Most creatives I know don’t think about building an online presence as a way to build community.
Building community online has immense potential because it allows you to dramatically extend your reach beyond your real-world community. With a few basic skills and strategies, you can build a beautiful online presence that is connected to your real-life activities.
Why building an online community is important
With some careful thought and focus, your online presence can be an extension of your work in the real world and a powerful way to build community, increase engagement, and ultimately get more people to know about the work you do.
By sharing your creative process, showcasing your projects, and engaging with your followers, you have an opportunity to develop a loyal community that not only supports your work but also provides valuable feedback and insights about what next steps you should take in your life and career.
Your online presence also allows you to connect with other like-minded individuals in your field, fostering a sense of community and collaboration that can lead to new opportunities and partnerships.
Finally, building an online presence provides a platform to showcase your work with a global audience, enabling you to gain exposure and recognition for your work.
Your online community magnifies your voice
If you’re like me, you started building an online presence to make connections with your close friends and family.
While this is important, it is vital to start thinking about ways you can use your online presence to build a larger audience.
Developing an online presence is an essential tool to help creatives build their brand, grow their audience, and expand their creative reach.
Creating a presence online allows you to share your voice and your content without constraint and without someone dictating what you should say or how you should say it.
In short, building an online presence allows you to control the online story of your life.
Here is a step-by-step process I teach to artists to help them get serious about building their online presence.
Step One: Understand the mechanics of how to build your online presence
Building an online presence that supports your career takes a bit of careful planning.
In order for this to work, you need to funnel your online presence into a meaningful strategy that helps you move your career forward.
Josh Spector has a simple formula for developing an online community that can help sustain your career and it’s based on three basic principles:
1. Discovery — This is where social media comes in. You likely currently have a great following of friends and family. Your long-term goal is to expand your reach through created content and social media posts that inform, teach, or simply bring joy to your followers.
Goal: To maximize the number of people who can see the beautiful things you are creating.
Here’s my discovery mechanism: I am active on twitter and instagram. In addition, I write 3–4 blog posts each week and I immediately share each post on my blog, Linkedin, Medium, and Facebook. At the end of every post, I direct people to subscribe to my newsletter (Take a look at the bottom of this post to see how I do this).
2. Connection — This is giving the people who discover you through your posts a way to follow you so that when you have additional posts, they are immediately notified. This could be through a follow on Social Media or the collection of an email address for your newsletter.
Goal: To develop a way for you to have a permanent point of contact with your community.
Here’s how I ask people to connect with me more deeply: I ask everyone to subscribe to my weekly newsletter, Tips For The Unrelenting Creative, which provides practical, tactical, how-to tips to help creatives thrive in their life and career.
3. Monetization — When you have a large enough following, you have an opportunity to convert your followers into paying customers in person and online. This can be through sales of an album, an ebook, or even driving more people to your live performances.
Goal: To develop additional revenue streams to that support your career.
Here is how I create a monetization funnel: I wrote a book titled The Path Of The Unrelenting Creative, I regularly consult, and I recently created an online course called Extending Techniques.
I know that many of you think that building an online presence is simply a place to connect and that is fundamentally the most important value social media brings to the equation. However, if you’re not thinking long-term about ways you might be able to utilize your community to sustain yourself, you are missing out on a large part of why you would build an online presence in the first place.
Step Two: Write a strategy statement to help you build your online presence
The best part about social media is that you have unlimited opportunities to experiment, test, reflect, pivot, and test again when it comes to generating content.
However, you must have a plan so you know if your creations are working. That means you need to set some clear expectations for what you’d like to accomplish each step of the way.
Right now, I am focused on building my connection mechanism. That means I need to grow my community so I can get more eyes on posts like the one you’re reading here.
Your strategy for building an online presence must be measurable and time-bound.
Sample strategy statement for building an online presence: By July of 2023, I will have a minimum of 1,000 subscribers to my newsletter, 5 Tips For Unrelenting Creatives. I’ll accomplish this by writing 4 blog posts per week, and sharing 5 posts per day on Instagram and Twitter in order to connect people to my network.
From here I can benchmark and I have a clear goal for where I’d like to be by July 1, 2023.
