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Be nice to strangers (or how to build an audience)
Hello everybody! Here is another short, pragmatic piece for those of you who are building your own reality in an insane world.
The idea for this article came from an email that I got from a friend. He is self-publishing his first book and we were brainstorming on audience building:
I've slowly started going through your newsletter. So far, the most interesting for me has been on Content Creations. I've been trying to crack that nut for a while, and I'm starting to understand that content creators don't create in an artistic sense. It's mostly repackaging, or simply republication. It'd be more accurate to call them distributors. I've been approaching audience-building with the thought that my content has to actually be created, which is why it has felt overwhelming.
My friend is facing a hard truth: Daily content creation is hell.
So, this issue is all about audience strategy, and here we will discover:
Why is building an audience vital?
Why is the game soooo long?
What is a practical mindset to do it right?
Let’s dive in!
Self-distribution or any digital biz works way better when you build your own audience first.
Trust = wealth.
But building an online fan base is a very long journey and a never-ending battle. The challenge of becoming a successful digital creator / brand / publisher is sustaining an audience in a noisy world.
The audience-first model
Develop consistent free content ⟶ Build audience ⟶ Own part of them ⟶ Figure their pain points ⟶ Devise useful solutions for them ⟶ leverage your most enthusiastic fan base to a paying audience ⟶ Boom! Happy you, happy fans.
Whether you are curating content or creating original work, you're building a loyal audience with ongoing quality engagement. But beware, creating consistent FREE and QUALITY content is hard.
You are trading your time to put out free content for random strangers. And it feels not only costly, but somehow absurd.
This especially feels like a suicide mission for those creatives who are not used to or willing to work:
with fast-paced turnarounds.
How can artists do it right without feeling like they are just laborers?
Put on your producer hat
You can’t tackle such a large demand with an artistic approach. The secret to success in content creation is: digital creators don’t think and act like artists. They act more like producers and publishers.
If you come from a TV or advertising background, you already know that when you have a huge need for content and story, complex aesthetics are the first things to be sacrificed.
Do I mean advertisers or publishers are not artists? No! They learned how to survive the situation, and that is exactly what creators are doing now: Thinking like producers and behaving like publishers.
Let’s see what these attitudes are, and how we can adopt that mindset.
Get practical or get dead
Producers know how to make it work with whatever resources they have. They can figure out how to come up with the right idea and the best solution for the situation.
There is a terrific story that Roger Corman tells in his autobiography, which demonstrates the idea of “thinking like a producer”:
I remember shooting the movie Atlas in Greece in 1961. I was staging the climactic battle in which Atlas leads the troops of Praximedes against the walled city of Thenis. I’d promised a contribution to the Greek Army Charity Fund in return for its providing five hundred soldiers for the battle. On the appointed day only fifty appeared. Possibly someone had misplaced a decimal point. The script called for Praximedes to overwhelm the outnumbered defenders with the size of his army. The only thing I could think of was to abandon my plans for large-scale panoramic shots and shoot the battle in a series of close action shots to hide the size of the army with a flurry of action on the screen. Before shooting I quickly wrote some new dialogues in which Atlas asked Praximedes how he hoped to conquer the city with such a small number of soldiers. Praximedes replied that in his theory of warfare a small band of efficient, dedicated, highly trained warriors could defeat any number of rabble. That’s my theory of filmmaking!
You are your own highly-trained and efficient army when it comes to ongoing creation. Your mission is to get it done with whatever time and resources that you already have. An artist might never accept the challenge. But it’s not ART.
Can it be artistic at all? Sure, if you do it right.
Flip the game and make your style deliberate.
If you know what kind of style aligns with your work, and it also fits your schedule and other resources, you will win. That’s how producers tackle any projects. Don’t start from your ideas. Start from your resources.
Young rebels of the French New Wave movement couldn’t afford to move their cameras in complicated mise-en-scènes, so their solution was handheld shots. And then what happened was that shaky cameras became an important part of their style, as if it was a better aesthetic for telling modern stories.
Punk rock was a reaction to the long guitar solos performed by rich and famous rock stars. Those kids didn’t have the connections, money, or skills – but they knew how a good, simple riff could move the audience. And damn, they took the rock back to its roots!
Do you remember the post where we talked about lo-fi style? Lo-fi content is the reaction of digital creators to mainstream media.
Commit to a deadline
Most publishers don’t prioritize quality. Nailing distribution and deadlines are how they succeed.
You have to be able to get your content done in a short turn around and commit to publishing it based on a strict schedule.
Digital creators don’t let perfection get in the way. Why? Because your audience doesn't care about your color choice or if the font is 10 pixels smaller. This study from Google reveals that traditional, TV-era markers of quality are less important to YouTube viewers than they once were -- they’re placing more value on content that relates to their personal interests and passions.
I’m not saying that you should throw your artistic life away to become a successful content creator. NO! You just need to put a different hat on for certain hours of the day.
I know, it’s hard. Every bit of content in NXT ANIMAL Instagram or this newsletter is something I wish I could have spent a little more time on to perfect. But I am committed to publishing fresh content daily and weekly for my audience!
Here is your takeaway
Building an audience is not for everyone. First see if you can dedicate your career (or part of it) to this new way of working and living.
Create like a practical producer by seeing how far you can go with what you have on hand right now.
Deliver like a publisher by committing to a realistic schedule.
Sometimes good enough is good enough!
That is all (for now) folks!
Stay sane, stay yourself,
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