Internet marketers everywhere seem to agree that if you don’t have an audience, you don’t have a future. They argue that if you have to pay for traffic to make money, you’re not just being wasteful, you really don’t understand how the social web works, or where marketing is headed in the years going forward.
Well, I’m going to respectfully disagree. If you ask me, if you want your business to have a future, one audience isn’t enough. The truth is, the most resilient businesses are going to need at least two audiences if they hope to make the most of limited resources to succeed. Maybe that is why your marketing is failing.
Let me explain.
Meet your two audiences
You don’t know it yet, but you actually already have two audiences. The problem is, you’re probably alienating at least one of them. Here’s what I’m talking about:
1. Core audience
These are the people who are completely obsessed with the topic in question. The live, eat, and breath the stuff you blog about. In fact, some of these people will know even more about the topic than you do, at least when it comes to certain aspects of it.
2. Mainstream audience
These people have little or no direct interest in your topic, but they might have some tangential interest in it. For the most part, the only thing they want to know is why any of this should matter to them, and if you can’t keep them entertained, they won’t be hanging around for long.
While your business won’t necessarily die without both of these audiences, let’s just say that without some appeal to both of them, your use of resources will be…less than optimal.
Brands that failed to reach both audiences
There’s certainly no shortage of brands or campaigns that failed because they failed to reach both audiences.
Take the whole New Coke fiasco. Contrary to popular belief, most people actually liked the new flavor better. They succeeded at reaching the mainstream, but they alienated their core audience. This vocal minority destroyed the new brand, and while they may have ironically strengthened the classic brand with the whole experiment, New Coke itself was a disaster.
The same goes for Digg. Those of you who have been in internet marketing for a while can remember “the Digg effect” and just how powerful it was to have your site make the front page of the social bookmarking site. But Digg lost a huge portion of its audience after a site redesign that was aimed at a more mainstream audience, and eventually lost so much of its traffic that it was sold and replaced.
Brands that fail to reach a mainstream audience don’t fare any better. Internet TV startup Boxee was recently sold to Samsung, and is being shut down. Boxee had a strong core following, but it failed to reach the mainstream due to its steep prices, as well as too much focus on tech specs and not enough on the user experience, and an inability to strike up deals with content owners.
When you look at highly successful brands like Apple, PlayStation, or even Star Wars, you’ll find that they have appeal to rabid fanboys and mainstream audiences alike.
Is viral marketing a myth?
There’s a very good reason for this, and it has to do with audience growth. At CrazyEgg, we recently discussed why viral marketing is a myth, and why customer retention is the true barrier to growth. Brands with a growing audience must do two things: they must attract new members and they must keep their old ones.
It’s simple, really.
If you aren’t appealing to a mainstream audience, you aren’t going to get new visits. If you aren’t appealing to your core audience, you’re not going to keep your previous visitors.
Core audience is more important than mainstream
Now, I personally believe that your core audience is more important than the mainstream. Alienate your core audience and you don’t have a brand. Alienate the mainstream and they’ll probably just forget about you, and possibly rediscover you. Since staying in business is always more important than growth, I’ll side with a core following any day.
That said, having both audiences truly is the winning formula, so let’s talk about how to make that work.
Audience 1: Core audience
If most brands are erring on the side of one of the two audiences, I would say they are trying too hard to reach the mainstream. Most blogs simply parrot what other blogs are saying. While this kind of activity can have some appeal to a mainstream audience who hasn’t seen the information elsewhere, they will never capture these visitors and transform them into followers, because they will never offer them anything unique.
Here’s what it takes to build that core audience.
This is where the strongest brand advocates live. When it comes to building a core audience, everything revolves around email.
Email drives well over three times as many conversions per visit as social. Those visitors are also more engaged, with nearly twice as many pages per visit. Brand advocates also choose to share via email 25 times more frequently via email versus Twitter.
- The average Facebook post only makes its way to 16 percent of your audience, while most people will at the very least see the subject line of your email when you send it to them.
- Then there’s the fact that Facebook and Twitter make up just 0.2 percent of the emails sent every day, and that total search engine traffic is just a hundredth of total email traffic. Email is also more personal. Conversations aren’t taking place in public, and people aren’t afraid that you’ll start spamming their friends if they give you their email address.
- About 91 percent of people check their email every day.
And, of course, it’s much easier to segment and individually target your customers with greater relevance through email.
So, how do you build up this mythical list of email subscribers? The answer lies in your “bribe to subscribe.” Whether we’re talking about Jeff’s “8 Key Steps to Blogging Mastery” ebook, Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks, or Help Scout’s customer service resources (which built an audience of 30,000 subscribers), the value is clear.
