The days of build it and they will come are behind us. Content is king and all businesses, whether they like it or not, are in the content business. The smart companies know this and are setting themselves up for long-term success in their markets.
That's all fine, but how can a business get started? I have had the pleasure of interviewing more than 100 smart entrepreneurs. During those conversations, I have noticed a trend in how they built their audiences and then turned those audiences into profitable businesses.
Before you can turn a website visitor into an active and engaged part of your audience or community, you first need to attract them. These steps along the path to building an online audience will enable you to attract your perfect audience member, grow and nourish that relationship, and then monetize it over time.
Here are the six steps along the path to building an audience of rabid fans:
1. Blogging, blogging, and more blogging.
If your business is not blogging, you need to start today. Blogging is no longer about writing thinly veiled sales pitches about your products and services. In fact, don't pitch -- teach, empower and be transparent.
Blogging is your direct line to your audience and a way for you to simply and easily transform passive customers into raving fans. Raving fans are the greatest marketing tool that your business can acquire and you need to make this your focus.
It is no coincidence that more than 90 percent of the guests on Hack the Entrepreneur have been blogging in one place or another for years. It is not surprising that they all concede that a certain level of their success has been attained through their blogs and writing.
2. Podcasting for business.
In just nine months, I have built a massive audience with a single podcast. A single podcast recorded in my basement office in a small town in Canada. In 2015, I can think of no faster way to grow an engaged audience.
Podcasting, like blogging, is a way to reach your potential audience and then build a relationship with them. Due to the personal nature of listening to podcasts via headphones or during commutes, podcasting is a powerful tool that can quickly build a relationship between you and your audience.
One out of three Americans have listened to a podcast. The medium is gaining in popularity and is only just beginning to hit the mainstream. If you haven't started podcasting yet, right now is the perfect time to start podcasting.
3. Upping the ante with webinars.
Like podcasts, webinars are receiving a lot of buzz these days, and for good reason. They work. Webinars are a powerful tool for building email lists and for making sales. Yes, it takes a lot of work to master the art, but so does everything that's worth doing.
A webinar is exactly what the name implies, it is a seminar that is held via the web. You as the host put together a presentation on a topic of your expertise and you get guests to give you your email address to join and watch your presentation. You provide value and knowledge, and your audience learns to know, like and trust you.
If you haven't yet participated in a webinar, either as a host or as part of the audience, it is bound to happen sooner or later. With the software that is available today, technology is no longer a barrier to entry, for anyone to begin harnessing the power of webinars in their business.
4. Building an email list.
Now that you have decided to blog or podcast in your business, you need a way to keep your readers and listeners coming back. Over the years, and with the rise of social media, many people have falsely predicted the demise of email marketing. Yes, marketing online has changed in a lot of ways, but one way that has consistently stayed effective in reaching your audience and turning them into customers, is email.
Email lists are the recurring revenue of audience building. Meaning, you put out great content once, bring your ideal visitor to your site, and then get their email address. Having this email address now allows you to reach out to that visitor repeatedly as you work to turn them from a visitor to part of your audience.
Capturing emails and staying in contact with your prospects is relatively inexpensive or even free to get started. It takes some work to get started, but your email list will become one of your most valuable assets, so it is worth the effort.
5. Using social media to be social.
Most businesses using social media get it wrong. They forget to be social. Social media is the cocktail party of the Internet. You cannot walk into a cocktail party shouting about your product and services, then be surprised when people are turned off by your presence.
Social media is a place to tell the story of your company and how it fits into the lives of your customers. As Gary Vaynerchuk said in his bestselling book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, “A story is at its best when it’s not intrusive, when it brings value to a platform’s consumers, and when it fits in as a natural step along the customer’s path to making a purchase.”
A few years ago, social media was considered the Holy Grail of online marketing. Although, it definitely still holds value in a well-planned marketing plan, social media is also a potential time-suck for a lot of time and resources.
Social media is great if you find the two channels that work best for your business goals. Some businesses will find their audience's on Pinterest and Instagram, while others will only find them on Twitter and Facebook. When you know your audience well enough to know where they are, you will only need to focus on the top two platforms and execute.
For a business to be effective social media it needs to be active and present. By focusing your efforts on just two platforms for now, you will avoid spreading yourself too thin.
6. Being human.
When we are always looking for tips and tricks, we forget how relationships are created. We claim that we want to build relationships with our audiences, yet we typically mean we want them to follow us, but not bother us. This is a recipe for disaster and failed relationships.
How do I introduce myself and talk to other people at a conference when I'm an introvert? Be human, and say "hi.'' Be more interested than interesting.
We all want to build massive platforms and audiences, yet we get caught up in the tactics that we simply forget to be human. You can't build a relationship or an audience with a tactic.
Choose wisely, but choose.
These are the six pillars that have recurred during my interviewing of outstanding entrepreneurs and they are proven and effective in building audiences and businesses. Most businesses will not have the resources to implement all six pillars immediately, so choose those that are best for you.
For maximum benefit, you will need all six, but to get started you need to choose where to focus your energy and resources.
Contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine, Host of the podcast Hack the Entrepreneur