The Ultimate Guide To Growing Your Audience
The six elements of an effective audience growth strategy.
If you read this, you’ll already have done more than most people do to grow their audience.
What follows is a breakdown of the keys to audience growth and how to establish the necessary mindset to build your fanbase and further your career.
While every creator’s specific situation is unique, this overview is designed to help you develop a strategy you can adapt to your own particular goals and needs.
If you’d like additional help, there’s information at the bottom of this post about how I can work with you to help you figure it out.
How I Know What I Know
Before I get into the advice, here’s a bit about my background and experience with growing audiences for creative work.
I’ve worked in a combination of content production, social media, and marketing for the past 20 years and learned the basic principles of audience growth are the same — no matter whether you’re a comedian, musician, blogger, author, filmmaker, or the most popular entertainment show on the planet (the Oscars).
Here are a few examples of audiences I’ve grown over the years:
– I oversaw digital media and marketing for The Academy and The Oscars for five years. During that time I grew the Academy’s social following from 400,000 fans to more than 10 million and helped create one of the biggest social media moments in history — the Ellen selfie.
– I created Connected Comedy, which became the largest source of comedy marketing information in the world with an audience of more than 20,000 comedians.
– I created the For The Interested newsletter, a weekly collection of 10 ideas to help people learn, do, and become better at their work, art, and life. It has attracted 15,000 subscribers in its first year.
I’ve also helped clients like New Line Cinema, Focus Features, Participant Media, Warner Bros. Television, and many comedians, writers, musicians, and businesses build audiences and promote their creations.
What An Audience Actually Is
Let’s start with some clarity about what it means to have an audience.
Too often creators think of their “audience” as the number of people who consume their creations. But I disagree.
Your audience isn’t the number of people who consume a particular creation, but rather the number of people you can count on to consume your NEXT creation.
This is a HUGE and important difference that can (and should) shift your entire mindset about audience growth.
If you have a video go viral and get seen by a million people, but none of them subscribe to your YouTube channel or email list, have you really grown your audience?
Because without a CONNECTION to your fans, you have no ability to ensure they will see your NEXT creation — which is ultimately what matters and why it’s a more accurate way to measure your audience.
If 500 people come see your show, love it, and leave without connecting to you in any way that you can reach them next week, then you didn’t grow your audience at all.
Quite the opposite.
All you did was let 500 people who should be in your audience walk out the door without becoming part of your fanbase.
Five hundred people who loved you but didn’t connect with you is nothing more than 500 missed opportunities.
As you read on, keep in mind these audience growth strategies are not just about getting exposure for your work — they’re about building your actual audience.
That’s what matters. That’s what careers are built on.
The 6 Elements Of Audience Growth
Six elements need to come together in order to grow your audience.
If you struggle to grow your audience or are just starting out, it’s important to think through each of these elements and develop a strategy to address each one.
And if you want to improve your rate of existing audience growth, it’s helpful to analyze the current status of each element to figure out where you can improve and what opportunities you may be missing.
Element 1: Audience Identification
You can’t grow your audience until you decide who you want to be in your audience.
Who’s most likely to enjoy what you create? Hone in on a profile of those people.
How old are they? Do they live in cities or suburbs? Are they married or single? Rich or poor? What kind of jobs do they have? What are their interests?
Then, think about what other things those people consume.
Who are their favorite creators? What do they read, watch and listen to? Who do they follow on social media? What do they care about? What do they value? What motivates them?
Another way to think about this is to answer this question:
If I guaranteed you 1,000 people would see your next creation, but those people couldn’t include anybody you know or anybody famous…who would you choose to be in that crowd?
You’d choose the people most likely to enjoy what you do — that’s your target audience.
This doesn’t mean your target audience are the only people who will ultimately become a part of your audience. If your target audience is women, that doesn’t mean you can’t have male fans.
What it means is you’re going to target your content and promotion to reach that ideal audience and grow from there.
Think of it like a dartboard.
Your target audience is the bullseye and you aim for that. But some of your darts will inevitably land outside the bullseye and attract other fans as well.
