Thursday, February 27, 2020

How I Built a Highly-Engaging Audience In Just 90 days

Yes, I did it. And this is certainly not one of these „earn $10.000 in just 30 days“ posts. I’ll be very honest with you; if you build communities just to sell things, you are completely on the wrong path. Communities focus on values and as a founding member, you need to identify values to build your community around. When writing a book, you are listening to your creative flows, and after „The End“ you are hoping to find readers who will enjoy it. With communities, the „workflow“ is much different. You create communities FOR readers, and you WORK HARD for them. If it’s not your passion, then this is the place where you can quit reading the article and focus on something less ambitious. Excuse my French, but building a community is a huge liability!

The Right Mindset

In February 2019 I decided to create Tolkienology. I’m a huge Tolkien fan and overall a fantasy fan. Fantasy is my hobby, my secret passion. Make no mistake, I’m not a hardcore Tolkien fan and not even close knowledgeable like many Tolkienists are.

Anyway, if you want to build a readers club, you need to give readers what they want. Fantasy readers want a simple thing: MAGIC. They want your community to be different from any other community – they want to join something magical, positive, funny, inspiring. As a community manager, you build experiences. If you are interested in building just another place where you can blast book links, there are better ways of spending your time on social media.

Goals and How to Reach Them

When building your audience, you need to have very clear goals. You are about to invest a great deal of your time (and possibly some money), so wasting it is something you cannot afford as a business-savvy person. Yes, being an author can be a hobby, but publishing your books is a business. If your products are listed on marketplaces, you better acquire a business-savvy mindset.

Growing Your Mailing list

This is absolutely your #1 goal. Your own mailing list is your biggest asset and your primary marketing channel. If you don’t grow your own list, you risk losing all the hard work on social media if the platform decided to jail you or suspend your account. Those are things you can’t control, so from the very begining, you need to set your focus on building channels you CAN control. Obviously, a mailing list of your subscribers is your gold mine. With each new release, you can hope for better kick-offs if your list is growing steadily.

Building Your Website Audience

Your own author website is your most valuable web property. You need social profiles to interact with both authors and readers, but your content should be always hosted on your website. The content you post on social media carries absolutely no SEO value for your business as social media profiles and pages are not being crawled by Google and other search engines, as they are private.

If you host giveaways and other incentives on your own website, you’ll probably end up with lower engagement rates as this require a couple more clicks from your fans or group members. Don’t worry about the numbers! If they are too lazy to join your giveaway and visit your website, they are probably fans you don’t need. Focus on fans who are happy to engage!

Build your Author Group

Facebook Groups are a very powerful tool. I’ve built my entire book marketing business using Facebook groups as a very top of my sales funnel. I use the same strategy when building readers clubs and branded author groups.

Why groups? Entire Facebook is built around interests. Groups are more focused communities then pages and ideal to build stronger connections with people how are likely to enjoy your content. Facebook Groups tend to appear often in users feeds and notifications, leading to much bigger engagement rates. I call group members a Phalanx. Those interested in history will recognize the ancient origin of this military formation. While page fans are considered your Tribe, your group members are your „battle“ formation, the very basic unit of your community, but also the essential core of your social media audience.

Build Your Facebook Page

Some people say, if you have a Facebook Page, you have your business presence. Facebook pages are easy-to-use tools for building your brand. You can set up your page in a matter of minutes and start publishing your content and promoting it.

This is where you start building your audience. It all starts with a highly-engaged page! However, if you don’t create a Facebook Group out of your Page, your page is useless. If you don’t build your website and your subscribers list out of your Facebook group, your group is useless.

It all starts with a Facebook Page.

10 Steps to Your Own Exceptional Audience

Creating a community takes a lot of creativity and consistency, but planning your activities is equally important. Here’s how my Tolkienology scrapbook looked like on February 1st:

  1. Tolkienology.net domain purchase
  2. Getting the content ready – 50 popular images
  3. Researching Tolkien pages and groups on Facebook – two weeks
  4. Creating the content plan – 7 days in advance
  5. Starting the Page
  6. Preparing the group content / when the Page reach 300k+ monthly engagements

Now it’s time to get our feet really wet! How did I actually build such an amazing community of fantasy fans?

Step 1: Knowing your readers

Everyone is saying this, right? You have to know your ideal reader to be able to create content he/she is likely to consume. I’ve observed dozens of Tolkien pages and groups and I’ve written down all posts and images with high engagement rates. I was happy to learn that those clubs used some of my original ideas because that was proof that I was on the right path.

