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7 Things You Must Do to Grow a Fanatical Following Online Even with technology at their fingertips, your audience members want to hear real stories and connect in meaningful ways. Give them that, and they'll become loyal followers.

By Daniel Marlin

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Whether you're looking to grow a company or build a personal brand, a strong online presence is essential. But while most people obsess over superficial things such as the number of fans on their Facebook pages, they fail to focus on what really matters: their audience's loyalty and engagement.

Yes, the size of your audience matters -- but the most fruitful results will come from the quality of the people you attract, their alignment with your goals and values and the enthusiasm with which they engage with your content.

Here are seven things you must do to grow a fanatical online following.

1. Find and communicate your unique purpose.

Everyone has role models. At some point, each of us has felt compelled to be more like them. After all, if we copy what they've done to achieve success, we'll be successful, too, right?

Unfortunately, that's not how it works when it comes to building a solid online following. As prolific podcaster John Lee Dumas says, "People aren't interested in following imitations. They want your unique voice, not an interpretation of someone you admire."

If you're setting yourself up as a replica of another person, your audience will lose interest, move on and follow the real thing. That's why it's important to spend time finding and developing your purpose. Then, focus on communicating it relentlessly with your unique voice.

Related: A CEO's Main Focus Should Be Improving Company Culture

2. Focus on something bigger than yourself.

If you don't know the driving reasons behind your actions, you'll struggle to consistently work toward your goals. The same holds true for growing your following.

According to Elite Daily founder Gerard Adams, "It's the sense of passion and purpose that comes from aligning your brand with something bigger than yourself that'll ultimately force people to take notice of you."

People tend to shy away from brands and content they perceive to be self-serving. If you want to stand out online, do some soul-searching and align yourself with ideals that your audience feels passionately about.

Related: 4 Tips for a Successful Content Strategy

3. Never assume your followers have identical interests.

It's tempting to assume all your followers are interested in the same things. They all liked your page, right?

Your content communicates ideas that revolve around a central theme, but each follower has unique goals, fears and interests. All of these influence how an individual will interact and engage with the messages you create.

National best-selling author Ryan Levesque earned his degree in neuroscience. He points out that blasting a generic message to your entire audience only will dilute its power. Instead, you must identify segments within your audience. Work to understand which motivations, interests and other psychological factors make these segments different from one another. Tailor specific messages that will resonate with each segment.

For example, if you're selling water purifiers, some people filter water for health reasons, some people care only about the taste and others do it to save money. All of these people are interested in the general topic of water purification, but their specific interest is nuanced. Treating them as a single, generic audience will be doing them and your brand a disservice.

Related: 10 Steps to Creating an Engaging Digital Experience

4. Focus 100% on quality.

Some people think the more content they make, the more people will engage with it and follow them. But in a time of content overload, it's a mistake to prioritize quantity.

Focus instead on creating the absolute best quality content within your area of expertise. It's a time-consuming process, to be sure. You won't be able to churn out copy, videos or other content as regularly as some people think is necessary. But if you want to maintain a loyal and captivated audience, you can't simply stand out -- you have to blow people away.

SEO genius Brian Dean has a remarkably simple formula to ensure your content is better than your competitor's:

  • Google something related to your industry.
  • Click on the first three to five links on the search-results page. Treat the content on these pages as the benchmark against which you'll compare your own.
  • Identify each piece's strengths as well as note how each could be improved. This gives you actionable steps to make your content even better than these examples. If a blog post contains too much text, include more images in your content. If a web page omits important information, research to fill in the gaps. If an article is too wordy or difficult to understand, invest time to make the writing succinct and clear.

Related: 3 Social Media Trends That Need to Be on Your Radar for the Rest of This Year

5. Spend more time promoting your content than you do creating it.

You've just finished writing hands-down the best blog post about something in your industry. It's taken all week. But despite the hours you invested in making it compelling, nobody seems to be reading it.

Digital marketing expert Derek Halpern attributes this to a fundamental flaw in how we think about content creation. "People spend their time creating more content for the same audience, when in actual fact they should be focusing on getting their existing content in front of more people," he says.

Halpern refers to this principle as the 80/20 rule of promotion and creation. You should spend 20 percent of your time creating a piece of content and 80 percent of your time ensuring the right people see that piece. In this way, you consistently increase online exposure for your business and ideas.

Related: How Much Should You Invest in Content Marketing?

6. Use storytelling to create rapport at scale.

A major hurdle presents itself when you attempt to talk to thousands of people at the same time: a lack of intimacy. It's all very well to create engaging and informative content, but if people don't connect with you on a personal level, you'll have their attention -- but no loyalty.

Fortunately, serial entrepreneur Mike Dillard suggests an easy way to create this sense of intimacy at scale. It centers on building group rapport through empathy.

If you can create a common bond with someone based on shared experiences, problems or frustrations, your content is far more likely to resonate with them. This is best achieved through storytelling. You might present a series of recollections about the challenges you've faced and the processes of self-discovery that led to your solutions.

Related: Solving the Engagement Conundrum Through Brain Science

7. Selflessly help others.

Let's be honest: Today's social media features a lot of self-promotion and egocentricity. Sam Hurley, one of the world's best-regarded digital marketers, refers to this as the "Me, Me, Me Mentality."

Smart marketers understand that building an audience is as much about developing relationships as it is about attracting fans. And you can't build genuine relationships if all you do is take and give nothing in return.

You must invest time talking to, learning from and helping individual audience members. This doesn't mean spending all your valuable time helping people for free. But it's important to develop a human relationship with your followers early on. They will become your most ardent supporters and most active contributors online in the future.

Content trends come and go, algorithms change, and follower counts ebb and flow. Social media is a constantly evolving ecosystem, and it's important to keep up with the times. These insights undoubtedly will help differentiate your brand online and attract loyal followers. Remember, though, that growing an audience always has been (and always will be) about connecting with real people. These people have different interests and shared frustrations. And they want to hear your unique story.

Daniel Marlin

Entrepreneur, marketer, business consultant.

Daniel Marlin is a business and digital marketing consultant. His insights have been mentioned on Forbes, Mashable, Entrepreneur and other large publications. Follow him on Twitter to get all his latest writing.

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