Step Three: Hone your community
The most important reason to use social media is to be social and connect directly with your community.
Every time you post is an opportunity to connect with your community in a meaningful way. This is a two-way street. Your job isn’t just to post, it’s to comment on other people’s posts and share content you love. I’ve found that genuinely commenting on the profiles of my followers and people I’d like to be my followers is the single best way to build community.
Your job is to figure out the type of community you’d like to cultivate and understand just how big that community actually is.
For example, as a bassoonist, I could seek to create a social media community that consists of all bassoonists. That’s great but limited because there aren’t that many bassoonists in the world. Instead, I’m focusing on three elements that come up all the time in career development: Work/Life Balance, Financial Stability, and Finding Meaningful Work.
While I have people in my community that aren’t necessarily interested in those areas, when I do post, those are the things I cover. This is vitally important when considering the Discovery/ Connection/ Monetization combination we’ve been discussing.
Step Four: Determine which platform is right for you
While there are other forms of social media, here are the top 5 you should consider in 2023.
If you’re going to choose only one social media platform to use, I believe it should be Instagram. It essentially combines many of the other platforms into one and provides a great way to engage with your audience.
Numbers: Over 1 billion monthly users
Who: If you are under 40, chances are you have an insta account.
Why: If your target audience is under 40 then you should probably go with instagram.
Preferred Content: Beautiful Photography, High-quality visuals, and selfie-style video that speaks to your audience. Instagram provides the opportunity to post photos, share ephemeral posts on stories, create long-form content on IGTV, and create short videos through reels.
Believe it or not, YouTube is a SEARCH ENGINE. If you’re not already thinking about it that way, now is the time to consider the platform’s true value as a discovery mechanism. It is currently the second most used search engine behind google.
Numbers: More than 2 billion monthly users.
Who: 74% of US adults are regularly using youtube with a high concentration of 15–34-year-olds. Use goes up with the level of income and education.
Why: Combination of education and entertainment.
Preferred Content: Video and video only. YouTube provides everything from full-length performance videos to educational “how to” videos for their audience.
Facebook is easily the largest social media platform in the world.
Numbers: 2.5 billion monthly users. 68% of US adults use Facebook with 51% using the platform multiple times a day.
Who: Facebook trends older. If you’re trying to reach a 30+ crowd, this platform is for you. Activity grows beyond the 40+-year-old age demographic.
Why: Use Facebook if you want to reach an audience of adults and have engaging visual (or video) content. Facebook is also great for creating communities.
Preferred Content: Interesting, engaging, or even polarizing content that has the potential to go viral. Short videos and eye-catching images work well. Facebook is a great place to post engaging performance-related content for your audience.
Not the platform with the largest numbers of monthly users, but those who do are deeply engaged.
Numbers: 300 Million active users each month. 40% are active multiple times a day.
Who: 63% of Twitter users are between 35–65, with males making up two-thirds of those people.
Why: Great way to communicate breaking news, digest bite-sized content and connect directly with your users in real-time.
Preferred Content: Videos and photos work well but a well-worded tweet still reigns supreme. Educational videos, discussion threads, advice and opinions about the world.
One of the newest social media platforms and already has over 1 billion downloads of the app.
Numbers: 800 million active monthly users.
Who: 50% under the age of 35. Most users are 16–24 years old.
Why: Great way to reach a young audience with fun video-based content with a focus on entertaining first.
Preferred Content: Entertaining, interesting, and nonsensical short-form content. Educational videos, discussion threads, advice, and opinions about the world.
Personal newsletters can be one of the best ways to build an audience. You grow your audience by having members subscribe/opt-in to your newsletter.
Numbers: Unlimited possibilities. (Generally speaking, a newsletter that has 30,000 followers could sustain you)
Who: Your personal community.
Why: Newsletters are your personal connection with your audience. If a social media platform above goes away, you will still retain your email list.
Preferred Content: Entertaining, interesting relevant content for your audience on a consistent basis.
Step Five: Ask your audience what they would like to see from you
Now that you have selected a platform in which to use, it’s time to become SUPER focused on how you engage.
