In part 1 of our Field of Dreams series we talked about how the sentiment of “If you build it, they will come” isn’t a solid approach to gaining an audience on the web. Simply building your online presence or application doesn’t guarantee a user base. The blind faith that Ray had resulted in a supernatural-dream-team-sandlot but in the real world Ray would have needed to post fliers around town, knock on doors, and call his friends to get the word out. Luckily we are in the internet age. Reaching large amounts people and reaching the right people is more accessible than ever. You’ve built the diamond… now let’s get some players on the field.
Articles in this series
If you build it, they will come; the fallacy of automatically getting an audience
Gaining the right audience for your website or application
What we’ll be going over in this article :
- Be active in communities that might be interested in your content.
- Organic social media lets you communicate in your voice.
- Paid advertising can fast track your traffic but it has a cost.
- Be enthusiastic, be honest, be human.
Be active in online communities that fit your content
There is a part of running a web application or wanting to drive customers to your website that most people aren’t aware of. We’re in the day of constant, relentless connectivity. Whether it’s justified or not, your customers expect you to talk with them and be available when they need you. Contact forms, DMs, and support tickets are a great start. You need to know where the relevant message boards and channels about your company or industry are. Reddit, Discord, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, etc. Any place that could have a community talking about your product is a community you want to be active in. You can’t be pushy. The internet will sniff your insincerity out faster than Shoeless Joe Jackson steals bases. Unless you want to be a faceless entity with the sole purpose of digging for sales… be a person, be truthful, and interact with the world that will hopefully engage with you. This one is free. All it costs is your time. You go in, you interact, you engage with your customers and you start to build your reputation.
- Find communities that are relevant to your application or industry.
- Be active, not overbearing
- Being honest and as transparent as possible. Be human
- Free… except for your time
Social media lets you talk directly with your customers
This is old news. I’ll say it up front. You should already know that social media is important. Let’s talk about what important means and how you can talk directly with your customers and be relevant in their daily social media routine. Just as you want to be active in conversations, you want to start conversations as well.
Ok, it’s important… but why?
This is a long, nuanced, and societal question but I’ll sum it up for our purposes into a few segments.
- You’re a part of your customer’s daily routine.
- You can speak to your customer directly and honestly.
- You get involved in conversations that are relevant.
Let’s dive into each of these and why they are such pivotal parts of your social media presence.
Be a part of your customer’s social media routine
For one, you’re in front of your customer. There’s a pretty powerful aspect to being present and a part of your customer’s daily routine. Creating content that is relevant, helpful, and part of the community your application or business represents is the most important aspect. If you spam content or are irrelevant in your content you run a high risk of alienating your customer base. A great way to stay top of mind for your audience is to stay in front of them as much as possible without being overbearing. You have to find the balance of content vs over sharing, though. The internet can be fickle so make sure you put effort into each post to walk the line of quantity vs. quality.
Speak directly and honestly… be human
Another aspect that we’ll focus on here is your ability to talk directly with your customers and show your “personality” online. We’re strong proponents of how you represent your brand visually and what language you use. When you’re building your application, don’t be afraid to be transparent where you can. Don’t be afraid to have honest conversations with your followers. At the end of the day, you’re a human on the other end of the line and your customers will appreciate you more when they understand that. For smaller businesses and applications it’s easy to talk to customers online. Over time, you’ll need dedicated staff making sure you’re active and responsive. A dead account is in many ways worse than no account at all.
Get involved in relevant conversations
Social media, at its core, lets you get involved in conversations that let you speak your voice in your community. You don’t have to start every thread or post. You can jump in and comment on posts that are relevant and join in the conversation of others. The more involved you can be in your community the more people you can reach. You’re able to show enthusiasm, expertise, your humanity, and reach more people than just the ones following you.
To make a long story short, it’s in your best interest to be a part of the conversation. Whether you start the story, or you join in on an existing thread, you can be a part of the ecosystem that surrounds your business or application. I’m not going to sugar coat it either… It’s hard to maintain if it’s not your strong suit. Some people thrive on social media and others have a really hard time getting involved. My best advice is to just jump in. You have to learn how it works, start to understand how sharing can benefit you, and start to speak to your audience.
Choosing the right social media to focus on for your business
The good news is that there are a lot of different social media platforms you can engage in. The bad news is that they’re not all created equal and they don’t all have the same audience. For instance, Facebook doesn’t have the same demographic as Snapchat. Even outside of demographics, you have to consider the type of media that’s being shared as well.
Demographics, media types, character limits… How do I navigate this?
