Audience Growth & Audience Engagement
When it comes to audience development on social media, there are two basic things to focus on: audience growth & audience engagement.
Of course, the first and most important part of any audience development strategy is making sure you have compelling owned content for your audience to consume. In the big picture, as part of the standard content strategy playbook, you're building an audience so you can drive them back to your owned media.
More importantly, your owned media arsenal must already include high quality, gated content offers that specifically appeal to your desired audiences, addressing their unique pain points and helping them solve their problems. If you don't already have this kind of content in place, don't waste your time and budget on social media or blogging or any other kind of content, for that matter. Especially when it comes to B2B marketing, without some way to capture prospect contact information on your website, there is not much point to bringing people to the site to begin with.
Frankly speaking, if you think people will come to your site and be so inspired by your web design and product page copywriting that they'll pick up the phone to request your services, we'd like to inform you that 1995 called and asked you to return their marketing strategy.
If you think people will come to your site and be so inspired by your web design and product page copywriting that they'll pick up the phone to request your services, we'd like to inform you that 1995 called. They wanted us to give you this and asked you to return their marketing strategy.
Needless to say, we’ll assume you’ve already got your gated content offers in place, or you're already working on that separately. Otherwise, as your team is churning away at content production as we speak, or even if your content development process has just begun, using social media for audience development, audience growth and audience engagement are the tactical imperatives to focus on next if you want to eventually get your content seen by the biggest possible audience.
The big picture goal of making content is to get our brand in front of the biggest possible target audience. We especially like the term “target audience” because it quickly conjures the visual metaphor of a “target,” a visual reference of concentric circles that can quickly remind you that your audience is comprised of segments.
The inner most ring—the “bullseye”—might be your existing and potential customers. The next ring might be comprised of important members of your industry niche. And the remaining circles can represent the greater universe of your marketplace, whether that extends across the globe, or only within your region.
As you think about your target audience, define the segments however works best for your brand, but make the hard decisions about where the edges of your target end.
Hint: if you're using “everyone in the English-speaking world” as the last ring, you probably need to spend some more time thinking about the purpose of your content marketing initiative, who it's for, and how you can help them. If you need help with creating persona profiles, check out our resources or send us a note.
It is our opinion, and we argue that it should be your opinion, that if you’re making content, you should be working as hard as you can to get that content in front of as many interested eyeballs as possible. The key to this philosophy is, of course, the part that points out that these potential audience members should be interested in your content. And this latter point is a matter of content ethics. Don’t put your content in front of people who are not interested in your content. We call this “content pollution.” As content makers we have a central obligation and ethical responsibility to not create content pollution.
Don’t put your content in front of people who are not interested in your content. As content makers we have a central obligation to not create content pollution.
This is an important point because it means that your job as a content maker is not only about creating your message, and doing so in a high quality way, but also making sure that the people you intrude upon with your message are, as far as you can tell, likely to be interested in what you have to say.
Generally speaking, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are the “Big 3” when it comes to social media. Depending on your desired audiences, you can get some mileage out of Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Medium and other platforms, but for our purposes today we’ll focus on tactics for Twitter.
There are a couple reasons for this. First, while Twitter is not the most popular social medium in terms of sheer numbers of users, it is more than likely the best place for you to find engaged users and influential contributors in your domain. While it may not be every influencer's favorite medium, it is more or less required that thought leaders—in every domain—maintain a presence on Twitter.
Facebook thinks of its users as belonging to them, not you, no matter if they are fans of your brand pages on Facebook or not.
Also, from a practical perspective, you can get up and running on Twitter very quickly and at no cost, and you can start to see meaningful results in a relatively short period of time. You may be able to market your content to a higher number of users on a platform like Facebook, but you will have to pay handsomely for the privilege, and the scope of your visibility will always be limited by your budget.
In other words, think of Facebook as leased property. Facebook thinks of its users as belonging to them, not you, no matter if they are fans of your brand pages on Facebook or not.
This brings me to an important point that is perhaps most famously encapsulated by Guy Kawasaki that goes something like: If you have more money than brains, you should focus on paid media. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on owned media.
While you can certainly amplify your reach by doing paid promotions on Twitter, you can also always predictably engage your fans and followers free of charge. Not so with Facebook.
If you have more money than brains, you should focus on paid media. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on owned media.
As always, if you’re a content maker with more money than brains, there are many more options available to you to amplify your content. But, be careful, because having more money than brains makes the content ethics issue I just mentioned a much bigger problem. Content distributed by brands with more money than brains almost always creates collateral content pollution. And like any kind of pollution, content pollution isn’t just bad for your brand, it’s bad for everyone.
So, where to start with your Audience Growth and Engagement Strategy? Assuming that you have the design basics covered—you have all of your brand identity modified for social, including a logo that is immediately recognizable on all screen sizes and your cover photo, color schemes and the rest of your a profile page has been brought up to spec.
If your page suffers from poor design, like anything else with poor design, you’re going to see significantly diminished results.
So next item, do your homework. Do an audit and analysis to answer the following kinds of questions:
- Are the leading influencers in your domain on Twitter?
- What does their social footprint look like?
- How many followers?
- How many posts per day?
- What content are influencers sharing and how is it performing?
- How are your competitors performing?
- What kind of content is resonating well in your domain? What formats
Aside from doing some exhaustive Twitter searching, there are lots of tools you can use to figure this out. Our favorites, as always, are Moz’s Followerwonk and BuzzSumo. And another less talked about tool that we returns a lot of value for this work is called SocialRank. But there are literally hundreds of social tools out there—figure out which ones you like best and deploy them as needed to better understand your social symbolscape.
Just because you have a brand and message that fits into this domain doesn’t necessarily mean people will care about your brand.
