Nov 20, 2013

Earning an online audiences of value

It's a soapbox. To stand on.
Every few days I see a post in a social media channel from someone asking: "What are some of your tips and tricks to get more followers on Google+ [or other social media site]?" Seeking nothing more than stupid tips and tricks.

All I can think of is that they're thinking about it all wrong. Quality audiences are not gotten, they are earned. Audience Development. How they are earned will make a huge difference in the value that you derive from the audience you create, and whether it returns value to your goals (ROI) or is simply an exercise in Ego.

This is not a how-to, but instead some great discussions by smart and interesting people to incorporate into your social media strategies.

This post continues to be added to, with the current sections being:

Focusing on the size of the audience is the wrong approach


Focusing on getting followers is lowering yourself to the lowest possible denominator, essentially whoring yourself. Employing tactics like sharing the meme of the day, cat photos with sayings on them, or pictures that someone else took. Sure, maybe you'll get followers because of that, but those followers will be useless to you as they followed you because of the content you were sharing (the junk), not the content (of your own) that you should have been sharing. This is also part of the fallacy of Klout that we've spoken of before.

Sometimes I get caught up in the numbers game like so many on here and on other social media sites. I see the "rock stars" on G+ with a few million followers, who get the hundred or so +1s all the time, and yes, it's easy to get discouraged. Why aren't I getting that kind of response?!

But then I realize this: I'm engaging with my audience, the people that have deemed me worth circling, at a significantly higher rate than many of those rock stars. My "action per follower" rate is significantly higher than most of those rock stars, and while it's not growing at an astronomical rate, it continues to grow and I continue to see greater and greater results on my posts. And when I share a post of value, they comment and engage, not ignoring it because it wasn't a cat meme image.


Don't support mega shared circles and other MLM techniques


In most social networks there are always schemes to quickly acquire lots of followers. For example, in LinkedIn, it's the LIONs (LinkedIn Open Networkers). In Google+ it's the circle shares. Circle shares are a great piece of organizational programming that, unfortunately has potentially awful uses. Circles are how you organize the people, while also setting "volume" controls on those circles. But circles can also be shared, with the idea being that you could put together a circle of your favorite people on a specific subject and share it with someone, your followers, or the general public.

In a detailed post John Skeats talks at length about circles, sharing circles, and cautionary reasoning for why you should be very careful about participating in them.




Remember, easy come, easy go. If you're not earning that audience, how valuable is it anyway?


Link-dumping (or link-spamming) is bad, okay?


If you're new to a site such as Google+ you'll likely see Communities full of people just sharing links to their sites and blog posts with messages such as "read my latest post!" Regardless of what everyone else might be doing, don't go around joining Communities and (link-spamming/link-dumping) links to your blog and new blog posts. This is not a good way to earn an audience, and will not result in increased traffic to your blog. Why? Because you haven't earned anyone's eyeballs yet.




Instead, it will likely get your share removed, get you kicked out of the Community, get your account flagged as spam (making it so that all of your link-shares get placed in a moderate queue, and in general turn people off from you and your site. All those people are doing it wrong and it will eventually backfire on them. We've even seen cases of people unable to share any links at all because Google has flagged them as link-spammers.

What should you do to develop an audience and get more traffic to your blog?

Join communities and converse. Have conversations. Be interesting and engaging. (find other communities where moderators are in control) People will circle you. And when they do they will see the content that you post to your own stream (not to the community stream). Earn those eyeballs and you'll earn quality traffic to your site, while also building up your own Profile's audience and Authority. For more on this subject read Ryan Hanley and Mark Traphagen on Building Authority Online using Google Plus.


Building Trust, Reputation, and Authority


David Amerland recently wrote a great article on Forbes entitled Trust, Reputation, Authority: Critical To Make The Web Work For Business where he discusses how companies must build those three things in the social media channels, regardless of the immediate ROI, in order to build long-term value.

The Cluetrain Manifesto was one of those books I read just as I was starting Confluent Forms LLC and it definitely influenced how I work with my clients in what I recommend, as well as how I bring the Voice of my own company online through our blogs and social media outlets.

Trust, Reputation, and Authority. Certainly the Big 3.

But I do think Voice (which he mentions in the article as well), is actually just as big. And not a voice that is sculpted by a team of marketing execs using market analysis reports and focus groups, but an Authentic Voice that caries with it Trust, Reputation and Authority. Authentic Voice is sometimes the edge that a small business has over the largest businesses as it often comes from just one person, is less filtered, and can bring with it more emotion and personality.

Through blogging a company can often discover its Authentic Voice, and use it to create compelling content, as well as Brand Ambassadors that buy-in to that Voice and Message. Authenticity can often be your best "marketing strategy" in a world full of filtered messaging.


