Shortcuts Are a Waste of Time if You Want to Build a Real Audience

Photo: "Desire Line" by uoc-day-by-day / CC BY

You want to build a real audience on your website, blog and social media pages, right? By real, you mean one that helps you spread your message by sharing your content, bringing even more visitors and a steady stream of sales opportunities. Sound familiar?

I've got good news and bad news for you

First, the good news. You can do it. Anyone can. Unlike the past, when you needed deep marketing pockets or privileged connections to build an audience, today you need only a laptop, an Internet connection, an inspiring message and a healthy dose of passion.

Now, the bad news. It's hard - really hard. It also takes practice - a lot of practice. Anyone who tells you getting started with a website, social media or content marketing is going to be easy is lying.

In fact, your first few posts will take hours to painfully produce. They'll also be far from perfect. They may even stink, and that's okay.

If you're like me, you probably need to do things numerous times before you get any good at them, right? You didn't ride the Tour de France the first time you sat on a bike. Instead, you crashed and scraped your knee, or elbow, then got back up and tried again. Me, I cut my lip on the fender.

The same goes for business. When I was getting started with my website, blog, and social media pages, nobody read them. Ok, maybe my wife and my mom, but that's about it.

Finally, a shortcut!

We've all been there.

You're discouraged. You're frustrated. You're starting to realize that building your audience is going to take more time and more effort that you'd imagined. You might be looking for shortcuts, or worse, thinking of quitting.

I did too.

Then suddenly, one evening, I gained a follower! He subscribed to my blog, commented on my posts, liked my Facebook page, and even sent an email thanking me for my quality content.

The excitement I felt reminded me of the first time I got an assignment back from Mrs. Lynn, my second grade school teacher, with a gold star on it. 

Hallelujah - an audience member! I was actually helping someone and was off to the races - or so I thought.

Before long, I received an email from him offering “S4S.” I thought to myself, what the hell is S4S? So as any modern marketer would do, I asked Google and discovered it stood for a thing called "share-for-share."

S4S definition - screen capture via Urban Dictionary

It gave me an icky feeling I just couldn’t shake. I want to create content so powerful my followers are proud to share because it's relevant and helpful to their audiences, not because it's convenient for me. So I turned it down. And guess what… I never heard from him again.

I was back to my two biggest fans - my wife and my mom. I was okay with that, because instead of taking a shortcut, I was challenging myself to work smarter and produce more, better quality content.

The law of compound content states that my blood, sweat and tears will pay off. Yours will too if you avoid the temptation of taking shortcuts. 

Shortcuts will take you longer to build your audience and increase your search ranking

Google's getting smarter

In the past, trading or buying links, likes or followers could have sent a lot more visitors to your page. It's true! You would have seen a near-instant spike in page views or most any other stat you look at. Google would have seen higher traffic and may have even ranked your page higher as a result.

Not anymore. Google's moved beyond measuring just the quantity of content and traffic. Google's getting better at measuring the quality of content and traffic, and now ranks based on how likely your content is to answer the question or solve the problem of the searcher. Today, sites with low-quality content are ranked lower, and sites that participate in link schemes or other Google webmaster guidelines are penalized.

Moreover, it doesn't feel right. Just ask Knowlton Thomas at Techvibes Vancouver about his fake Twitter follower experiment.

Ask yourself, "what's better?"

  • Visitors, likes and followers for their own sake; or
  • Visitors who come to know, like, trust and recommend my content because it's helpful and provides them such incredible value

The answer's obvious, and Google agrees.

Time is your most valuable resource. Instead of investing your time in the diminishing returns provided by shortcuts, invest it in producing one or two more pieces of quality content each week. Making frequent deposits to your bank of content will pay you back in full with the high-quality website visitors, followers, and customers you need to build your business. 

You need FOCUS

My man John Lee Dumas over at Entrepreneur on Fire always preaches: Follow One Course Until Success.

FOCUS acronym - Follow One Course Until Success

Shortcuts, by definition, take you off course. You might be thinking "the destination is the same, though," but is it?

Ask yourself: "Self, why did I start my business?"

Did you start your business to gain a certain number of page views? Or Facebook Likes? Or followers on Twitter?

Or did you start your business in order to achieve your vision, help people, build relationships and grow personally and professionally along the way?

Shortly after turning down the share-for-share offer, I had an "a-ha" moment. I was approaching my business entirely wrong. I made it about me, not the real heroes - my audience. So I took a sharp left turn to where I am today.