The purpose of this research is to figure out a couple important things about your audience. First of all, where are they? If you can find your competitors, official publications in your domain, and thought leaders and influencers in your domain, then obviously you can find your audience because the people following these accounts will naturally be the same people who would want to follow your account.
But the next question then is, why will they want to follow your account? And how would you convince them to do so?
Just because you have a brand and message that fits into this domain doesn’t necessarily mean these people will care about you and your brand. So how do you make them care?
The lowest bar to social media success is content curation. And let’s be honest here that we’re using the term “curate” very loosely. Your job is not to assume the role of curator like you might find in a museum of natural history. Success in social media does not mean providing a “guided tour to the Internet.” In fact, a key insight to understand about social media, if not brand marketing in general, is that “you’re not that important.”
One of the biggest challenges we see content makers and marketing professionals struggling with is an overinflated sense of the importance or centrality of their brand to the lives of their audience.
You really don’t matter all that much. And more importantly, your goal is not to try to matter. Your mission is not to be the God of your audience’s universe. Your goal is to be a helpful friend, a well-informed friend, a neighbor—not a salesperson, and definitely not a priest.
The best way to fill this role on social media is to share helpful content, and mostly content that is produced by other people, not you.
One of the biggest challenges we see content marketing professionals struggling with is an overinflated sense of the importance of their brand.
To a large degree, this is the cultural function of social media—it is now the primary realm of digital culture where people share content. It’s why we call it “social” media. Nobody likes people in everyday life who constantly talk about themselves. People do like those that offer them help and insights and make their lives easier.
So to participate at all in social media you have to share helpful and insightful content. But where to find content to share?
Again, back to the marketing technology stack. As always, folks with more money than brains can buy any number of tools to help find compelling content, but to date we haven’t found anything that outperforms the combination of Google and the human brain.
When I say Google, I mean more specifically Google Alerts. Part of your research, and part of being an expert in your brand, is knowing what keywords and key phrases are important to your audiences. And a big tip here, to get the most mileage out of Google Alerts, you have to use Google’s advanced search operators.
Now of course, yes, from time to time, in addition to curating great content, you do want to share your own content. After all, that is the point of developing an audience in the first place.
But building and maintaining your relationship with your audience is arguably the most important part of the equation, and being a jerk on social media—talking about yourself ad nauseam—is a surefire way to destroy whatever good will you’ve accumulated for your brand.
The Endless Scroll
This brings us to timing and frequency on Twitter. To understand how often you should be posting on Twitter, you have to think about how people actually use Twitter.
There’s no easy way to wrap your head around this without actually using the medium yourself, so I strongly recommend you make a personal account if you don’t already have one. Follow brands and people you care about, and start watching how Twitter is done.
Diving into Twitter will teach you the nuances and subtleties of interaction and communications on the platform. In doing so, you will find a couple of things that stand out. First of all, there is a ton of information shared on Twitter every second.
If the average user is following a few hundred accounts, their feeds are going be bombarded with Tweets from those hundreds of users. Now, when someone loads up their Twitter app on their phone, the vast majority are not going to dig back into their feed to start at the point where they left off, they’re going to dive right into the stream and go from there. They will spend a few minutes looking at their feed, maybe jump around a bit, click a few links, and then inevitably a new distraction calls them back to the “real world” and life goes on.
The window of impression between cat memes and news stories produced by major media outlets is your opportunity to make an impact. You have only those fleeting interstices to make your mark, so you better be sharing something interesting and useful to your audience, or your brand will fly right by as the endless scroll continues.
Also, and this one is important, very rarely will a user come to your actual Twitter profile page. Instead, most users will spend the majority of their time defining their experience through their own feed, browsing content shared by the people they follow, and interacting with the Twitter community via mentions and retweets.
This is important for you as a brand content maker because it reveals to you that, even if you have tens of thousands of followers, only a few of your followers are going to be online at any given moment. So if you are not sending out your Tweets at a very frequent and regular interval, your communications are not being seen.
Building a Following
Okay, so now you’ve done your research so you have a strong map for understanding your domain. You’re following all the main influencers in your domain, you're following the journals of record in your industry and you have created a system to identify and share great content that your audience will be interested in.
Well, first of all, just start. Start tweeting, start liking and “retweeting” great content. See if you can add value to conversations by replying to existing threads. Get in there and have some fun.
But also, start following your desired audience! Twitter users are not going to miraculously discover your account. You need to go follow them first. If you are making a meaningful contribution to the Twittersphere, they will follow you back. If you are doing that, on average, you can expect a meaningful portion of the people you follow to follow you back.
It is very important to note that Twitter discourages “bulk following” and “bulk unfollowing” and you should always follow terms of service to make sure your accounts remain in good standing. But Twitter is made for social interaction, and following people is arguably the primary way you can be “social” on Twitter, letting them know you’re interested in what they have to say. If you find that they are uninterested in your content, or they make contributions you find unsavory, you can always unfollow them later.
Over time, as you continue to provide great content and find users who are interested in your topics, you will begin to build a meaningful following.
Who cares? Why build a following on Twitter anyway? What will we get out of this?
This, of course, is the most important thing to understand about your social media strategy. You are participating in the digital conversation because this is where the conversation with your audience (your prospects, leads and eventually your customers) is taking place.
The more of a following you build, the more “authority” you wield. The more perceived authority you have, the easier it is to engage more fans.
But more importantly, in addition to engaging users and building digital relationships that can be nurtured to conversion, you are using social as a distribution channel. Your content is making it’s way in front of your audience and, if you’re doing it right, is being shared by influencers in your domain.
As the snowball grows, the more of a following you build, the more “authority” you wield. The more perceived authority you have, the easier it is to engage more influencers and cultivate deeper engagement with other fans, slowly building thought leadership for your own ventures.