Element 2: Content Creation
This is the fun part.
Or at least the reason most of us create things in the first place.
Your content is the gas that fuels your audience growth — it’s what attracts people and convinces them to stick around for the long haul.
But there are two truths about content creation you need to understand.
1. Your content has to be good. I repeat, your content has to be good.
If your content’s not good, none of this other stuff matters because it won’t work. You can’t trick somebody into becoming your fan and nobody becomes a fan of things that aren’t good.
(NOTE: Keep in mind that good is subjective and you don’t need everybody to think your work is good — you just need your target audience to think it’s good.)
2. You need to produce content on an ongoing basis.
Because audience growth is fueled by content, it’s important to regularly create stuff and put it into the world. If you only put something out once every few months or once a year, your opportunity for audience growth is significantly diminished.
On the other hand, don’t feel like you need to constantly post a million things a day on social media — quality is as important as quantity. In a perfect world, at least three pieces of content a week works well.
(NOTE: That doesn’t mean if you’re an author you have to publish three books a week or a musician has to release three songs a week. Content can take many forms and be as simple as a compelling and high quality social media update. The point is to create and share valuable content on a consistent basis).
Element 3: Content Optimization
Creating great content is only half the battle.
You also must optimize that content to ensure you get the most out of it.
This includes everything from how the content is posted, to how it’s positioned, to how it’s repurposed. These little things make a big difference in the ultimate performance of the content.
For example, posting a video to Facebook as a YouTube link reduces its reach (because Facebook’s algorithm hates YouTube) while posting your video as a natively uploaded Facebook video increases its reach (because Facebook’s algorithm loves its own video player).
Another example is taking something you wrote that’s great and chopping it up to get multiple pieces of great content out of the work you’ve already done.
One post can be turned into multiple short posts, quotes from it can be turned into compelling images, and more.
Most creators don’t get the maximum value out of their creations and as a result their content reaches fewer people and attracts fewer fans.
Element 4: Content Distribution and Promotion
Once your content’s optimized, it’s ready to be unleashed on the world — this is where your distribution and promotion plan comes in.
Don’t believe the myth that things magically go “viral.” To grow an audience you have to be strategic about how to get your work seen.
For starters, think back to the Audience Identification phase. Your initial efforts should be geared toward getting your content into the places where your target audience is likely to see them — after all, they’re the ones you think are most likely to enjoy it.
That’s why it’s important to figure out what your target audience consumes and where they consume it — it helps you find them.
Whether on blogs, social platforms, influencers, playlists, or anything else you can come up with — you want to get your creations where people are already looking.
The other key to distribution is to recognize there are two ways to get attention for your work: Earned media and Paid media. If possible, use both.
Earned media is anything you can do to get other people with an audience to share your work with their audience. This includes press, PR, influencers, and leveraging anybody else who has the ability to tell more people about your work.
Paid media is advertising — but it’s not the typical commercials and banner ads you likely ignore.
Instead, pay to promote your actual content through things like Facebook ads, which are incredibly powerful because they put your content where people will actually engage with it — in their feeds.
Every creator should use Facebook ads to grow their audience because it allows you to get your content in front of your exact target audience in an incredibly inexpensive way.
A quick example: I recently helped a comedian promote her upcoming show in a city where she didn’t live and had no pre-existing audience.
Using Facebook ads, we were able to reach her exact target audience (in her case it was 20–40 year old gay men and women who enjoy stand up comedy and live within 50 miles of the comedy club).
For just $14, 780 people in that target audience saw a video of her standup and a plug for the upcoming show — 18 of them clicked through to the club’s ticket sales page to buy tickets.
All that for $14.
There’s no excuse for creators not to use Facebook ads to grow their audience and promote their content and shows.
For what you spend on a cup of coffee each day, you can get meaningful results.
Element 5: Audience Conversion
This is the single most overlooked element of audience growth.
Remember how I said your audience isn’t how many people saw your last creation, but rather how many you can count on to see your next one?
That’s why this audience conversion step is so crucial.
Audience conversion is your ability to convert people who are exposed to your content into members of your actual audience. It’s how you take somebody who’s a casual viewer or listener and turn them into a fan you can reach with your future work.
