How to build a community of readers
Whether you are an industry publication, a community newspaper or online news site, building a community of readers should be your highest priority.
As a side project I, along with two friends, write for Technically Philly, a site that covers the tech community in Philadelphia.
We feature event listings, interviews, original reporting, a job board and try to offer the community all of the information they need to stay updated on the city’s burgeoning technology sector.
We’ve been at it for nearly eight months now and have grown to 600 RSS subscribers, 1200 Twitter followers and 10,000 monthly readers. A large part of building that audience came from a lot of experimentation and a whole lot of mistakes.
Below are a few truths we have unearthed after embedding ourselves in to Philadelphia tech community.
First, you need to select the right community to cover. For an online niche site such as ours, the following factors are the most important:
• Easy Internet access – sure there may be a vibrant knitting community in your town, but will they visit your website? Probably not. Though blogging and online news are widening their reach, you can have the most impact by selecting a demographic that has already made getting news on the web part of its routine. You don’t want to waste time training your audience how to use your product.
• They must be not be afraid to make an online purchase – Similar to the point above, but as non-advertising-based revenue streams become a larger part of content businesses, having an audience that is not afraid to break out the credit card every now and then is valuable.
• They must be underserved – Seemingly obvious, but an important point. As a niche product it is important to be the authority in your space. Being the first one there is the easiest way to accomplish the goal of authenticity, which leads to respect and trustworthiness.
Once the community is selected, there are a handful of tactics you can use to build quality relationships:
• Go to events – In your career, face-to-face meetings are far and away the most important factor of building a network. Building a network of readers is no different. When you serve a smaller community it is possible to meet a large percentage of your readers and allow them to put a face to the byline.
• Follow the buzz – if you see members of your community blogging, tweeting or chatting about a specific subject, acknowledge its importance and add to its understanding. There is no worse label for a publication than “out-of-touch.”
• Listen – Your community knows more about your subject matter than you do. There were here first. Listen to them and invite both praise and criticism.
• Respond – Listening is half the battle, the other is responding to your audience. Twitter, Facebook and the like have made it incredibly easy for your readers to connect with your publication, don’t waste the opportunity. The more your readers recognize that your publication contains actual human beings, the easier it will be to connect with you.
• Don’t use Twitter like a robot – Of the social networking options, Twitter is the low-hanging fruit. Unfortunately most publications take to simply republishing their feed. Read up on our Vital Guide to Twitter and make sure you are responding to @replies and doling out a few yourself.
The keys to any journalistic endeavor are trust and authenticity. All communication with your readers should stand on those two legs.
Small niche sites are becoming easier and easier to create every year and if publishers allow community building efforts to languish, they may see smaller sites from nipping away at coverage.