Building a Committed Audience Online
“If you build it, they will come,” is a great movie quote, but as a motto for content marketers, not so much. While it would be nice to imagine that growing an audience for your company blog is as easy as writing a post and hitting the “publish” button, the fact is far from the fantasy.
But just because it isn’t easy doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort. Doing the work to organically grow a loyal audience of fans and brand ambassadors is one of the best investments you can make in your digital marketing efforts—it really does pay off over the long haul, and the benefits keep multiplying over time.
If you’re new to blogging, social media, and content marketing in general, or are looking for ways to improve the effectiveness of your existing digital outreach, check out these tips for cultivating a committed audience.
Focus on Audience Ownership
Your email list is the only audience you truly own, and it’s the only place you can truly control the content your audience sees. Other audiences, such as your Facebook friends, your Twitter followers, and even your display ad audience from Taboola, for example, is really only borrowed, and depends on algorithms and other variables out of your control.
Take a look at what happened to engagement for top brands last year when Facebook changed its algorithm to limit organic reach:
Before After Change
?Disney 2,956,000 2,434,000 -21.4%
?Mercedes Benz 2,375,000 1,158,000 -51.2%
?Starbucks 1,136,000 875,000 -29.4%
?Tiffany & Co 1,045,000 585,000 -44.0%
?Audi 910,000 48,000 -94.8%
If this was your business, and you were counting on Facebook engagement to help you meet your marketing goals, you’d be in a world of hurt through no fault of your own.
Your email list, on the other hand, is more stable and is full of customers far more likely to convert than your other online audiences. Here are some actionable tips to help you grow your email list:
?Deliver excellent content (more on that in a minute).
?Add social sharing and “email to a friend” buttons to your marketing emails.
?Offer different subscription types so you can more carefully target the information you send your subscribers.
?Use opt-in forms strategically—on your website, next to employee signatures on email, on your Facebook business page, etc.
?Create valuable gated content and promote it on your social channels to collect subscribers.
?Co-market on a partner’s newsletter.
?Host a social media contest that requires an email address to participate.
?Offer an incentive such as a free product or one-time discount in exchange for subscribing.
The average email list decays at a rate of about 20 percent a year, from factors including job change, churn, etc., so these tips will help you keep a steady flow of subscribers to replace decay as well as organically grow your email audience.
Create Quality Content
Image via Flickr by Gavin Llewellyn
This should be a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at how many marketers believe that quantity is more important than quality when it comes to publishing content. They’ve committed themselves to an ambitious content schedule that leaves little time for brainstorming epic content ideas, doing the research to come up with truly valuable information, and investing in pleasing and eye-catching graphic design.
Here’s what happens when you push out a lot of mediocre content: You might get a lot of initial interest, measured in clicks, but your engagement drops off, and pretty soon, your audience dries up. It’s not doing your business any good if one thousand people click on your content, glance at it, and click away without reading. And that leads us to the golden rule of audience outreach:
The quality of your content directly correlates to the quality of your audience.
If you want a committed audience that keeps coming back and promotes your brand to their friends and social networks, you must give them content that interests and engages them—content that’s valuable.
How do you know if your content is valuable? You need to track the metrics that matter when it comes to engagement:
➤Traffic by channel/source – You need to know how your visitors get to your site; pay special attention to the trajectory of the number of direct visitors (those who type your URL into their address bar), and those that arrive from your social posts and email links.
➤The number of and ratio of new and return visitors – More return visitors show your content is valuable and you are creating a “sticky” audience.
➤Time on site – As this metric grows, you’ll know that you’re creating useful content that your audience wants to read.
➤Interactions per visit – This number will help you gauge how your site is being used by your audience; are they leaving reviews, downloading a case study, reading multiple pages?
Remember: It’s much better to have 100 committed readers who come back often and interact with and share your content than 1,000 casual visitors who click through and find nothing of interest. Know who your committed readers are, and create in-depth, long-form, high quality content that engages and interests them. Content that meets these three criteria:
?It contains exclusive information, or information not easily available elsewhere. Think case studies, interviews, in-depth product reviews, how-to tutorials and videos that solve a problem for your audience, detailed guides, etc.
?It provides real value. Is it actionable? Does it answer an emotional or intellectual need? Does it treat the subject matter with depth and detail from a unique perspective?
?It is attractive to the eye and easy to read. If you’re writing posts for your company blog, follow best practices for web copy—shorter paragraphs, scannable content, punchy headlines. If you’re creating a lead magnet or other high value asset, invest in the best graphic design your budget allows.
