Written by Karyn Keene

BrickWall“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.” – Jimmy Stewart

Companies build a customer base, and storytellers build an audience. The relationship that storytellers have with their audience is one of utmost respect and surprising vulnerability. We bare our souls and desperately hope that will impact someone. Similarly, our audience comes to us looking for inspiration, challenge, or entertainment and they give us something precious in return: their time and attention.

As storytellers, we must have a relationship with our audience if our work is going to be alive and meaningful to someone other than ourselves. However, we also need to make money to survive. This puts us in a difficult situation—one that many artists allow to push them into treating their audience as customers. They come up with clever ways to persuade people to buy their stories and, in the end, their audience feels pandered to rather than engaged with. And they walk away.

For truly successful audience building, the audience must be seen as partners: people who have an active say in the art, who are intelligent and who matter deeply beyond just the potential profit they represent. And you know what? More often than not, that respect turns your audience into loyal patrons who will go out of their way to ensure you can continue creating that story they have come to love.

So, once you know who your audience should be, it’s time to find them and engage them. Good audience building is conversational and relational, so often social media is an excellent place to start. Here are a few tips for how to glean an audience from social media:

1. Build a social media presence. Share posts about your own work and repost other content that you think might be valuable to your target audience. An audience will appreciate that you care about others. Providing helpful articles or enjoyable art in your subculture is a great way to engage an audience.

2. Find leaders in your genre and follow them on social media. This will help to keep you in the know of what is going on in your particular subculture. These figures often start thoughtful conversations that are worth paying attention to.

3. Join good conversations. When you are able to add something insightful or creative to a conversation, people will notice and you may get a few new followers. This is a great way to show your future audience that you care about what they care about.

4. Make promises and keep them. Once you gain momentum, it’s important to set clear expectations. Are you a webcomic artist who is going to release a new page every week? Will you post original content on Tuesdays and valuable collaborations on Thursdays? Let your audience know the plan. Then do it. Consistently.

5. Talk to your audience. Remember this is a relationship, and relationships need regular communication to stay alive. When people feel like they know you, they are more likely to stay engaged and support you. If you need to take some time away from social engagement, be sure to tell them why you’re taking a break. Otherwise they may suspect you quit and lose interest.

Storytellers build their audiences at different paces. Sometimes you may suddenly gain thousands of followers overnight. Other times, you slowly build your audience five followers at a time. Regardless of how it happens, stick with it and be patient! Relationships often take time to grow, so enjoy the process.

If you haven’t already, read part 1 on Defining Your Audience. Are you caught up? Then keep reading for part 3 on Finding Your Voice! Have any suggestions for how to build an audience? Share them below.