Remember, giving somebody your email address is psychologically equivalent to paying for something. If you want somebody to give you their email address, you need to offer them something worth paying for. That’s how good it needs to be.
And believe me, it will be worth it. Repeat visitors are a must if you want your blog to succeed at retaining visitors and boosting lifetime value.
Email may be the place to retain your core audience, but it’s certainly not where you find it. If you’re looking for internet hangouts swarming with people who care deeply about the subjects you write about, internet forums are a powerful place to start. They are often the forgotten hubs.
While internet forums aren’t quite as popular as social networks, the crucial difference is that they are topically oriented.
- Facebook may have 1.19 billion active users, but most of those people are there to see images shared by friends and family, not to talk about a shared interest in a topic. (Not to mention the fact that the younger teens are abandoning Facebook in droves for WeChat, Vine, and Flickr.)
- Forums are where online people go to talk about something that they are passionate about, and it’s not a small number of them, either. Two-thirds of American social media users twelve and over read online message boards at least once a week. This is more than the number of people who read blogs.
- Perhaps even more surprising, nearly half of the people surveyed report that they have read an online message board in the past 24 hours.
While marketers have largely forgotten about forums, they have actually been growing, and they are where the most topically oriented conversations are taking place.
Don’t forget the influence of forums
No serious marketer should neglect the influence of the forums. If more people are using forums than reading blogs, it makes little sense to have a guest posting strategy without having a forum posting strategy.
In fact, the way you approach forums probably shouldn’t be that much different from the way you approach writing a guest post. By posting incredibly helpful content and answering questions, you can build a name for yourself and send highly converting referral traffic.
Forums are also a great place to interact with the larger community of influencers surrounding your topic. Feel free to quote answers from forum responses, giving credit where credit is due. Posters will appreciate this kind of connection and interactivity, and many of them will be happy to carry the conversation over to your own blog comment section, or perhaps even a forum of your own.
On a related note, if you need to hire somebody to blog about a topic, a forum about the subject is probably one of the best places to start.
#3. Topical Social Networks
As powerful as forums are, they aren’t the only place on the web where topically oriented conversations are happening. While social networks are mostly built around friends and family, there are some exceptions that good marketers can turn to as a source of core audience members:
- Probably the best place to start for most internet marketers would be Google+ communities. Take a topically oriented community and add in the potential SEO benefits and you have yourself a winning formula.
- Reddit – Half social bookmarking site, half message board, Reddit is another important place where topically oriented conversations are happening. That said, Redditors are extremely critical of marketers and have a lower tolerance for spam than almost any other place on the web. (On a technical note, the easiest way to find “subreddits” is just to Google “reddit [subject]”.)
- Facebook Groups, while not as easy to find or usually as active as Google+ communities, can be another useful place to interact.
- Similarly, some Twitter Lists may be topically oriented, though two-way conversations are rarer than they are on Facebook or Google+.
- For B2B brands and professionals who would like to connect with like-minded people, LinkedIn Groups may be the best place to start.
Again, there’s not much of a difference to approach these platforms much differently from the way you approach your guest posting strategy. While shorter posts will be standard, and more interaction is expected, the core value is the same: be as valuable as possible to your audience.
#4. Working With the Influencers
No matter the platform, there are really only two crucial things you need to appeal to a core audience:
- Delve as deep as possible into the subject, say at least a few things that are entirely unique, and offer some of the most comprehensive, useful information available without charge.
- Develop a working relationship with people who are, on some level, influential in the community that surrounds your topics of interest.
On that second point, I’m sure everybody here has already heard about the importance of guest posting, and if I say too much about it your ears just might start bleeding. You’ve heard most of it before, and anything you haven’t heard we’ve probably covered here, so let’s move on.
There are a few things you might not know about working with influencers, so let’s dive into those instead:
- It’s okay to pay them. Seriously. Pay them to write a guest post on your blog. Pay them to snap some photos for you. Pay them to design an infographic. Pay them to film a YouTube video. Brands hire celebrities all the time and they make the big bucks doing it. With the wealth of “microcelebrities” available at a fraction of the cost, this option is available to almost anybody. Most internet influencers aren’t getting paid as well as you think they are.
- Go quote hunting. Quote influencers for the things they say on their blog. Email influencers with brief questions and quote them on their brief answers. Quote influencers who frequent the forums. Take special care to quote the influencers you have interacted with directly, and make it clear to your audience that you were actually interacting directly with them. Let the influencer know through twitter or any other network that you quoted them and linked to them. Authority by proxy is a powerful thing.
