Audience Building: Part Three – How to Find and Build New Audiences

This post was originally published in Ms in the Biz on October 23, 2014

SocratesThis is the third in a series of
Audience Building articles, where I go into depth on the sticking points, the places where I see people take short cuts but are actually quite vital.

This is how to find and build new audiences, not just promoting without annoying your family and friends. Everyone has to actively attract and sustain new people in order to grow their audience.

I practically plastered last month’s article with the cautionary tale of making your first (and subsequent) contact with potential audience conversational, not promotional, so this month I will spend some time explaining the difference. For if you skip this part of your audience building endeavors, you may as well not start. An example:

I once received a tweet that at first glance was an example of excellent targeting; a musical troupe invited me to their Hollywood Fringe Festival show for families. I was impressed that they had found me (I had only recently started looking for shows my son can attend), and the invite tweet was pretty straightforward. However, that festival has its own hashtag (#hff14) and when I clicked on it, the account had sent the same exact tweet to basically everyone who used the hashtag, only a fraction of whom were interested in family-friendly programming. So what at first appeared to be a successful example of audience development turned out to be nothing short of spam. I didn’t see their show, and actually blocked their account. Life is too short for spamming twitter accounts (or auto-posts from Facebook, but that’s another article).

They were spamming in an old-fashioned sense of the word (same text to multiple people with no prior relationship), but clear promotion is just as easy to spot on a network created to be social. Twitter works for audience development when it’s conversational. News outlets can get away with simply blasting headlines, and any twitter account certainly wants to share its own news and links as well as others. When handling the first contact for a potential audience member you’ve found, however, you must start with a light touch. Start by showing interest in them, not drawing attention to you. The good news is that you accomplish this every day. Sometimes in 140 characters, even if you don’t realize it: You talk to people. You talk to people with no agenda of your own except to have a nice, engaging, sometimes enlightening or entertaining conversation (I hope). It works in a similar way on twitter.

For the sake of continuity in this series, I will use twitter as an example. Most of these techniques can easily translate to other platforms, though you should always understand why you are on a platform and whether your target audience actually uses it (discussed in Part 1).

Once you find the people that are part of your target (potential) audience, how to initiate contact? It should be something along these lines:

  • A response to something they tweet
  • A share of one of their blogs, or website, with a reason why you like it or think it’s worthwhile (and tag the author)
  • A re-tweet with a reason why you like their tweet or think it’s worthwhile
  • A hello and introduction to another twitter account with same interests or mission
  • Simply a hello with a short note why you’re following them (but do not send the same or similar tweet to multiple people at the same time. It looks shabby, as described above.)

At the same time that you’re seeking out and engaging in conversation with these folks, be sure your own timeline reflects the mutual interest. Following on the fairy tale theme of Part 2, while you retweet links from fairy tale bloggers and begin to interact with them, you should also tweet on the topic. Easy ways to do this are to discuss Once Upon a Time, or the web series The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, or the book/Broadway musical Peter and the Starcatcher, or Neil Gaiman’s new illustrated Hansel and Gretel. There is no lack of cool things to share on the topic of fairy tales nowadays, and if you are truly passionate about the subject of your work, you should have no trouble finding fun ways to engage people. Begin with what drew you to your passion in the first place.

Just be yourself. Share links that associate you with how you want to be known. If you can engage people enough to share, they will help you build your audience as your process moves along.

Michael Stephens of the Vsauce You Tube channel articulated why people share (emphasis mine).

“Everyone wants to express themselves….but they also do it with knowledge: the things theyknow about the stuff they like. I’ve noticed that the most operative motive behind someone sharing one of my videos, promoting me by word of mouth, isn’t so much about me, as it is about them. Hey! Look what I found. I like this. I am like this. Whenever you share anything, a few of the attributes of that thing reflect back onto you. So I find that the best ways to gain attentive listeners is not to be who your audience wants you to be, but instead make, and say, and do things, that allow your audience to be who they want to be.”

(Remember that these can also be Facebook shares, Pins, etc – the important detail is be sure your target is notified of your action. )

Some examples of how not to begin contact:

  • Asking them to donate to your crowdfunding campaign
  • Asking them to read your link (unless directly related to a question they asked)
  • Telling them about your work, product, show, etc
  • Asking for a Retweet (some celebrities do this but most have personal policies regarding the practice.)

See a pattern? Begin the conversation with someone new as if you have no agenda. You are simply people who have mutual interests and may want to discuss them with each other. After you have a relationship established (and this is more than just one genuine tweet or back and forth, it is weeks and sometimes months), you can lead them to your work. The best case scenario is that your conversation interests them enough to check your twitter profile which, as discussed in our first article, has the link to your work in its bio. Then they follow you, read your tweets in their timeline and become interested in your work on their own, via your own personality and discreet tweets to your own links.

That is your first point of contact with all potential audience members (yes, every single one individually. Welcome to the new age of audience building. It requires patience, time and a genuine passion for what you do). You can even learn quite a bit about your audience while you engage with them – which brings us to Step 4, and what you can find here next month.

I practice what I preach pretty regularly @cindymariej . Check me out there and ask questions!

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