For example, one page had thousands of engagements on „Tag a friend you would take to Middle Earth“ image, that was actually the map of Middle Earth. I saved this image and created a similar one using Canva. If you don’t feel confident enough to use Canva, you can easily find freelancers on Fiverr or Upwork who will design your images for as low as $5.

Always a safe bet are images containing well-known book quotes. You don’t have to be original here, just play it smart. Join Pinterest and browse for great images with quotes and save them. Thinking as your reader, you are probably able to understand that familiar content will make you feel like belonging to the community. Use common quotes and try to attach them to fresh images to create a unique experience around well-known values, to get the most of it.

What I’ve learned about my Tolkien readers?

  1. Most of them are not hardcore fans and 90% of them are attached to movies as well
  2. They love memes / they want to have fun
  3. They have their favorite heroes
  4. They are interested in reading articles that expand their knowledge about Tolkien’s works
  5. The most popular character is Gandalf, followed by Aragorn

Now when I know my readers, I’m able to create content that is most definitely going to have high engagement rates.


Step 2: Creating the Content

When building your Facebook page you need to create your content plan in advance. The same is with your group and your website, but we’ll cover that later.

These were my guidelines for my first week on Tolkienology:

  1. 10 posts a day, mostly image quotes from Tolkien’s books
  2. 50% of the postings related to Lord of the Rings
  3. 25% of the images related to Gandalf
  4. 10% of images related to Aragorn
  5. 30% of the images are memes

So, if I’m posting 10 images a day, that means at least two are related to Gandalf. Therefore, for the first week on Tolkienology I need about 15 Gandalf images. Why Gandalf? Because my Step 1 research indicated that Gandalf is in fact the most popular character among LOTR fans.

Step 3: Promoting the Content

Please read this carefully as this is one of the crucial steps in building your community. Most authors fail to establish readerships on Facebook because their original page Tribe is made of friends, family members, and fellow authors.

I didn’t invite my friends nor my colleagues to like Tolkienology!

The reason for this is that I want ONLY targeted fans interested in Tolkien’s work. Of course, some of my friends are also interested in Tolkien, but I’m actually focused on NEW READERS. There are several ways to acquire readers. Most authors spend time in big groups, looking for a chance to reach readers. Why readers would care to engage the groups populated with book links? Who wants to get bombarded on a daily basis with recent book releases? Trust me, this is the wrong way to build your OWN AUDIENCE, although it’s the easiest road to take.

The best results in creating a healthly community come from targeted fan acquisitions. In more simple words, you need to create ads or boost your posts to the right audience. The best strategy is to boost your images for $5 to learn which are performing the best in terms of dollars spent per engagement. The idea is to get close to $0.01 per engagement and this is perfectly doable even in early stages of your community.


THE GATEKEEPER STRATEGY

As mentioned above, the most popular Tolkien characher is Gandalf. This means that there are numbers of users willing to engage to anything related to Gandalf. My startegy here is to create some great Gandalf quotes and boost them to English-speaking Facebook users with a very particular interest (not Lord of the Rings in general, but Gandalf!)

The best performing post with the best engagement rates becomes your gatekeeper. This means you’ll allocate more funds to this post since your advertising cost per engagement is getting lower, due to more organic engagements (shares).

You’ll pin this post to your page and this will not be your main fan acquistion post, but also a social proof of your content’s strength!

This is my Gatekeeper:

Gatekeeper post

As you can see, this post has 10k+ likes, 42k shares, and 4.5m+ reach. Those numbers are massive results of two-week long advertising, totaling $70 ($5 per day).

In 24 hours this post had 1k+ likes which was a great signal that upgrading it to a Gatekeeper post and boosting it’s potential will result in more organic engagements. Once you have your Gatekeeper in place, you pin it to the top of your page.

Step 3: Acquiring fans

Obviously, you acquire your fans by inviting them to like your page AFTER they liked your posts. You don’t want to go fast here and risk Facebook blocks, so invite no more than 200 users/day. This is a Marathon, not a sprint. Take it easy and always stay focused on your next content.

One very important activity is to keep posting images that specific fans are likely to engage. You need them to really start following your page. The more they like your page and share its content, the often your page will appear in their feeds. So, feed them with more Gandalf, so to speak!

