As I just wrote, we live in an era where having a voice is much easier than it used to be. Getting published is actually quite simple if you’re willing to work for it. In fact, I’m living proof. Just 3 years ago I was working a 9-5 job as my sole source of income as a programmer for a major health company, doing nothing but that. I was a nobody. No one knew me. In very short time I was approached by my 3 publishers, amassed thousands of readers on this blog, and many more on Twitter and Facebook, and built a reputation for myself. I truly believe this is something anyone can do. Here’s what I did (this is still tough to write, as I still don’t believe I’m anywhere near my potential – to me, I’m still a nobody):
I Started a Blog
I actually did this a long time before I wrote my first book with HappyAbout. I was trying to build an open source pseudo blogging/CMS platform, which actually powered this blog at one point. In a sense, the goal was to eventually create a social network, something we tried to do at a previous job I was at and never completed. This was before Facebook or Twitter or even Digg or anything like it. In a sense, it was the next dimension of a GeoCities, or FreeServers.com (where I worked on the founding team doing Support in 1999).
I noticed a few friends blogging at the time to share tricks they had used to fix coding problems, or ways they got their various computer problems working. I knew I had done a few things that I needed to write down for memory and others to benefit, so I started using the blog to share these things. Soon that turned into me just sharing thoughts to what was mostly a non-existent audience, but I didn’t care – I was doing it for myself mostly.
Then I really started subscribing to other bloggers, especially around Utah and elsewhere. I think Google Reader probably played a big role in this. I subscribed to Phil Windley, and Janet Meiners (NewspaperGrl), Jason Alba, Phil Burns, Thom Allen, and others. Utah actually had a bustling tech blogging scene back then (many of those I mention are still active bloggers and great blogs to follow). As these guys blogged, it inspired me to join their conversation and post my own thoughts on the topics they were writing about. I’d link to theirs, and others’ articles, and my links would appear in their trackbacks and they would notice.
I began to make a name for myself by just sharing what I knew, and writing about it. There is no better way to share knowledge and show others you have that knowledge than through a blog. This blog eventually grew and grew as I did this, eventually getting recognition by sites like TechMeme, featured on TechCrunch, mentions on Mashable, and many others (I keep a log of coverage for my record at http://www.delicious.com/jessestay/coverage). I say this not to brag, but to show you that by simply posting a blog, and sharing your knowledge, while at the same time truly participating in the conversation in the blogosphere (aka “the memes”), you’ll grow your blog as well and quickly gain a voice.
Now when I write, people listen – in some ways, it doesn’t matter if I have a publisher, and that gets more and more possible the more my audience grows.
I Became a Pioneer
It wasn’t until the launch of Facebook Platform at the very first F8 that I really started making a name for myself. I decided at that point my idea for a Social Network wasn’t needed any more because now I could just build niche ideas on top of Facebook. Facebook grew, and grew, and grew, and I was with them from day one, building apps for their platform. I saw this niche, and I saw the value in it, so I took it and ran. I became an expert in that niche and made it mine. Not just that, but I stuck to it. (Interesting note – I’ve actually been building on Facebook Platform longer than many Facebook employees have.) That eventually branched out and I took on Social Media and APIs in general, and now I’m even embracing much of the world of Marketing as we know it (even though I’m technically just a Developer by trade). I learned everything I could about this stuff, and actually applied it, creating application after application both on my own and for others to prove myself in this area. It was partly from this that SocialToo was born.
In many ways I was inventing an industry. I was with many others, but because I took it on early I was still one of the few “pioneers”. Becoming a Pioneer is so important. If everyone else is doing it, and you’re not the first, you’re not going to be recognized. You’ve got to pick a skill, perhaps find a new movement of many, and jump on that one. Even if you are one of many, if you’re one of the many firsts, you can now be taken seriously. I suggest taking it even further and finding a niche amongst those firsts (mine was the brand of “Social Media Developer” rather than just “Social Media Expert”) and embracing that.
