Do You Really Need 4 Million Followers to Succeed as an Author?

author platform is important to selling books.Last week I wrote about Guy Kawasaki’s NPR attitude toward platform building. I offered it up as a platform-building option: Share tons of great information 365 days per year so you can increase your number of friend and followers and then once or twice a year market your book, product or service to them.

For some of you, that might have sounded like a great plan. For others, it might have sounded hard. Indeed, aggregating a ton of information or writing the content yourself so regularly can be a big job if you do it alone.

Today, I’d like to propose a different methodology for your platform building. It involves being authentic, writing about what you know and interacting with your readers. That might be more up your alley…

Big Numbers vs. Small Numbers

Publishing houses look at the size of your platform to determine if they want to offer you a book contract, and all the elements of your platform, including how many fans and followers you have, are used to calculate your advance on book sales. But do you need four million followers, like Guy Kawasaki, to land a book deal and a huge advance? Do you need that big a following on social networks to successfully self-publish, like Kawasaki or some of the other traditionally published authors who have gone indie and succeeded?

In fact, you may not need four million followers to land a deal or to produce a successful self-published book. It might help…or not.

In 2009, researchers showed that large numbers of followers on social networks did not always equate to “influence,” or sales. For years marketers have touted the idea that the more fans, followers, likes, etc., you garnered on social networks, the higher the likelihood you had of actually selling something—in this case your book. Today, this is called “The Million Follower Fallacy.” More researchers have gone on to study social networking behavior and have corroborated the fact that those with the most followers don’t always have the most “influence.” They awarded greater influence to those social networkers whose:

  • status updates got shared
  • were mentioned by their followers

The researchers also found that you can gain influence on social networks by:

  • focusing on a single topic
  • posting creative and insightful information or content perceived as valuable by others.

The researchers concluded that “influence is not gained spontaneously or accidentally, but through concerted effort. In order to gain and maintain influence, users need to keep great personal involvement.” (To read this study, click here.)

How Platforms are Built

Simply, to have influence on the internet, you have to do two things:

  1. provide great content
  2. interact with your followers

When your do these two things, you increase the likelihood that your friends, fans and followers will share your content or mention you. And each time they do one of these things, your “reach” becomes greater, because what you have written, said or done travels beyond your immediate circle or friends and followers. You gain more “visibility” as well, because as they introduce you to their friends and followers.

Platform consists of your visibility and your reach. It’s the visibility you have because of who you are and what you do, the connections you have made in your personal and professional life and all the social and traditional media in which you are or ever have been involved. Additionally, it’s the reach you have—how far what you do, say or write travels.

To achieve both visibility and reach, you may not need four million followers—especially followers who aren’t “engaged.” A smaller platform of 5,000 or 10,000 engaged follower might actually be more useful. To achieve engagement—followers who comment, share, retweet, mention you, etc.—you need “social presence.” You have to show up.

That means you can’t just schedule all your tweets. Nor can you just hire someone to do all your status updates for you. You can’t just sign up for all the social networks, like targets, and aim a bunch of arrows at them and hope they hit the bull’s eye. You have to have a more focused approach. Not only that, you have to show up every day and interact.

How to Create Engaged Followers

The easiest and most efficient way to build platform and gain influence on social networks is with a blog. Your blog becomes your home in cyberspace, the place where you do business, entertain and get personal. Every day (or several times a week), you produce content that benefits your friends, fans and followers. You solve their problems. You answer their questions. You share what you know. And you send that content out from your home office to your satellite offices—your social networks—by creating status updates that contain the urls to your blog posts. Then, you spend a little time each day checking in at your satellite stations to engage with those fans and followers who have shared that content. And, of course, you focus on the fans and followers who come by the home office and comment on your blog.

Your blog can give you expert status, help you earn your readers’ trust, drive fans and followers to your networks, elicit engagement, and provide one of the best book promotion tools possible. A successful blog with a reasonable amount of engaged readers is a platform. And provides influence, visibility and reach.

How Readers Decide to Buy a Book

An author platform equates to how many people know and associate you and your name with something of value to them. According to a survey of book-buyer influence conducted by the American Booksellers Association, readers decide what books to buy based upon:

  1. Author reputation
  2. Personal recommendations

Readers purchase books  because they know and trust the author and associate value with that author. They didn’t purchase because the author had four million followers.

To earn a trusted, expert reputation, including on social networks, and to earn word-of-mouth referrals (which are the same as “shares” or “retweets”) is not difficult. You need only do three things:

  1. Be authentic. Just be yourself. Let people know who you are and what you are about. Do this with ever status update and in every blog post you write.
  2. Share your knowledge—freely. Regularly provide great content that people need, seek and want. Do this with a blog. Your readers and followers will begin to trust you, like you, explore more of what you have to offer, and tell others about what they discover.
  3. Show up. Participate. Have a conversation. Get involved in what’s happening on social networks. Engage with your followers, and they will engage with you.

Now, go build some platform.

Photo courtesy of Jiří Kábele |


  1. There are many who offer you thousands of followers – at a price. There are many who take up this offer. Such followers are usually worthless however. There is no substitute for following and engaging with those who you share interests with. It may take a while to build up a useful following though – in 7 months I’ve acquired 1,364 followers. Each has been checked individually to make sure that:
    1. They actually engage others.
    2. They don’t post just links – especially the same post again and again.
    3. They don’t just post quotes.
    4. They comment on what is current.

  2. How you can tell you’re doing something right: If your blog ka-splodes and no new posts appear for several days, while at the same time you disappear from social media due to personal reasons… and your readers notice your lack of presence and contact you to find out if you’re okay… then you know you’re doing something right. There are followers, and there are fans. The two are NOT mutually exclusive, as recent days have proven to me dramatically. Now I am off to go re-engage, hopefully to pick up where I left off!

    Excellent post, Nina. As always, your info is timely for me! 🙂


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