This is a good question and it’s part of the learning process. If you’re already familiar with social media and how it functions then you likely won’t have much of an issue identifying which platforms you want to engage in. Let’s make one thing clear… You don’t have to be involved with EVERY platform. Your mileage will vary. There are two main bits of advice that you can focus on to make things easier.
- Figure out where your customers will likely be interacting. Each platform has its own vibe and its own user base (like we mentioned above). It’s a good plan to make sure you’re interacting on platforms that are more relevant to your users.
- Your comfort on the platform is part of the picture. Does Twitter feel more comfortable for you to communicate on than Facebook? Is photography more your thing? Then instagram might be a better platform for you. If you can communicate in a place where you’re comfortable you’re much more likely to speak clearly and engage.
Pay your way in using advertising
“Wonderful! Interacting with my customers and industry on social media only costs my time… what else?”
Well, we’ve reached the point of paying for traffic. That’s not a bad thing. Not at all. Having a product you believe in and want to bring to the world has a cost. Without some Ray Kinsella (we’re still on Field of Dreams here) faith you’ll put in a lot of work to drive traffic. If you have the budget and the right process you can pay your way into popularity. There is an immense value to paid search but it comes at a cost (duh).
- Paying to get traffic can have huge benefits
- The value of Google, FB, Instagram can differ but the idea is the same
- The bad side; it can get expensive
- Paid search costs time and costs money. No two ways around it
- Do it right or pay the price. Small mistakes can add up quickly.
Here’s an example of paid search
This could turn into a very long topic and easily be a series of blog posts on its own. For now, though, we’ll use Google for a quick example.
When you pay Google for advertising you’re selecting certain search terms to pay for. With the right keywords and phrases you can nearly guarantee that people searching for what you define will find your site or application. Again, very nuanced. You can take advantage of Google’s massive ownership of the search market to basically say “When somebody searches for this I want to show up”. That’s extremely useful. You’re throwing your name out into a crowd that’s already interested in you!
How paid search works (in a nutshell)
The short version of the process is that you bid on keywords and phrases that are important to your business. The amount of keywords and phrases you select are up to you and the amount you spend is up to you. There many things to consider when creating a paid search campaign. Here are two strong things to consider when selecting and implementing keywords and phrases.
- Deciding what words (these are called “keywords”) and what phrases to target. Each has its own pricing per click and those prices can add up very quickly if you aren’t doing research and properly defining your campaigns.
- Setting up and monitoring your campaign can make or break a budget. There are significant differences in how an ad campaign is run based on the settings you have for each keyword or phrase. Done properly you’ll be able to get the most out of your ad spend. Done with even relatively minor mistakes and you can blast through a budget in the blink of an eye.
We’ll talk about this more in another article but from Google’s end, you can define who is likely to see your website in their search results or ad network and that’s very powerful.
Paid social media advertising
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc have a unique impact. When we talked about social media earlier in the article we were talking from a free content perspective. That’s great, but you have to build an audience and that can take time. Social media algorithms are very complex and you won’t go from 0 - 1,000 followers in the blink of an eye. This is where paid advertising can help you out. You will be placed in front of people whether they follow you or not which can dramatically increase your reach.
As we mentioned before, the user base of each social media network can be different depending on your scenario. Some are photography based, some are text based, some are both. Some brands make sense for this type of medium and others won’t have the same success. With each social network, you can define what demographic sees your content but it’ll cost you. Nearly every social media platform has a robust ad management system that allows you to get pretty specific with regards to who sees your ad. Targeted marketing is the buzzword that you’ll hear a lot. On the internet, a huge portion of all marketing is targeted. It’s not like a billboard on a street where anyone on the road will see it. Online ads are designed to reach people that are more likely to be interested and skip over those who aren’t.
Let’s talk about qualified visitors vs normal visitors
You can search the internet for details about keywords, search engine ads, social media ads and the like. You’ll find a ton of resources and a massive wealth of knowledge on the topic. Here’s the short truth. The fast track to traffic is paid search and the benefit is that you’re getting in front of exactly the people you want to be noticed by. This type of traffic is more valuable than generic traffic and is typically referred to as qualified visitors. Essentially this means that, because they searched for something so specific, they’re more likely to become customers than somebody searching for something more general or somebody that stumbles across your website
Physical media advertising
You might be thinking “Come on… We live in 2020. Everybody is online. Why would I send physical mail or advertise via physical media?”. You’re not entirely wrong. Physical media does have its place in the advertising world, though. Back in the Field of Dreams era, if you weren’t on television or radio it was practically the only way to advertise. Now that we have the internet, printing and shipping and mailing seems tedious. When used the right way, it can have a big impact.