Step 4: Being consistent

One of the biggest hits your page can take early on, is a significantly lower reach due to inactivity. This is why you should plan your activities and use a scheduled post feature to create the basic content for the entire week. Even if you have no time to do the networking part, your page will keep running on autopilot with scheduled posts.

So, a golden rule here is: never leave your post! Spend as much time as you can in the early stages of your community. Learn more about your new fans, often make comments to their comments. Encourage them to interact, keep them happy and positive.

Step 5: Testing waters for your Facebook Group

No one can really tell you when it’s the right time to create your group and ask your fans to joint the group where they can find more content.

Experimenting is always the best answer. Don’t be afraid to take actions and adjust your strategy. You are only human, mistakes are allowed!

This is the strategy I used with Tolkienology to determine if the Tribe is ready to take the new step.

Remember me writing down the „Tag a friend you would take to Middle Earth“ post from one of the Tolkien pages? This is a call-to-action kind of post, so it’s ideal to check if my community is likely to answer the question and tag their friends and fellow Tolkien fans.

So, here’s what I came up with, resulting in 300+ likes, 115+ shares and 200+ comments:

It was fairly easy to conclude that I have an engaging community, ready to join the special group.

Step 6: Analyze

Facebook Page Insights are your best friend when making decisions about your future page content. There you can find so many useful details, starting with your best performing posts, demographic dana, competitive analysis and more.

A smart entrepreneur (and you are one, since your works and available for purchase) analyze data regurarly, especially before making a strategy, or a business decision.

I use Insights to determine which posts had the best performance and by doing so I’m revealing ideas for my next posts. Obviouisly, if Frodo memes were doing great, we’ll work on more memes.

Also, a demographic data come handy too, to determine the best posting time. If you live in Europe, and 82% of your fans are from the United States, you need to adjust your content posting to their timezone. This is how I found out that 3-5 PM EST are the best posting times for my page, followed by 8 AM EST.

I also often use „Watch Pages“ to compare my page with similar pages with larger fan base. It’s always a great feeling to see your page climbing up and becoming a player!

Step 7: Repeat

The best perfoming content from your analysis should be repeated. Not exactly reposted; I tend to use different images to deliver the same message again. Since your fans have already liked some images, they are likely to like the same quotes if they come with fresh graphic details.

Repeat your best performing post because this has a big impact on your organic growth! If users are engaging to most of your posts, Facebook will consider your page relevant and your page will appear more often in feeds. When this happens and you see your page likes climbing up, use the momentum and feed your audience with fresh content to keep them hooked up.

I’ll share some posts that had the best engagement rates, which led me to re-use them and to come up with similar posts:

Step 8: Create the Group

Exactly 60 days after my Tolkienology page was published, I decided to create a Tolkienology Club Facebook Group.

It was time to start building the Phalanx, out of the Tribe! This is the step when you acquire your first brand ambassadors and fans who are developing a strong attachment to your values. These fans are not just your top members; they are also a vital part of your business! It’s likely that they will join your incentives and call-to-actions, so this step is actually a segmentation of your initial Tribe.

The Phalanx Strategy

Since your ultimate goal is to have a highly-engaging community and a growing list of email subscribers, the idea behind Phalanx strategy is to build a smaller community units that breathe and move as a whole. Your tribe members needs to become members who interact with each other and you need to be one of them! A phalanx is armed by the same values and goals, they „fight“ for mutual interest, they protect the property you are building.

Everyone gets negative comments when trying to build things. As an author, you have probably faced some negative feedback from readers. Your Phalanx is your own special tribe that will always vouch for you. They join because of the same interests, but they become a team because you ake them feel special.

So, how to make them feel special?

Obviously, only group members will have access to your incentives. I’ve seen authors trying to host giveaways on their author pages. This is so wrong! You don’t want to attract common prize hunters and people who are in there just for the prize. The purpose of your giveaway is not just to get more members, but to get the RIGHT MEMBERS!

So, keep your best giveaways and incentives to your group members.

In order to run everything smoothly, you need a weekly group schedule. One incentive per day is more than enough. For example, you can host a giveaway on Monday, a „post your image/meme“ on Tuesday, trivia contest/games on Wednesday and so on. Yes, you need to invest time. I’m sorry, but no shortucts here. If you want to create a magnificent audience, you need to put a tremendous efforts in this. Don’t follow blogs who are saying you can build your audience by using magical tools. Tools can be helpful, but not a single one can replace time needed to get recognition and respect in your own community.

