When you’re trying to build an audience, you need to understand who out there could be interested in you and your work. Before you can attract the right people, you must know where they are already gathering.
Here is an approach that I have found incredibly fast and effective: you “draw a map” of the community you’re serving. You start with an outline. You mark the most prominent mountains, the most significant cities. Then, you add the details and the connections: rivers, roads, and everything else.
Exploring communities to find your future followers works just the same way. Create an outline first, then jump into the details: you then journey to the interesting locations in the real world and find your followers there.
The fastest way of understanding the outline — the internal structure — of any community is to find the “core group” and observe their interactions with the other community members.
These core groups come in many different shapes, but one term describes them well: the influencer. Using the most benign meaning of the word, these are the people who influence, steer, and affect the lives of their community members.
Core group members are usually high-reputation and long-term contributors to their communities. They commit significant amounts of time, money, and effort to their work for and with the community.
Following those influencers intentionally enables you to benefit from a few things:
- They have sizeable audiences for you to tap into. You can “audition” in front of their audiences by engaging with ongoing conversations that involve the influencer. If you contribute meaningfully, their followers might check out your Twitter profile.
- Their followers are prime targets for your content — both as consumers and for inspiration. In addition to piquing their interest with your existing content, you can observe and listen to the audience to learn of new and exciting topics to talk about yourself. After all, what content would resonate more with your audience than what they’re already showing an expressed interest in?
- Core group members are well-connected with other influencers. By following one of them, you will quickly be exposed to other core members to follow, each with their own audience for you to explore. With every mountain you add to your map, you also add the surrounding landscape: the rivers, the roads, the mountain passes. Maps are meant to allow travelers to get from one point to another.
- Core group members are the first to talk about new developments. If you keep up with their tweets, you’ll always know what’s going on in your industry. You can’t wish for a more reliable information stream.
- As an expert-in-the-making, you want to build relationships with other experts anyway. That’s what professionals do: they network. Why not do it methodically from the start?
Follow those influencers. They are the nexus of their community. Then, follow the people who follow them, and be selective. Start with the most supportive, empowering, and community-minded people. Follow the people who follow them, who are likely friendly and kind people.
This is the recursive part of the follower-gathering approach:
- You follow one person.
- You look at their most engaged and compatible followers.
- You follow them.
Throughout this, you add more and more points of interest to your map, and you’re starting to see where people are clustered.
Need an example?
Let’s take a look at the indie hacker space: there are the founders who work on web3 business opportunities. The big names here include Hiten Shah and Mubashar “Mubs” Iqbal. They are actively building a community around crypto projects. Their followers will talk a lot about entrepreneurship in the context of bleeding-edge technologies.
In another part of the same community, you will find founders like Tyler Tringas and Rob Walling, who have moved from founder to exit to becoming an investor. Their founder-centric investment funds and their work to empower self-funded business owners to grow their businesses attract a following of people interested in investing and building self-sustained businesses.
These two parts of the same community intersect a little bit but often talk about very different things. You’ll likely belong to one of them more than to the other. That’s fine, and it will allow you to find the prospective future audience that works right for you.
Find the right connectors and influencers, and you will find your potential followers.
So, where exactly do you find those elusive community core group members to start with?
Here are a few strategies:
- Find podcast hosts. Few people have connected with more high-profile community core group members than those who host a weekly podcast. Every week, they meet someone new and exciting. Over time, they connect with anyone who makes an impact on their space. Go to the landing pages for every major podcast in your space and figure out if the podcast, or, even better, the host is on Twitter.
- Find podcast guests. While the hosts are incredibly well-connected and therefore very influential, they try and find even more influential people to appear on their shows. Go through the backlog of the most recent few episodes of popular shows in your industry, and look at the show notes for each. The guests will likely have mentioned a Twitter account for you to follow them on. If you find the time, listen to a few episodes. Scan them for other influential people being mentioned. Many of the most renowned core group members don’t appear on podcasts much, but they’re mentioned over and over again.
- Find recommended books and their authors. Everyone wants to write a book at some point in their life. Once a person acquires a certain reputation in a community, they often turn this wish into reality. Take a look at recommendation lists on blogs and on Twitter itself to find the most commonly referred — and read — books in your space. Learn more about the author and follow them to gain access to their readership audience.
