Audience Building · · 3 min read

The game within the game (why your growth may be slow)

The fastest way to build an audience is to focus on doing one platform really well. I am absolutely convinced of this.

It's not the only way to build an audience and I'm not passing judgment that it is the best way – but I'm convinced that, objectively, the fastest way to build an audience is by focusing on ONE platform. One discovery platform.

Discovery platforms have organic traffic and discoverability – namely, social media and search.

Examples:

  • Instagram
  • TikTok
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Articles optimized for SEO

Note that these don't include email and audio podcasting.

So why am I so sure that the key to fast growth is restraint in the number of platforms you publish on?

You can think about growth on any platform as a game. Every game has a field of play, rules, other players, an objective, and probably a score.

Games have varying degrees of complexity – it's much easier for someone to learn soccer than American football. It's easier to learn Go Fish than Texas Hold 'Em.

In the attention economy, the games we're playing revolve around the objective of attention. Engagement metrics (views, subscribers, followers) can be looked at as a kind of score. The apps themselves are the fields of play. And there are both implicit and explicit rules – explicit rules are the terms of service, and implicit rules are things like "Instagram seems to be prioritizing Reels right now."

You probably wouldn't sit down at a poker table with a world champion and expect to escape with your money. They would know the game better than you and so the odds are immediately against you.

The same is true of the games we play online – we're all competing for a finite amount of global attention. And there are people who are putting way more time and effort into learning the ins and outs of that game – that's why they're winning!

You may get lucky and win a hand every now and then, but success over the long term comes from skill. It comes from being a student of the platform.

If you wanted to be a Straight-A student, would that be easier by taking one class or five?

If you look at the greatest athletes of all time in any sport, how many professional sports do they play? There are some outlier examples – Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders...but are you at that level of mastery on any platform yet?

And here's the other thing – not only was Michael Jordan an incredible basketball player, but he was also good for the NBA as a whole.

His success became so intertwined with the NBA's success that the NBA started marketing itself through Michael Jordan. His success was the league's success.

Again, the same is true of major discovery platforms. The most successful accounts actually compound their advantages – they get early access to new features, insider information, and even preferential treatment.

Success in one arena brings leverage.

Not only leverage from the platform itself, but leverage from other creators who are trying to make it big on the same platforms.

What I'm seeing over and over again are creators who exercise restraint in the pursuit of getting big on one platform (let's call it Twitter). Then, they determine the next platform they want to conquer (we'll say LinkedIn) and they leverage their success on Twitter in order to conquer LinkedIn.

They find another creator who is dominating LinkedIn and wants to come to Twitter and a friendly handshake deal is struck. You help me grow here, I'll help you grow there. Sometimes it's more formal with expectations, other times it's very casual and comes from a place of friendship and generosity.

But, in either case, there's mutual gain.

Even on each individual platform itself, growing creators are often spending more time building relationships with other creators than they are creating content. The game within the game is building your social graph (the accounts you engage with) – not your body of work.

So you'll notice to succeed on any platform isn't just playing one game – it's actually understanding and playing the games within the game.

Succeeding on Twitter is actually:

  • Having great ideas
  • Knowing how to format your writing for Twitter
  • Knowing when and how often to post
  • Engaging with your audience
  • Building your social graph of relationships
  • Engaging with your social graph
  • Keeping up with algorithm changes

That's probably not even an exhaustive list – but that's seven games just within the game of Twitter.

If you're trying to also succeed on LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram at the same time, you may think you're playing four games...

But when you consider the game within the game, you're probably playing dozens.

And I'm not sure Michael Jordan would've gotten to where he is if he would've also tried to take on badminton.

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