Since time immemorial, successful entrepreneurs have kept up with the popular trends and business practices of the day. Even if their ultimate goal is to subvert entire industries and change the game, the prudent self-marketer understands they must go forth and proselytize where the people are.
In the past, vast amounts of money had to be spent on branding for it to have any long-term benefits. In 2016, however, we have another option: building a loyal online following. And while it may sound simple enough, it’s actually a lot of hard work. But just like riding a bike, working out, or finishing your homework—the hardest part is getting started.
If you feel lost in this new era of viral self-promotion, never fear: there are some relatively painless steps you can take to get started.
Step 1: Identify Your Target Audience
We tend to overlook this vital step. Perhaps it’s our hubris—who wouldn’t love my product, brand, or service?
Or perhaps it’s because identifying your target audience is a lot harder than it initially sounds.
That said, every entrepreneur should have an audience in mind when they’re creating their product. The consumer should permeate every aspect of the startup process—from the date of conception to the drawing of business papers. Even if you’re offering a product or service that will appeal to a broad amount of people, there are still key consumers you can target when getting your online presence off the ground.
Think about who would be most excited to try your product first. Is it stay at home parents? Perhaps it’s fans of a particular television show? Maybe younger consumers will be the first to adopt it. Think about whatever factors narrow your appeal and work with them.
Thankfully, social networking sites like Facebook make it pretty easy to target your promotions based on similar criteria to the above. While it may seem appealing to try and reach as many people as possible, you really want to be targeting key social media influencers in the early stages of building your online following.
For your purposes, that means people who will be the most excited about whatever it is you’re offering.
Step 2: Sell, But Don’t Oversell.
If though people enjoy following brands they like, they don’t want to be advertised to 24/7. In fact, research shows that younger demographics in particular have a distaste for advertisements. The key to successful social media marketing is balancing advertisement with genuine social engagement.
A good rule of thumb is to post one direct advertisement to every ten non-advertisement posts. Remember to keep your audience in mind, however, and only share content they’d find appealing.
Step 3: Interact and Engage
So far, we’ve talked about how to build an online following. But let’s take it a little further. This next step is crucial for building a loyal online following. And in the world of online branding, loyalty is absolutely priceless.
Why? Because loyal followers promote your brand for you. They excitedly tell their friends about your product or brand. They’re the most effective marketing strategy there has ever been: word of mouth.
So, how do you build an audience of loyal followers? It’s actually easier than you might think: talking with them. Especially when your brand is young, engaging with commenters and fans is a surefire way to make them feel engaged and valued. Have conversations with them. Thank them if they tell a friend about your brand. Treat them like the real human beings they are and make them feel like they’re a part of something.
And, of course, they are a part of something. They’re what makes or breaks your success online, and could even determine the future of your business venture as a whole. So be friendly, treat them with respect, and they’ll return the favor.