As a media entrepreneur trying to grow my online readership, YouTube viewership and audio listenership, I understand the struggle that is building a tribe. With fewer and fewer gatekeepers, the floodgates have been opened. Now, anyone and everyone is an influencer. This is great, because if it weren’t the case, The Pursuit wouldn’t exist and I wouldn’t have interviewed massive celebrities like Barbara Corcoran and Gary Vaynerchuk and Rachael Ray. It’s also not so great, because more platforms arise and new voices chime in seemingly every day. Many of us have a message to share, but sometimes it seems like the only people that can cut through the noise are early adopters with a head start, or industry veterans with a bigger budget.
Related: How to Be an Influencer
If you search for resources on building your audience, you’ll find many tactical answers and quick tip listicles. This makes sense, because what online entrepreneur doesn’t want an easy formula to grow her tribe, and thus grow her income? But, what about when the tactics don’t work? What if you’ve tried all of the formulas and your email list, subscriber count or download numbers won’t budge?
It’s time to get brutally honest. If your growth has stalled out, or never quite took off like you’d hoped, ask yourself the following questions.
Do I have a crystal clear picture of who I am serving?
I know that you know that we have to have a target audience in mind for our messages and services. The authors and influencers I’ve interviewed have brought this up again and again. We know we need to create an “avatar” that embodies our target’s demo- and psychographics. Knowledge is not the same as execution, however.
Even a multimillionaire influencer like Rachael Ray -- with a giant, international brand -- stays focused on her avatar: the “everyday woman” watching at home. Her audience isn’t interested in fancy recipes or high-end kitchen gadgets, and she keeps that in mind when she launches new shows or product lines.
“Everything we touch or pitch, from producers to writers to editors . . . our label and brand and company and all of our media, everything, is about accessibility,” Ray told me.
If your audience isn’t growing, schedule time this week to actually do the avatar exercise. Challenge yourself to be more specific when you describe your ideal reader, viewer, listener or follower. Also, realize that your brand has probably evolved along with social media changes and industry disruptions -- has it been months or years since you reviewed your target? When is the last time you went through your messaging and marketing materials with a fine-toothed, avatar-focused comb?
Have I honed in on how I can best solve their problems?
It happens to all of us. In an effort to keep up with the competition, or to increase our reach and influence, we start adding on. We add on services that aren’t quite in our wheelhouse. We add bells and whistles that don’t quite fit our vision. Think back to why you started your platform and what your core messages are. Refocus on your top strengths, because that’s how you can add the most value. As James Altucher told me, “Be the best in the world at solving something that really annoys other people.”
Why should they choose me?
Everything has already been said, right? It’s safe to assume that there are a few other influencers in your industry that are also helping people, offering tactics, sharing inspiration, etc. What makes you different? When I had the privilege of interviewing Seth Godin, he told me that the goal is connection and trust. He went on, “I would argue that most people who tweet all the time would not be missed if they stopped tweeting.” Dang. Would your followers miss your tweets?
Personally, I realized recently that although I’m a very different host than other entrepreneur talk show hosts -- read: not yet a millionaire, living in suburbia, bootstrapping the show on my own -- it’s not obvious when you watch an episode. If a viewer digs deeper, he'll see the differences, but the average scrolling passerby won’t. Hence, I’m about to rebrand. It will be painstaking but it will be worth it, because every day a new, awesome interview series pops up, and we won’t all survive the test of time and lasting attention.
If you’re building an influencer brand as a writer, speaker, vlogger, etc. make sure you stand out. The influencer space keeps changing, and fast. Take the hardest look you’ve ever taken at yourself versus the other influencers in your industry -- are you really that different? If not, it’s time to figure out a way to be different. If so, it’s time to make sure you’re clearly communicating your differences in a split-second, scroll-by first impression.
Am I going above and beyond to serve the community members I already have?
This, my fellow content creators, is the big one. It’s so easy to become focused on growth, constantly tracking insights and analytics. It’s easy to look ahead at the goals in the distance, or look off at the competitors who seem to be “ahead of” where you are. It’s hard to be patient and serve where you are. Almost all of my guests have hit this point home: Love and serve the tribe that currently follows you, no matter how small. We’ve heard Gary Vaynerchuk say one is better than zero a million times.
Crystal Paine, author and founder of the now-giant community at moneysavingmom.com, explained her readers-first mentality. “I put everything through the lens of 'Is this a win for my readers?' I turned down thousands and thousands of dollars every single year because it’s not a win for my readers."
Jamie McGuire, a novelist whose self-published works hit The New York Times list again and again, didn’t do any marketing when she started, other than engaging with her existing, small fanbase on social media and in forums. “I just kept myself accessible to my fans on Facebook and talked to my readers, and they did the rest for me.”
Kimra Luna, the founder of Freedom Hackers, a community she quickly grew to over 40,000 members, explained that she would respond to every single question via video. She went on, “I did webinars every single Saturday on the topics that they chose in the group. So I let the group vote . . . . I was just giving them what they wanted and they were just like, This is insane. You're giving so much value right away."
Remember, as noisy as it is today, anyone’s attention is a privilege. Take some time to survey your current audience, read through old feedback, or sit and brainstorm how you can better serve the tribe you have. I think New York Times bestselling memoirist Glennon Doyle Melton said it best:
“It blows my mind that I can type something into Facebook and help people through their day. Even when I had five people, my mantra was 'serve.' If you want to grow, serve the ones you have . . . . Every day just serve your audience, serve your audience, serve the ones you've got -- and then it'll grow."
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