Whether you’re broadcasting on Twitch, posting on YouTube, running a blog or any of the other, myriad ways you can become a content creator online, the ultimate goal has to be to build your fan base so that more people see and enjoy your work. Having said that, the title of this post is probably a bit misleading as there is no silver bullet when it comes to getting more fans. A lot of it will be down to the simple question of whether people like you and want to see you do well. I do get asked about this a lot though, so here is what I think I have learned on the subject:
1. Find a good ‘hook’
It might seem obvious but you’d be surprised how many people are running a channel, desperate for more subscribers, and when I visit their site there is nothing interesting or unique about it. Maybe you enjoy playing a video game and want to build a channel around that? It’s no good just playing the game, cheering and jeering at the screen as we do when we are gaming, and expect people to want to watch; they can do that for themselves at home. OK, maybe your skills are ‘teh awesome’? But again, unless you share information with your viewers about how you pulled those killer moves the broadcast will appeal to only a very few hardened fans of the game. Perhaps your ‘hook’ will be your immense knowledge of the topic and you can enthrall viewers about the back story of the game, or the history of it’s development? Maybe you’re so bad at the game that you are hilarious to watch? I can think of worse things to be famous for… This will absolutely be the hardest part of building a fan base and you might have to try several different ideas before you hit the one that brings in an audience. When you’re searching for inspiration check out other people’s channels and see what works and doesn’t work. You should not set out to copy anyone, but it is perfectly acceptable to get inspiration from your favourite channels to come up with your own unique format.
2. Quality counts
Once you have an interesting story to tell, make sure you tell it in a clear, concise and quality voice. In the case of written content, typos and bad grammar need to be eliminated. Most writing software will do this for you to an extent, but it is always possible to miss stuff. Once you start building a fan base you can enlist their help weeding out any stray errors and just a simple ‘thank you’ on social media will be all the payment they require. If you’re creating video or audio then the sound mix is vital. If people can’t hear what you’re saying because the music bed is so loud, you might as well not be speaking. Equally, if the sound levels vary massively you will blow people’s eardrums out with sudden loud bursts, and lose them from your fan base for your troubles.
3. Be consistent
You might have a fantastic idea and a quality product, but unless you post regularly and consistently, there really isn’t much reason for people to subscribe to your channel or website. Finding the time to be consistent is probably the second hardest part of the endeavour. Unless you are an independently wealthy person or still living by the grace of your parents, you will have to give up your evenings and weekends when you are starting out – and for most creating content online will only ever be a hobby so don’t expect it to start supporting you financially any time soon.
4. Develop your ‘brand’ carefully
I know it sounds a bit corporate to be talking about brands, but when you’re looking for an audience you have to think of yourself as a brand and plan carefully how to execute that image consistently. For example, it’s totally OK to be foul-mouthed and irreverent if that’s your style, but realise it will limit your audience to adults and reduce the appropriate times of day you can broadcast on a public network (people speak of ‘the watershed’ in this respect being the time of day after which it’s deemed kids will be in bed so it is OK for public broadcasts to be more adult in theme and content). Once you have established this style and built an audience, you cannot expect to easily switch to cotton candy broadcasts full of fairy-dust and pretty language, and vice versa. Personally I like to keep my broadcasts on Twitch ‘family friendly’ because I know a lot of my viewers have kids around them at the time of my broadcasts. I use humour and innuendo in bucket loads, but nothing that would elicit awkward questions from a youngster. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy blue language and crass humour – I can swear like a trooper when I am watching other people’s channels later in the evening! But if I started doing that in my broadcasts I would probably upset a lot of my fans.
5. Have a clear identity
There is a lot of noise out there on the internet, so you need to make sure your channel or website stands out in the crowd. A strong image, almost like a logo, will help people recognise your posts and links as they go flying through their social media streams. If the channel/site your making content for allows it make a custom URL and header image that gives you a visual identity. If you’re not artistic enough to make your own you can go somewhere like Fiverr to commission a very cheap design. When posting links to your content on social media it’s a good idea to add an image as there are lots of studies that show much higher levels of engagement with social posts that contain pictures.
6. Nurture your community
With the basic structure sorted you should start to slowly build a community of supporters. Treat them with love and respect as these early adopters can be your most powerful tool when it comes to growing your fan base. Interact with them, respond to comments, include them in decisions about what you cover. Make them feel special and appreciated and they will want to see you succeed as they will feel invested in the process. I could write a whole book on this subject, and many people have, so just search for terms like ‘building a community’ if you want to learn more. My number one tip would be not to ask people to share your content though. If they like what you post, they will share it without you asking, and begging for retweets and likes just makes you look needy. Create content people WANT to share, and if people are not sharing your content then you should maybe rethink your strategy. The YouTube Academy website has a really good video about creating communities that is worth watching as an additional starting point:
7. Collaborate with other content creators
Once you have built a sizable audience you will find more and more people come to you asking for help to promote their own online channels and websites. As long as their content is in line with the kinds of things your viewers will enjoy, I think doing so is a great idea as you can help each other grow your audiences together. Be very careful not to abuse your relationship with your fans though by spamming them with irrelevant promotional posts to other people’s work. When I had a successful Kickstarter campaign a few years ago I started getting a LOT of requests from other crowd funding campaigners asking me to share their projects on my networks. It can be hard to say no as everyone deserves a chance at success if they’re prepared to work hard. In the end though, I had to make a rule never to share a campaign unless I myself am personally investing in it – after all, why should I expect my followers to invest in something I am not?