Writing to Influence on a Digital Platform

When you first decided to get a bit more serious about your writing, I wonder if your immediate thought was to write a book?

Recently, a young man approached me asking for advice to write and publish a book. He had some great ideas and he wanted to influence the way his own generation think about God and each other. His immediate go-to was a book - and my immediate question to him was: "Why?"

Well, why not? Books are fabulous! If you want to make the world a more beautiful place, which is a terrific goal for any Christian writer, then go for it and write that book.

But if you want to write to influence, I wouldn't rush to write and publish a book - yet. A book might come later but there are a variety of digital platforms that will reach a much wider audience, have a bigger impact and give your book (in its turn) the power of influence it deserves. 

1. The App Store - what NOT to do.

The children's devotional I started to write in 2013 was instead launched as an app called God for Kids in 2016. I chose an app over an eBook because I wanted it to be interactive and playful. I also wanted it to be evangelistic - to reach children whose parents might never go to a church or wander into a Christian bookshop but who might let them download a free app about Christianity.

PRO: It did exactly what I hoped. Currently, around 1,800 children read and learn from God for Kids app every day, all over the world. Over 100,000 people have downloaded the app. Can you image selling that many books!?!?

CON: An app is NOT like a book - it's a business. It cost more than I care to admit and has become a full-time job to run the charity I had to create to support the ongoing needs of the app. Phew!

2. Do you start a Blog?

There are lots of very helpful posts about blogging in this blog so I'll just say that this is what my friend decided to launch, instead of a book. 

PRO: It's much faster to publish a blog than a book. Blogs are a great way to discover if you have an audience and to build that audience. If you can successfully create an audience who read your stuff and trust you, then you have a great platform to launch your book. 

CON: It's hard work to drive readers to your blog and becomes more like running a small business. 

3. Free eBooks

In my theology studies, there was one book that everyone read on our topic because the author had made it freely available as an eBook. I was told people either write to make money or they write to influence and if they write to influence, then it's free. 

Do you agree with that? 

4. Practice on Reddit or Quora 

If you want to write to influence, not to build a brand or sell books or become famous, but simply to hone your writing skills and discover what people respond to, I've been advised to become regular contributors to platforms like Quora and Reddit. 

Reddit have 52 million daily active usersQuora have 300 million.  What a diverse and interesting playground to meet and make some friends!

You could try to write one thing every day and perhaps, one day, something you've written suddenly takes off and you will have learned what people respond to. I haven't tried it yet but if you have, please share with us in the comments if you've found it worthwhile.

PRO: You don't have to be overtly controversial to be noticed. (Who needs that kind of drama?!) Some of the best posts I've read are about acts of kindness or beauty. 

CON: Checking your 'upvotes'  or lack of, is not great for the mental health. Fear of negative feedback can be debilitating.

5. Social Media

Social media does not exist simply to point people towards your blog or website or book or event. Social Media platforms are now powerful ways to influence, all by themselves. 

It's been shown that on Instagram, which I've always thought of a the platform for pictures not words, posts with over 2,000 characters actually get the most amount of engagement!*(page 30)  Also, the most followed accounts (after @Instagram itself) are not brands or companies but people.  

People love to follow people. And you don't have to be a celebrity. Micro-influencers and non-influencers (those with followers between 10k-50k and under 10K, respectively) are thought to be the next wave of influencers precisely because they are so small and niche.

CON: You need to be brave and be yourself. There are over 4 billion social media users - not all of them will like you but many of them definitely will. 

PRO: People love people and every person has a voice that deserves to be heard - including you. You don't have to have 376 million followers to be influential. Every voice counts. 

6. Or you could just write a book

PRO: It's so much more fun to write novels than tweet on twitter! 
PRO: You get to see your name on a spine on your own bookshelf
PRO: It's great for credibility. We all know that if it's written in a book, it must be true. 
PRO: Books have a long term, deeper impact.
PRO: You get to join a great community of authors that includes [insert favourite author's name here], has existed for thousands of years and will continue to exist forever and ever. AMEN. 

Joanne Gilchrist is mother of 3 and runs the charity, Ruach Resources, which is the home of God for Kids app and the Animals of Eden Valley series (a series of one at the moment - called "Who Made God?" - but I'm working on it!). 

She also wrote the autobiographical "Looking for Love" and freelances for the SunScool app. 

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