- Not every interaction with an influencer needs to be a massive commitment for either party, and even the absolute smallest commitments can be tremendously valuable.
- This is business and everybody knows it. Have fun and be casual but don’t try to be an influencer’s best friend. They know you want something and you’re not fooling anybody. Reciprocity is key. Just bring value into the interaction and don’t be a cold, emotionless robot about it.
- Be a journalist. Talk to experts. Cite dense peer-reviewed literature, and actual books. Conduct original research. Go to the library. Synthesize information and say something new. Work harder than the hardest working influencers. These are the kinds of things that influencers take seriously. What you’ve written and what you can point to has so much more impact on outreach than your friendly tone or your clever wording.
- Work with influencers snowballs. Influencers take you more seriously if you’ve already worked with other influencers, if you’ve already published a book, or if you’ve already been published on a popular blog or media outlet.
The core audience members cluster around the influencers. They follow the key bloggers and they hang on the words of the top forum posters. When you win over the influencers you win over your core audience. That’s how this works.
Audience 2: Mainstream audience
When you focus on only the most hardcore audience, your options for growth are limited. As I’ve already stressed, I believe that your core followers are more important than the mainstream, but it’s very difficult to find new business if you focus exclusively on them.
What does a mainstream audience look like, where can you find them, and how do you keep them?
#1. The social networks
If email is where your hardcore audience belongs, social networks are a place for your mainstream ties. There are several reasons for this:
- People are far more willing to Like your Facebook page or follow you on Twitter than give you their email address. This kind of “subscription” is a loose commitment and it should be treated as such.
- Research has shown that most people use Facebook to entertain themselves, even more than they use it to connect or express themselves, and they essentially never use it to seek out information.
- Social networks have become a major source of mainstream information. It’s where people go to find out what their peer group is talking about and what’s relevant to them. Other than the examples shared in the previous section, social networks aren’t a place for in-depth, topically-oriented discussion. They are a place for idle chit-chat.
- Images and videos (especially micro-videos like Vines) are the most popular content on social networks.
I could go on and on about the best way to dominate on social media, but I will probably teach you a great deal more by simply pointing you toward a few extremely successful Facebook pages.
A successful Facebook page
Take a look at Just Girly Things. Notice how they have about 2 million likes and about 6.5 million “talking about this.” They are engaging over 300 percent of their audience, and they’re doing it with stuff like this:
You’ve been on Facebook, so you probably already know that this is the kind of thing that turns up in your Feed. It’s an image. It’s got text on it. It’s kind of funny, and definitely relatable. Either that or it’s novel, like the stuff that turns up on Interesting Things, another massively popular page that’s engaging an audience larger than its number of likes.
The importance of visual engagement on social networks
And I could say that maybe you should do things a bit different on Twitter or Pinterest, but really you shouldn’t, because the advice is pretty much the same. Pinterest is all about images, and Twitter loves Twitter Cards, and it loves Vines even more.
You know all of this, because you use these social networks, and yet most marketers are doing nothing but posting links to their blog posts, or worse, sales pages.
I’m not saying that you should post images designed to maximize sharing without any branding or sales considerations. I’m simply saying that you should use social networks for what social networks are for: sharing bite-size pieces of visual content that are funny, relatable, inspiring, actionable, and novel.
Blogs need to be visual
And you should attach a link from the image to your blog post.
Shopify is doing a great job with this, engaging 5 to 10 percent of their audience with images featuring inspirational quotes, as opposed to directing Likers to their new POS software system and alienating their audience.
I have a feeling that marketers have only scratched the surface of what’s possible here. I’ve yet to see an example of a brand that was engaging an audience larger than its own followership, yet these non-brand Pages are managing to do it on a consistent basis.
#2. Big media
I don’t believe every business needs to make the New York Times or Mashable in order to reach a significant mainstream audience, but I do believe that mainstream blog exposure is possible, and that it’s one of the best ways to grow your audience.
The key is to find a way to appeal to one of the big niches:
Every niche has a tie-in to one of these big four. (If yours doesn’t, your blog topics are way too narrow to be sustainable.) The key to getting mainstream exposure is to bring the same kind of depth you have on your blog to one of these main topics. You can write about your specific topic or you can write about something more tangential. The point is to write it for an uninitiated audience, and in the style of the publication in question.
