The Ultimate Freelancer’s Guide to Community Engagement
Audience building is all the rage, and it’s hard to read a blog post that doesn’t mention social media or the importance of community.
But does it matter to freelancers?
You bet it does; an engaged and loyal audience means that you can work on the projects that you like working on best, and that you never have to worry about business, because there’s always more prospects waiting in the wings for you to have time to service them.
The question is, then, how do you do it? How do you build that engaged audience to begin with?
Keep reading, and I’ll tell you…
First of all, what is engagement?
We tend to fixate on the size of an audience (“he’s got 400K followers on Twitter”), but it’s about more than that; engagement is about how much weight and credence those people give to the stuff that you send them.
In other words, you can’t just buy a list and say that you have an audience – and you certainly can’t say that you have an engaged audience!
So where does engagement come from?
The answer is careful cultivation; of course people have to find you, but they also have to like you, and have a good reason to keep coming back for more.
And it all starts with you…
Be Yourself, Be Unique
We gravitate towards people who interest, intrigue, and impress us, and that isn’t going to change.
Human beings are social animals, and we have been for tens of thousands of years (or a lot longer, depending on who you ask!). We gravitate towards people who interest, intrigue, and impress us, and that isn’t going to change.
So you have to be one of those people – and the good news is that you already are.
The trouble is that we tend to whitewash ourselves when we start appearing in public (on a blog, for example); we don’t want to offend anyone, so we smooth over all the rough edges. The problem with that is that our personality is found in the rough edges; that’s what people remember, and that’s what people are attracted to. (Some people, that is – others won’t like you, but that’s fine, they can be part of somebody else’s audience!)
Of course, being unique and memorable aren’t enough. You’ve also got to create value…
Create Value: Enlighten and Entertain
There are two ways to create value; one is by teaching, and the other is by entertaining.
If you want to build true engagement, you’ll have to do both.
The entertaining is going to happen – at least in part – because your personality is going to show through in your writing and in your actions. (Remember, we’re not smoothing over the rough edges!) So that leaves teaching.
What can you teach your audience that will change their world? What do you know that they don’t, that they will thank you for sharing with them?
Don’t worry about charging money or getting something back (yet) – just focus on giving away something that is so monumentally valuable that it will be impossible for people not to notice.
Important Note: Don’t do this until you’ve got those rough edges clearly established – if you share value without sharing personality, people will thank you, take the value, and never return!
Now, if you’ve given people value and infused it with personality, they’re bound to start talking. What you have to do next is multiply that conversation…
Multiply the Conversation with Buzz
You multiply the conversation by adding buzz to the mix of value and personality (though buzz will already be a part of it, as you’ll see in a moment).
Buzz is when people start talking about something because it’s what they want to talk about.
Buzz is when people start talking about something because it’s what they want to talk about. It’s captured their interest and imagination, and they can’t help but share.
There are six “buttons of buzz” that you can share (for lots more, read Buzzmarketing by Mark Hughes): the taboo (sex, lies, and bathroom humor), the unusual, the outrageous, the hilarious, the remarkable, and the secrets (both kept and revealed).
Now, as I mentioned, if you’ve done a good job of creating value and injecting personality, then you should already be hitting at least some of these buttons. Now it’s time to add some more to the mix, and get the conversation to really explode.
Growing Your Engagement
Does this sound a bit simple?
Well, the truth is that it is – human beings are wired to engage with people who are charismatic and offer us real value, and it doesn’t have to be rocket science to tap into those instincts.
But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy. It takes a lot of hard work, and the devil’s in the details. The only way to really get it right, though, is to get started, get it mostly wrong (but a little bit right), then take what works, throw out the rest, and try something else.
Or, you can save yourself some time by learning what worked and what didn’t for people who have already grown an audience.
But either way, action is the key. So go and get started by finding those rough edges!