I’m not stalking Chris Brogan: An unauthorized look at Chris Brogan’s evolution

Did you know that Tom Hanks earned $800 in his very first credited work as an actor? It was for the movie He Knows You’re Alone (1980). In Splash (1984) he earned $70,000. In Big (1988) he earned $2,000,000. In Forrest Gump (1994) he earned $70,000,000 after you factor in the profit participation. He now regularly commands $20,000,000 wages plus profit participation for his movies. (Source: IMDB.com)

So, what did he do after his first job in 1980? Until his five-figure payday from Splash, he put in time as an actor with bit appearances in Happy Days, Taxi, and The Love Boat. His success seems rapid on paper. But there were 24 years and a lot of hard work (and some good movies and some bad movies) between his $800 payday and his $70,000,000 payday. Bottom line: He worked hard, had a couple of tipping points, and is super-successful today.


Chris Brogan
Image by BryanPerson via Flickr

I think about business growth. A lot. I’m fascinated by the elements that work together to help a business succeed. Not a lot successful people have chronicled their rise to success so thoroughly, but Chris Brogan gives us a unique look at success. As a prolific blogger and social media maestro, he has basically recorded his business growth and we can slice open his blog and count the rings to figure out the elements that helped to make him as successful as he is today.

Encounter #1: I first heard of Chris Brogan (or, at least his blog) just over a year ago. I was talking to my good friend @JeffreyPriebe about my desire to do some professional speaking. Jeffrey is a helpful send-you-a-great-page-he’s-just-read kind of guy and he sent me a link to a blog post by someone named “Chris Brogan”, whom I had never heard of before. (Sorry, Chris). The post is “How to Start Speaking at Events“, which is a classic Brogan read, and something that aspiring speakers should read. That was encounter #1.

Encounter #2+: Although I’ve been on some social media for years (blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook), I was just starting to get into Twitter and encountered way more of Chris Brogan there. He was on my radar so frequently that I would click over to his blog to read it from time to time. By June 2009, he was one of my must-read blogs. By November 2009 he was one of a few blogs that I read daily (and that is a coveted place to be in my feedreader).

I found his work to be compelling, insightful, approachable, and prolific, which are the very things I aspire to be. Not surprisingly, many others have found the same thing because, according to Compete.com, he gets something like a bazillion visitors to his site:

So, Chris has had all this impressive success but he didn’t start out this way. He put in the effort and hard work to get where he is. I looked into the rearview mirror of my time-traveling DeLorean to see how Chris got to where he is today.

I should also make the disclaimer here that I am no Brogan expert and this is completely unauthorized and based purely on my own observation.

So, where did it all begin? Archive.org (the “Wayback Machine”) has an archive of ChrisBrogan.com going back to October 18, 2000. There aren’t any images in the archive but you get the idea. The title of the page is “Chris Brogan Short Stories”.

I guess Chris went through a couple of blog iterations before landing on Blogger around March 2004. You can see an archived copy of that blog here but he later ported it over to WordPress and it is the very first post on his blog in its current form.

Okay, that’s the history. But enough with the old blog versions. I have stuff like that floating around the web, too and it’s not always flattering. Here’s my point: Chris has profusely chronicled his life and we can view his rise to success and learn from it. I’ve reviewed his blog closely and below I’ve list the key transitions in his life (according to his blog, at least), as well as the critical tipping point for him. I also list the approximate events and/or blogs that are related to those transitions/tipping point or that build on them:

He started blogging (in this “version 3.0” iteration, at least) primarily about health and fitness with some personal development mixed in. From March 2005 to July 2005 he stuck to that theme, with the rare digression. But I think his first real transition was on July 14, 2005. In the blog on this date he seems to have put his first “stake” in the ground and he wrote about what else there was to talk about. This blog post, in my opinion, marks a key transition when he moved to something far more intentional on his blog. Read his July 14, 2005 blog post called “Slag”. In fact, read all of his July entries. I think that was a key month for him. A “time to start thinking beyond right now” month. In the months that follow, he still talks about fitness and personal development, but we see more of the Chris Brogan we’re familiar with today. Read this key post from July 18th, too.

