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4 Ways to Build An Online Audience

John Doherty —  July 5, 2012
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What if I told you that you don’t need a ton of followers to be successful online? And what if I told you that you should not even think about having an audience? What if I told you that thinking you need a lot of followers is the wrong way to go to actually gain a lot of followers?

You Don’t Need 10,000 Followers

If you get nothing else from this post, you don’t need 10,000 followers. What you need is 10 engaged followers who will share you stuff to their engaged followers. We talked about reach a few weeks ago in my personal branding post. This is how you gain a larger audience that keeps giving back to you – finding people who have reach that you can make friends with.

Business is all about who you know, not how many people you know. Think about it. Would you rather have 1,000 people in your phone book that wouldn’t help you out, or 10 that you know you could call and they would do whatever is in their power to help you?

If you’re smart, you’ll take the second option.

Identifying These Influencers

So you’re new to your field of work and you’re looking for places to go to find the online influencers. One of the best tools you can use is Topsy’s Experts search. Go to topsy.com/experts and type in your keywords.

Or, go to Topsy and enter a popular blog post or article from your industry. Sort by “Only Shared by Influencers” down at the bottom (pro tip – http://topsy.com/(your domain)/?infonly=1), and you’ll instantly have a list of influential people online who not only are already reading content in your vertical, but who are also sharing it. Follow them on Twitter and engage.

Now you need to become a publisher yourself.

Have a Home

If you don’t have a platform from which to share your thoughts, you’re pretty much doing it wrong. Your platform can be your company’s blog or you own, but you need a place where you can put evergreen and longform thoughts and publish for the world to see.

This is your home. My home is this blog, but I also use periphery “homes” such as Twitter and Google+ to create and curate content. When you curate quality content, you begin to become known as someone who enjoys good content and as someone who is approachable. Plus, you begin to get the attention of those whose content you are sharing.

The point of the periphery “homes” that you use, where your potential audience is as well, is to engage in conversation, yes, but also to drive traffic back to your main Internet home.

Have An Opinion

At a recent Distilled meetup, someone asked Dan Shure how to built thought leadership in a space. I thought his answer was brilliant:

“Have an opinion”

The Internet 2.0 is about conversation and collaboration. Internet 1.0 was about broadcasting your message; Internet 2.0 is about conversation and the free flow of ideas. The “yes” man or woman does not engage in these conversations, or tries to engage but never gets anywhere.

Having an opinion, and then writing about it and encouraging conversation on your Internet home, lets you bring the conversation back to your home base. Now you have conversation going on your site, which brings more traffic when others share about that conversation to their reach.

Seeing a pattern here?

Final Points

One final point is that you should focus your attention on those who matter and who you enjoy. It’s not helpful to be on the radar of an influencer that you or no one else likes or respects, even if they have a large reach. You won’t end up building an audience and will be wasting your time ultimately.

Case Study

I have a brief case study about having an audience. Remember at the beginning when I said that you don’t need an audience of 10,000, but rather an audience of 10 who are highly engaged.

Neil Patel, who has over 120,000 followers on Twitter, recently published a great blog post about strategies for optimizing your website from a content perspective. He wrote about many strategies and tactics that I have seen covered in other places, but put them all together in one place that could now become a go-to place when beginners are starting to learn about SEO and website strategy.

Something interesting happened when Neil shared this post. He posted the link on both Twitter and Google+ . I also shared it on Google+. But, even though it’s Neil’s post, I got more social reach on Google+ than he did! And he wrote the post!

See, Neil has built up a sizeable audience online through his popular blogs (QuickSprout is the latest) and companies (KissMetrics, and he gets shares by virtue of being a well known blogger. But I would say that he has an audience of quantity, not an audience of quality per se.

So Neil has a ton more followers than I do on Twitter, yet I have just as much reach in the social sphere because my audience is engaged.

I should also point out that Neil is kind of doing it right too. He has a large quantity of followers, which leads to more followers and lot of people auto-tweeting his posts. Because he has this reach, he gets people who have reach sharing his stuff as well, which amplifies his reach. So he’s not doing it wrong per se, he’s just missing out on an opportunity.


I’m going to flesh these thoughts and more out in my new ebook, Blog Marketing for Winners. I’d love it if you’d sign up to hear when it launches!

  

John Doherty

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I'm the new (as of October 2013) Online Marketing Manager of Hotpads.com, soon to be based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, explore new and interesting food in New York, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

8 responses to 4 Ways to Build An Online Audience

  1. John,

    I posted this comment earlier but not sure it worked.

    I am currently trying to build my online audience. I have recently started a blog and am learning as a I go. Coincidently before this post, I had been striving for more Twitter followers, and it was not working well. I am excited to try your suggestions from this blogpost.

    Also, I like how you called one’s blog a “home.” I had never thought of it that way before.

    Thanks again,
    Brendan

  2. Hi John,

    thank you for another good hint.
    BTW, what is the name of that tool that gives you this circles diagramm? Google Cirlces or what?

    Thank you.
    Slava

  3. Nice post, this is an excellent analagy :

    “Think about it. Would you rather have 1,000 people in your phone book that wouldn’t help you out, or 10 that you know you could call and they would do whatever is in their power to help you?”

    Also depends on the niche, Web Design + SEO heavily saturated, would say it would be easier to get a good following in more specialist areas.

  4. Got your point there, We share the same belief and I guess it is more effective to have people who are willing to reach you out rather than having thousands of people who seems to doesn’t care at all.

  5. Hi John,

    Thank you for sharing an offline marketing concept that easily carries over into the world of online marketing:

    “Quality Over Quantity”

    Further, I’m fully in agreement with the “you need a home” mantra. Often times, businesses will ask us how they can get on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking sites to expand the digital reach of their message.

    And just after they bring that up, we reveal to them the value-adding function of these tools: to drive customers to your website.

    (Light bulb moment)

    Until we really begin educating businesses on the need to create and optimize their ‘home’ (typically, their website), social networking sites have a finite amount of value in their overall web marketing efforts.

    Again, excellent post on a heavily debated topic. Love the perspective, and appreciate the ‘practice what you preach’ style … “Have an opinion”.

    Thanks!

    Jeremy

  6. Love this post, and love the concept of have an opinion. reminders of a Tedx I saw about Start With Why, another great concept for our own businesses as well as for clients. Cheers!