How I Learned to Stop Loathing the Platform

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There’s this viral Simpsons meme that perfectly captures my feelings about the word “platform.” The image shows a newspaper with a photo of Grandpa Simpson shaking his fist at the sky under the headline “OLD MAN YELLS AT CLOUD.” People post it to mock those who are resistant to change, typically older folks who refuse to accept the new-fangled technologies young kids are using these days.

I can sympathize with Grandpa Simpson’s defiance. Since starting to explore the book publishing market, I’ve mentally shaken my fist at the Publishing Powers That Be for requiring writers to build a platform. While I understand that authors need to find their audience and that book sellers need to sell books, I bristle at the objectives to “gain followers” and “grow a brand,” activities that strike me as absurd and terrifying. Why would anyone want or need to follow me? I’m just a girl, sitting at her laptop, trying to eke out coherent strings of words to spread hope.

The both-and of vocation
Angst over platform is a dilemma even seasoned authors face. Shortly after releasing her third book, “Surprised by Paradox,” Jen Pollock Michel posed a question to herself and fellow writers: “How do we write without losing our soul?” After praying and receiving confirmation from the Lord that she should continue, Michel kept unraveling this turmoil that ties writers’ stomachs in knots.

“On the one hand, you know the sick and self-preoccupied pleasure you take out of the likes and the retweets and the shares of your posts. On the other, you feel the pleasure of God when you spin words, and, by unexpected grace, they sometimes turn to gold. Tempted as you are to the solutions of either and or, you know that what you really need is a both-and. You understand that you’re both corrupt AND called.”

Corrupt and called. Check and check. This is why I’ve hesitated immersing myself in social media engagement that feels like self-promotion – posting selfies, recording live videos, curating an Insta-worthy feed. It’s a fear that keeps me wondering if I should ditch this writing gig and go stock shelves at Costco.

I resist building a platform because I know how much I lap up praise and approval, and I worry I might drown in it.

More of him
Platforms have their place: to raise something to prominence. If I’m that something being raised, it’s likely my head will either fill with hot air or explode with worry. I might think too highly of myself or lose sleep wondering if others don’t think highly of me. Such is the temptation for anyone who steps onto a stage. How do you put your name out there and not hope that people will remember it?

The problem begins and ends with the wrong focal point: me. Jesus belongs on the platform. Of course I know this, and in my innermost heart, want to acknowledge his rightful position there. But instead of locking eyes on him, I drift back to myself. I forget he cleansed me from evil and erased the stain of pride that used to pollute my decisions. I let fear of sin become a sin itself, dwelling on how wretched I am instead of how glorious Christ is.

More of him, less of me. That was John the Baptist’s approach to public ministry. Paul also took the low road, boasting about his weaknesses and counting his strengths as worthless trash. Yet neither man would be considered a wallflower. They spoke to crowds boldly, fearing God more than people, fulfilling their calling instead of fixating on their corruption. Paul even commended himself to the church at Corinth when critics challenged his authority. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

Paul’s example helped author Whitney Capps reframe her perspective on speaking from a platform. In her book, Sick of Me, Capps confesses how early in ministry, the Lord convicted her of trying to appear unimpressive. Seeing that Paul commended himself to proclaim Christ led her to reevaluate her motives and shift the focus of her messages. “Rather than trying to deflect glory from ourselves, what if we focused on reflecting glory back onto him?”¹

That’s it, friends. That’s what I decided is my way of escape through the pitfalls of platform building. Accept that the vocation of writing requires an amount of attention that scares and tempts me, and prayerfully press on to direct that attention toward Christ.

Serve the caller
How will this change the way I engage on social media? Wouldn’t we both like to know. It depends on what the Lord nudges me to do. Clearly, it should not involve campaigning for others’ approval. Sharing the gospel isn’t a popularity contest from which I emerge as the winner.

As of now, I’m viewing this as an attitude adjustment more than a behavioral change. My curmudgeonly self is gone, or at least restrained; my new life has come as a reluctant yet willing platform occupant. For the sake of Christ, I can use platform as a tool to elevate him in the eyes of however many people read my words. As I strive to proclaim his fame, my fist-shaking might give way to knee-knocking, as I try silly things like talking to my face on a screen.

In this world flooded with temptation, it helps to remember one of the both-ands of our lives as Christians. We’re corrupt – hardwired to make ourselves look and feel important. And we’re called – cleansed of our self-sickness and set apart to declare the excellencies of our king.

If I had any say in the matter, I’d vote to scrub the platform lingo in favor of more accurate terms: writer instead of influencer, readers instead of followers. Because as much as I appreciate you, dear reader, you really shouldn’t follow me. We’re both much better off following Jesus.

¹ Capps, Whitney. Sick of Me. B&H Publishing, 2019, p. 143.

Photo by Masha Rostovskaya on Unsplash.

Whose platform is it anyway?

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[Photo: Oscar Keys via Unsplash]
I was born during the Jennifer Era of U.S. history. Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Garner, JLo, and I joined more than half a million of our moniker sisters in dominating the baby name charts from 1970 to 1984, until those scheming Jessicas hijacked our reign.

Whether this trend can be attributed to the name of the doomed heroine in the acclaimed 1970 film “Love Story,” or to random cycling mass phenomena in accordance with mathematical processes, we all know it was a massively popular name back in the day and are wondering which hippie/hipster fad will produce another generation of Jens, Emmas, and Bellas.