Until February 2006, Brogan had been blogging a lot about himself and his own thoughts. Not selfishly, but rather about his own ideas and opinions and experiences. Around February 2006, there is a shift, and you definitely notice it in his post on February 3, 2006 called “Give Something Useful”. After this point, he seems to be primarily intentional in adding value to his blog-reader’s lives. (Yes, he added value before but not to the degree to which he was intentional about it after this point, in my opinion). It also shows that even four years ago, Brogan was still thinking along the same lines he is today.

I also noticed something else at this point: He seems to have acquired more faithful and responsive followers. Up until this point, his posts might not have any comments, or perhaps one here or there. But now, we start to see more. There might be a couple of posts with zero comments and then a couple with between 1 and 3 comments. In other words, we see that his small audience is growing… and responding. A rough thumbnail count reveals an average of 1 comment per post (and, from what I can tell, most of these comments seem contemporary to the time of posting and not just Brogan fans who have delved into the archives).

In his February 14 2006 blog, “Collected Files — Any Thoughts?” he mentions a free ebook he’s offered on his site that has been downloaded by “just under 20” people. A couple of weeks later, Feb 23 2006, Chris mentions that his Feedburner has hit 50 subscribers. (FYI: I’m writing this just over 4 years later and he has over 46,000 subscribers right now).

Chris was blogging very seriously up until this point but it’s around here that he officially started to switch from “a guy with a blog” to “a guy on a mission”. On March 14, 2006, in a post called “Countdown to What?”, he talks about getting 100 people per day to his site. This particular post solicits feedback from his followers about his various channels and sites and he is clearly thinking about what comes next.

And in a follow-up post on the same day he says “Things are going to really explode in 2006!”

By about July 2006, Brogan is getting comments in nearly every post. Some posts don’t have any comments but the ones that do have multiple comments have 3 to 6. Also, on July 11, 2006, he mentions that he acquired 100 new subscribers on Feedburner.

Throughout his blogging, Chris is fairly straightforward about his business aspirations and corporate dissatisfaction. And you see him starting little “side businesses” that are meant to generate additional revenue. But then, on July 18, 2006, he turns his attention to a “new media” project he calls “Grasshopper New Media.” There were seeds of it leading up until this point but July 18, 2006 seems to be the actual, official crystallization of those ideas. Read his blog post “Old Business vs. New Business” and then “Grasshopper New Media“. Oh, you should also read this post in which Brogan reflects on the contributing factors that inspired him to start a business.

And on July 20th, 2006, his Feedburner reached an average of 250 subscribers. And by August 25, 2006, Chris is busy with a ton of projects.

At this point, we start to see the next phase of Brogan: “Chris on the move.” He quits his job to start working for PulverMedia, he’s starting to get quoted in media, he’s interacting with other communities, and he’s showing up in different places on the web and around the country. In addition, he creates PodCamps with Christopher S. Penn.

On October 19, 2006, we see an interesting step in the Chris Brogan story: The first mention (that I can find, anyway) of one Julien Smith… the same J.Smith who 4 years later collaborated with Brogan on his Trust Agents book. (Read the October 19, 2006 post entitled “Julien Smith”).

Back when I had clients asking me “what are podcasts?” and “tweeting” was still something that birds did, Chris Brogan was early-adopting. On November 8, 2006, Chris signed up to Twitter. Read his explanation of Twitter at this blog post. Even though it would be years before Twitter reaches the level of mass adoption that would help to make Brogan’s success, I think this initial foray into the media is noteworthy.

Throughout the months that follow, Chris seems to switch from posts of intentional value to blogs in which he interacts with his growing community. He’ll blog about someone else’s post; he’ll blog about a vlog series he’s enjoyed; he’ll blog about a dinner he’s had with colleagues. This is an interactive time for him. Then slowly he starts to find a balance again (in early January 2007) between value-adding posts and interactive posts.