Had I accepted the share-for-share offer, I would have enjoyed more likes, followers and page views. At the same time, I would have been distracted from why I started by business, and experienced my "a-ha" moment much later - or maybe not at all.

You want results, and you want them now. Who doesn't, right? That's why instead of being tempted by seemingly convenient shortcuts, FOCUS on your path to building your audience so you can achieve your vision.

You want to build your business, not someone else's

Aside from link or share exchanges, there are a whole bunch of other shortcuts that you might have heard of, or even considered.

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Exchanging blog posts

The funny thing about this shortcut is it's not a shortcut at all!

Everything you do, you believe in producing the best quality product possible, right?

Then why would you want to put your best work on someone else's platform to help them build their business? 

Why would you consider putting the quality of your audience's experience in the hands of someone else? Quality is subjective and the best quality for your audience will always be your own content. Moreover, you don't want to tie your brand to someone else's over which you have no control.

Sure, you may get a bit of traffic, but only a fraction of visitors to their site will click through to yours, and an even smaller fraction will resonate with your content and subscribe.

If you're going to post, post on your own platform, where your beliefs, values and goals are completely aligned with those of your audience.

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Hiring paid bloggers or content creators

You might be thinking "what if I hired bloggers?"

The problem is, paid content creators are generally more interested in getting paid than in helping you build your audience.

You are the one with the vision that will lead to your success. Not someone you pay by the hour, word, or post.

Absolutely essential ingredients to building your audience are the valuable experiences and personal stories only you can share, and the vibrant personality only you can bring to life in your content.

In the future, your business may grow to the point that you're hiring people to help you take it to the next level - and yes, that includes creating content.

The difference here is in the relationship. It's not a transaction. The foundation of a successful employer-employee relationship are shared beliefs and values, and a shared vision that compels your employee to entrust success in their career to your success in business.

Someday, you'll get there. Until then, focus your time on creating content that brings your values to life and builds an audience around you. If you still think you need help, hire a coach who can help you develop more ideas and opportunities to create great content.

If you already have a team of employees, share your content marketing vision with them. Make it a big deal and part of everyone's job. Create systems that make it easy for them to contribute their ideas, and help them develop it. Celebrate milestones and reward your people for their contributions, and you'll be rewarded with a larger audience, more traffic and more sales.

Prize winner icon

Holding contests, giving away prizes or other incentives

Contests and prizes will attract more traffic, likes and followers, guaranteed. What they don't attract, though, are authentic members of your audience.

Contests and prizes are pure manipulations - tactics that compel someone to do something they otherwise wouldn't have done. The inevitable result is a huge spike in sign-ups, followed by a mass exodus after the contest is over.

Do you want an audience that wants to win and iPad and is willing to tolerate receiving your content only until the moment they find out whether or not they won?

Or do you want an audience that gets so much value from your content that they share it with their audiences and would miss it the instant you stopped producing?

Let me guess, you want the latter because you know that's the only path that leads to the loyalty and trust you need to ensure they buy from you, not someone else.

Instead of investing in manipulations that build nothing, invest in yourself.

  • Attend a workshop, course or conference where you'll learn more ways to generate quality content for your audience
  • Go for coffee, lunch or drinks with new or existing members of your offline network to learn more about their audience's needs, challenges they're facing, and opportunities to work together
  • Start working with a coach or mentor who guides you in building your business, keeps you accountable for constantly producing valuable content, and makes sure you never step off your path to success

Your path is the shortest path

Building your audience takes time. Establishing authority in your niche or industry takes longer. What comes next is a ton of new business that will propel your journey forward, closer and closer to achieving your vision.

Early feelings of disappointment and frustration happen to every business owner. Thing is, these are unproductive emotions.

Instead of interpreting these feelings as a sign you need to find shortcuts, or even quit, interpret them as a sign that you should check your business's strategic and moral compass (your vision, values and mission) to ensure you haven't veered off course.

If you've veered off course, it's time to course correct, immediately.

If you're still on course and just aren't seeing the results you want or need yet, it's time to invest in yourself, double your efforts, and keep on moving forward.

What do you think?

Tell us what you think in the comments.

Have you ever been frustrated by the results you're getting from your website, blog or social media pages? What did you do to get them back on track?

Have you ever been tempted to take a shortcut to grow your audience or business online? What was it and how did it work out?

How have you considered investing in yourself to help propel your journey forward?

What other questions do you have about building an audience with content marketing?

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Photo: Flickr Creative Commons image by uoc-day-by-day