My name is thoroughly unoriginal, and I’ve come to accept that. What’s more difficult to swallow is the apparent requirement in this digital age for writers to leverage their names as their brand.

Sure, it makes sense. If you want to reach an audience with your message, you have to get your name out there so people can find you and read your work. To build a successful author platform, you must create a social persona to which fans will flock and publishers will beckon for book deals.

It’s DIY marketing with an egotistical spin, and it seems if you ever want to go anywhere in the publishing world, you’ve got push yourself to promote yourself.

An inner conflict

In case you didn’t pick up on it, I was cringing between the preceding lines. I strongly dislike the concept of self-made publicity for many different reasons, including the aforementioned ordinariness of my name. The world has plenty of Jennifers; it doesn’t need another one running around tooting her own horn.

Also repelling me from the “be your own brand” strategy: my tendency toward shyness, lack of knowledge and desire to market like a boss, and fear – fear that others won’t like me, or that they will like me and expect a standard of excellence I can’t always (or ever) deliver, and fear that I’ll care way too much about others’ perception and evaluation of the person I project myself to be.

Aside from these unpleasant factors, the most stomach-turning aspect of self-marketing is its very nature. Count how many times I dropped an “I, me my” in the preceding paragraph. I sound as conceited as a 2-year-old.

I know there are millions of people out there pounding the social pavement to develop online personalities as a means to spread an important message or advance a worthwhile movement or simply make money as a business venture, and that’s fine. However, I think there’s a tension that can and should arise for Christian authors writing Christian books, a vocation and niche I aspire to pursue.

If you’re ostensibly writing to proclaim the gospel and convey the truth of God’s saving grace, how do you justify throwing your time, energy, and resources into promoting yourself? How can you reconcile God’s command for His people to be like Christ – humble, submissive to His will, seeking His exaltation above all else – with your endless striving for people to like you and follow your words?

He must increase

Prominent Christian authors addressed these and other concerns regarding platform building during an online discussion earlier this year. Beth Moore, Margaret Feinberg, and Karen Swallow Prior shared honest thoughts from their experiences in the Christian publishing industry, warning of the perils of social media ladder climbing and admonishing believers to fight the fleshly temptation to make ourselves known under the guise of making Jesus known.

I followed these conversations with rapt attention, as I respect these women and want to heed their guidance in venturing out into this field. Yet for all the wisdom I gleaned, the klaxon of prideful posturing alarmed and discouraged me, especially after researching the platform strategy and confirming it as the new norm for author best practices.

This brought me to a crisis of writing about faith: Accept the necessary evil of self-promotion to move forward with my publishing aspirations, or refuse to undertake this sinful endeavor and scrap the whole dang author idea.

Dismayed as I was, I kept thinking and researching and praying, and then came upon this article by a not-yet widely known writer contemplating “The Social Media Strategy of John the Baptist.” Reflecting on John’s gospel, she describes how the outspoken forerunner of Christ grew a following as he proclaimed the coming Messiah, and then once Jesus appeared on the scene, directed his followers to the incarnate Savior:

“God had given John a platform – he had become famous and influential in his own right. But John used his platform to draw attention to the only One who could satisfy and save their souls.”

John used the platform God had given him to draw attention to Jesus, not himself, and made this outrageously meek statement that should be the motto of every follower of Christ: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

John 3 30

I read this article, and pondered this verse, and thanked the author and John the Baptist for this critical reminder.

Serving purely

Any platform I have is God’s, not mine. He gives and takes away gifts, skills, relationships, email subscribers, Twitter followers, and “tribe” members for whatever purposes He intends – most specifically, to exalt His name and shower goodness on His people.

Knowing this, I can publish a blog under my name, post content designed to encourage others, even seek out new readers to engage and connect with, and do so with a clean conscience IF my heart’s desire is to increase Jesus’ fanbase, not my own.

With whatever my hands find to write, I pray that the efforts involved – from production to publicity – will point others to the King of Kings, the Word of Life, my Blessed Redeemer.

Hands write point to Redeemer

As the pastor at my church stated during a recent sermon on Daniel’s rise to prominence in the Babylonian Empire, all due to God’s divine appointment and his humble obedience: “The greatness that the Scripture teaches is best described by you moving through the world and leaving a wake of the Kingdom of God behind you.”

I will not do this perfectly. The Spirit will inevitably need to convict me, on a repeated basis, and I petition Him to have at it. He knows how much I struggle with craving approval.

I also don’t plan to write exclusively about issues of deep spiritual significance, and occasionally cover more lighthearted subject matter – particularly that of the deprecating, keepin’ it real variety. This is fun for me, and I hope my enjoyment of pouring out some creative juices edifies others and honors God, as much as any mocking commentary about a TV show can accomplish that.

In stepping out on this precarious limb, setting up a platform for my writing work, I ask God to help me make wise choices in His strength, to value His truth above any other opinion or striving for “likes,” and to help me follow Beth Moore’s advice on navigating social media branding:

The answer will be found in serving God as faithfully and as purely as human hearts and souls know how and let Him build His own following and determine who listens to what voice and when.

Serving God with a pure heart isn’t ever easy, and the way forward isn’t entirely clear. Marketing as an author in the Christian publishing industry is risky business, with a danger involving soul-devastating consequences. The uncertainty weighs on me, and I expect to feel apprehension about this platform racket for however long the Lord allows me to write about Him.

But by His grace, I will forge ahead, trusting Him to send forth His Word either through or in spite of me, as I write under my humdrum, exceptionally unremarkable name, aiming to lift high the greatest Name in all the world.