Audiences don’t grow themselves… except when they do.
When you hit a critical mass, the power of word-of-mouth takes over, and the buzz surrounding your work draws in more readers. Unfortunately, to tap into the power of word-of-mouth, you must first have mouths that are actually talking.
And you don’t have an audience.
So how do you develop avid readers when nobody is actually reading your work?
The short answer: stop waiting for your audience to come to you, and start going after your audience.
How do we do this? Here are five actionable steps for finding your readers.
1. Define Your Target Audience
If you don’t know who you’re writing for, you’re never going to find them.
This is bigger than just finding readers. Knowing who you are targeting helps you to vet your content and narrow your topics. It helps keep you on point, and makes your blog relevant and specific rather than diluted and vague. As Joanna Penn reminds us, “…your favorite author isn’t, in your mind, the best because he or she writes objectively better than all of the other writers out there. That author is the best because they write what you want to read.”
In determining who I am writing for, I ask myself these five questions:
- What is my expertise?
- Who needs it and what are they like?
- Why do they need it?
- Where are they?
- Who are they listening to?
The first three questions help us to create content that is relevant and valuable. The last two questions help us focus on where to find our audience. It is the final question that we are about to hone in on.
2. Identify Who That Audience Is Listening To
You may not have an audience, but somebody does.
As Christine DeGraff and Ronnie Bincer point out, “Every industry has ways to measure value, trust and influence. Social Media is no different.” You want to find those people that your industry sees as valuable, trustworthy, and influential.
You can start by identifying the key terms, phrases, and questions that are specific to your niche. Do a search on Google+ for these phrases, and pay attention to who starts showing up. Look at popular articles, and check the ripples (HINT: ‘ripples’ are in the drop-down tab in the upper right of the Google+ post).
Some of these people are going to start appearing in your searches over and over again. You’ll come across their own content, and then you’ll come across other people sharing that content. When you begin to see a pattern of quality material being shared from certain people, grab hold of those people and stick them in your circles. These are your influencers.
3. Get In On The Conversation
Once you know who you audience is listening to, start paying attention to what those people are writing about. Inevitably, you will begin to find ways that your own expertise overlaps with the messages that they are communicating. This provides you an opportunity to engage with them in relevant, substantive ways. Start leaving comments, and get in on the conversation.
Unfortunately, most people stop there. If you have something valuable to add to the conversation, don’t end it at the comment. Use their article as a source for your own, and notify them when you do. This not only boosts their credibility and provides support for your own material, but it also begins the mental shift that is necessary to move you from a consumer to a colleague.
4. Write For Their Audience
Let me remind you why you are going through this process: you don’t have an audience.
So stop writing for your imaginary friends for a moment. Figure out where your ideal audience overlaps with an influencer’s existing readership. Where does your expertise intersect with their audience’s needs? Focus on them.
In other words, you want to give your content clear value for that influencer’s readership, but in ways that overlap with the audience you wish to draw out. Ultimately, if what you write fails to be relevant, then it will fail to be shared.
Of course, just because it is relevant does not mean that it will be shared. We want to up the ante just a bit.
5. Uplift Their Efforts
The first article ever published on this site was shared around 30 times.
The third article broke 1000 shares.
So what was the big difference the two? Simply put, article 3 uplifted the efforts of several important influencers.
I posed a short, simple question to ten very successful blogging and social media professionals, asking them for one piece of advice that they would give to new bloggers. When the article was published, it presented these ten individuals as leaders in their field and placed them next to other recognized leaders in their field.
As a result, the compilation of so many trusted sources in the same article elevated the level of credibility and authority for everyone listed. It’s what Derek Halpern calls “The Rub-Off Effect.”
This made it beneficial for those people to get the article in front of their own audiences, and they did.
If your article is well-written, provides clear value, and supports the efforts of those influencers you are building relationships with, then you have just dramatically improved the odds that it will be shared by them. Make sure to notify them that they are mentioned in your article, and see what happens.
The key philosophical shift here is this: rather than writing content that is designed to draw your readers to you, focus on writing material that can be strategically placed to enable you to go after your readers.
It is a much more active strategy and, when you have no audience, it gets you read.
How do you connect with new audiences? Tell us in the comments. Like this article? Take a moment and share it via the buttons below.