Building an Audience Is Like Pushing a Boulder (Which Requires One Thing Above All Else)

So, you're going to build a blog. Good for you! You've got a niche topic in mind that you can own outright. You've got a strong point of view on that topic. Your head is chock full of ideas, which will of course be written out with a tone of voice so magnetic, so charismatic, and so clever that others won't be able to resist each of your posts. You're ready. You're willing. You're able. It's time to build your audience. 

I can sense your confidence...

And then -- hurray! -- you publish a few well-received posts. Maybe it's one. Maybe it's several. Regardless, you get out the door just like you'd planned. You're an early success!

To get that initial audience, you've emailed your Gmail contacts announcing your launch. You've posted to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The comments start to trickle in, and they're glowing: "Congrats! Woohoo! This is GREAT! Keep it up! Just subscribed! You're a natural!"

You are, on no uncertain terms, an almighty being of audience-building on the internet. You're invincible! 

It's now Week 3. And you realize something:

This stuff's freaking hard!

You were gonna write today, you swear. But you just had to finish the last episode of Game of Thrones last night. Once that was off your plate, you swore you'd be able to write today. But then you had to sleep in to make up for it, so the morning didn't work. Plus your dog barked earlier than usual, so you had to get up and miss out on that precious, writing-inducing sleep. But it's okay -- you'll write after work. Oh but you promised your friend you'd attend that networking event. Well, that's okay, it lets out at 8pm. Then 7:30 hits and -- did you just say dinner, friend? What a GREAT idea! You haven't eaten yet! But now -- what the what? -- it's 11pm, and your dog's harmless yapping at 6am is starting to take it's toll. You hit the couch. You crack your laptop. You stare at the blinking cursor. And...you let it win. It's bedtime.

It's the next morning.

You feel rejuvenated!

You're ready to write again. So you publish a post -- good for you! But you promote it on all the usual places (Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.), and the reaction is virtually nonexistent. 

Uh oh.

But wait! Google+ still exists! (Does Google+ still exist? You do a quick Google search.)

Google+ still exists!

And LinkedIn Groups! You forgot about LinkedIn Groups!

And Medium! Remember how beautiful it is on Medium? Remember how guilty you always felt that you never read those articles? I mean they all seem so smart and in no way could be a more beautiful wrapper around more social media noise. You should publish to Medium!

So you do. And to Google+. And to LinkedIn Groups. And you feel like this again:

...

It's now Month 3. And you realize something.

This stuff is still REALLY freaking hard!

You're trying to keep publishing, but life keeps getting in the way. What's worse, you swear your posts are getting better and better, but you can't seem to beat the view counts of your past articles. You keep trying to beat yesterday's work today, but you can't. Are you the worst writer ever? You must be the worst writer ever. Scrambling and stressed, you try a listicle. You try a cliffhanger, clickbaity headline.

Nothing works.

Yup. Confirmed. You're the worst writer ever. 

Suddenly (even though it wasn't really that sudden), growing your blog makes you feel like you're pushing this up a hill:

It's bad enough that the internet is the most over-crowded, noisy, cluttered ecosystem ever created by mankind. But it's made worse simply because you're part of, well, mankind. It's only natural that you'd run into the scenario above. You're human. You're not a writing machine, despite what you told yourself at the beginning. 

This happens to me all the time. It happened to me last week. (It happened to me last week exactly as I described above...)

Building an audience online today is like pushing a boulder. And so you need to operate like you're about to push a boulder.

Here's the deal: Think of your blog posts like your friends who can help you shove that giant rock up the nearest hill. (I'm going somewhere with this, don't worry. Or I broke my brain trying to blog, as described above. Either way, don't bail yet!)

Look, if you're tasked with pushing a boulder, you COULD ask 10 people to push that boulder, each one at a time...

And that's typically how everybody treats their blogs. They publish an article today and hope -- or incorrectly expect -- that today's article will push your blog forward. It's about your current work beating your past work. 

That's ludicrous. That thinking is broken. You have all these other posts you've published in the past, but because you didn't plan ahead and publish the right stuff, they're just sitting on the sidelines, not doing any work for you whatsoever. They could be helping today's post succeed. They could be pushing that boulder.

But you wanted to be a "thought leader." You wanted to write about your latest conference or company hire or pithy, random, me-first topic. And over time, people stopped caring about those things -- if they cared at all in the first place. 

So your past articles just sit on your blog, doing absolutely nothing for you:

But if you recognize that building an audience is like pushing a boulder, you don't operate like this. You don't ask a group of 10 people to each push one at a time. YOU HAVE 10 PEOPLE AVAILABLE TO HELP YOU!

Instead, you of course ask them to all push and pull and work together, all at once, all in the same direction.

That is what makes a great blog. You need to create an asset that you grow over time, each individual effort adding to the efficacy of the whole.

By publishing helpful, useful, quality, evergreen content, you create a blog whose posts all generate at least some traffic over time. You build a collective asset. You create a collection of content all built to move that boulder. Together. As it should be. As it only can be, if you hope to actually succeed:

Building an audience is like pushing a boulder. And no matter how clever, thoughtful, brilliant, connected, or original you think you are, even today's article isn't enough to move it.

Operate accordingly.

 

This article had help pushing the boulder that is Sorry for Marketing from a few article friends. The friend I'd most recommend you check out next is an essay looking at the data and traffic patterns that support this "all-for-one" blogging approach. Read "Should Your Company Blog? An Essay (with Data) to Decide Once and for All" (In it, I explore how 70% or more of a good blog's traffic comes from old articles -- meaning you could quit writing and still get 70% of your results.)

 

Posted on July 27, 2015 .