The underlying network processes between how you currently approach content and how I think you should, are radically different.
The content you create is typically for your existing email list, and as their small town hero, you will probably not become well-known in the county, let alone the next town over.
Meanwhile, highly visible content across the web results in impact. It is where the money is. And it facilitates rapid network growth.
Compare these scenarios
Most of you right now:
Today is just another day. You throw another log on that dumpster fire of content to keep your audience coming back.
“Come closer,” you beckon as you stoke it. “Huddle around and warm yourself by my insights.”
Keeping the fire going requires energy and resources, constant tending, an endless pile of more things to burn. But it “works.”
The effect however is community-constrained. Your existing audience is like the neighbors on your block. They can share, word of mouth with those around them.
“Jen’s got a good fire going tonight? Let’s stop by.”
As far as network topology goes, it’s… limited. You can strengthen your existing ties incrementally, but everyone is already on the same page… because they all know the same people.
If you know Liston, you likely know Philip. If you know Philip, you know Jonathan and David. If you know Jonathan, you know Rochelle. David? then Blair. If you’re connected to any of those folks and run an agency, then you likely know Brad. And if you’ve followed a few of them for a while and care about x topic, then you are likely to know those in their networks focused on x topic. Research impact? You know Bob. Marketing? You know Kevin or Michele. Outreach? Josh or Kai.
Aside: As a list member here, I’m really curious who you know that I’m talking about.
My point though: people know you from the block. No one is coming from far and wide to warm themselves by your dumpster. They stick around a while, and move in and out of the neighborhood at predictable rates.
The network remains mostly stable. Your sales, mostly predestined.
And that’s not good for adding impact.
Willing to invest in making your website visible, you identify a series of specific needs your target market has along a bigger journey you have dedicated your career to solving for.
You know the well-worn paths. Anyone hitting those beats may not be on the exact journey you’re a good guide for, but you can be fairly confident that enough of them are, and that you can help.
After identifying some likely underserved spots, you build a few outposts, one at a time: a handful of website pages designed with the intention of long-term asset growth.
Spot by spot, you stake a claim, design a plan, build, maintain, and improve as needed. You own making these popular destinations for pilgrams.
Unlike the ash from years of dumpster firing, you plan to keep these outposts around forever.
They become the obvious place to stop on a long hard journey.
The network benefits here are very different from hanging out on your block because there is no neighborhood, only a steady stream of travelers on their journey.
Decentralized, loosely connected, randomly evolving, diverse. The crowd is more transient, and the community, if you choose to build it, comes more slowly.
And yet, that’s where the money is.
You’re already a small town hero
I have been slowly coming around to what I think is a big idea, that plainly stated may be obvious to you: your fate, sales, influence, etc., on your current path, has already been determined; the ability to achieve much more impact is a matter of you stepping out of that cozy nook.
Small town heroes do not grow in stature and influence over time. They peaked throwing the winning touchdown in the final game long ago.
And then they live off that network as the town < whatever >, their income and path determined at graduation.
This is not “same old, same old” or “if you keep doing the same thing, you’ll get the same result.” I know that is not true. On your current path, you will find new successes, hit new tipping points, learn new things.
I’m just saying you need to think of that as the baseline, your status quo.
So how do you alter the current trajectory?
In network science, serendipity is defined as the happy random chance encounters of two unlikely nodes connecting. By nature, it only happens once in a while.
For the person experiencing it? It is a fortuitous stumbling upon of something of value.
For our purposes, imagine them stumbling on a worldview-altering piece of content written by an authority on something that matters to them in this moment with a trustworthy vibe.
Interestingly, in social network and content recommendation algorithm development, small dense neighborhoods are problematic.
Recommendations are traditionally skewed toward things like network closeness (friends of friends) or node similarity (Kill Bill 2 being recommended after Kill Bill).
This is (partially) why newsfeed algorithms optimizing for engagement keep showing you the same kind of content. We read people’s preferences and try to feed those preferences back to them.
The effect? You get stuck in a loop. Small networks.
In network graphs, community detection, node similarity, closeness of nth degree relationships, it is all simple to predict.
And so, serendipity is a phenomenon we try to facilitate in improving recommendation algos. You can (and should!) learn a lot from how we try to do this.
Remember that it is nearly inevitable that those in your network who bought from you would have anyway. And so your dumpster fire, while keeping your existing network warm, is likely doing less for you than you thought.
Like being stuck in the Truman Show.
Alter your approach to content. Stop pulling punches. Expand your horizons, add a layer of influence beyond your nearest neighbors. Instead of a dumpster fire for your existing network, attempt to amplify it beyond the neighborhood.
Introduce some randomness into your process. Have a network development strategy around every major piece of website content you create.
Sure, unsustainable over time, but what if you even had 2, 3, 5 pieces of website content like this? Thousands of new eyeballs on your authoritative treatments of topics each month.
Your impact at the very least would not be so predictable.