By about March 2007, Brogan is writing about Twitter in about every third post and within a couple of months that transitions into a regular discussion of social media: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.

In 2007, Brogan is clearly building on every success and you can see things growing. He’s busy at conventions, he’s active on Twitter, he’s conversing with people. In August 2007, he has 1000 Feedburner subscribers.

Also worth reading at this point is his own mini autobiography written because of the increasing attention he was getting. People familiar with his work won’t discover any major surprises in it but it’s well worth the read to get an overall view of how Chris is positioning himself and who he considers the influences in his life.

Around the middle of September 2007, Chris’ blog posts changed “flavor”. Up to this point, there was a real mix between what he was doing and thinking, interaction with others, even a “Happy Birthday Mom” in there somewhere. But around the middle of September 2007 (I think it happened on September 13), a light bulb went on and he rolled up his sleeves and got down to the serious business of using his blog as a tool of social media advisement.

The very next day he blogged about some upcoming construction he would be doing on his site (because it was forwarding to another URL). And then, his blogs became serious. I don’t mean painfully, boringly serious. I mean serious as in: A greater majority of posts deliver intentional advisement on successful social media use. (Of course, we saw these earlier but never with the same ferocity).

September 19 was a huge day for Brogan. Until this point, most of his blogs would get 2-20 comments. Sometimes more, but generally around there. Then, on September 19, 2007, Chris wrote a blog post called “100 Blog Posts I Hope You Would Write“. Scoble picked it up, as did Digg and Delicious, and there are 259 comments on that post as of this writing.

In October, Brogan enjoys related success with another list: “100 PodCamp Topics for You to Cover“, which has 104 comments currently.

On November 13, 2007, Brogan posted a blog post about resigning (on good terms) from Pulvermedia and on November 15 he started working at Crosstech Media as VP of Strategy and Technology.

We also see another measurement of Chris’ adoption: On December 2, 2007, he tweets his ten thousandth tweet. That’s 10,000 tweets before most people have even heard of Twitter. And on December 4, we see a continuation of Brogan as social media advisor: He commits to writing his next 100 posts on providing tips, tactics, and ideas to help people more effectively use social media.

One metric we can use is Google Trends. Searches for “Chris Brogan” have increased, as you can see:

We can see the first big spike in news in the middle of 2008 (which Google has labeled “A”). That “A” is linked to a page that is no longer available, although the title of that page is. From MarketWatch: “Social Media Expert Chris Brogan to Speak on Blogs, Social Networks, and More at First Inbound Marketing Summit”. Indeed, Brogan speaks at 4 different events that June.

I should also point out here that Brogan might have broken a record with a blog post called 50 Ideas on Using Twitter for Business. It has 330+ comments, some as recent as just a few days ago. I suspect this blog ranks well and is linked to frequently, and possibly brought a lot of Twitter followers into the Chris Brogan fan club through 2009.

There is also a mention on August 22, 2008 about the book he is writing with Julien Smith. I don’t think this is the first mention of it but I think it’s the first most prominent mention. And, with the amount of speaking and travel Brogan does (i.e., in March 2009) it’s not surprising to see his name trending the way it does.

Now take a look at the jump just past the 2nd quarter of 2009: Boom. Tipping Point. Easily his biggest. That’s the book.

He blogged about it frequently in the critical “marketing months” leading up to publication, and that likely accounted for an increase, but on August 24, the book officially went on sale.

That changed a heck of a lot of things. Attention for Brogan jumped, of course, Blog comments rose to an average of 50 per post. And his posts became even more honed and focused on successful social media.

From that point on, blog comments grew and frequently range from 50 to 200, depending on the topic. Brogan’s schedule remains hectic. He works with 2-3 clients a month, runs New Media Labs (which grew out of CrossTech Media) and speaks frequently. He has hinted that he has other projects lined up for 2010.

