blogging and social media classes and I'm now bursting with ideas! I really enjoy blogging, Twitter and Instagram and although I'm on Facebook, I still feel very much like an introvert on there. Sometimes it makes me feel like I'm still in High School, but I'm hoping that the more time I spend there, the better. 😉

    1. There's usually (at least) one platform that grates on people's nerves. It's funny, because of all the social media platforms, Facebook is the one I'd most like to give up. However, it has really kept my family connected over the many miles that we all live apart.

      I'm so glad you took Kristen's classes. They are absolutely amazing for authors, and that "bursting with ideas" is a wonderful by-product, isn't it? High concept blogging saves loads of time.

  9. Jenny, thank you for the advice. Love Godin - I developed a series of Growth Mindset lessons for my middle schoolers around some of his material (and that of Carol Dweck's book on Mindsets.)

    I have two questions that I've not seen addressed. Maybe you can suggest a post or maybe a future WITS post could do this: 1) I'd like to see a comparison done on the various social media apps, pros & cons, and 2) I grapple with being real and sharing who I am on my platform without being offensive to those who disagree with my views. Our world is filled with such diverse opinions (not all are seen as valid, nor has it ever been so) and positions and values can be volatile. But some of those values are part of who I am.

    1. I think a platform comparison is a great idea for my post next month. Thanks!

      One the topic of being real and sharing...

      80-90% of your topics are going to be completely innocuous and open for positive and lively discussion. But those 10-20% topics can blow it all to smithereens. This is why I tell people to avoid politics and religion at all costs. They are the two topics guaranteed to devolve an online interaction to the lowest level because people ARE diverse, and very invested in their beliefs.

      I know there are many times you see people talking all about these two topics, but it rarely ends well. In this last election cycle, I have seen more people than ever before completely blow up years of hard work by bringing their opinions on these two topics to the Facebook table. My advice is to just hide the posts that light your fuse and keep going. There's nothing wrong with unfriending people who constantly bring it back to "their topics." You own your own timeline, and don't ever forget it.

      This is just my $0.02 and I know there are many people who would disagree with me. I'm okay with that. 🙂

      1. I am very invested in my beliefs and I will not change that to promote a writing career, however, I have come to love and respect the members of these writing and reading communities, including those who completely oppose my beliefs. Therefore, I will work to find a voice that reaches out and shares genuinely and with the highest respect for those who share common passions and interests with me even if not common beliefs. Thank you for giving me a lot to think about and for your 2 cents worth.

        1. You can do this and still enjoy the heck out of your online peeps, I promise. I'm sure you've heard the advice for website trolls and for bad reviews - don't engage. You don't have to look, but if you do look, DON'T engage. It's because the internet is public and forever, and it's not worth it.

          That same philosophy is what I use for the wisdom getting into a political discussion online. It's a sure bet you're not going to agree with a ton of your pals on this subject, but to engage in a pissing match about it would diminish that friendship and mutual support, which are priceless. It's more productive to just hide those crazy-making posts while you're on Facebook and, like you said, focus on the areas where you have tons in common. Just because you don't lead with those beliefs doesn't mean you're less invested in them.

          1. Thanks for your words of advice, Jenny. I've enjoyed talking through this question with you. Still have a ways to go in my thinking on it, but I'm seeing a clearer path.

            1. Then my day is made! Seriously, feeling better in that one moment when someone is behaving badly isn't worth negating all the time and work you've put into nurturing your online presence. You're deciding on the direction of your platform so YOU can enjoy it for years to come. You've got this. 🙂

    1. I need more coffee for most things, Iola! You will be amazed at what creeps into your 100 word cloud. You might have to revise it a few times, but I promise you it will make you happy when you see it all laid out. Blog topics and social updates get SO much easier.

  10. Thanks for being so brave and sharing your 100 word exercise. Funny how it's easy to dig into what makes our fictional characters tick but when it comes to looking deeply at ourselves...

    1. Right??? That's totally the way it works, which is why this exercise is so important. Much better than flailing around, trying to "work it out as you go along." 🙂

  11. I'm currently reading Kristen's book and you're spot on. I've been waiting all my writing life for SOMEONE to tell me how to do this, because I'm a (mature) lady with limited tech skills and a healthy fear of social media. The process of doing the word cloud and coming up with engaging blogs is something I CAN DO and having the reasoning behind it is really helping me to formulate a plan. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Terri! And isn't it nice to have a plan? I felt so much better after I got a plan. And blogs are searchable and fun to stretch your writing muscles with. I found that it helped me in the beginning to just do all my articles for the week of the month in one day. If I sat down and wrote several, I was in the flow, and I always had some waiting in the wings, which is much less stressful. You've got this!

  12. This is great info. I find that I gravitate to writers' blogs and Facebook posts because that's what interests me. I need to find a way to interact with people who have an interest in the genre I write in. That's where I have to slay my introversion. Eeek!

    1. Go find hashtags for your genre, Jayna. Filter out all the "buy my book" posts (because we all skip those anyway) and just focus on the other conversations. Try to limit yourself to 10-15 minutes a day so you don't get worn out by all the chatter. You can do this!!!

    1. The most important part is to find people, topics and group you really enjoy online so you will want to visit and spend time with them. Good luck!

  13. I'm sorry I'm so late to the party but my life has just exploded beyond my control. So I'm winging it. I do have to say Jenny that you are Rock Star Blogger! Pick a topic and you're off and running with ideas. I cannot tell you how many times I've started posts and then trashed them. I get half way through and sigh. Naw, that's not all that interesting and I delete it. Just before I read your post, I was contemplating giving up my website because of lack of blogging. I don't have the energy to do everything and unfortunately my writing has taken a backseat to more crucial things. Here's hoping that I can get back on the horse before too long. Thanks for the excellent reminders and tips!!!! 🙂

    1. Never trash them, Karen! Save them in your blog's drafts for another day when they spark creativity. Truly, those drafts have been a godsend many a day when I had NO IDEA what to blog about. I hope life gets back to normal soon! I need to call you and see how you are.

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