How to Build Your Audience (Without Selling Your Soul)
In the month and a half since I started this blog, I've had to navigate a lot of learning curves. There's countless posts out there just like this one, promising to help you skyrocket your blog traffic or multiply your sales figures. Since anyone visiting this blog can see I'm still new to this, I won't be making any of those promises. Instead, I want to offer a fresh perspective and help out the ones who, like me, are looking for a jumping off point.
It's easy for creators and business owners who have built up a massive following to explain their approaches, but I think there's value to being at the starting line and sharing what you've found useful so far. At least for me, learning a thing or two from a novice feels more accessible. This post is for anyone uncertain of where to start and interested in hearing from someone who understands their position. While I'm not exploding with traffic just yet, these steps have allowed me to slowly but surely improve my numbers each day.
Without further ado, five key ways to build your audience (without selling your soul):
1. Start With a Plan
It's probably tempting to jump into your blog, online business, or social media accounts without a moment's hesitation. But as eager as you may be, having a plan in place is crucial. When will you be posting, and what will those posts entail? What day and time will you be updating your shop? How will you approach connecting with your audience? When you're just starting out, it's okay to not have every aspect of things decided- but it's still important to have a general sense of the direction in which you're heading. Start with your mission statement, your values, and your target audience. Why are you launching this project? What goals do you want to reach, and how can you start to achieve them? Who are the people you want your brand to connect with?
For me, I also made sure to establish a detailed content calendar. This makes it much easier to schedule out posts if, like me, you're working across several platforms. It's a simpler way to track progress and set long term goals by breaking them down into smaller steps each day. I'm a big believer in color coding and found it especially helpful when designing my content calendar. If you'd like to check out the template I use, just follow the link and request access. (Once accepted, you'll want to make a copy of the template to edit on your own). There's countless other templates for content calendars, business outlines, and marketing plans available elsewhere- so do a bit of browsing and find what works best for you and your brand.
2. Authenticity is Key
The simple truth is that if you don't care about about what you're posting, selling, or creating, no one else is going to, either. While I admit I find the whole niche thing a bit stifling, you'll have to establish to some degree a category under which your business, services, or content can fall. This can be as broad as "lifestyle" or as specific as "custom animal portraits." Regardless of your category, make sure it's something you're both knowledgable about and genuinely interested in.
It can be easy to fall into a routine of just pumping out content, so it's important to not lose sight of why you're posting that content. What does it mean to you? How can it provide value to others? Why this medium, and where did your passion for it come from? Ever heard the phrase "buying is feeling?" This encapsulates the importance of sharing your story and giving your audience ways to feel more connected to you, your brand, and your content. Whether subconscious or not, people want to feel a kind of camaraderie with the brands they engage with and/or buy from. By leading with your own values, history, and mission, you'll attract (and maintain) the right kind of audience for your specific purposes.
3. Content, Content, Content
While it's important to believe in the content you're putting out, it's also necessary to be consistent with that content. While crafting your plan from step one, establish how often you'll be posting and/or updating, then commit to this schedule. Content calendars are a great start, but as you begin to grow and put out more content, automated posting tools can be a big help. Two of the most talked about applications I've seen are Tailwind and Later. While the former is primarily for Pinterest, it's also available for Instagram. The latter not only works great for the Gram, but Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest as well. Both apps offer 30 free scheduled posts, so there's no risk in trying them if you're looking to start upping your content output.
Alongside automated posting, the best advice I can give is to start out by focusing on just two social media accounts at a time. While in theory more platforms means more traffic, in practice it can get overwhelming to split your time and energy so many ways. Personally, I chose to focus on Instagram (which boasts high engagement statistics) and Facebook (which my analytics show most of my traffic comes from). If you can start by building your brand and following on two sites at a time, it will make it much easier to gain traffic when and if you decide to expand to other platforms.
4. Engage With Others
Engagement is crucial to not just building, but also maintaining your audience. The worst thing you can do is see your followers as mere numbers; you have to recognize that every sale, comment, and like has a beating heart. If you want your audience to connect with your brand, you have to meet them on a human level and acknowledge that they're individuals. This obviously gets tougher as your following grows, but it also just makes this step more necessary. Don't forget that just like you want your content to be seen, your audience wants to feel heard.
The same can apply to other small businesses and content creators. Avoid engaging with or following anyone and everyone- this is spammy, inauthentic, and isn't going to do you any favors. Instead, take the time to seek out like-minded businesses and creators that you would genuinely like to connect or collaborate with. Consider asking people with similar niches and numbers as you to do a bit of cross promotion. Offer support for and insight on other's posts and products, and they're much more likely to do the same. Reach out to those with larger followings and ask for advice (but don't expect them to do you any bigger favors). Whatever your approach, don't engage with others solely for your own benefit; do be genuine and, without expectation, put in the same effort you'd like to get back.
5. Formulas Exist For a Reason
Of course, all of the typical advice from big name brands and creators is thrown around for a reason. If you're looking to grow your following anywhere online, you'll have to learn a thing or two about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and organic traffic. In other words, how to get your site to the top of search engine results so that people can easily find it after a quick browsing sesh. Now, I'm still learning the intricacies of SEO, but the jist is knowing how to phrase and describe your content so that when someone searches for something in your niche, they'll find your site. This includes optimizing your titles, alternative text, and content itself by using keywords related to what your target audience searches.
The key to optimizing your SEO, like all marketing strategy, lies in understanding this target audience. Do your research and make use of the analytics on your website and social media accounts. What are the common denominators of people viewing your posts? Everything from age to gender, economic status, and device of choice play a part in your traffic and can be used to your advantage. This also includes understanding the best days and times to share your posts. For example, on Instagram you can go to Settings > Insights > Audience, and see a breakdown of all this info. Paying close attention to these details has allowed me to enhance my social media by knowing the times my followers are most active on any given day.
It's also helpful to have some kind of a handle on sales strategy. If you're an online business, this obviously stands to reason- even if you're not, you can recognize that all content involves some degree of selling. If not a physical product, definitely yourself and your brand. Another big tip I have for new creators is to remember that when it comes to social media, hashtags are your friend. They allow people to easily find your posts and immediately understand what they (and you) are about. That said, I encourage you to not overdo it or use irrelevant hashtags just because they're popular. Again, this looks spammy and will ensure people lose all interest in your content. Make a list of relevant hashtags that get the most traffic, and use them as often as you can (when applicable).
So there you have it- the novice's guide to boosting your traffic and building a loyal audience. This is a longer post that my usual, and I've still only begun to scratch the surface. Digital marketing and building your brand are complex topics with a lot of different information and avenues you can take- not every method is going to work for every person, but that's why trial and error is so important.
Get clear on your personal goals and what you want to build, then begin researching the most effective way to do so. Remember that the important thing is believing in not just yourself, but also what you're putting out into the world. Start by identifying a problem, then find a way to present your content as the solution. From there, and by utilizing these strategies, you'll be boosting your traffic in no time.