I’m actually wondering if we’re seeing another tipping point here. A personal tipping point for Brogan. Time will tell if this is the case, but here’s why I’m thinking this: On February 26, 2010, Brogan introduces an idea of “Anywhen” as he expresses frustration over people trying to connect with him on numerous connection points (i.e. via Twitter and via email) simultaneously. He later writes an Anywhen Manifesto. Brogan is well connected in various media and this makes him easily accessible. For people who are trying to get noticed, it’s the right thing to do. But for someone like Brogan who is now noticed and frequently relied on by paying and non-paying listeners, that accessibility can be too much. (I’m not saying that he’s going to shut down his Twitter account or anything like that, but I’m wondering if he’s going to start putting some distance between himself and his community). Time will tell, but I’m just putting it out there as a possibility.

Update: In a recent blog post, Brogan talks more about this challenge. And he says it well: I had originally called this transition “Chris Brogan Pulls Back” but I realize now that I misspoke. He’s not pulling back; he just needs to redefine his connectedness in light of the increased attention he’s getting.

Not a lot of successful people have so thoroughly chronicled their lives as they rose to fame. But we are fortunate to be able to look through Chris Brogan’s archives to see exactly what he was doing and thinking at each major point in his success.

There is a lot we can learn from Chris Brogan’s ascension.

  • Work hard: Chris posts a lot, he flies everywhere, he speaks a ton. He’s tireless. He basically says as much in this blog post, which is the first of a series called “Overnight Success”.
  • Be consistent: Chris blogs regularly. Like nearly every day. That keeps him in your feedreader; it brings readers back for more.
  • Be persistent: Chris has been blogging forever (or thereabouts). Notice how things took off for him at his tipping point in 2009, and they were rising earlier than that, but years before he was still knocking out blogs.
  • Be willing to change: Yes, in spite of the “be consistent” and “be persistent” tips above, Chris shows us that you need to be willing to evolve. He started writing stories. Then blogging about fitness. He’s come a long way and we can be sure that his journey was not charted back when he was a guy trying to run a marathon.
  • Be real: Chris does a good job of letting himself come through in his blogs. There’s little doubt that the Chris you read is the same Chris you’ll meet in person. Once in a while he has a “Happy Birthday Mom” post in there; that helps.
  • Put yourself out there: This is a corollary to the above “be real”. Chris doesn’t always hit homeruns and he doesn’t always do everything perfect. He’s messed up. I don’t agree with all of his positions on various things. And, with a growing audience comes a fair amount of detractors. But that doesn’t stop him.
  • Connect with others: Chris has done a great job of connecting with others. It seems to have started with reading and reviewing other people’s blogs and commenting on them, and then it became far more intentional as he started attending more and more camps and conferences.
  • Start lots of things: We read how Chris started little side businesses, Grasshopper Media, PodCamps, and more. There were others that I didn’t mention, like Dad-O-Matic. I sense that there are other things in the pipeline right now. Chris is always planting seeds and I think he’s getting better and better at planting the right seeds and cultivating them at the right time.
  • Be an early adopter: Chris was on Twitter before most of us were. He’s tried other things, too. Not all of them panned out but he tried them.
  • Be a passionate adopter: Chris tweeted 10,000 times before most people had heard of Twitter.
  • Build upon your successes: Chris doesn’t have one success a quarter or one success a month and go on to something else. He finds what works and he sticks with it, doing the same smart things over and over.
  • Add value: While not every post is a direct “here’s how to be more successful” post, most of Chris’ posts are highly practical guidance for success in social media and business.
  • Be prepared to redefine what you do: If necessary, change what you do or how you do it so that you can do it more effectively.

See the list above? Take a look at what you do in your business. It doesn’t have to be specific to blogging or Twitter. But you probably work through some kind of media. Regardless of what it is, consider how you can reflect these qualities in your business. What can you do to grow your business?

The success might not come tomorrow or the day after. It can take years. Years! But persevere through those years anyway and someone might be writing about your transitions and tipping points.

Published by Aaron Hoos

Aaron Hoos is a writer, strategist, and investor who builds and optimizes profitable sales funnels. He is the author of The Sales Funnel Bible and other books.

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