Throughout history having a following was reserved mainly for religion and pop bands but now “having a following” has become a culture and anyone and anything can benefit from hoards of fans and advocates providing they go about it the right way.

A recent lazy Sunday afternoon movie marathon on the telly threw up Kevin Costner’s famous line in “Field of Dreams” … “Build it, and they will come”. This got me thinking and discussing with a friend the concept and meaning in relation to marketing. It made me think of one of the biggest mistakes businesses make, and that is building a website and having their own social media channels but expecting people to find them rather than encouraging people to visit them in order to build and cultivate an online following. The reality is this; especially with social media, success in growing a following is something of a Holy Grail for many businesses and organisations, who often end up stuck on the same number of followers and can’t seem to make any progress.

So how do you build an online following? The vloggers out there make it look easy and to some extent it can be… providing you stick to some simple rules; here are a few of my top tips on how to make yourself a household name.

Be consistent and update your online channels continuously. It’s no good having a flurry of activity online one day and then forgetting about social media for weeks or months. There is nothing more disengaging than a page that’s never updated, why would anyone want to visit it let alone share it? Plus, word won’t spread about your online activities if you aren’t actually doing any, therefore, you need to maintain a consistent presence as well as a consistent tone.

The second tip is to have a strategy. Posting every now and again, or whenever you feel like it, or whenever something pops in your head isn’t a particularly good approach to digital marketing. Just like you make a plan for your offline marketing, you’ll need consider how often you’ll post, what content your posts will have, where you will post to best reach your target audience, a goal for the number of followers you want to reach and special offers and competitions you want to run online.  You may want to build into your strategy how you can combine channels to get maximum exposure and engagement too…

Make it a two-way conversation and engage people. The best digital marketers are those who understand the importance of engaging with their followers and give their followers the platform to participate. Don’t just post – post and then reply to anyone who comments. Thank commenters and value their opinions, start debates and join in – but make sure to always keep it friendly and professional. I find that if I am asking people to do something, they are often more likely to do so if I go first e.g. “ Here is a picture of me wearing a Christmas jumper in aid of Save The Children, share your photos of you and your friends to get involved and contribute to our giant jersey jumble (this being a collage made using all the shared photos by the way – you can have that one, I haven’t used it yet).”  Then follow this up with update posts, encouragement posts and gratitude posts.

Don’t sell too much. It is counterproductive and unfair to expose your followers to endless sales related posts and advertising. It’s a safe bet to say that this is not what they “signed up for” and it’s the last thing anyone wants to see on social media. A Facebook page or Twitter feed full of adverts for products or services feels soulless and impersonal and switches people off. By all means employ some sales related links to your topics and content, but do it subtly and keep the blatant advertising to a minimum.

Offer value and reasons to come back to your pages and give people a reason to spread the word and share your content. A great way to do this is by running competitions. Not only does it stir up interest in your company’s online presence as it offers users something in return for their ‘likes’, shares, or re-tweets but it encourages sharing as people obviously want to give themselves the best chance of winning and what better way to do this than to get your friends involved too! Your prize doesn’t even have to be of huge value either, it could be something as simple as  a “guess our top three best-selling products and win one of each” contest, or suggesting a new name for a product in return for a mention and pure and simple, money-can’t-buy self-satisfaction.

Be ‘shareable’. Social media works in the same way as word of mouth, where people spread the word about things they like. So if you want users to share your content you will need to make it funny, creative, unique, controversial or anything else that’s going to get people talking. Just don’t be boring – whatever you do.

Following these tips and putting them into practice should help you to create a meaningful following and army of online fans.  But remember that everyone that is following you is investing a certain degree of time in you and no-one likes having their time wasted, so before you hit the ‘post’ button ask yourself “is this going to bring anything to my followers?”

Good luck!

Next week, as we get closer to Christmas, I will talk about  the best last minute marketing activity you can do to create a buzz.

Top Tips for Building a Following Online

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