Liz Fosslien is the Wall Street Journal best-selling author of No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work and Head of Content at Humu. She has created large audiences on Instagram and elsewhere with her fun and thought-provoking illustrations. Liz stopped by to talk with Foster member Nick deWilde and share advice on audience building and creating content for different social platforms.
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How do you balance the desire to create content you believe and care about with what the LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram algorithms reward?
I will never put something up that I fundamentally disagree with.
I'll usually start with Facebook. I’ll quickly create a version of an idea and post it there. Then I can see if it’s doing well and people are engaging with it. If it does relatively well on Facebook, then it goes to Twitter. And if it does relatively well on Twitter, then it goes to LinkedIn and Instagram.
LinkedIn and Instagram are the highest pieces of the social media food chain. If you think about someone going to your Instagram profile, it gives them a full view of what you've done. The places where you can put your best foot forward because the platform allows it—that's where I publish my most filtered, most tested content.
Each platform has its own audience and its own voice, even though it's all user-generated content. That voice is similar to what the objectives are of that company. So, I think, “What are Twitter's objectives? What are they more likely to promote?” And then I create content that fits but isn’t something I fundamentally agree with.
How many of your ideas don’t make the cut?
About 75% of what I post on Facebook goes to Twitter. And then I push about 50% of what I tweet to Instagram and LinkedIn.
I do the opposite of every piece of marketing advice, which is that you need consistency, you need cadence, you need frequency, people need to expect when to hear from you. I don't do any of that. I don't have the self-control. I'll come up with an idea, I'll create a version of it, and think, "I need to have it out there now." I've found it works well with Facebook and then I have more self-control with Instagram and LinkedIn.
It’s valuable to have an outlet where if you have an idea, you can create a version of it and publish it quickly. You can always delete it later. But, especially with writing, too often people try to perfect their writing and sit on it until it’s ready. In my experience, both with illustration and writing, I've proven time and time again that I don't know what people are going to respond to.
Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings. In my experience, the internet will kill my darlings.
What have you learned about audiences on different social platforms?
When I initially started, I didn't think of it as targeting specific types of audiences on each platform. I made my best guess and then figured out what was resonating with the audience on each.
Write the thing you would want to read. Whatever the topic is, even in a business context, write the thing that would be most interesting to you.
On a high level, I’ve found that Instagram and LinkedIn users want to feel good. Twitter is where people respond more to sarcasm and cynicism. My newsletter audience tends to be much more professional, and they like longer-form writing.
How do evolve your craft for different platforms and yet still create a home for people to find all of your work?
It’s important to have yourthing.com, which is your home base. From there, you can link to your blog, to your Twitter, and all the other places where you are online.
When you’re starting out, pick one place that’s going to be where—for maybe six months or a year—you’re going to invest your energy. If it’s Medium, for example, you can really dig into the audience and metrics to figure out what kind of content will resonate with people on that platform. Adjust what you already have and keep linking to it from other places.
For me, I started with writing in my newsletter and illustrations on Instagram. I’ve since branched out into other places. Being comfortable with having different identities in different places is important.
That being said, there should be a theme in everything you do, and being able to articulate that theme is useful. My theme is helping people embrace their emotions and use them effectively. Everything I do serves that goal. If you can articulate the core thing you do in the world, that's really valuable.
What has been your approach to audience building?
The best thing we did for the newsletter was put assessments on our website. To get the results of the assessment, you have to give us your email. That has been responsible for 90% of our newsletter growth. Ours were all on topic with what we write about, which is emotions at work. Then we make them as shareable as possible.
We thought of the illustrations in our book similarly. At first, we weren’t sure if we were going to illustrate the book, but then we realized people could take photos of them and share those online.
For other platforms, there are content sharers. If you can identify those people and somehow get them to notice your work, whether that's DMing them or tagging them, I've found that to be useful.
On LinkedIn, I somehow got Adam Grant to notice one of my illustrations. He shared it and gave me a big boost. On Instagram, Ava Chen has like a million followers. It's her job to surface interesting people on Instagram. I tagged her in a bunch of illustrations that I thought that she would like, and she shared one on an Instagram story. I got about 3,000 followers from that.
With your work at Humu, how do you think about your audience’s overlap with theirs? Are they totally separate, or are you a marketing channel for Humu to get their content and ideas out?
With our topics, emotions at work and making work better, the overlap is enormous.
If you have a personal thing, you don't really want it to be entirely subsumed by the company. But you also don't want them to be completely distinct separate things because then you're working two jobs.
The attitude we've taken is what's good for me is good for Humu, what's good for Humu is good for me—any time something good happens to me, it's good for the company.
You’ve stayed in your full-time position despite having success as a creator. Have you considered creating full-time instead?
Having a steady salary makes me a better creator because I’m not so stressed about it. Working on both my full-time job and my creative outlet makes me better at each one.
It also serves as a kind of emotional regulation for me. If I had a bad day at work, I can dive into my personal creative projects. I often remind myself that I’m making a choice to not devote 100% of my time to either thing. And that’s okay.
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