For many small-business owners, social media can be frustrating. You blog or tweet or post on Facebook, but your following barely grows. How can you build your fan base? Start by following the advice from social media power users who have built substantial followings of their own.
1. Be consistent. You can’t build a following if people don’t know when they’ll be hearing from you, says Jay Baer, author of Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is about Help not Hype. “You are asking people to make your content worthy of consistent attention and subscription, the same way a newspaper wants subscribers,” he says. “Consistency is the single most important proposition. Media companies [including you] do not run on inspiration; they run on a schedule."
2. Be responsive. It’s easy to blast out content via social media. But what sets you apart is also taking the time to interact and engage, says Chris Brogan, author of The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth: Entrepreneurship for Weirdos, Misfits, and World Dominators. Brogan built his substantial following by striving to be “responsive and helpful,” he says. “I don't just spout useful posts. I interact and share and promote others and answer questions.” Taking the time to really listen to what others are saying and tailor your responses will enable you to connect with a far larger audience.
3. Be collaborative. The essence of social media is connecting with other thinkers you admire, says Vala Afshar, CMO of Extreme Networks. “Select a subject you are passionate about,” he advises. “Once you narrow the topics, then jump right in and get engaged with other like-minded collaborators ... Be mindful and selective of who you follow to better improve your ability to curate and learn.” Guest blogging—either contributing to others’ blogs or inviting them to write for yours—is another great way to build connections, he says. “Reciprocity fuels collaboration."
4, Be conversational. Social media should be a conversation, not a monologue, advises Marsha Collier, author of eBay for Dummies and numerous other business books. “Find your audience,” she says. “Run social searches for topics that relate to your brand. Find an audience who cares about the subject at hand. Aside from Twitter search, Followerwonk is a specific tool for this purpose. Read bios and follow people.” She also suggests joining Twitter chats to meet people who care about your topic (Tweetreports offers a thorough list). “Listen for comments on your topic, join in conversations and talk to strangers,” Collier says. When you stay in touch, they can become followers, friends and colleagues.
5. Don’t chase numbers. One common suggestion for building your Twitter following is treating it like a numbers game: Follow tons of other people, and some will surely follow you back. That’s not a smart or sustainable solution, however. “Avoid chasing ego metrics,” Afshar says. “One way to grow your social network is to follow more people, but this approach will not guarantee growth in engagement or share of voice.” Instead, take the targeted approach Collier suggests above: Only follow people whom you’re genuinely interested in listening to.
6. Don’t be a perfectionist. Some people get paralyzed just thinking about what they’ll post on social media, says Baer. But you can’t afford the luxury of perfection; it’s just not possible. “That thing you want to say on Twitter, but it's not as funny as what you usually write? Post it anyway,” he says. “That blog post that isn't 100 percent perfect? Post it anyway. Social media needs to be part of your routine life, like brushing your teeth, instead of part of your ‘when I'm inspired’ life.” It’s not that quality doesn’t matter. But you can overdo it. “The quickest way to not attract a social media following is to over-polish, over-analyze, and over-think every piece of communication you produce,” he says. “It’s Twitter, not the Sistine Chapel. A quick tip to build a following? When in doubt, press send.”
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future and the forthcoming Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It. You can subscribe to her e-newsletter and follow her on Twitter.
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