How is it that your competitors may be recognized as online influencers while your wealth of knowledge and experience goes unnoticed? It can be frustrating, especially if you’ve been dedicating time to creating valuable content and initiating conversations on social media.
If you feel that your online presence sounds like an echo chamber, here are some tips and techniques that insiders have used to earn the coveted title of “industry influencer.”
Building Your Platform
Trite but true, it can start with defining your top three business goals. Hint: Those goals don’t include amassing tens of thousands of followers. While boosting followers may be an outcome of a solid strategy, your goals should ideally reflect where you want to take your business, including the types of customers you want to attract.
Next, jot down what makes your business different. Go beyond the basics such as location and price to consider what draws customers, or could draw more customers, to your business and inspires them to return. You might think you know the reasons, but it can pay to ask your regulars for their insight. Now you’re likely ready to build your marketing platform, which can be easier than it sounds.
Building a platform can come down to defining and owning what your business stands for and how that serves your customers. For example, an organic food store’s platform could be focused on healthy choices from local farmers to promote wellness and stimulate the local economy.
Every online post and outreach should reflect your platform while tying back to your business goals and differentiators. Soon, customers may associate your business with your platform. When they make that connection, they may immediately think of you the next time they're seeking the product or service you offer or expert advice.
Defining Your Audience
Who exactly are you talking to? The obvious answer is customers, but more specifically, it’s usually the 20 percent of your customers who are driving your business through repeat sales and referrals. If you haven’t already, consider investing some time in defining your audience and writing personas of your future, ideal customers.
With a solid understanding of your target audience, you can create content that’s focused on their interests and needs. The content that’s most effective in reaching and engaging customers will feature bursts of relevant information that’s fresh, helpful and able to invoke an emotion such as laughter, inspiration or gratitude.
Let’s take this a step further with three more ways that may help you engage your audience. First, follow news and trends and write an opinion about them as it relates to your expertise and the needs of your customers. Second, show the human side of your business and your personality. Finally, if someone you follow has great advice, share that with your audience and give a hat tip to the original source.
When you freely share your expertise to help or inform your audience, you may strengthen your credibility and reputation as a trusted resource and build your online following. When that happens, be sure to follow them back and personalize your messages (no automated replies) to those who read and recommend your content.
Shaping Share-worthy Content
When it comes to creating content, it’s one thing to attract customers and quite another to inspire them to share it. And when it comes to distributing content, it can be easy to get distracted by what’s popular today. Should you create memes? Run a blog? Stream video? Post exclusively on Facebook? However, the medium may be secondary to the content. People can be more likely to share content that expresses their identity, reflects their values and earn validation from others.
For example, being in the know, supporting a worthy cause, presenting a personal story and showing a sense of humor can be the stuff of share-worthy content. Applying this to the organic food store example from above, their content might include a blog highlighting recent health news about the benefits of eating organic and featuring interviews from health professionals and customers, or a video that shows how buying locally benefits the community.
Tapping the Power of SEO
Our conversation about sharing wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the power of SEO. Some business owners still keep a list of SEO terms handy when they write content, not realizing that the rules of getting discovered have changed. Today, keyword-stuffing can land your content lower in search results, while quality content that’s easy to read and widely shared by your target audience may be ranked higher. While some might argue that quality content is in the eye of the beholder, search engines have their own way to determine it. These can include how much time people spend consuming your content, what they do with it and its readability factor, meaning search engines can prioritize short words and short sentences.
You can get ahead of it by regularly checking your email and social media performance. Look at who opens your messages, when they open them, which content was most popular and so on. That way, you can do more of what has worked.
Finally, be consistent with your efforts. This doesn’t necessarily require you to maintain a ubiquitous online presence. In fact, when you write fewer, higher-quality pieces of content, your audience may look forward to hearing from you.
Also, you don’t have to be everywhere online. Consider finding the one or two places where and when your target audience is most active and invest your time there. In terms of finding time to engage your audience, set aside 15-minute blocks a few days a week. And if a great idea strikes you at an odd hour, go for it and then set your email or social media post to go live when the majority of your audience is most likely to see it.
In the online world, just as in real life, there may be no such thing as an overnight sensation. But with a strategic approach and a concerted effort to engaging your target audience, you can possibly reach the elevated status of online influencer.
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A version of this article was originally published on February 10, 2016.