You can do this in three ways:
1. The best way I have seen to do this is through Ryan Levesque’s Ask Method. Ryan’s premise is simple, before you do anything, ask your audience what they want from you. Survey your audience and ask them what they would like to see from you as you start to post more.
2. Review all of your posts over the past 12 months and identify the posts that received the most likes and the most comments. From there, you can make some guesses about what your audience would like to see most.
3. You can start with a clean slate right now and develop a set of strategies that you think your audience will like to see you post. To do this, answer the following questions:
- What is the main topic you will cover through your posts?
- What is the first sub-topic you will cover?
- What is the second sub-topic you will cover?
- What is the age range of your targeted audience?
Step Six: Develop your content creation plan
Congratulations, you’ve made it this far.
….now for the hardest part. Creating a content creation plan and sticking with it!
Here are six tips to remember when developing your plan:
1. You have to find a sweet spot for posting. Set your ambitions too high and you’ll set yourself up for failure. Set them too low and you won’t get the traction necessary to grow your following.
2. Don’t be overly concerned with quality. Quantity is more important at this point as you figure out what works. For example, do not go spend a lot of money on expensive camera equipment when your iPhone or Android will get you 90% effectiveness. This is especially important when you don’t even know if you’ll enjoy posting videos online.
3. Start with a one-month plan to test the waters.
- For Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, shoot for 3–5 posts daily.
- For YouTube, shoot for one post a week.
- For your newsletter, shoot for one post a week.
4. Batch your posts. Take 1–2 hours per week and create posts that can be put up over the course of the week. For videos or your newsletter, which may happen less often, see if you can build up a month’s worth of content so that you are ahead of the game.
5. Schedule your posts. Use a service like Buffer, OneUp, or HootSuite to schedule your content to be posted over time.
6. Regardless of what you decide in terms of posting, CONSISTENCY is the most important thing to remember. It will be difficult to build a lasting following if you only post occasionally, or you post intensively for a week and then fall off. Set a plan and stick to it as best you can.
Step Seven: Determine what to post
While it is important to post your own content and even be able to live in the moment with what you post, it’s also incredibly important to have a variety of posts that attract your audience. Your creative work should be the backbone of what you post, but different types of personal engagement is also very important. Your audience wants to know you and understand you so giving them a glimpse of who you are, what you do behind the scenes, and the things you’re thinking about will only help you grow your following.
Here is a list of things you could post:
- Posts showcasing your talent: Excerpts of a performance, one of your practice sessions, or even a “how to” video explaining how you approach a particular passage are all great ways to build an audience.
- Questions: Asking your audience their opinion about something is always a great way to engage and a great way to find your super-fans.
- Long posts: On Twitter, this is a number of tweets connected in a row. On Instagram, this could be a number of photos that you slide through or a series of posts on your story’s timeline. Regardless, threads get a lot of attention on social media.
- Recommendations: Also very popular and another way for you to engage your audience with your ideas. Sharing a list of recommendations is a great way to build trust and interest from your audience.
- Links or Promos: This is a great way to post about your upcoming performances or other things happening in your life.
- Excerpts: Short sections of your writing or short sections of a recent performance are great.
The most important thing to remember is that these are people who want to engage with you. See if you can come up with a strategy to make it happen!
Step Eight: Start Posting
Now that you have completed all of your exercises, it’s time to start posting content. Make sure you document your process as you go and I would strongly encourage you to:
- Capture the number of followers you have at the beginning of this exercise.
- Post one month of content based on your planned posting schedule.
- Capture how many followers you had at the end of the one-month period.
- If you’ve noticed a sizable jump in the size of your community, keep going! If not, revisit this article to tweak your strategy.
Final Note: Do not give up if things don’t seem to be going your way. I have found that consistent, thoughtful, engaged posting has always led to a community of people who want to know what you are up to in your career. My recommendation is always to consistently follow your established strategy for at least six months before you pivot to something else. Time after time, I find that people get frustrated when their posts don’t immediately go viral. This is a long-game process so stick with it, the results will eventually come. Please let me know if I can help you on your journey, it can get lonely!
Thanks for reading this post and I hope you found it helpful.
Photo Credit: Marvin Meyer
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