July 23, 2008

Nine Ways to Enlarge the Social Media Audience

Guest post by Mark Dykeman of Broadcasting Brain (FriendFeed/Twitter)

Let's take a moment to pause from our normal pontifications about A-Lists, aggregators, egoism, elitism, monetization, commercialization, capitalization, and such and talk about something bigger. This is something that would ultimately benefit the overall audience that we all share today and something that would act like the fabled tide that lifts all boats.

Let's make the social media audience bigger. Let's get more readers, more engaged commentators, and more bloggers. Let's permeate into even more sectors of interest. Let's aim for every adult in the world to be an active reader of blogs.

You might think that I'm joking, but I'm not. I think it's in every blogger's interest to make the blogosphere, and its reading audience, bigger.

Why do we need to expand?
  • Attrition - eventually we'll move on for one reason or another (yes, I'm thinking very long term here) and the blogosphere's audience will eventually be reduced to a smaller, weaker size
  • Increase adoption and acceptance of blogging as a serious, valid form of content creation to a significant population that doesn't view it as being significant
  • New blood and new ideas can help refresh us all and combat the echo chamber effect IF we are also prepared to accept the need to retread some old ground to educate the newcomers
  • To introduce people to new creative outlets to give them the opportunities for personal development and self-actualization
If we believe that it's worthwhile to expand the size of the blogosphere, and social media in general, how can we make it happen? Here are some suggestions to welcome more people into the community (or communities):

1. Continue To Make Our Technology Easier and Simpler to Use

Blogging has come a long way, particularly with content management platforms like Blogger, Wordpress, and Moveable Type, but there's still a learning curve, particularly if you want to do more than type and format and include links. New developments continue (Profy looks like a step in the right direction) and will need to continue. If we compare the development of blogs to that of automobiles, I don't think we've quite hit the power steering era yet.

2. Look Outward, Not Inward

We need to look outside of our niches for new and useful ideas. Tech blogging, as an example, tends to be the stomping grounds of the earliest adopters of technologies and tools, but maybe the members of this niche aren't always the best at how to communicate and persuade. Maybe we don't think of the most creative ideas to combine images, text, audio, and video.

3. Partner With Complementary Skills to Achieve More

Maybe tech bloggers can help other niches with the tools and in turn can get coaching on the “softer” skills of blogging. This encourages movement and sharing between niches which could have other beneficial effects.

4. Sell the Benefits to the Unconverted, but in Practical Ways

How can we help real-life organizations and communities in need? Can we help them communicate better with each other? Can we help them disseminate accurate information? Can we help them learn and teach each other? In short, can we show them how to use technology to address some of their existing problems?

5. Encourage Listening and Participation

Hutch Carpenter proposed that bloggers become more social and better networked as their “careers” progress, but after a certain stage the audience of people that they listen to begins to shrink again. This is a natural phenomenon that occurs to anyone as their schedules load up with requests and “must do” items. In my opinion we must continually try to fight that urge, otherwise we develop tunnel vision and lose sight of what is happening around us.

6. Apprenticeship

What about volunteering to take new users under our wings and be a resource to them, but in a more proactive way? Maybe create a general “helper” community for new users, or to promote these things better to the entire world. I proposed the concept of a social media apprentice a number of months ago. Maybe we need to work it in large numbers.

7. Focus on Long Term Payback

The networking component of social media is sometimes overlooked and undervalued. It seems that a lot of people enter social media with the primary intent of earning income purely through their blog. Some people are clever with the use of copy and advertising (or gobbledygook and advertising) to make a quick buck. Most of those people will eventually alienate any possible audience that would come voluntarily, when in fact, the most valuable “win” in social media is the strength of the personal network that you build. This is why LinkedIn is quite possibly the ultimate social media application because it has a very practical, serious purpose that many other applications don't have.

8. Jettison Your Bratty Side

Let's be blunt: there's a lot of posturing and acting that occurs in certain segments of the social media communities. Yes, there's no doubt that people reap certain rewards by behaving in certain ways to please the crowd. Unfortunately, those rewards don't spread very far - they tend to reward the actor. Will that work in the long run? For some, it probably will (unfortunately). For most of us, it's not worth it to tarnish your character in such a manner. Civility, respect, and compassion will probably go a lot further, unless, of course, you're the type of person who enjoys being manipulated by MSM (main stream media) techniques.

9. Keep Exploring - There's Always a Cutting Edge Somewhere

The frontiers that we can explore are only limited by our creativity, determination, and resourcefulness. Other people will want to see where you are going and what you are doing.

Fairness is in the eye of the beholder

We can complain that the early settlers took all of the good land, staked the best claims, and have put a stranglehold on the riches so that no one else can do well. Perhaps it's true. But consider this:
  • For every Wal-Mart, a K-Mart may suffer, but a Target and countless niche retailers can thrive
  • For every IBM, there's a Microsoft that comes along and reinvents an industry by being nimble, clever, and focused
  • For every Microsoft, there's an Apple, a Google, and a Yahoo that changes the world under their noses.
However, increasing the size of your market, and your audience, is a key ingredient in any growth strategy.

What do you think? Why not share your thoughts?