I get this kind of question all the time (Katie King asked this on one of my Facebook posts):
What do you suggest for people like myself who are still up and coming? I completely agree with and applaud your decluttering of social media and I started doing the same myself. I think your lists idea is awesome and I definitely will start trying to apply this to my own Twitter as well. However, I and my Millennial peers find ourselves stuck in social media limbo. We connect with those who inspire us, could possibly help our careers and we want to get to know but taking them to dinner is a stretch, since we don't really know them. We don't want to become one of those annoying random messaging types either. I don't know if what I'm saying is making any sense as it's still early morning. But I suppose what i'm saying is, we are caught in the What If?s.
People see that I have some popularity on social media (they ignore the downside that comes with that popularity, but that's another post for another day) and wonder "how can I build what you built?"
To underscore just how difficult it is to get followers, I was talking to my friend Trey Ratcliff, who is a famous photographer, and he's started keeping track of people who build audiences and found that even getting on a famous podcast, like Joe Rogan, or Tim Ferriss' will only get 1,000 followers or so.
I watch American Idol and even if you get to be a top 10 finalist you'll only have a few tens of thousands of followers on Twitter or YouTube. Keep in mind that those people beat hundreds of thousands of others on their talent alone.
If you have been watching my career it's been building for decades. I made friends on a camera store counter back in the 1980s that I still have today. Some of building your career just takes time and hard work and taking some risks.
In the midst of all that I got lucky when blogging came along that I was in a place to try it early. That helped me build an audience quickly.
That wouldn't be open to someone today. So, first of all, stop trying to do what someone else did to be successful. What worked for them probably won't work for you.
Here's how I would approach it today if I were just starting out my career.
Be an information sponge.
Listen, if I was trying to learn how to do surgery I'd want to hang out with surgeons. Not just at medical school, either. I'd seek them out in cocktail parties. I'd be volunteering at hospitals so I could meet them. I'd be reading their books. I'd be watching their classes on YouTube.
When I was starting out my career I stalked Steve Wozniak because I saw his car in our school's parking lot (he was there to study Spanish). I befriended him and studied with him every morning in the middle of the cafeteria. How many other students knew him? Very few. But I was a sponge for any story he would tell me about technology. Later I got a chance to walk through the Computer History Museum with him.
But if I were starting out today, I'd be seeking out the people who are building the future. Heck, someone else has already done the work for you. I built lists of them over on Twitter:
1. People building AR/VR (4,000 of them)
2. People doing computational photography (200 of them)
3. People building autonomous cars (200 of them)
4. People building blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies (more than a thousand)
5. People building Artificial Intelligence systems (1,600 of them)
That doesn't explain how to get popular, though.
So, first I'd take a three-year approach to the problem. I call it the Airbnb solution. What do you care so much about that you would do it for three years without stopping and without doing much else? Why call it "Airbnb solution?" Well, their business didn't work for the first 1,000 days they were in business. So, what are you willing to do for 1,000 days even if you aren't successful?
Ahh, you wanted a shortcut didn't you. Sorry, there isn't one unless you are willing to spend a lot of money to get a real audience (even a fake audience costs money, by the way) by advertising, etc.
I assume I'm not talking to someone who already has a lot of money. Maybe you have a few grand you can spend on a camera or two, or an audio system to build a podcast but not much more.
Building an audience the hard way takes time and money and a little luck.
So, how would you spend your 1,000 days?
First, study the thing you want to be known for. Build a thesis. Let's say you want to have the world's best motorcycle magazine. Well, you better know your motorcycle companies. You better know who your competition will be. And you better find an unserved audience. For instance, I visited Harley Davidson's museum this summer with my kids in Milwaukee. That's a good place to start. Hang out there for a few days and talk to motorcycle enthusiasts. What would I be studying? Does an electric motorcycle from them have a chance? Why that?
Well, if you are building an audience you have to find an unserved audience.
People who care about old motorcycles already have plenty of places to hang out and talk about them. But what about someone interested in electric motorcycles? They don't have a good community yet. So, that's where I'd be mining for a new audience.
It's why I've been spending years learning about augmented reality. Back in 2011 Metaio showed me monsters on the sides of buildings. I've been hooked ever since (and Apple bought that company).
There aren't a lot of blogs or companies that specifically cover augmented reality and the ones that are there aren't very strong, don't have dozens of employees and tens of millions of investment dollars.
Where I'm going is if you are going to build an audience or a media brand, you gotta pick some topic that increasingly more people every year will be interested in and that there isn't strong competition.
Recently when working on my own thesis I took note that when Apple announces a new product hundreds, if not thousands of journalists show up. But then I went to an enterprise conference and only one journalist was there.
Chances I'll have anything unique to say when competing with thousands of other tech journalists? Zero. Chances I can beat one other person to a story, or, even if he gets there too that I'll be able to find a better way to say it? Much much bigger.
So few do their homework. How many tech journalists have built Twitter lists? Nearly none. How many people start their careers by putting up photos of all the interesting potential competitors up on their wall? Tim Ferriss did just that and then made a point of going to meet all of them.
Which gets me to panels and cake.
One thing I find helps me a lot is not to make my goals unreachable. Becoming a billionaire? Unreachable. Making $20 in the next few hours? I could do that by driving Uber!
So, if I were starting out I'd be studying where I'd want to spend the next 1,000 days, then I'd start with something I could do in the next week.
Can you convince four other people to have a conversation with you? Sure you can! OK, maybe Bill Gates and Oprah are out of reach, but there are plenty of people who are interesting in the world, particularly on an appropriately niche topic (like electronic Harley Davidsons) that would LOVE to tell you what they think. Why? How many people care about electronic Harley Davidsons. The engineer and his or her mom. That's about it. So, if you show some passion about the topic I bet he/she would LOVE the attention and are trying to get other people to care about what they are working on.
Now comes Cake. The site you are reading this on. Did you know that Cake has a way to have a conversation with four other people and all others can't comment unless you want them to, which will make the conversation highly interesting without any drama or noise?
Get four others to talk about an idea. Do that once per week. Make the idea something that's undercovered by traditional media. Make the idea something that will have more people caring about it tomorrow than today. Do that for 150 weeks. Boom, I bet you have a media brand.
At minimum you'll have 600 people who have interacted with you and who probably will be fans of yours.
Hint: if you have 600 friends all interested in one topic you will be highly influential on that topic.
This is such a great idea I'm going to take it for myself. Starting February 1 that's exactly what I'll be doing here. Talking about working with and in spatial computing. Peter Diamondis already set it up with this post about spatial computing and the new work. Doing this every week will keep me working on my business (which will also launch February 1, called "Infinite Retina").
Alright, who will do this for 1,000 days? I will. Who else?
I made the photo last night of this guy taking a selfie in the sunset. Everyone does selfies. No one does Panels. Which is more likely to launch an interesting career? I say Panels.