The Most Important Thing Writers Can Do to Build an Engaged Audience
Once I focused on connecting with my audience, my writing business took off
If you want to turn writing into a profession on a full-time or even part-time basis, you need to build an audience. A group of people that eagerly await your latest work.
Too many articles you’ll read online talk about how to build a “massive audience.” You do not need millions, hundreds of thousands, or even tens of thousands of people to follow your work to be a successful writer.
I would take 1,000 true “fans” of my writing over 100,000 people clicking on one of my stories and then moving on and forgetting that I ever existed. If you want real engagement with your writing, you’ll need to build a connection with your audience.
In this article, I discuss why having an audience that feels connected to your work is so powerful and how I began building a connection with my readers.
We all want to feel connected
People have a fundamental need to feel connected to other people. Those connections can take many forms, from something as deep as a committed romantic relationship to liking the same sports team or type of music as someone else.
The need to feel connected with others boils down to not wanting to feel alone.
A great writer can connect with their readers by shining a light on painful issues and reminding the reader that they are not alone.
Boosting; The power of feeling connected
Think of a public figure that you absolutely cannot stand. Given the politically polarized world we live in, you might be thinking of a prominent political leader who shares the opposite worldview as you do.
Would you feel any different about this person if I told you that you shared the same birthday? Most people would probably answer “no,” but the truth is that you would likely feel much more positively towards that person.
John Finch and Robert Cialdini from Arizona State University refer to this phenomenon as “Boosting.” Our perception of someone, even if we hold them in low-regard, improves when we find out we share a personal connection with that person.
In their research, Finch and Cialdini gave research participants a three-page biography of Rasputin, AKA “the Mad Monk of Russia.” The biography highlighted all of the terrible things Rasputin did in his life.
Half of the participants were given a version of Rasputin’s biography that (falsely) claimed that the participant and Rasputin shared the same birthday. Participants who believed they shared a birthday with Rasputin reported a much higher opinion of him compared to participants that did not know his birthday.
How I began connecting with my audience
If sharing a small connection, like a birthday with someone we despise, can improve how we see that person, it stands to reason that sharing a more meaningful connection with some we have no prior opinion of will make us feel extremely positive towards that person.
Connecting in a real way is how you turn someone from a casual reader into a fan.
The primary topic I write about is personal finance. When I first started writing, I published a lot of “how-to” articles on topics like building an emergency fund or investing.
The articles did “fine.” They were not a complete dud, but by no means did they move the needle or provide any meaningful engagement with my writing.
The reason these articles failed to move the needle is pretty simple; my readers had no idea who I was, no connection with me as a writer, and could find similar how-to content anywhere else on the internet.
Once I started sharing my struggles with money and the issues I am most focused on in my financial life, I began building an audience that engaged with my work.
- Writing about “the best way to pay off debt” is fine.
If done well, it’s useful content, but no one will remember who wrote the article.
- Writing about how “I paid off $50,000 of debt” is powerful.
Describing how painful living in debt was and how amazing it felt to get out of debt is something that many readers could relate to, which helped them forge a connection with me as a writer.
I began building an audience when I started sharing how money has impacted my life.
My advice to writers
Any writer who wants to build an engaged audience of readers needs to give their readers a way to feel connected to them. No matter what topic you write about, you need to let your readers know how this topic has impacted your life.
- If you write about movies, describe some of the most meaningful moments you ever had in a movie theater.
- If you write about sports, tell your audience what it meant to watch your favorite sports team with your mom or dad growing up.
- If you write about politics, help your readers understand how certain policy decisions have shaped your life.
I am not saying that every article needs to be a deeply personal essay. However, if you want to stand out, you need to make it as easy as possible for your readers to form a connection with you and your work.
As a writer, you need to focus much more on foraging connections than content creators who use video or audio. Seeing someone's face or hearing their voice allows us to more easily connect with that person.
If all we have is our words on a screen, we need to use those words to provide our readers a window into who we are and why they should give a damn about what we have to say.
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