Imagine being reasonably confident that most of your online posts will be a hit with your audience. You, as an influencer, would be free to experiment with new platforms and content, knowing that you can rely on positive comments and plenty of engagement from people who look forward to seeing your updates.
That’s the power of a strong online community. When you’re starting from scratch, it can seem nearly impossible to be memorable in a sea of competitors. Here are a few tips from the experts.
Model the engagement you wish to receive
This is good news if you’re a fan of mindless scrolling: it can easily be a boost to your brand. Just make sure you’re liking, commenting, and sharing as you go. “The best way to have a real community that is interested and engaged,” says Leah Caraher, founder of Five for the Road, “is to be engaged yourself.” That means she sets aside time to respond to emails from her readers and chat with them on social media. Fink often takes these interactions a step further, attending conferences and events where she can get to know her audience IRL.
Know who you’re talking to
Tools like Iconosquare, Short Stack, and Sprout Social can help you understand the gender breakdown of your audience, as well as other revealing factors such as where they live, what time they’re usually online, and which hashtags are most likely to engage them.
Once you know the basics, you can go beyond analytics platforms to create actual connections. Holly Rosen Fink, founder of The Culture Mom, says bloggers often use private Facebook groups to connect with people in their niche.
Stick to a posting schedule
If you were posting once a day when you first started to grow your audience, you should still be posting once a day now. Your audience is more likely to engage if they know what to expect from you, and when. Many of the analytics tools also have a post scheduling component, which can help you stick to your plan. Caraher says that these tools help her organize her posts, and planning ahead gives her time to think about what is most helpful to her community and to create stories to accompany them.
Introduce sponsored content carefully
Few things can alienate an online community faster than a paid post that doesn’t jive with the content your audience has come to expect. But that doesn’t mean you should forego sponsored content all together—just that you should be selective in what you accept.
Caraher has a list of questions she asks herself before she agrees to work with a brand, things like: “Does it align with my values and mission statement,” and, “how can I create a story that inspires my audience and shares the sponsored content?” She brainstorms ideas before she accepts the offer to avoid signing on to something that might not turn out to be the right fit.
The most important thing to remember, according to Fink, is that it’s not about the money. “I do not want to be an atelier,” she says. “It’s about integrity.”
Maintain your progress
Growing and adding new platforms to your online presence means being more, not less, dedicated in your efforts to cultivate community. That means scrolling, liking, commenting, and sharing on every platform—and as Caraher admits, it takes time. But payoff comes in the form of fans that will follow you, and provide encouragement, entertainment, and inspiration along the way. “Trust is everything, both online and offline,” says Fink. “The importance of building community is both to organically connect with and bring together like minds, and to have engaging conversations online.”