One of the most frequent things I get asked is: ‘How did you build your following?’.
It’s a fair question. A few years ago I started as everybody does, with pretty much zero support and 5 followers (2 of which were my mother who had signed up twice to make sure she didn’t miss anything). Today I am a 100% audience-supported artist; I have a blog that is read in 170+ countries by a community of almost 18’000 subscribers, and a Twitter following that is sitting somewhere around 88’000 people.
All of which was accomplished from the ground up with zero external media or paid advertising.
Read on, and I’ll tell you…
Human beings crave community, it’s a deep down thing. A fundamental need which has likely endured unchanging since the first of us crawled up from the darkness of the ocean floor and out into the light.
But what exactly is a community?
A community is a group of people built around something of value and maintained by connection, service, and mutually beneficial exchange.
There are 3 things you should be aware of if you wish to build one:
The first is your motivation. Why do you want to? Because if you are doing it for glory, fame, or some other kind of personal gain it simply will not work long-term. A self serving motivation is by definition diametrically opposed to the growth of any kind of group that is fed and nourished by contribution. If you walk into a garden and suck all the water from the ground nothing can grow. But if you visit that same garden daily with your watering can in the spirit of service, at some point you will likely be surrounded by a myriad of flourishing blooms. If you truly wish to build a community the very first step is to shift from thinking of it as something you can gain from to something you can give to.
The second thing to be aware of is that communities come into being and orbit around some kind of value. Value is the lightning rod, the tiny piece of grit around which the pearl of community can coalesce, given the right conditions. Value can take many forms and be presented thru many avenues, but both avenue and form are secondary to the true quality of whatever it is that you bring forth. Say something true, and say it as best you can with all the craft, sweat, blood and tears you can muster; then put it out into the world as a gift for the people who can benefit from it. Then do it again. And again. The response will let you know if you are adding value. Your answer is in the echo.
The third and final thing to be aware of is that you now have a responsibility to honor any exchange that comes from the giving of value with your best and most genuine self. This is where you strengthen or weaken the proffered connections that can ultimately become community. Treat any relationship that arises with the same care and attention as you would a relationship with your beloved, and always remain aware that public communities are fractal, meaning: if you are talking to a single member you are also talking with the whole so, no matter what the provocation, do not be an asshole.
In summation, to build any kind of worthwhile and long-lasting community you must:
Do it for the right reasons. Be freely adding value to the world. Honor any exchange that comes from it in the spirit of service to a larger whole.
The really good news? If you sincerely do these things you will not have to seek out an audience; instead, people will flock to you in droves.
We are social animals, skin hair bone and breath. Communities are the places we go to connect; to give, to receive, and ultimately to know ourselves. Built and tended for the right reasons they can genuinely impact and benefit the world. Personally, I count my relationship with the community of people that has grown up around my work as one of the greatest blessings in my life.
I will continue to do my best to honor it.
If you enjoyed this you may also like: my post about the beauty to be found in darkness, my essay concerning the 3 things you should know before you quit your day job, or my love letter to the mountains of Scotland.
I’m Working on some Cool New Stuff.
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