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20 November, 2012

5 tips on building an audience (what I sort of know)

My number one source of traffic is a Gabriel & Dresden retweet.

Yes, I did favourite this Tweet for future reference

I've looked at the numbers, and I'm not taking the piss here. A disgruntled tweet from myself got picked up, retweeted, and is the cause of the biggest spike in my not-so-humble blog yet.
It was all downhill from there

The retweet linked to an article I wrote stating how hard it was for me to let go of my love for a duo I used to adore. It's essentially a negative piece, yet they (or whoever controls their account) had the humour to retweet my statement, resulting in a large spike the likes of which this blog has never seen before.

I chose to open with this example for an article on 5 tips on building on an audience as a somewhat comic indicator of the fact I still don't really know what I'm doing.

Looking at the graph above you can see a cumulative growth in page-views. So I guess you could say I sort of know what I'm doing. But there's a metric shit-tonne of stuff I don't know (and for that matter, don't care to know sometimes).

But given that I haven't updated in a month or so, I'm going to bestow upon you my 5 tips on building on an audience.

1. Cross-promote
What my Facebook friends have to put up with at irregular intervals

The fact of the matter is that for most people, blog traffic is not going to come from having a "polarising point of view" or a "USP". It's going to come from charity clicks you get from Facebook, Twitter, and one or two from the others if you're lucky.

I quit Facebook a while ago. For a craven, attention-seeking digital whore like me, this was somewhat akin to dropping my smartphone in the toilet. This was a mistake. Subsequently trying to blog to my friends was an unpleasant, dirty, and ultimately unfulfilling experience. And that's not just because the phone didn't work.

It's a quick-win, so just chuck it out there and enjoy the flak you'll get from your friends for pimping yo'self.

2. The rules change
Two comments back in 2001? That was practically half-the-Internet then

I started this shit a long time ago. And as evident from this blog post, I still don't know very much about building an audience. But what I do know is that the rules change in the online landscape, and a lack of readiness to adapt to these shifting conditions can see your e-cred plummet like mine.

I started OpenDiary ten years ago as a stream of consciousness download of my thoughts, feelings and poor future, present, and ex-girlfriend. Ten years later I still treat it as a stream of consciousness download of my thoughts, feelings, and as an active deterrent for future boyfriends and girlfriends.

The lesson I have consistently failed to learn is that you need to adapt to the changing landscape, and as online matures, refine your voice in a way that's authentic and still resonates with your audience.

A readiness to adapt quickly can have huge implications for building your audience. Robert Scoble's G+ adoption has lead to minor-celebrity status in tech-circles, and Guy Kawasaki enjoys a cult-following for his efforts on the same platform.

I'm not saying always change what you do for the latest trends, but at least be aware of them instead of doggedly sticking to the same formula. Although that works sometimes too.

3. Read up
Did I mention I have a book coming out?

If you're reading up to this point you must have some, vague interest in the topic, and I'm here to tell you I'm no authority. What I can tell you is that there's a shipload of content out there where you can read up on things like building an audience, and here's my quick-and-dirty take on the good, the bland, and the ugly.

The Good
  • The Oatmeal just released a comic on what it's like to be a writer. If you're one of the few people that hasn't shared this, then I urge you to stop reading this entry and read his article instead. It's much more entertaining and an example of what you should be doing (instead of what I do).
  • Mark Pollard is a digital strategist in New York that I only know via following various digital tweets from industry folk, the article I've linked isn't specifically geared towards building an audience (it's more stuff), but his articulate life lessons and approach are things that I enjoy.
The Bland
  • I have no doubt of it's efficacy, and it's a great resource, but ProBlogger fits within this category for me. It does a great job at blogging about blogging, but just typing that caves my head in and I think it's best to think of this sort of advice as the supplement rather than the main course.
  • For a while there I read a similar guy called GoinsWriter - he has some solid advice on writing and some simple tips. In the end I stopped tuning in because it seemed like pretty basic stuff.
The Ugly
  • People in glass stones should not throw houses, but JeffBullas approach is fucking ugly. It's methodic, process-driven link bait. Try and read some advice for nuggets of wisdom longer than half an hour and you'll end up stabbing yourself. There's no denying he is good at driving traffic, but this entry is about building an audience. And I think there's a difference.
4. Make the content interesting

Don't do what I continually do if you're interested in building an audience. Focus on interesting things. This may sound counter-intuitive, but the most interesting things are usually far-removed from your day-to-day.

It might sound paradoxical not writing about what you know, but humour me for a second.

Take someone you meet on a plane. It's a relatively unique experience where you can share as much, or as little as you wish. Now, if I meet someone that's on the plane that's into the internet, electronic dance music, and has a new gadget in front of them - we are going to get along like a house on fire.

Is what we discuss worthy of sharing with someone I incidentally meet later (say, someone who visits this blog?)

What if I sit next to an elderly hat professor who does most of the talking and regales me with stories about the war, how she met her husband of 50 years, and how she is a leading world-authority on hats worn in the last 200 years.

Correct me if I'm wrong (I only sort of know what I'm doing), but I felt 10x more comfortable sharing the information about the hat professor I met than the guy that's similar to me. It was interesting to share, rather than interesting to me.

This is a good rule-of-thumb. You can have that one. And if you don't get it here's a fucking list of content ideas for your next entry. But think of the hat professors out there first please.

5. Get your hands dirty
A somewhat impromptu shot of my hands

Above is an on-the-spot shot of me showing my hands. They are relatively clean. This wouldn't have happened if I didn't "get them dirty".

By that I mean, I knew uploading a picture of my hands is better than no pictures in the blog at all, and then I knew how to do that extremely quickly with Cameroid and Blogger's upload feature.

If I didn't get them dirty in the first place I would have never known these things. It's called experience and it's something you need just before you get it. If you accumulate enough of these things you'll need it less and less as time goes on.

Go out there and fucking do it.

When I went to the Emerging Writer's Festival, I asked the question in the Crowdfunding workshop: how do you know when to flick the switch?

Just like a break-up, there's never going to be a perfect time to do it. So just do it. You can do all the preparation, reading and research and you like - but there's no substitute for doing.

I've made a metric shit-tonne (I love that term) of mistakes jumping around in the digital space but ultimately I know a lot more from doing shit than holding back and wondering what the consequences would be.

Playing in the digital space is a wonderful thing, and you only learn that by doing. 

...Then when you claim to lay some semblance of knowledge to what you're doing, Gabriel & Dresden will come along and blow all your supposed "approaches" out of the water. Sort of.