I don’t remember when I first encountered Tiny Buddha on Twitter, but I was immediately impressed.
The concept is simple: wise quotes and simple wisdom for complex lives. Lori Deschene, Tiny Buddha’s creator tweets about one quote a day, and occasionally links to the Tiny Buddha website or other interesting sites. That simple formula has built a giant social media following, with nearly 90,000 Twitter followers and over 9,000 facebook fans.
To find out how Lori has built such a big audience in a short time, I caught up with her to ask about her secrets. In this interview, you’ll find out how Tiny Buddha has grown from just a Twitter account into a popular website and upcoming book. You’ll also hear Lori’s tips for growing your own online audience.
Corbett: Tell us about Tiny Buddha. What is it all about?
Lori: Tiny Buddha began in May 2008 as a quote-a-day Twitter account. Contrary to what you might expect, the quotes aren’t all from the Buddha or Buddhist monks, though many of them are. The daily thoughts connect to happiness, passion, purpose, adventure, love—everything related to living wisely and peacefully.
The Buddha said “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” That’s what I do with Tiny Buddha—post thoughts and pieces of wisdom that make sense to me.
I launched tinybuddha.com in September 2009 with one main goal: to encourage readers to apply wisdom to their daily lives. It’s so easy to read a quote or an inspirational tweet, but then what do you do with it? I wanted the site to do three things: to offer tips and stories that inspire people to take action; to provide an outlet for anyone who has something meaningful to share; and to give myself a space to write what I’ve learned (and continue to learn!)
How did you come up with the idea for Tiny Buddha?
When I first got on Twitter, my main goal was to do something meaningful with my online presence. I had been working as a writer for start-up websites, and it occurred to me how little of my time online connected to my interests and passions. I didn’t know what would come of it when I first start tweeting, but I knew I wanted to help people by making wisdom accessible.
That’s what I hope Tiny Buddha has done: present practical ideas that are both soulful and down to earth. That’s what makes the strongest impact for me, and I suspect that’s true for others, as well.
Where did your interest in Buddhism and happiness come from?
I spent a large portion of my earlier life as a negative, unhappy human being. The people around me didn’t always know it, and when they did, they didn’t understand. They were always telling me I seemed to “have it all” but the truth was that I was deeply unhappy with myself, for all kinds of reasons.
I was an overachiever, convinced nothing I ever did was good enough. I had a hard time forming and maintaining real relationships. I learned early on in life to isolate myself and to run away from my problems whenever possible. By my 20s, I’d addressed a lot of younger angst, but I still didn’t know how to be satisfied with myself and my life.
Then I started to read books from a variety of spiritual traditions in college, and continued as I tried different roles in life. I worked in social services, childcare, pet care, sales, telemarketing, and marketing. I toured the country with promotional campaigns; I moved across the country and back twice. Somewhere amid all that reading and running something clicked: wherever I go, I take myself with me. Happiness must start within me, regardless of where I go and what I do.
Did you have any prior experience with social media or websites?
I first began writing online in 2007 when I moved to San Francisco. I wrote blog posts and marketing copy for a number of brands, and have continued through the years I’ve been here. Prior to Tiny Buddha, I didn’t have much experience with social media. Well, I had accounts on Facebook and MySpace, but mostly to reconnect with old friends (and Tom, of course!)
How did Tiny Buddha grow so quickly? Did you use any specific promotional strategies?
For the most part, the Twitter account grows organically from people retweeting the quotes and blog posts, though it helps when celebrity followers share their favorite tweets. Tiny Buddha has a few from the music and film industries, not to mention a host of well-known Internet personalities.
I generally keep tweets short enough so people have room to retweet them, and I keep a close eye on the type of content people spread regularly (to gauge what’s most helpful to them). I also post consistently during the hours I believe the most people are tweeting (9:00-10:00 in the morning, when they’re just getting into work, and noon, when they’re just starting their lunch break).
Lastly, I do my best to integrate the Twitter and Facebook pages, and both with the site. I ask thought-provoking questions on Facebook to start conversations among the community (which sometimes fuels blog posts). I also link those questions on Twitter so followers there know they can also get involved at Facebook.
What expectations did you have for the project, and how did you decide to grow from a Twitter account to a Facebook account to a full website?
When I first started working on Tiny Buddha, my intention was to build an audience of people interested in receiving and sharing wisdom. I knew I would eventually start the website, but I wasn’t certain when and how that would happen. I wanted time to see who was following and engaging on Twitter, and what types of thoughts interested and inspired them. That time ended up being September 2009.
When I originally launched the website, I thought it would only feature micro-content—photos, mini-blog posts. Nothing as lengthy as the posts I currently publish. It evolved naturally based on reader feedback. The Facebook page actually came last. I never intended to get on Facebook, but when it was clear people wanted it a couple months back, I got that up and running.
What are your goals for the project now?
I have big plans for Tiny Buddha in the upcoming years. In July, we’ll launch a second version of the site. (“We” is me and web strategist Joshua Denney; he helped build the website and will partner with me on many initiatives going forward). The site will have more content and hopefully create a more social experience. There are a lot of ideas on the table to give people more Tiny Buddha, but much of it is yet to be finalized.
I’m starting to work on my first book, which will be published in the fall of 2011. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll ask my readers to participate in this process, so check the site for details!
What would you tell people who want to build an audience online to focus on?
I suggest focusing on the following, in this order:
- Create quality content. People enjoy and share articles that help, inspire, motivate or entertain them. Putting your heart into your writing is the first and most important step.
- Be consistent with your online presence. Your blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates, and guest posts all contribute to the associations people make with your name. Building your “brand” in that way is part of building your audience.
- Leverage your network to get your content out there. Link it to your email signature; tell people on Twitter; share on Facebook; and stumble on StumbleUpon.
- Get help from people who have done what you would like to do. You may have some expertise, be it with writing, social media or otherwise, but odds are you could stand to improve in some area of building your online presence. Email or tweet people who have done what you’d like to do. Seek a mentor or coach if you’re able. It’s a lot easier to work smarter (not harder) when you stay open to new knowledge—especially from people who are already walking the path.
- And lastly, realize no audience is too small. Any time you help or inspire someone—whether online or in your everyday life—you’ve made a meaningful difference in the world. That’s something to celebrate.