Becoming an Advocate

I was recently listening to the always-useful Six Pixels ofSeparation Podcast and they were talking to author and content marketer RebeccaLieb, and she mentioned how valuable it was to become an advocate. It struck me that we are rarely encouraged to become enthusiastic about the ideas and achievements of others. Instead we are focused on our own goals and own successes, and some people are very wary indeed of putting enthusiasm into the work of others. But I would like to suggest that it is infinitely more valuable, and more conducive to happiness, if we let ourselves occasionally become advocates for others without worrying about what’s in it for me. I want to beg people to return to having heroes, examples and mentors, and actively showing your support for those people by helping them get their work out into the world.

As Rebecca Lieb points out in her interview, it is becoming more and more valuable to have people say things about you. In the world of the old media it was almost impossible to get an interview, review or spot for free, and building any kind of public reputation was so forbiddingly expensive and time consuming that most people simply didn’t bother. That is all changing very quickly, and with blogs, Twitter and other forms of social media almost anyone can become a minor celebrity with a bit of application and effort. This has become such an important process that many big companies are now re-thinking their whole publicity strategy. It might, in the end, prove more valuable to get the word out to a number of small influencers than broadcast it scattershot across the big (and expensive) media. More and more people want a story, not a brand. 

And being an advocate does not mean you neglect your own work or development. Quite the contrary, in fact - I have found that my career and reputation have grown in the years since I have devoted myself to the process of advocacy. And my very biggest breaks have all come as a result of time, work and attention I have given to others. 

So, here are some ideas about becoming an advocate:

1. Be Systematic – Your head is probably full of fabulous people and things that you love, but when the time comes to do something about it, you just can't quite recall what it was you were so enthusiastic about. For years now I have kept a list, and I work from it. So the moment I see a film I love, read a fantastic book, find out about an amazing event a friend is putting on, I put it down on my list so that I can promote it when the opportunity arises. It also keeps me conscious of where people are at with their careers – I am actively charting their success and growth. 

2. Use Social Media – Don’t be afraid to mention the wonderful things your friends are doing – so long as they want them mentioned, of course. For each thing I want to advocate I keep a small spreadsheet which I tick off as I do the things I want to for them. Mentioned them on Twitter? Check. Done a Facebook post on them? Check. Always try and let people know you’ve mentioned them at least once, but at the same time you can still do good without others knowing. I try to post about people on Tumblr, Pinterest and Google+, though most of the people I am mentioning have no idea and have no presence on these channels. 

3. Blog About It – OK, so I know that blogging is social media, but I think about it a whole lot differently. It is more substantial, it takes more time and imagination, and it lasts a lot longer. I have also found that properly blogged content is the most likely to be shared, both by the people you mention and those closest to them.  

4. Don’t Keep Score – Yes, I am systematic in how I promote people and things I like, but I absolutely don’t care about whether or not it’s reciprocated. If you are going into this expecting favours, thanks and praise, then you’re in the wrong game. In my experience those things come, but sometimes not for years, and sometimes in totally unexpected (and sometimes vastly disproportionate) ways. Mostly you won’t hear back, but that is not the point. This is about building a community, about expanding your own knowledge and goodwill, and about creating a state of mind that is open, celebratory and expansive. If you’re calculating ROI, it kind of defeats the purpose.

5. Tell People – I am one of those who is always recommending books, restaurants and movies to people. I like to think that I do this in a relaxed, friendly and non-imposing way – at least, that’s what I am aiming for. But I am unafraid to appear enthusiastic, and I would love to be thought of as a fanboy. Enthusiasm is infectious, and more people will love than hate you for it. And you never know when a kind word, some praise or a recommendation will fall on the right ear. I have had innumerable people thank me for recommending a book or movie or artist to them long after I had forgotten even mentioning it. Two recent examples: 1) A performer was approached by a new fan who had been to several of his performances recently, and told him he had found about the show through reading my blog. 2) A writer contacted me wildly pleased because an influential person had read her book and loved it after I had recommended it to him. These kinds of stories are so immensely satisfying.

6. Review (Kindly) – Sorry, I know everyone is talking about the death of criticism because everyone wants to be nice, but as a creative person I have no interest in tearing down another person’s work or reputation. None at all. And I make no apology for that. If I think something really is so terrible, I simply will not talk about it – I won’t be dishonest and praise something I think is truly bad. If there is something really wrong, contact the author/creative in private and let them know your concerns, but if you’re going to do that please make sure you are absolutely confident that you know what you’re talking about. Simply “not liking” something, while a perfectly valid guide for your own consumption, is not a sufficient basis for public criticism, really it isn’t. But if you have things you like, then get on to Goodreads, get on to Amazon, get on to restaurant review sites, blog a review and tell the world about what they’re missing.  

7. Recommend to Your Audience – If you have an enewsletter or some other overt marketing channel, don’t be afraid to endorse people or products that you think your own “customers” would like. Sure, you’ll be getting nothing tangible from it, but I can tell you from experience that nothing impresses me more than seeing a commercial enterprise praising and promoting something that I know is not connected to them and doesn’t in any way contribute to their bottom line. It makes me trust them more and take them more seriously. You must keep it relevant, of course, but singing the praises of someone else is a refreshing change from the banging of your own drum, and can actually build your reputation.

8. Leave the House - Let's face it, all of us spend too much time sitting in front of the computer or watching "relaxing" TV shows. Many of your friends, mentors and people you admire host public events, and going along to these is one of the most effective ways to show your support. And while you're there, why not try live tweeting and later blogging them? Never for a moment think "Oh, they do so many of these events, they don't need us there." They do, and your presence is always noted and appreciated. Each of these events involves an enormous amount of preparation and emotional energy, and a friendly face is always welcome and loved. There were a couple of hundred people at the launch of my first book, Destination Saigon, but you know what? I remember each and every person who was there - even the friends of friends who came along as +1s. That's how emotionally significant the event was. So do your level best to show your physical support - it's gotta be more valuable than catching up on Basketball Wives.


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