Be Where Your Audience Likes to Hang Out
Do you know where your audience prefers to go to get information or social interaction, or to be entertained? Have you done the work on your buyer persona to know which social channels your audience prefers? This information is important, because it tells you several things, such as:
➼The type of content that works best with your audience. If your audience is comprised of heavy LinkedIn users, you know that in-depth content such as white papers, case studies, and opinion pieces interest them. If they live for their Pinterest boards, your content will take a markedly different form.
➼How to reach out and engage with your audience. In the LinkedIn example, groups and discussions are a natural framework for building the kind of relationships that lead to committed audiences. If Google+ is popular with your fans, a Hangout is a way to engage.
➼How often you should publish and interact with your audience. Unlike Facebook users who check in multiple times a day for several minutes at a time, LinkedIn users check in once every few days for a longer session, and they use the platform for business-related purposes: To stay up on industry trends, find trade show info, research job opportunities and/or potential business partnerships, and to network with other professionals.
Of course, you can—and should—maintain a presence on more than one social channel and promote your content across them all, but a laser-like focus on the needs of your core audience will have much better results than a blanket approach to your social media outreach.
Focus On Organic Search
To find and grow a committed following, you need to create content that the people who are a natural fit for your target audience are searching for online. When you optimize your online content for organic search, you accomplish two goals:
- You actually create the type of content your audience is interested in and looking for, and
- You tell search engines what is actually in your content so that it finds its way to your audience when they are looking for it.
You can find a ton of information on SEO for small businesses, but for purposes of building a committed audience, we’ll focus on the right keywords to boost organic search results.
Finding Your Keywords
“Keyword” is misleading, because when you are looking for an audience that will be highly engaged and committed, you are drilling down much deeper than a generic keyword or two; you’re looking for a niche.
Imagine you’re marketing your e-commerce site, which sells products to restore antique furniture, including upholstery fabrics and hard-to-find replacement hardware. You could write 2,000-word article optimized for “antique furniture restoration,” and you might generate some organic traffic.
But—people who search for “antique furniture restoration” could be looking for anything from a local shop to refinish a table to information on how to restore Aunt Millie’s Hoosier cabinet. It’s virtually impossible to create content that will engage and address the needs of everyone who queries those keywords.
Now imagine that you wrote a detailed guide on reupholstering Victorian chairs, and optimized it for primary and secondary long-tail keywords on the topic (reupholster vintage chair, reproduction Victorian fabrics, DIY reupholster Victorian chair, for example). Visualize the person who searches for that hyper-specific information and compare it to the person who searches for “antique furniture restoration,” and think about the needs and passions of each.
Your upholstery guide will definitely satisfy the needs of pretty much everyone who searched for those keywords. If you’ve linked to other valuable content on your site, such as your product page for reproduction fabrics, your video tutorial on how to measure and cut upholstery fabric, and your before-and-after gallery of reupholstered chairs, your visitor will stay on your site for a long time, interacting with several pages. He’ll probably even sign up for your email newsletter, or failing that, give up his email address in exchange for your ebook on finding hidden treasures at estate sales.
In short, he’ll become a committed member of your online audience, a return visitor and potential brand advocate who shares your content with like-minded friends in his social network.
A Word About Local SEO
If you’re a local small business, your most committed audience might well be with customers in your geographic location. To expand your local audience, incorporate your location in blog post titles and headings within your online content. Be sure to publish content that describes your area and ties you to your community; blog about the local high school sports teams, for example, or the dog show at the park across the street. These cues will help search engine crawlers identify you as a local business and boost your local search results, helping you attract a more engaged local audience.
The bottom line? A thoughtful approach to organic search is your best friend in finding and attracting an engaged audience who will help you grow your brand.
Engage with Your Audience
Image via Hootsuite
If you’re doing your job publishing interesting and useful content, you should expect (and encourage!) comments and feedback. Take the time to respond to relevant comments and engage with your most active readers. If someone in your audience asks for more information about a specific topic, and it’s within your skill set to deliver it, publish a blog post or article that answers their questions. These personal interactions go a long way toward building sticky followers.
The same goes with your social media followers—you should respond to direct questions, comments, and mentions in a timely manner. Monitor your social media accounts regularly throughout the day; you can use some of the social media monitoring tools to help you stay on top of your mentions.
While it’s always more rewarding to engage with your fans and positive mentions, it’s extremely important to make timely responses to your negative comments, as well. Social media is a very public platform, and how you handle your hecklers and detractors is just as important as your interactions with your satisfied followers.
In the end, building a committed online audience really comes down to understanding what interests and excites your readers, and publishing unique and valuable content that addresses them. Whether your readers come to you for information, expertise, or a novel take on the human condition, they’ll come back again and again, bringing others in their social network with them, as long as you’re meeting their expectations.