- Find popular courses and their creators. Some people read, others take courses. Course creators are just as important as authors for your audience-building efforts: they are respected and knowledgable teachers that almost always have a public following to interact with.
- Find conference speakers. Whoever gets to speak at a conference has something to say. Event organizers of conferences want their expert audiences to learn only from the industry’s finest. Check out which conferences are popular in your field, go through their website — and the conference websites of years past — and make a list of attending speakers. Most conferences offer recordings of their talks on platforms like Vimeo or YouTube. In addition to being exciting content to curate for your audience, you’ll also find that those speakers speak on multiple occasions. This is an opportunity to find more interesting podcasts and other conferences to investigate.
- Find popular newsletters and their authors. With email being the technology that’s most resilient to de-platforming, many audience-builders have started to build a list. That means that they also market their newsletters everywhere and encourage their readers to do this for them. Find the most recommended newsletters in the community, learn more about their authors, and subscribe to them. They’ll serve you with up-to-date insights, and new potential follows every week.
- Find popular products in the space. No matter if it’s a Software-as-a-Service business or a news outlet, take note of the business players in your field. Discover who is behind those enterprises, and follow them on Twitter. Many of those founders build in public, which will give you an exclusive insight into their industry from an insider’s perspective. If the business itself is on Twitter, check out who is following it. Those people are themselves very committed professionals in their field and worth a follow.
A quick note about this process: if you document everything you find — every influencer, every podcast, every conference — you will have an amazingly insightful piece of content to share with the very community that can use it the most. It will make an excellent cornerstone piece for your flourishing content library.
Now that you are following all those people, what do you do?
You listen. You watch them interact with their followers, you cherry-pick the most interesting prospects, and you follow them as well. Whenever you see an interesting conversation, observe the most passionate participants.
There is a way of following large amounts of interesting people on Twitter with one click: Twitter lists. Every Twitter user can have their own lists, and they can be on any number of other users’ lists at the same time.
Whenever you find an interesting account, do two things:
Check their public lists. Many high-impact Twitter users will have accumulated fascinating accounts and grouped them into specific lists over the years.
Here are the many lists that I follow myself.
When you follow a list, it is as if you’d follow every single person on that list simultaneously. This will immediately speed up your exposure to new and interesting accounts, topics, and conversations.
Check the lists they’re on. This is one of the most underrated features of Twitter. Think about it: you find someone amazing and highly respected. Finding dozens, if not hundreds of equally awesome people is just a few clicks away. The lists that an influencer is on will likely contain many more influencers.
Here are the Twitter lists that I am on. Scrolling through all those lists boggles my mind and fills me with gratitude. It also allows me to find thousands of new accounts to follow.
Using Twitter lists for your audience-building efforts is the ultimate win-win strategy. Build your own lists as well. You never know who might stop by your profile, looking for a good Twitter list.
But you don’t have to do everything on Twitter. There are a few software tools out there that will assist you in learning more about your prospective audience:
- SparkToro allows you to search for names and topics to find the right community members to follow.
- GetTheAudience is a conversation-centric audience examination tool.
- Audiense is a Twitter-compatible audience analysis tool that shows you how to optimize your relationships.
I recommend checking out these tools after you’ve done some manual research. Nothing beats doing the work yourself.
Finally, let’s talk about how you can focus on a few while following many. I am following over 10.000 Twitter accounts, and I still manage to engage with my audience effectively.
This is mainly because I use private Twitter lists to keep up with conversations and have Twitter notifications turned on for a select group of exciting and influential accounts. That way, I always have a quick way to access the most compelling content while still having my main activity feed be a never-ending source of inspiration from all kinds of people.
I want to leave you with a warning: don’t turn into a follower-gathering robot. It’s is not a chore; it’s an active discovery process. You’re a human being seeking connection with other human beings. Don’t let the degree of separation distract you from this fact: we are all looking for honest and genuine relationships. Don’t treat people like mere statistics. You don’t “get 1000 followers.” You attract one unique follower one thousand times.
Try to learn as much as you can before you follow a person or a group of people. And don’t be afraid to unfollow them if they turn out to be someone you don’t want to connect to.
It’s is not a performance; it’s the beginning of building long-term relationships with curious and interesting people.
If you want to attract them, be a curious and interesting person yourself.