(This article was originally written in 2018, updated for 2020.)
Articles on how to build a fanbase tend to cover tactics like Facebook Ads, collaborations & cross-promotions, and SEO (search engine optimization.)
I’ll share my thoughts on those, but let's start with the most important thing:
A true audience gives you their consistent attention.
The best audience to build is a loyal following that has grown to count on you, and therefore, an audience that you can count on to engage with your content, share it forward, and to consider your products and services when you announce those.
If you don’t start with that understanding, then you’ll do very inefficient things such as buying Facebook Ads to get more “likes” to your fan page. This may actually move you backward, as you end up with thousands of fake fans, giving you the illusion of an audience, but no one you're actually serving.
A fake audience doesn't engage with your content nor buy from you. I’ve seen this happen too many times. This is why the term “vanity metric” exists.
A true audience cares about your content... and about you.
You have developed a feeling of kindred spiritness with your following. They’re not consuming your content in a drive-by fashion, only taking what they need and then disappearing. They are genuinely interested in your journey and growth.
How does this happen?
You have shown genuine caring for your audience, rather than make them feel like they’re part of a marketing funnel. You’ve consistently shown up, so they can count on you. And you share your true journey of ups and downs and what you’re learning. You are authentically you, so they can really trust you.
These are the lasting values of how to approach building a true audience. Each of us will apply them in our own ways.
Now let’s get to the tactics.
There’s a myth that many of us believe in the beginning:
I’ll just post my blog or videos on social media, and the right people will find it!
Once you’ve tried this a few times, you’ll realize the truth:
Unless you already have a true audience, barely anyone saw your content because it was drowned in a sea of millions of other content pieces.
Even if a few people saw it, they weren’t your true audience, so they didn't engage.
This is where paid advertising comes in. It gets your content in front of enough of the right people... as many as your advertising budget can afford.
My favorite is Facebook Ads because you can very specifically select what kind of person you want to reach, with what kinds of interests and demographics. Based on years of successful experience, I now teach an online course about Facebook Ads.
The other major alternative is Google Ads, which allows you to reach people who are searching for the specific topics that you write or talk about. I’ll be teaching a Google Ads course soon. Get notified here: George Kao Launch List.
The simplest, easiest way to build an audience is through paid distribution, aka buying ads to promote your content.
Remember: content needs to be authentic (true to you), consistent (your audience can count on you), and relevant (what the audience cares about.)
Paid distribution is an amplifier of good content, not a substitute.
This is simply where someone else promotes your content, and you also promote theirs. When it’s the right fit between audience and topic, it’s a win-win.
Look for peers in your niche (or a related one) and with a similar-sized audience. See if you genuinely enjoy their content. If so, reach out to them, praise their content (be specific), and ask if they might want to cross promote so that you can help each other grow your audiences.
Include links to 3 of your best pieces of content that might interest their audience.
The way to cross promote will vary. Some partners will share your content in their email newsletter. Some will link to you on their website. Some will post it to their Facebook Page (I recommend paying them $10-20 to have them boost it to their fans.)
The most impactful way to cross promote is with an influencer whose audience is larger than yours. See this article for the method: How to Do Influencer Marketing for Free
Guest Blogging or Interviews
If you find a blog that has a similar audience as yours, they might be interested in having you write an article for their blog. If it's a video channel, they might want to interview you.
For guest blogging, they’ll usually want your article to be exclusive to their blog, at least for a few months, before you “syndicate” it on your own website or elsewhere.
In your guest post, try to link to your own website (perhaps to a specific article or resource) within the article itself. And include the link to your website at the bottom of the blog post, along with your bio. Doing these will help you to build your audience.
Podcast guest-speaking is another tactic, but I don’t love this method because podcast listeners are usually doing something (driving car, walking dog, doing dishes) where they can’t go to your website, no matter how much they liked your episode. The only exception is a podcast with a large audience (at least thousands of downloads per episode). Then perhaps you’ll get some of those listeners to visit your website.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
No article about building an audience would be complete without discussing SEO.
I’ve written that article already so I’ll just refer you there:
Simple Guide to Authentic SEO
Currently, my focus is on Paid Distribution (see tactic #1 above) and some cross promotion, and the occasional podcast that is hosted by a client, or someone with a large enough audience to make it worthwhile.
If I had more time (besides Paid Distribution and Cross Promotion) to build an audience from scratch, I would pay attention to SEO, especially YouTube SEO since that's much easier than trying to rank on Google. For those of you who would love to get into a consistent rhythm with making and marketing your videos, check out my Authentic Video Mastermind.
Keep Returning to Content
Content is King. Distribution is Queen. These are equal forces in building an audience.
If your content is good, and you’ve distributed it well, your true audience will grow.
To keep it sustainable and fulfilling for you, keep returning to your deeper purpose for growing an audience: making a positive impact, and growing your own skills.
Do this and you will be sought out, and referred. You’ll build an audience you love. ❦
George Kao is a Marketing Coach for small business owners, especially solopreneurs such as Coaches and Mentors. He focuses on ethical & effective ways to grow one's platform and build true livelihood.
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