Online Audience

Ten Foolproof Ways to Master Your Online Audience

By Bob Berry

Knowing your audience and understanding the needs of your target customer are business fundamentals. No matter what you attempt in the world, for-profit or not, you must know what your audience wants and how you’ll fulfill those desires in unique and sustainable ways.

But the Internet is a crowded place. Thousands of businesses, bloggers, and spammers are competing for your customers’ attention.

Recent research indicates that tens of billions of new pieces of content are published every day.

In all that madness and noise, how can you find your audience? How do you validate your product, service, or offer in that craziness? Here are ten low-cost or no-cost ways to quickly find your tribe in all the virtual crowds. In fact, many of these approaches actually help you take advantage of the massive flow of people and information online.

  1. Find Your influencers: In every online space today, dedicated and creative bloggers, writers, consultants, and leaders have already cracked the code on the audiences you’re trying to reach. In many cases, those influencers will gladly interact with you – especially if you have something unique to offer their audiences. Even if you don’t reach out to them directly, or if they don’t respond when you try, the results of their years of hard work are right there in the public domain for all to see. Read their blogs. Read the comments in their blogs. Google them to see where else they speak and write, and who they’re writing and speaking to. Follow them in social media. And definitely reach out – you will get some of them to respond.
  2. Adjacent Practitioners: Whatever your business or profession, you are surrounded by “adjacent practitioners.” For example, if you’re a blogger, you’re standing elbow to elbow with graphic designers, writing coaches, social media experts, search engine gurus, and many others. Like the influencers above, they may blog, speak, write, and they too must find their audiences. Chances are, their online audiences include considerable overlap with your audience.
  3. Buzzsumo: This is one of the most powerful tools for instantly learning what’s hot online at this very moment. Go to Buzzsome and search on your topics, buzzwords, themes, and ideas. You can get a lot of free results, and for a small fee, you can get a lot more. Find out what topics people are clicking on, reading, and sharing. Explore what is on the minds of your potential audience. Learn what authors and influencers are hot. Discover emerging technologies and new marketing methods. Then, once you find that hot subject matter, go to the web sites and blogs of whatever Buzzsomo reveals and read the comments. Learn who those articles are targeting. Find the authors of that hot Buzzsumo content and follow them.
  4. Quora: Leading thinkers, researchers, writers, and businesses in many subject areas are now using Quora to build their own audiences. You can do the same, and there’s plenty of content in Quora to learn how. But you can start simple by leveraging what existing Quora authors have already done. Use Quora to research any topic that you’re interested in. From those results, drill into three key areas: learn from the content posted, follow the authors of the content, and learn who is following and reading those topics – and asking those questions.
  5. Other Online Groups: Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Yahoo host the most active online groups today. And many industries and professions maintain and actively support groups for their own professional associations, guilds, conferences, and their online community in general. Look for the largest, most active, and least spammy groups. Get involved, ask questions, and share your own expertise. You’ll have the most success if you become a part of the community. Don’t just pitch your wares. Be helpful, be relevant, and be patient. Be willing to connect with key individuals, in addition to the group as a whole. These forums are great places to find the Influencers and Practitioners described above.
  6. Facebook Audience Analysis: Upload your email list into Facebook tools to learn about who those people follow, what they click on, and what they like. Facebook is the largest social network on the planet, and their audience analysis tools are powerful and unique in the online world. With a little study, practice, and experimentation, you’ll be amazed at what you can learn.
  7. Twitter: Search for top thinkers and leaders in your space. Look at others’ followers, or who they follow. When you see a tweet with good content, drill into it. Who’s the author, and who’s following them? If it’s a blog post, who has commented on those posts, and what do they say? Follow others, and in many cases, you’ll get followed in return. By following the leaders in your markets, you can keep up on the latest trends and emerging technologies.
  8. Intercept visitors to your web site or blog: Use tools like Ethnio to pop up requests to your site visitors. Or, if you run a WordPress site, you can find free plugins that will pop-up a simple survey. Offer users a free goodie – a pdf or coupon or free subscription – to fill out a more in-depth survey. To get truly in-depth with your site visitors and audience, offer a gift card or free products for visitors willing to connect with you on the phone or in an online chat session.   If you structure that dialog well and do it regularly, you’ll learn insights about your audience that cannot find any other way.
  9. Review the conference notes of your target audience: Most of the people in your audience likely attend live events to learn or network. The sponsors of those events always make the subject matter available, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. As with many of the approaches above, pay attention to the “who” as well as the “what” in that content. The white papers, presentations, articles, and videos will reveal a lot about what needs they’re attempting to fulfill. And that content will almost always reveal the target audience and where those people are found.
  10. Read your competitors’ blogs: Depending on your business or the online space you’re trying to master, you’re probably facing competitive pressure. And it may be significant. Turn that to your advantage by studying your competitors. Read their blogs, visit their online communities, and sign up for their support forums. Google those companies and their officers to see what other rocks you can turn over. What content are they publishing? Where are they speaking or presenting? And most importantly, what products and services are they producing, and for whom are they marketing those? In most cases, your competitors have done a lot of your homework.
  11. Bonus: For all the methods above, use Google to search and then “follow the scent” that you uncover. Google the authors, companies, blogs, topics, technologies, tools, software – whatever is relevant in your space. Click, drill in, post questions and comments, follow leaders, and get in the flow of your online space.

Through all the methods above, you’ll get inside the heads and the hearts of the real people you’re trying to reach, in the real world. Build these methods into your day and your business processes to establish intimacy with the people that matter most: your audience.

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