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experiences in building out a POWERFUL online presence

Last year, the “creativity and showcase” bug (aka known as build an online presence!) caught me as it did millions of others worldwide. I wanted to express myself and share those expressions with the world. What follows in this multi-part essay is my journey – highlighting what I learned, where I goofed, and what I plan to do next. To keep it personal, I have refrained from using industry jargon as much as possible – but given the nature of this beast, a little may still creep in. Do indulge me when that happens, please!

Who is this post for?

If you are passionate about your hobby – writing, reading, photography, coin collecting – whatever – and want to create a presence on the web, this is for you. I capture my experience creating a blog and then expanding into other platforms.

Defining success for your “online presence”

When we think about creating a website, we think about building something that can get the maximum viewership. It seems so obvious that we don’t even question this assumption.

I fell for this too.

So I picked a topic (leadership), segmented it (personal leadership), identified my target audience, and started building the website. This is age-old wisdom. Indeed – it’s the way to start? The image you have is a shiny shop front that you are building for your target customer. 

In a couple of weeks, I had a colorful website crafted to connect with the audience I believed were people in the emerging leadership area. I also had some clever slogans (e.g., let your guide be Sherlock and magic-potions!). Emerging leaders were struggling with the new challenges COVID had thrown up – how to make one’s writing stand out in a world where you didn’t meet your customers, for instance?

Friends and supporters signed up, and things seemed to be moving. A month later, I hit one of those moods where you want to spend time alone doing what you love. 

The Eureka moment

I logged on to the website and had a “eureka” moment. The site did not do justice to the true me. It did not have some of the quirks or philosophical wanderings I so enjoyed, for instance. When you want to spend hours together on something, you want to truly enjoy it – and for that, your top customer has to be you. 

So I revamped the site. Rather than focus on the target customer, I made sure that I brought my whole personality into the website. So meditation made it through, as did book reviews and a bunch of other things. They were held together by the silver string of personal leadership – but they were now my definition of what a leader should bring to the table. 

This change got me excited, and I started spending more time on the site. I wasn’t done yet – you never are with web pages. But it was taking shape, and each refinement was adding to the energy.

So here’s the metric I would suggest you choose – would you love to be with your content for long periods? If yes, then you have the right approach.

The name of the “online presence” game.

Naming is a tricky thing. The accepted wisdom is to name your site in a way that will make it easy for the search engines to pick you. I feel that our identity is an even better name. Your early readers will be able to find you easier for one thing. And there is no better proxy for your personality than your name.

You can always choose a tagline that represents what you do.

For instance, like a cow chewing on cud, I contemplate life and concepts relating to leadership. “Meditations on Leadership,” therefore, seemed to fit well as a tagline to go along with my site (www.nmsubra.com).

W.r.t online presence – your tagline (or, for that matter, your domain!) need not reflect the “you” that people know – but it should reflect the you that you want people to know. For example, you may be very sober at work, but with friends, pull many punches. And your website should reflect this funny part of yourself. You must bring your personality to play. 

There’s one last thing on names. We are unlikely to have a Website alone – chances are you also have a presence on other platforms – Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn, etc. It’s best to pick a name for your domain that is available across all of these. I learned this the hard way. Nsubra.com – a name that people knew me by was available, and I grabbed it, only to realize that the name was already taken for a couple of platforms. I had to register another domain, therefore – and this time, I made sure I appropriately changed the handles on all the platforms too immediately. Some additional cost and some rework – but I believe it was worth it. 

OK, what do you write about?

This is the biggie. When we start, it’s best to establish a regular cadence – write every day, for instance. The topic, length are all not crucial at this early stage – they become a lot more critical later on. Getting into the habit of publishing frequently is vital.

It’s best to rope in 10-15 friends for some feedback on the posts – so you know what’s resonating while the world outside is still not reading your stuff. I’d also recommend you cross-publish the same post on other platforms where you have a larger audience (say LinkedIn or Facebook). 

As you experiment, you are likely to see 4 patterns are emerging.

As you can see, 1 (leader profiles) is my flagship.

  •  It’s something I love to do (track greatness in leadership),
  •  it gives me access to a readership outside my influence (through the people I profile), 
  • And it’s unique (since it’s based entirely on my experiences). Indeed, the 4 leadership profiles have got me more than twice the combined views of all the other posts put together!

So why not focus on just these? Well – for one thing, this, as I explained, is a flagship. I need the right inspiration before I set out to write one of these posts. There’s no point in rushing these; they will come – and when they do, they will reach the world. 

2 is when you want access to more people (Say you want more people to join your newsletter or subscribe to your blog). You talk on industry/ academic forum etc. and drum up an audience. 

3 – Not everyone who attends your talk is a potential subscriber. Someone may be looking for conventional leadership tips – clearly something I cannot fulfill. Therefore having some free work products that are unique and explain your take on stuff is a good way for people to understand if they should care about what you do.

4 – This is where the bulk of the work toward building an online presence goes. You will identify many “niche” audience groups as you start building out on these. For instance, my book reviews (leadership ideas from non-business books!) are long and heavy on text. The general feel was they wouldn’t connect – and yet – this happens to be one of the more popular categories. The same holds for “Digital Life” – where several people call me every week to exchange views on what’s happening in the digital world and open new friendships. 

IN SUMMARY – THE ONLINE PRESENCE GAME IS A MARATHON

Building an online presence is a marathon, not a sprint. But if we take the time and iterate, it is very rewarding. On content, here is the summary we discussed:

Typically set a cadence for your flagship – say once in 3 weeks or whatever. And focus on a lot on 4 – we will discuss idea filtering in a subsequent section.

So that brings us to the end of part I – on the basics of building a web presence (name, etc.) and content.

In future essays, I am thinking of covering the following – would this be of interest?

  1. Bringing the webpage to life – choosing the right platform, domains, essential plugins, etc. and getting started
  2. Understanding the various types of audience in the digital world and creating an aligned SM ecosystem to support your webpage
  3. Writing – finding your own voice and making sure the engines are happy too!
  4. Generating income – early thoughts 

Like all things Internet, there is acknowledged wisdom, but there are always many exceptions – and we can choose the path we need to go. Until next time… 

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6 comments

  1. Brilliant piece of reflection on the path you have treaded, Subramanian. Congratulations!

    Keep writing, more and more + better and better. Best wishes.

    Somehow this reminded me of the 2001 talk by legendary author, Ray Bradbury, on writing. You may want to listen to it (again). https://youtu.be/_W-r7ABrMYU

  2. This Nicely sums up your experimentations experience which any aspirant writer can benefit from. 👌

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