Here’s an example.
We’ve worked with a number of coffee shops that are more focused on foot traffic than an e-commerce presence. In the world of a coffee shop, your customers (especially your regulars) are usually in 10 mile radius or so. For businesses like that, paying for ad space is a really, really competitive business. Ad businesses are smart, though, and can target people in a certain region. You could purchase ads that target the parts of Houston, the entire Houston area, or even the state of Texas. That’s great, but you’re still in a very competitive market. Another option is to send physical mail to your immediate surrounding area putting a more personal touch on your business.
With physical mail you can offer coupons or benefits for customers that bring in your mailer. Something like “We’re happy to be your neighbor! Bring this flier in to enjoy your first coffee on us!”. Physical mail also positions you as a neighbor, which you are (in the example of a coffee shop). Your business will rely on your neighbors, your business will rely on becoming part of the community you’re in.
Physical media advertising isn’t always the right call. In the right situation, though, it can be a relatively low cost way to make a big impact.
Enthusiasm and agility is a huge asset
The last bit I want to talk about is the difference between somebody that loves what they do and somebody that doesn’t. Look, I know what it’s like to burn the candle at both ends and fall down the path of doing what you love too much. It happens. It happens to a lot of people in that position. I am not advising that you spend every waking hour of your life answering every email, DM, comment, reply, or message. You have to find a middle ground.
If you don’t believe in the product, if your heart isn’t in it, and if you aren’t enthusiastic you won’t have the same impact as somebody who does. Think of it as a conversation, because that’s what it is. If you are talking to a friend about having to strip the wallpaper off of their old house you’ll be bored to tears instantly. If you talked to a wallpaper designer or interior designer you’d get a much different response. The topic might not always be exciting, but your interest and care will shine through.
You don’t have to overextend yourself
There’s a strange dichotomy between being always available to your customers and living a life not dominated by your online business. Obviously this depends on what you do and what your business focus is, but people will respect your time if you respect theirs. You’re making a commitment to the people that interact with your brand the minute you present it to the public. This also ties back to the amount of content you produce and the quality of content you produce. Find your sweet spot. It can take practice if it’s not something you’re familiar with but you can do it.
My best advice is to make sure what you’re doing is what you love to do. We’re talking about gaining an audience here. An audience wants an MC for the show, they want a presenter, they want somebody that will hype them and get them enthusiastic. This is your job for your business. If you don’t love it, why should they?
Agility and the ability to reevaluate
When you’re talking directly with your customers, you’re basically doing an old-school focus group about your product. Back in the Mad Men days they would bring in 20 likely customers, have them try out the product in a closed environment, then ask those customers specific questions about their interaction with the product. This is essentially what you’re doing on a macro level when you engage on the internet. These are your users, this is your product. You’re free to ask questions and you’ll likely get answers. Let this help when shaping your roadmap for your business. Obviously not every idea or piece of feedback you get will be valuable or relevant. Do your best to be agile and accepting of good ideas that you get from those conversations.
- You have to love it and that’s not always easy.
- Conversations with enthusiasm and care are more effective.
- Do what you love, but don’t let it overwhelm you or take your eye off of the goal.
- Allow conversations you have online to shape your roadmap.
We talked about finding the right communities for your business, being active on social media, selecting the right social media, paid search, and enthusiasm. That’s a lot to digest. Each of these sections could be a dissertation of their own but I hope you were able to pull pieces out that resonate with you and your business.
The goal of this two part series was to dispel the notion that “If you build it, they will come” and to talk about what you can actually do to get the right players (customers) to show up. With a combined effort you can get a full team of all stars on the field. Not only that, you can get them to give you feedback about the game so you can make it better and better over time.
Many of our consultations about a new website or new web application often involve this conversation. A lot of people don’t realize that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Getting online is the very first step. With the right attitude, an active online presence, a marketing budget, and a solid plan of attack you can grow your audience. You can grow the right audience, too. Imagine if after all of that work, Ray got the 1968 Iowa high school jr. varsity team. Don’t fall under the spell of the whispers in the cornfield and assume that your users will find you out of luck. You have to put yourself out there and you have to let the world know that you’re ready for the game.
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Co-founder & Lead Programmer
Matt is a co-founder, creative director, and programmer at Flywheel. He's made literally tens of people laugh in his lifetime and is always looking for the next problem to solve.