My three guidelines for content to share


1. Abide by the 90-10 rule
The 90-10 rule basically is that 90% of everything that you publish on social media should be valuable to your target market with no sales pitches or promotion, simply cultivating value. Only after you've cultivated that value with 90% of your content can you consider pitching your own in that 10% that remains. Any more than that and you'll come across as one-sided and talking at your audience as opposed to with your audience.

2. Provide content of value to your audience that you actually find valuable
Go out and find content that you find interesting and valuable and share it with your followers. Spread that wealth around, giving credit and a back-link to the person who brought it to your attention. Your audience will thank you for the content, the person who brought it to your attention will thank you for sharing their content (and possible start following you), and you'll be reinforcing your reputation as someone that cultivates quality.

3. Try not to be dull
Don't take yourself too seriously. Remember: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Show your personality! Laughter counts as quality engagement as well.


Useful ways to measure audience value and post success


James Cosgrove wrote a great post about Google+ Analytics and the Psychology of Performance that is definitely a worthwhile read.




The way I look at my "success" in a post and my audience's value is 1) what was my goal for a post and 2) did it achieve that goal. Not all of my posts are meant to accomplish the same things, but if they don't have a goal, why are you sharing them?

But what I always look for is engagement of some sort (at its base level). +1s, comments, shares, etc. I do a bit of my own internal arithmetic to judge a post's engagement success, and then I look to see whether it matched my loose "goals" for that share or not.

Were my posts well-received? Did they create conversation? Did they contribute value to my overall publishing and authority? Did I earn new audiences because of the post? These are all signs that you are on the right track. But remember: be true to your Authentic Voice and keep sharing value.


Authentic Voice and the Challenges of Being Human


A great (and long!) read by Christina Blount Presnell (who is literally in my "Recommended Awesomeness" circle) for Small Business Owners and the conundrums that we face, not just in Google+, but in all social media when good things happen with our content.



Authenticity is a word that gets thrown around too easily and too frequently these days


Jason T. Wiser went "off-message" for a few days and with good reason. And it seemed that he had taken some heat (or perceived heat) as a result of this messaging "faux pas".

I know that he relies on his Google+ Audience for his business, and that potentially upsetting the cart of his audience was likely a tough decision. But in my opinion, a brave decision and the best decision.

The way I look at it (as many of you know from following my posts) is this: You are who you are. Your "off topic" posts display your humanity. Instead of being off-putting, they instead make you more real, more interesting, and a person [I'd] like to know better.

And in knowing you better, from a business standpoint, I'm more likely to both remember you, as well as refer business to you.

Let people in as much as you feel comfortable. Be authentic.



A quality follow while not following a social media poser


To paraphrase a great post by Lisa Engles, "When I first came over to Google+, I was told to begin by finding and following the influencers in my niche... I started with some of the real big names... To my dismay, the people I regarded as influencers in my niche were (and still are) nowhere to be found.  Yes, they have a.. profile, but their activity... is often just a bunch of links to a squeeze page for their latest launch.  And although their posts will get +1’s, it’s rare to see comments or reshares."

Influencers on one platform aren't always influencers on another platform. And just as Lisa notices, if a profile, no matter how popular, isn't actively engaging, why lend them your ear and engage with them? You shouldn't settle for being spoken at; demand to be spoken with.



It's the relationships that matter


Why is it that people get so attached to their technology decisions, passionate about them, and get so riled up about other peoples' choices or commentary on their own decisions? Macs vs PCs, Android vs iOS, Google+ vs Facebook... and heaven forbid that someone denigrate the decision that you've invested time, money, and effort.

In Google+ there is mass unrest any time some journalist refers to the platform as a "Ghost Town".

When it comes to Google+, and other social networks, Stephan Hovnanian put it best when he says "Authorship: it's about the people - Hangouts: it's about the people - Circles: it's about the people - Business: it's about the people".



How much are we challenging the Dunbar number, the maximum number of "friends" that we actually have?


It's my belief that, when I interact as me and engage with people as me, on a broad range of subjects, that I'm building more for my brand and business than if I were to only post on specific topics. I believe that people remember me, and our rapport, as much if not more so than if I adhered strictly to message. And this is good for business.



Permission To Misbehave (and the influence we each have)


Each of us over time has built an Audience based on our history of posting. People followed, not just because of the Content, but the Voice in which that content was shared. And that audience responds to our cues, just like the Radio Man (american talk radio) that feeds off of the Energy in the Words and how the Words are used. David Amerland is the Radio Man.



We Can't Fake Community


Remember that authenticity and true voice that we discussed? Christina Blount Presnell writes about nurturing a real community, not a fake community, and the values that they provide to the members as well as the business that they can be built around.