Why Building Your Own Platform Is Essential

It seems everyone is talking about platform these days. Musicians. Writers. Artists. With blogs and self-publishing and recording software, this has never been easier.

Photo credit: William Warby (Creative Commons)

If you want to be heard by hundreds or even thousands, you really have no excuse. Nothing's holding you back. But if building a platform is so accessible, why aren't more people doing it? Why aren't people sharing their art? Maybe it's not for a lack of resources. Maybe it's lack of understanding — how to use the tools they've been given.

Maybe you can relate.

But first, let's define our terms.

What is a platform?

It's what it sounds like: A platform is a “stage” that gives you and your message leverage and visibility. It's how you make your work matter, how you change lives. In the olden days, platforms were easy to identify:

  • If you were a musician, it was a record deal.
  • If you were an author, it was a book contract.
  • If you were an entrepreneur, it was a connection with a venture capitalist.

But nowadays, with blogs and Twitter and instant access to the world with one click of a mouse, it's harder to tell. Now that anyone can build a platform for free, what's the point?

Why build a platform?

There are some misconceptions about the word “platform.” Some dismiss it as ego-driven aspirations spawned by an obsession with celebrity. Certainly, there's some of that going on in our culture. But that's not all the word means.

Platform is inevitable.

Whatever you want to do in the world, you need influence to make your voice count. Even a homemaker or schoolteacher needs authority to lead. And that has to come from somewhere, right?

In the simplest terms, a platform is permission. It's the right to speak to a group about a certain topic. And there's nothing necessarily wrong with wanting that. If you have something worth saying, you want people to hear it. A platform amplifies and legitimizes your message. It gives you authority to influence.

For example, if you were an opera singer, where you sang your aria would be as significant as how you delivered it. Singing it in a coffee shop versus a packed auditorium would undoubtedly affect the impact. The same is true for your work and message.

Any responsible communicator knows the importance of platform. It extends your reach and magnifies your voice. All so that you can make the most difference.

How to build a platform

There are three important aspects to building a platform; they are:

  1. Gain experience
  2. Demonstrate competency
  3. Generate buzz

The last one is the hardest; the other two just take practice. If you're just getting started with your dream, whether it be writing or dancing, this is important.

You've got to get good.

Before you launch your marketing campaign, spend some time practicing. And thank God that you don't have a huge platform yet; your lack of influence allows you to fail with grace (and little public attention).

After you get good, you need to demonstrate that you're good. This can be a demo for your band or an essay for your writing. You've got to have “something to show them.” Knowing the right people isn't enough; you need to have done the work, so that when an opportunity presents itself, you're ready.

And then comes the hard part: networking. Platform is, essentially, people. It's human beings giving credence to your art. How does this happen? Through influence. Which happens through relationship. And this is the difficult work of “knocking on doors.”

The best (and only) way I know how to build meaningful relationships is by networking — not the sleazy, let's-exchange-business-cards kind, but the let-me-do-a-favor-for-you kind. If you do this enough, you'll eventually win friends, fans, and followers. You might even earn a mentor.

At this point, you're ready to build your platform. You'll still need to decide what type of platform you want to build (which is another conversation). For now, suffice to say that if you have something to say, get a platform. It's not egotistical. It's necessary making change in the world.

Without one, you're just another voice in a crowd of noise.

What do you think? Is building a platform essential? Share your thoughts in the comments.