How do you pick the right niche to be a “pioneer”? I think more than anything it has to feel right to you – make sure you have a clear vision of the future of that industry. For me I saw a new, social world where social was tightly integrated into every piece of the web. I saw a Building Block Web, where social pieces were tightly coupled together in an experience the user wasn’t even aware the social elements existed. I saw the power of bringing power to developers. I also followed bloggers, like Paul Allen and Robert Scoble, who really caught onto this vision (although I admit I met Scoble later in the game). Note that this niche also solved some of my own needs, which also contributed to my desire to learn more about it, and I discovered along the way how powerful this stuff actually was. Vision is key.
You’ve got to figure this out yourself, and perhaps that’s the hardest part. If I were you I’d be looking in the mobile space, and at what companies like Kynetx are doing, though. (and at a minimum, more than anything, consider and understand the concepts and visions these companies have) Read my article on the Future with no login button for my own personal vision, but you have to come up with your own.
I Promoted the Need, and Networked Like Crazy
Once I had discovered a need and tried to establish my skills surrounding that need, I began blogging about it. I realized this was a new market, and one that had the potential to be very powerful. It was one with very few blog posts on the topic, yet. I began to write posts making it known that I knew Facebook, and in particular Facebook development. I was actually at one point the number one search result on Google for “Facebook Developer” because of this. That wasn’t on accident.
I became one of the only people on LinkedIn with “Facebook Developer” in my title, and soon I began getting calls asking for help in this emerging industry. I made it easy for people to find me by publishing my e-mail address and even my phone number on my blog and working to make it as easy as possible for people to contact me on LinkedIn.
More than anything though, it was this blog that made a name for myself. Well, this, and following other bloggers through Google Reader at the time. I started to learn of local “Blogger Dinners” here in the Salt Lake City area where local bloggers were getting together to just meet and network. I decided to attend one or two, and it was there I met who would soon become my co-author on my first book, Jason Alba. Jason had previously written, “I’m on LinkedIn–Now What???” and I had followed him on his blog. I can’t remember exactly how (I think it was a Seth Godin talk, ironically), but he had heard I was the local “Facebook guy”, and was looking to do a book similar to his first on Facebook.
He had already established a relationship with his publisher through his first book, and approached me, asking me to help him with his second book, giving me half of his royalties in the process. We went forward with the book. At that point because I had established a reputation, and was already a published author, that lead to O’Reilly contacting me (through my good friend, Joseph Scott), and now I’m writing my third book with Wiley in a Dummies series.
Networking is so critical – it is truly who you know that matters. It has been through Social Media and networking that I met Jason and that lead to my first book. It was through meeting a need of Guy Kawasaki’s and Chris Pirillo’s that lead to creating the first script on SocialToo and I feel I can now call them good friends. It was through answering a FriendFeed post that I met Robert Scoble and I can now call him a good friend. That meeting lead to me meeting my great friend Louis Gray. We’re all normal people, and it’s social media that makes us normal. It’s through this technology – Twitter, Facebook, and especially blogs, that we’re able to connect with people we were never able to meet before. Embrace that!
I Believed in Myself!
More than anything, I think it was when I realized I could actually do this stuff, that I started to do it. There is something to be said for the law of attraction – be it faith, God-driven, or Universal laws, it’s real. When you truly believe you can accomplish something, it will happen. I grew up not believing this. I grew up thinking I’d never write a book. I grew up thinking I’d never start my own business. I grew up thinking I was a nobody.
It wasn’t until I caught a glimpse that this was possible that I started to think I was truly capable of anything. And it was when that happened that I started seeing incredible success as a result, and I’m still seeing that to this day. Anyone can accomplish what I’ve done – I’m the little guy. I’m a nobody, but I can be anybody I want to.
I hope this blog post doesn’t come off as a “I’m better than you” story to anyone – it was intended to be the exact opposite. You see, Social Media and the web as we know it today makes it possible for any of us to gain a voice. The Book Publisher, the Sports Conference, the Music Label, or even the VC or major Tech Blog are all much less relevant than they used to be. Your potential is greater than it ever has been, and while you can still use these tools as launching platforms, you get to own the process along the way. Anyone can do this, and I think we need to break away from “the man” at least a little bit to have full flexibility in doing so. This is why you see Seth Godin leaving his publishers. This is why you see BYU leaving its Conference. This is why you see many musicians leaving their labels.
The little guy is much more relevant than he used to be. Social Media is about empowering and bringing a voice to the individual. Embrace that. Accept it. You too can have a voice.