To do this, you must first select a key conversion metric to measure your audience growth.
There are multiple metrics that could work for you depending on your goals.
In most cases, turning somebody into an email subscriber is what provides you the most value. But you could decide instead to have your key conversion metric be podcast or YouTube subscribers, social media followers, or whatever method you choose that enables you to efficiently reach that person with your future creations.
While you may want multiple conversions (it’s great to have people follow you on Twitter AND join your email list for example), you’ll have the most success if you focus on one single metric.
The more asks you make of people, the less likely they are to do any of them.
So pick one key metric and use your content and distribution to drive people to take that single action.
This metric is not only how you will measure your audience growth, but it’s also how you’ll measure the success of your creative work.
If you perform for 100 people and they love the show but none of them join your email list, that show was less valuable for you than the one where only 50 people liked the show, but 40 of them joined your list.
Remember: Audience growth is about a mindset and when you see this conversion metric as your goal, it enables you to make meaningful progress much quicker than you otherwise would.
Element 6: Audience Activation
The final step in the process of audience growth is to activate the audience you’ve acquired.
This means figuring out ways to get your existing audience to consume and share your content as well as developing strategies to get your audience to spread the word about you and your work.
Once you’ve identified your target audience, gotten your content in front of them, and converted them into your fans, the work’s not done. In some ways, it’s just begun.
Your ability to activate your audience is a key to supercharging your growth because it means that each additional new fan brings with them a whole network of other people they can introduce to your creations.
The best audiences are the ones with the most engaged and passionate fans. And the most engaged fans are the ones where creators are committed to serve and connect with them.
Treat your fans like gold and take a personal interest in them — they’re the key to your ultimate success.
5 Common Audience Growth Mistakes
Every creator is different, but here are five of the most common mistakes I see creators make when it comes to audience growth.
1. Don’t choose a target audience that’s too broad or not defined at all.
If you’re a comic, your target audience isn’t just “people who like comedy” and if you’re a hip hop artist your audience isn’t just “people who like hip hop music.”
Think about it — Louis CK has a huge audience, but it’s only made of people who like a certain type of comedy.
The same is true for Jay Z — his work is targeted at people who enjoy a certain type of hip hop.
The more you narrow your target audience, the easier it becomes to find, reach, and connect with those people and the stronger those connections tend to be. Get specific.
2. Don’t ask people to subscribe to your mailing list without explaining its value.
Don’t ask people to subscribe to your mailing list or newsletter without giving them a reason to do so — and that reason should be an offer of something THEY value, not just something YOU value.
Too often creators ask people to subscribe to their list without explaining what’s in it for the subscriber or with promises of things like updates about your future shows which is more valuable to YOU than THEM.
Mailing lists that don’t offer (and deliver) a clear value proposition to potential subscribers, don’t get sign ups.
3. Don’t ask more from your fans than you’re willing to give to your fans.
You have to care more about your fans than they do about you and you have to make that clear to them.
If you take them for granted, if you don’t care about their interests, and if you don’t make attempts to genuinely get to know them, you can’t expect them to care about you.
You will owe your entire career to your fans so treat them that way.
4. Don’t expect results from mediocre content.
Remember how I said your content has to be good or else none of this other stuff will ever work?
Well, I’m going to say it again. Your content has to be good. Real good.
If you’re hustling and following all this advice and still not getting any traction then maybe it’s time to focus on improving your content.
It might just not be good enough — yet.
5. Don’t refuse to invest in audience growth.
Audience growth doesn’t happen overnight and neither do successful careers.
Play the long game and concentrate on making steady progress instead of looking for shortcuts and expecting to be an overnight superstar.
Audience growth is hard — it takes time, effort, patience, and resources.
If you’re not willing to invest in growing your audience, you shouldn’t expect to have one.
Recommended Audience Growth Articles
I’ve written a lot about various audience growth tactics beyond the overview in this post.
Here are a few you may want to check out:
There are tons of great books out there about audience growth, but here are five that I strongly recommend for creators.