Content marketing can feel like the opportunity to be the author or podcaster or speaker that you’ve always wanted to be.

But when done strategically, it’s about building relationships with clients and potential clients, and providing additional value to them that will make you top of mind when they have a matter that requires your expertise. When you bear that in mind as an end goal, it’s a reminder that you can’t simply put out content – you need to build an audience. 

I have often thought about how many people start a blog, launch a podcast, put together a presentation, etc. and then sit back and wait for the magic to happen, wait for their audience to just show up. And while there are times that that will happen, they’re awfully rare – good content marketing is actually a conversation between you and your audience. And THAT’S where the magic happens. There are two areas to focus on, within the content itself, and through the promotion of the content (yours and others).

Within Your Content

To start with, you need to be offering your audience something that makes it worthwhile – we’ve talked about this in a variety of ways, so I won’t dive into them in any great detail here again. But the short version is that you want to first identify what your goal is for your content, and then who your audience is to achieve that goal. Then find out what they care about, and where they are.

Then turn that content into a conversation – here’s how:

  • Start by listening – follow people you like and respect in the space that you’re in. Look at all types of media when you’re doing this, from articles to blogs to podcasts to video and more. This is where the fodder for your own content will come from. Someone will write or say something that strikes a chord with you, and you’ll feel the need to respond with your own thoughts.
  • Here’s the key, when you do that, make sure you cite the content that inspired you, and when you share your content, link back to the author and theirs. That will kick off the dialogue. Once you publish your post, podcast episode, or even if you’re giving a presentation, share a link or note with them saying that their work led to your post, in which you’ve cited them. If you have a relationship with them already, they’ll be flattered and more likely to share your content with their followers on social media (perhaps helping to get you in front of an audience that’s new to your work). If you don’t have a relationship with them, it’s an opportunity to make a new connection, engage in further discussion, and yes, they’ll likely be inclined to share your post as well.
  • Use this tactic proactively too – want to get to know someone better or improve your relationship? Offer to co-author a blog post on a topic of mutual interest. Invite them to be a guest on your podcast. Co-present on a topic at a conference or webinar. There are many opportunities where you can create those relationships and get valuable content at the same time.

The key here is authenticity (yes, the most hated buzzword, even if it’s accurate). You want to be natural about this – develop your content because you honestly have something to say, and because someone else’s work got you thinking – not for the purpose of having someone to push your content out. If you’re genuine, people will sense that and it will help the conversational part of content marketing come naturally.

Promoting Your Content (and Others!)

Content promotion is the other area that’s ripe with opportunity for audience-building. Again, you want to make sure you’re authentic. If you start using Twitter just so you can share your content, you’ll spend months wondering where all of your followers are, and why no one responds to your tweets (and you’ll tell everyone you know that “that Twitter thing just doesn’t work”).

But, if you use Twitter (and LinkedIn, and Facebook, and Instagram and yes, even Pinterest) as a place to have conversations first, and become a repository of all substantive content (your own and others), people will gravitate towards that. It’s like any face-to-face interaction – you want to ask questions of people, really listen to their answers and stories, and then only share your own when it’s relevant and useful.

Let’s be very clear here – having strong social networks and real content conversations does not automatically translate to huge numbers of views and thousands of followers. And it shouldn’t. Quality is FAR more important than quantity here – if you have 6,000 followers on Twitter, and 90% of those are spammers, that’s not going to do you any good when you have an excellent piece of content that would be valuable to potential clients.

In contrast, if you have 100 followers, and every single one of them is a journalist in your specialty area, a client or potential client, or an amplifier or influencer, how much more powerful is your audience going to be?

The way you build that powerful audience is through conversation – it happens slowly, but over time, you’ll see big results. If you build your content, whether it’s a blog, a podcast, a strong speaker circuit, etc., make sure you build your audience FIRST – then, they you will find success.