Creative and novel
The further your topic is from one of these four niches, the better, quite frankly. This forces you to get more creative with your content ideas, and nothing succeeds on the internet quite the way that novelty does. Your distance allows you to bring a new perspective to a tired topic, and the results can be amazing.
I’d suggest frequenting sites like Buzzfeed, Cracked, and Mashable for an idea of what mainstream exposure looks like on the internet. You don’t necessarily need to get published on these specific sites, but I highly recommend getting published on sites like them. We’ve been published on Venturebeat, for example.
More than anything, I’d really suggest looking at the headlines on these sites. Remember, it all comes down to the headline. If there’s no way to make a great headline for your topic that would fit on these sites, it’s probably not suitable for mainstream media.
Not every business had the budget for a celebrity endorsement, I know. So of course I’m going to bring up microcelebrities again.
I mentioned earlier just how important it is to win over the influencers in your niche, whether it’s by paying them, impressing them, working with them, or quoting them. The same goes for the mainstream.
There are all kinds of “mainstream” microcelebrities ripe for the picking:
- YouTube stars
- Webcomic artists
- Popular artists on Deviant Art
- Popular photographers on Flickr
- Beloved Tweeters
- Mainstream bloggers
To be clear, when I say “mainstream,” I’m talking about subject matter. These people have made a name for themselves online by sheer force of personality, not so much because they have chosen a topic that people have rallied around them for.
Attract an audience outside your mainstream
The point is to focus on relatively popular personalities whose audiences aren’t really topically oriented. Here, a lack of relevance is exactly what you’re looking for. This drives new visitors to your site and your brand, allowing your exposure to grow past what would otherwise be possible.
I wouldn’t recommend straightforward “endorsement” as the route to take here. Microcelebrities can risk alienating their audience if they go too commercial, since half the appeal of a microcelebrity is their “down to earth” nature. Aim for something more creative and fun. Think back to the kind of content that propagates through social networks.
Cohesiveness in a world of two audiences
We’ve covered a lot here and I’d hate to push your attention span too much farther, but it’s worth asking how it’s possible to appeal to two dramatically different audiences while preserving your brand identity.
Will a click from your bite-size Facebook image to your in-depth blog post create brand whiplash? Can your core audience take you seriously after seeing the “fluff” that you produce for a mass audience?
The key to preserving your brand identity is to approach these separate platforms for what they are: different contexts. Nobody expects you to behave the same way in a business meeting as a cocktail party. It’s okay to behave differently in different situations, as long as your core values don’t change from one setting to another.
Keep your brand interesting
In fact, studies have shown that this kind of tension and contrast actually makes brands more interesting.
As humans, we are drawn to people that are complex and multifaceted. One dimensional people put us off. A rock star is more interesting if he’s a sensitive poet and a notorious bad boy than if he’s only one or the other.
As humans, we also personify everything around us, including brands. Multifaceted brands are interesting to us, and we’re more likely to build a “relationship” with them as a result, provided they don’t also strike us as hypocritical.
If you worry about this at all, it should probably be from the side of your mainstream audience. Most of your core followers will be more than happy to see you “cut loose” on social networks and with celebrity bloggers, as long as you don’t betray your values. (This is the real difference between “cutting loose” and “selling out”). It’s the mainstream audience that will be caught off guard the most by your hardcore content.
This is why, when you direct your mainstream followership to more in depth content, you should point them toward introductory guides, broad subjects, and other mainstream posts first.
This is where audience segmentation can start to get very important as well.
Time to get started
Needless to say, I’ve tried to keep this as comprehensive as possible. I’m hoping you bookmark this and refer back to it several times, because there’s a lot to digest here.
Successful marketers have two audiences:
They need both of them to grow and stay profitable, and they need to understand their differences, and where they spend their time, in order to approach them with the best results.
Thanks so much for reading. Please pass this along if you liked it, and if you’ve got something to add, let’s hear it in the comments.
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Author Bio: Pratik Dholakiya is the Founder of The 20 Media, a content marketing agency specializing in content & data-driven SEO and PRmention, a digital PR agency. He regularly speaks at various conferences about SEO, Content Marketing, Entrepreneurship, and Digital PR. Pratik has spoken at 80th Annual Conference of Florida Public Relations Association, Accounting & Finance Show, Singapore, NextBigWhat’s UnPluggd, IIT-Bombay, SMX Israel, SEMrush Meetup, MICA, IIT-Roorkee and other major events. As a passionate SEO & content marketer, he shares his thoughts and knowledge in publications like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, The Next Web, YourStory and Inc42 to name a few.
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