Some other ideas to make your group members special:

  • Ask for their opinions
  • Let them introduce themselves
  • Let them post their own content (according to your group’s schedule)
  • Interact a lot
  • Send a personal note to every prize winner

Step 9: Create a Website / Set up the mailing list

I created a special website for this project – www.tolkienology.net. The purpose of the website is to host unique content, not seen anywhere else. Something that your Tribe and your Phalanx will most likely to consume because it’s right their alley and unique. Creative content on social media is not that important, because no one really knows if your images have been already published on some other pages. However, the content of your website has to be unique! Not only unique; your website should apply a smart keyword-rich content strategy, to attract visitors from various platforms, especially from Google.

As said before, your website should grow your mailing list. Emails are still the best channels for digital marketing so growing your subscribers list is a must. Recent reports suggest that subscribers are 34% likely to engage your content than occasional readers.

When creating tolkienology.net I followed these principles:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unique content
  3. Frequent updates (1-2 entries per week)

Did I want to make the best Tolkien site ever? No. I started rather slowly, but from day one I started collecting emails. As much as the traffic grows, the email list will grow too.

What about content?                                                        

I used the data from Step 2. I noticed that the most popular content is related to Gandalf, new angles on characters and stories, Middle Earth timelines. Since my writing is nowhere near exceptional, I’ve hired a freelancer to help me with some original content. The first articles were focused on wizards, as Gandalf seemed to be the most popular character. We aimed at 1500 words per article, with topics broke into several articles so we can boost page views via internal linking.

The beauty of the highly-engaging community is that you don’t have to bang your head against the wall thinking about new topics. They have plenty of ideas, but they are also happy to contribute. A healthy community is able to produce big chunks of content is everyone is appreciated for the effort.

In today’s marketing content is a king. Always work on your content and try to find creative angles on common topics and argumented answers to most common questions. Your marketing heavily depends on your ability to provide the right answers. In Tolkienology’s case, one of the answers was related to the origins of Tolkien’s wizards. I simply used that common question to give my new blog a boost by answering it in a creative way.

Here’s the link to the article:
https://tolkienology.net/the-five-wizards/

I’ve invested $10 in Facebook ads since I already knew that the wizard topic will receive great engagements. Here’s what I got from this campaign:

One important note I want you to remember: you don’t own your Facebook Page nor your Facebook group, but you do own your website. This is why your audience needs to become part of your website. Pages and groups are affected by Facebook algorithm changes, but your website is totally under your control.

Step 10: Connecting your channels

Your page, your group and your website are one. If you post something on your website, you promote it in your group and on your page. Although you can promote your content in other pages and groups, I suggest you take a slower route to build your web traffic and source it from your own social media communities. Why? You should focus on your own community, rather than to random posting in groups that are filled with dead likes. Since you are putting a lot of time in your own community, use that time in the right place. Rather spend your time chatting with your group members than spamming Facebook groups with minimal reach.

Don’t forget to add website links to your group descriptions and to your Page info. Use the Page call-to-action button (the blue one) to encourage sign-ups to your group. Use every opportunity to promote your website link (especially on images) but never spam your own communities with links to your website. If you have an article to share, simply share it only once on your page and in your group. Follow up 48 hours later with „In case you missed it …“ post and that’s it. If you want to bring your old posts back to life, simply come up with a new post, containing internal links to your older entries.

Also, don’t forget to attach your social share buttons to your posts, to make it easier to share and pin your posts. Remember that users’ attention is very short and keep it simple for them.

Tolkienology in numbers

Tolkienology Page

Created: February 2019
Fans: 26.500+ (December 2019)
Monthly reach: 4.2m+ users
Monthly engagements: 2m+
New fans/monthly: 3.300+

Tolkienology Club (the group)

Created: May 29th 2019
Members: 2500+ (December 2019)
Monthly engagements: 10k+

Tolkienology.net

Launched: June 1st 2019
Visitors/month: 1500+
Page views/month: 2500+
Most article reads: 1517
Subscribers: 450+

$$$ Investments:

$70 Gatekeeper post
$50 10x $5 Boost posts
$20 2x $10 Best performing posts boost
$50 5 x $10 Article Boosts
$100 Freelancing gigs

TOTAL ($): 290

Slaven Vujic
Slaven Vujic
Social media branding & management, blogging, Search Engine Optimization. How to use media effectively to build your brand and sell more books?
Slaven Vujic
Social media branding & management, blogging, Search Engine Optimization. How to use media effectively to build your brand and sell more books?

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