It’s no secret that content marketing is an effective way to grow brand awareness and recruit new customers. We’ve seen so many successful startups do it over the last three to five years -- for inspiration, take a look at Buffer, KISSmetrics, or Groove.
Those three also happen to be SaaS companies whose audience consists of tech-minded people who spend much of their working days searching for helpful and relevant content on the internet. But even if this isn't your primary audience, you too can recruit new community members, brand ambassadors, and customers with content for almost any industry.
The catch, and the reason most companies fail to invest in this evergreen lead source, is that it takes time and because there's no silver bullet. Your strategy is going to differ depending on their habits and behaviors. For certain industries, building that audience may take up to a year, but in the long run will continue bringing you customers for years after publishing. The beauty of leveraging content to grow your audience is that it’s relatively low-cost and that it simultaneously builds a layer of credibility and trust around both you and your company. Here’s how you can leverage content to build your initial audience.
1. Know Who You’re Trying to Reach
Hopefully at this point, you’ve already established product-market fit and have done the necessary research to identify who your ideal customers are. If not, you should stop reading this now and go do that. Done? Great - let’s continue.
Create audience personas: describe who you’re speaking to. Personas can be identified by demographics such as age, gender, location, and more. More importantly, they should include your audience’s interests, where they find their information, how they make decisions, what they do for a living, what they do in their free time - down to how their style their hair, if it's relevant for you business in the least. Picture them, then draw them.
An example persona may be Sally the Startup Founder:
Sally’s media startup recently graduated from Y Combinator. She goes to Product Hunt to learn about any new potential competitors and interesting products to optimize her life. She reads the headlines of TechCrunch and Digiday to stay on top of company news and funding announcements, but she’s much more interested in following certain people for trends news, such as Paul Graham and Andrew Chen - so maybe she skims Medium for these thought leaders. On the weekends, she walks her dog, plays tennis, goes to brunch with her friends, then spends the rest of the day working - because that’s what founders do.
Now you feel like you really know Sally. You can write specifically for her. Sally is probably going to be interested in your own startup story so she can learn from your lessons. Maybe she wants to know how you’ve found a work-life balance. She’s also going to be interested in how your offering can help her work smarter and faster so she can spend more time playing tennis, for example.
2. Be a Valuable Community Member
Before you even start thinking about content topics, get to know where your audience personas hang out on the internet or in real life. Join the communities of which your customer is a part. Take notes on topics that interest them, strike up conversations, ask questions - get to know their needs and interests so you can build out those personas even more.
More importantly, add value. Insert your expertise where you can. Help people without expecting anything in return. Make it a habit to check in on these communities and build relationships. This is where you’re going to discover the first person who wants you to contribute to their blog or recruit your own contributor.
I’m a member of several Facebook and Slack groups, but I also really enjoy the conversations that happen on Inbound.org, reddit, and Growthhackers.
3. Involve Your Audience in Your Content
What I have to say about a topic can only be so interesting for so long. That's why I’m a big proponent of getting your audience involved with your content - whether it’s written, video, a podcast, or another medium. Make their story a part of your bigger, collective story.
Collect quotes or ask to interview key audience members, and then share their stories to attract like minded folks. An added bonus to this approach is that contributors will likely share the content they’re featured in with their networks, and they’ll genuinely be grateful to you for caring enough to include them.
4. Include an Element of Exclusivity
When gathering feedback on your content from your actual audience, you’re effectively creating buy-in and ensuring that the content you’re producing is actually valuable to them. You’re also making them feel needed and special.
When asking for feedback, start small. People like to feel like they’re a part of something exclusive. Reach out to a small group personally and explain that you’re only asking a few people for feedback to gauge their interest and ensure that it is something valuable or helpful. Then thank them within the piece for their help. This creates a feeling of community and personalization that many companies are not taking the time to achieve these days.
5. Make Your Content Discoverable and Shareable
The only way your content is going to grow your audience is if they can find it, right? Make it easy for your visitors to share your stories with social share buttons and add your company name or Twitter handle to meta titles to build brand awareness via shares. If you’re sharing longer form content, consider including quotable click-to-tweets in the post, for which you can check out CoSchedule’s simple click to tweet plugin.
The success of your content could hinge on the ability for your audience to find your content on Google or Bing.
Conduct keyword research with Moz’s keyword difficulty analyzer or SEMRush, then include these terms or phrases in your content and plug them into Yoast’s SEO plugin (a great for search engine optimization if your blog is built on Wordpress). A free alternative for SEO is to use tools like Google Trends to see search volume and related search terms, or SEOCentro to see who's ranking for what. You can also use SEOCentro to identify high-ranking articles to link to in your blog posts, which will help your ranking within Google.
Having said that, quality should always come before searchability. If your content is high-quality and you’ve shared it with the right people, it will find it’s way to an audience, be linked to, and eventually rank in search engines. Try to include keywords when possible, but don’t let them lead your content topics or alter the quality of what you’re sharing - or your story itself.
6. Keep Them Coming Back
Naturally, when you share value, people will return, resulting in a loyal following. To speed up the process, make it really easy for them to return. Create an RSS feed for visitors to be notified when a new piece goes live. Or even better, build a newsletter list that hand delivers your content to their inboxes in a branded package. Sumome has a suit of great tools and tips for building lists.
7. Make Friends With Relevant Influencers
I mentioned delivering your content to the right people earlier in this post. Identify who the thought leaders are among your audience and build relationships with them. Consider partnering up on a special promotion or even just feature them on your blog. By influencers, I don't mean people with 500k Twitter followers - I mean people who educate and set trends around your focus topics.
Build a rapport and ask them if you can occasionally share your content with them. Ask how you can help them. There’s no better way to build a relevant audience than by having the people they respect and trust talk about your brand.
8. Write For Other People, A Lot
There's no shame in riding the coattails of someone else's audience building success, but it’s key to add a ton of value. Make sure the outlet you’re writing for is getting something out of it - even if it’s just educating their audience.
If one of your happy customers has a popular blog, start there. Just get out there writing for other people and link back to your blog when possible. Even if this doesn’t result in conversions, it will result in increased awareness. Remember, races are won by putting one foot in front of the other.
Syndicating content from your own blog onto another channel you own such as your Medium account or personal blog, or on a relevant industry blog is another effective way to broaden reach. For example, if you’re targeting small businesses or startups, ask The Next Web, Forbes, Entrepreneur, or Inc. for syndication opportunities. Again, make sure you’re demonstrating the value that they’ll receive from the relationship.
Bonus Tip: Test With Ads
I learned this one from Anna F. Sawyer. If you have some budget to play with, consider taking out three-four Facebook ads that are super targeted to the demographics and interests of your audience personas and write the copy around different content ideas. Measure the engagement by clicks, likes, and time spent on your site. This way, you can determine what your target audience is really interested in and start seeding what you have to offer among them.
These are all great stepping stones for establishing yourself and your new company as a thought leader. Do your research around where your audience is and what they want -- and start building those relationships! Want to chat other ways to build an audience with content? Leave your questions in the comments below!