4 Practical Steps for Building an Online Audience

[Trigger Warning: Web 2.0 Buzzword rage]

I'm convinced there's no magic to building an online audience. Success "on the internet," if you define success as gathering an audience or some measure of influence, relies on the same qualities that under-gird success in other interactive content driven contexts. Good people skills and valuable content are top of the heap. Those resources will help you build a reputation, which is what you need to "break through" or "be noticed."

Much has been written about the technical side of things. There are already plenty marketing buzzwords like SEO, social media, going viral etc. that quickly and vaguely translate very technical ideas into key-phrases suitable for use in boardrooms filled with non-technical executives. And while your "marketing strategies" may be good for getting more traffic, they should always be considered secondary to your content and personality which is fundamental to how you build your reputation and by extension your audience. In that vein, here are four steps I think are important to building an audience.

1) Don't be anonymous

When you're first starting out, the only people who will read what you write are your friends and family. They already know who you are, don't pretend to be someone you're not. Make sure to have your name somewhere easily accessible on your website. As your friends start sharing your content, your new audience has a name to put with it. This allows your growing audience to categorize you in their mind as "friend of a friend" instead of "that website" and they'll be able to more easily find and follow you on social media sites, twitter, Google+ etc. if they like what you have to say.

2) You're not smarter than your audience

Everyone thinks they're the smartest person in the room. I challenge you to be different. There's a good chance the people you're writing for are smarter than you. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you're writing for a giant mass of zombies that you need to trick into following you. Write what you think, write what you know, consider that everything you write will be read by someone who knows more than you do. Don't try to prove you're an expert, just offer what you have and let others decide if it's valuable to them. To some you'll be a guru, to others you won't.

3) Don't expect instant results

The internet speeds up information sharing, but this gives an illusion that everything is "instant" online. The reality is that, while a web presence can help you build an audience, it's not instant. Building a substantial audience can easily take years. Also, the "tricks" to building an audience are actually quite boring. Create valuable content, make sure it's accessible, repeat. If you try to take shortcuts, you'll end up just spinning your wheels and paying SEO Web 2.0 Acme Audience Builder Inc. a lot of money for traffic that does you no good.

4) Reputation grows an audience

Reputation is the ground on which you spread your seeds of traffic to grow an audience. Even if you got an extra 1,000 visits to your site today, unless you've built a strong library of content and useful resources, you'd be back to normal stats in a day or so. You need a reputation, which comes from a history of sharing little pieces of yourself in this public space we call the internet. It's not just about traffic. Earning a reputation takes time.

So, to summarize: There's no magic, be prepared to get little to no traffic for at least a year, long term audience growth depends more on your reputation and your content than your technical ability. If this depresses you, revisit why you want to build an online audience in the first place. Decide if it's worth it. If you decide it is, then what are you waiting for? Do it.

What would you add to this list?