Recently I sat down with someone who was interested in building up their personal brand. They liked what I was doing online, saw that my numbers were steadily increasing, and they wondered how they could go about creating an online community for themselves. Not being one to shy away from an opportunity to preach about my philosophical beliefs surrounding social media, I entered the meeting fired up. I love sharing with people how I built my audience. I enjoy discussing the hustle and determination I had during the podcasting years, and I’m proud of the fact that my community, though small, is very heavily engaged and active.
The meeting started off just as many of my consultations have over the past few years. We talked about profile design, asset packages, and had the obligatory discussion about content creation. Everything was fine, until I got to my speech about how caring is the easiest way to widen your conversion funnel. This person had no interest in investing in their community. They had no interest in helping others. Their objective was to make money, pure and simple. They realized that they were about to come into some good press because of an app they had developed, and they wanted to capitalize on that by selling eBooks and/or videos teaching people how to code their own apps. As the great Ricky Bobby would say, that’s strikes two and three right there!
If you’re in a business purely to make money, you should get out of that business. Period. You should strive to make meaning in people’s lives and bring something useful to the world around you. If you don’t care enough to invest in your users (or customers), then why would they take the time to invest in you or your product? My main philosophy when it comes to online community is care first, and convert second. I honestly care whether or not people learn from the videos I create. If someone asks me a question on Facebook, I take the time to research the answer and then I type out a full, well-written response. I personally answer all of my emails and I try my best to do so in a timely manner. Is this a scalable methodology? Maybe not, but it makes people happy and it keeps them coming back every time I post a new video or course.
When I was in college I struggled with learning web technologies like HTML, CSS, and WordPress. At the time I was reading books and watching videos by the folks who were supposedly the “best in the business” when it came to teaching that kind of stuff. Unfortunately, they were the worst in the business when it came to answering their email(s) and helping someone out. When I started podcasting and teaching online, I vowed to always be accessible to my viewers, and never think that I was above anyone or any question. The same should hold true for anyone trying to make a go of it on the internet today. The people who consume your content are relying on you for something. Whether it’s a product, a service, or just your knowledge. Shutting them out and using the web as nothing more than a glorified mouthpiece is the wrong thing to do. We live in a society that hinges on interaction between consumer and brand via the internet. Personally, I don’t follow a single person or brand that doesn’t regularly engage with their following. If you’re doing nothing but advertising 24/7, consider yourself unfollowed. Seriously.
I’m not saying you should devote every waking hour to your adoring public. What I’m suggesting is that you take some time, maybe an hour, each day and actually engage with your community. Answer some emails, @ reply someone on Twitter, or respond to a Facebook message. You’d be amazed at just how much of an impact you can have on somebody’s day or even their life in general. These days it’s all about being human in a web-based world, and if you can’t get that, you’re destined to fail. By reaching out to your community and becoming a part of the following you’ve built, you establish trust. Once people trust you it’s easier to convert them into customers, which in the long-term translates to real money.
The internet game is a marathon, not a sprint. Sure, there are a few overnight success stories, but most of those turn out to be one-hit-wonders. The ones who have staying power are the ones who build a brand, and live the brand through meaningful interaction with their customers. Remember, the goal should be to make meaning, not money. If you’re able to make meaning, the money will take care of itself and that funnel will continue to get wider. Trust me.