Most creators struggle to build an audience because they approach it the wrong way.
They try to build an audience from scratch, when they’d be better served to connect to an existing one.
The fastest way to grow your audience is to connect to a community.
I’m going to break down a couple ways to do that in this post, but first there’s a key concept you need to wrap your head around…
Your Audience Already Exists
Your job is not to “invent” your audience.
You may assume your goal is to attract people interested in what you do and build your audience from the ground up.
That’s not necessarily true.
You don’t need to build an audience from scratch – you need to find and connect to an audience that already exists and is looking for someone like you to connect and lead them!
This concept comes from the excellent Seth Godin book Tribes.
Godin suggests there are “tribes” of people with shared interests, beliefs, and desires.
But those people are often disconnected from each other…until someone creates an opportunity for them to connect.
Members of any tribe are looking for someone to step forward with their work, raise their hand, and essentially say, “Hey, we’re gathering over here if you’re interested!”
When you adopt this approach, you realize your goal isn’t to build an audience around your creations, but to use your creations to create a space for a community that already exists to connect with each other.
Put another way:
Your job isn’t to connect an audience to you – it’s to connect a community to itself.
This is a massive shift in thinking for most creators.
But the irony of this approach is when you embrace it you wind up at the center of a community and that’s a powerful place to be.
When you connect and serve a community, you wind up attracting a powerful audience for yourself and your work.
The Beatles And Teenagers
To illustrate this concept of pre-existing audiences and how creators generate opportunities for them to connect, Godin points to The Beatles.
He suggests their rabid fanbase stemmed in part from their ability to speak to an existing audience who was hungry to be connected.
“The Beatles did not invent teenagers — they merely decided to lead them,” he said.
You can see similar scenarios in just about every massive, loyal audience.
Lady Gaga is talented, but plenty of other singers are just as talented. Yet, her audience is much larger and passionate than most.
Her devoted “Little Monsters” fanbase didn’t just rally around her because of her music — she tapped into an existing community with shared beliefs and struggles and created a space for them to connect with each other around her and her music.
Howard Stern fans may love the King of All Media, but they’re bonded by more than just his talent.
He connects a community of people who value certain things and feel a certain way about the world.
Once you wrap your head around the power of this concept, it leads to an obvious question:
How do you find a community to connect and lead?
There are two paths to consider…
How To Connect To An Existing Community
The internet makes this so easy.
For just about any interest, viewpoint, or niche you can imagine, there’s a community somewhere online you can join — and in most cases, that community is free.
Think about who “your people” are or who you’d like them to be and go find where they’re already hanging out online.
It might be a Facebook group, subreddit, Slack group, message board, hashtag, or even the comment or reply sections of popular publications, social accounts or websites.
Once you find one — or more — of these communities, join and start to participate in a genuine way.
But don’t do what most creators trying to build an audience do.
Don’t jump in and spam people with your latest video or ask them to follow you on Twitter.
Your goal is connect with this community and provide value to its members in whatever way you can.
It’s not about promotion – it’s about connection.
With that in mind, you’ll discover it’s much easier to get noticed in these communities than you may imagine and it’s certainly easier to get noticed than when you just post on your own social channels.
Here’s an example of how it can work.
Reaching 500 vs. 50,000
Let’s say you’re a parent who writes funny children’s stories.
Most people in that scenario would try to build their audience by sharing their work and funny observations about kids on their social media accounts.
Those posts would reach their 500 followers and maybe a handful more if they got shared.
That’s fine, but it will take a LONG time at that rate to grow a significant audience.
But here’s what might happen if you employ a community-first approach to audience building.
Let’s say you decide your primary audience is parents looking for funny stories to read to their kids.
You find a Facebook group with 50,000 members — all of whom are parents swapping war stories about the funny experiences they have with their kids.
They’re your audience, they’re already gathered, and all you have to do is join.
Once you do, you share your same funny observations about kids that you were posting to your own social followers, but they now reach a much larger audience.
Plus, you regularly reply to comments from other people in the group, start to build actual relationships, and become a genuine member of that community.
Because you’re “professionally” funny, your posts get noticed and perform better than the average parent in the group who thinks they’re hilarious but probably isn’t.
SIDE NOTE: None of this works if you’re not actually good, so you’ve got to get good.
Over time, your consistent participation in the group starts to stand out, gets you noticed, and group members look into who you are and what you do.
They now know you — and more importantly, they CARE about you.
And there’s a lot of them.
Thousands of people now have a vested interest in your success because they see you as one of them!
Your true, meaningful audience has grown because you’ve connected with a community of people and built actual relationships with them.
You didn’t try to make them to come to you — you went to them.
And it worked.
This is a hypothetical happily-ever-after scenario, but hopefully you can see how it can work with just about any niche or target audience.
But it also leads to another question:
What if there’s not an existing community around your interests?
Well, that creates another opportunity…
How To Create A Community
Let’s say you can’t find a community online that meets your specific interests because you’re so unique.
I’ve got good and bad news for you.
The bad news is it’s going to take you more time and effort to find people to connect with than if you can find an existing community.
But the good news is it creates an opportunity for you to put yourself immediately in the center of that community and build an even more valuable resource for yourself down the road.
Here’s an example of how you can do so…
How I Built A Community From Scratch
It started because I wanted to connect to other newsletter creators.
I publish a newsletter to help creators better produce, promote, and profit from their creations and help clients grow their own newsletters, so I saw value and opportunity in connecting with others who were passionate about the format.
I knew this audience was out there, but I didn’t see a whole lot of communities for newsletter creators online at the time.
I found one Facebook group, but it skewed more toward people working on newsletters for major media publications and I was more interested in individual creators.
So, I launched the Newsletter Creators Facebook group.
It was my version of raising my hand and saying, “Hey! People like us are gathering over here!”
At first, not a lot of people gathered.
It started slowly with a trickle of people, but I consistently put time and effort into serving that small community.
Not only did I share information of value to newsletter creators and prompt conversations, but I also helped creators connect to each other.
My goal was not to have them rally around me — it was to create a space for community members to connect to each other.
That’s exactly what happened and why the group has grown to more than 2,000 members from around the world.
It’s now the largest newsletter creators community online (I think).
That wouldn’t have happened if it was the “Josh Spector group” or if I had posted the same stuff about newsletters on my personal social channels in an attempt to build my audience that way.
It took off because it was a true community.
And…then it grew my audience because I was at the center of it.
Not only have many of the group’s members followed me, lots have hired me and purchased my Newsletter Accelerator course as well.
It turns out the fastest way for me to build an audience of newsletter creators wasn’t to try to attract them to me – it was to create a community that connects them to each other.
You’ll find the same thing if you shift your mindset and join an existing community or launch a new one.
There’s nothing wrong with using your own social channels and trying to build your audience — it’s good to do and I still do it every day.
But if you want to know the fastest way to grow your audience?
Go connect a community.