The idea was to plan monthly networking events in the St. Louis area. Every month, we’d hit a different neighborhood and venue and feature different local businesses and individuals. Promoting and planning the events was exciting for me, but I needed to find a way to engage with the audience not only on a monthly basis, but also weekly, daily, etc.
If I were going to create a space for people to network, it seemed like a no-brainer to create value-added content about how to start conversations, follow up, and find motivation to get out of your comfort zone. I was already somewhat doing this on Twitter, but I extended the reach with a weekly blog and eventually a podcast. Here are a few things I’ve learned about using content to engage and grow your audience:
When first starting out, I’d post as much as I possibly could on all platforms — Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. After a while, I realized that if I know when my audience is paying attention and I post engaging, shareable content at those times, then how much or how often I post doesn’t matter as much. Now that I have a pretty good idea of who my audience is and when these people are watching, I can save quality posts for the right place and the right time.
I almost have a problem using the word “authentic” because I feel like it’s losing its authenticity. But it’s true — the more authentic you are, the more people will want to engage with you. We all know there’s a person behind that blog, tweet, pic, or status — brands need a voice, after all — but your audience can quickly sniff out when you’re trying to be something you’re not or sell too much.
I use a similar approach to social media and content marketing as I do with in-person networking: Let the world know who you are and what you’re about, and the rest will happen organically.
When I find myself trying too hard to create content, I stop. If it’s not something I deem funny, insightful, valuable, or uplifting, I don’t post it.
Although my following continues to grow, I’m not convinced that the more followers you have, the more engagement you’ll get. I often think about the engagement vs. following ratio. Consider the number of followers you have — when you post a tweet, pic, blog, or status, how much engagement does it get? How many likes, shares, comments, etc.?
Honestly, I’d take 100 engaged followers over 1,000 spectators any day. Like any new brand, I started out with zero followers, but because I created engaging content that people wanted to share, the audience quickly grew — and continues to grow.
Time and time again, I’m continually surprised at what catches on and what doesn’t. It never fails. There are times when I think something will be very engaging and shareable, and it doesn’t perform well. Other times, I’ll post something I’m not 100 percent sure about, and I’ll be overwhelmed by the response.
Of course, there are social media/content specialists, gurus, ninjas, and so on, but I’m not convinced that this is an exact science. There are so many factors and variables involved that it’s hard to tell. I’m sure someone somewhere has it narrowed down; I’ve learned the best through trial and error. You have to find out what’s best for your brand, develop a strategy around that, and, most of all, you need to keep moving forward.
What’s most important for both my brand and myself is creating engaging content for an audience, not shouting a message at them. Build a relationship with your followers that adds value, and your audience will grow naturally.
Wesley Hoffman is a blogger, podcaster, speaker, and the founder of Treehouse Networkshop, a monthly networking event series based in St. Louis. As a networking and marketing enthusiast, he loves to spread the word about the power of making connections digitally and in real life.