How Sticky are your Audience?

A guide on how to value your community

Have you ever searched around the web for tips about growing your blog, podcast or Youtube channel? What did you find?

Let me guess — detailed strategies on building traffic and monetizing.

If you’re rolling your eyes reading these words, let’s be friends.

This story answers the two most common questions people ask me about building their influence:

  • What do you mean by stickiness, and why does it matter?
  • How can valuing my audience help me to grow my influence, opportunities and income?

If you find this story valuable, join the community by following our Medium Publication (Own Your Followers) at the bottom of the story.

Definition: Stickiness

Okay, some people call this retention but to me this sounds like the sort of marketing speak we would hear from an online SaaS startup or corporate retail chain.

When I say sticky, I simply mean how engagement within your audience changes over time.

Notice how I used the word within not in? Soon you’ll discover why this matters.

You wouldn’t be wrong to think this concept is similar to driving your car, where the acceleration is simply how speed changes over time — more speed in a shorter time, means more acceleration. Well, there is a difference.

We will get into an example of stickiness in just a moment but it’s a good idea to recap a few concepts on engagement from another story I wrote here on Medium.

When it comes to your audience, most marketing gurus talk about engagement in the same way as your neighbourhood hooligans with their suped-up turbo cars talk about speed. That is you either have lots of it or not much of it.

However the essential difference is this:

“Your audience engagement is the sum of each follower’s engagement, not simply the average engagement across all followers.”

If you’re mathematically inclined like me, you’re probably thinking: ‘…well duh, isn’t the average simply the sum of each follower’s engagement? Don’t you get the same result’. Glad you asked.

I went deep into this in the other Medium story (here) but the basic answer is this: if we know the engagement for each and every person in our audience, we can sort that list from highest to lowest and then focus on how the average engagement changes within different percentiles, e.g. the top 2% most engaged, the middle 80% of semi-engaged and the bottom 18% of disengaged.

Therefore stickiness must be considered on an individual basis before measuring a cohort of your audience — that is, the stickiness of each and every follower to you and your content.

An example ple-ease!

We could apply an example to Facebook, Twitter, Youtube or Instagram followers, but for simplicity we’ll just look at the good old email list.

Let’s take an audience of ten thousand subscribers and assume you send an email to everyone weekly. The goal is to rank your subscribers based on their engagement over a period of twelve weeks.

For simplicity let’s assume that someone is engaged if they reply to any of your emails over these twelve weeks. My guess is that your engaged audience will be around two hundred people. Now the fun starts.

We can only capture very basic analytics from an email list, such as opens, clicks and replies. Although not ideal in real life, it helps with this example.

For each of these people, have a look at their interactivity over that 12 week period. Were they opening more emails at the end than the start? How did their clickthrough rate change over this period? What happened after you responded to their email reply? Did certain types of content consistently change all metrics for this person?

Stickiness is simply asking these types of questions about your follower’s behaviour after they have entered into a cohort that you care about. You could look at the stickiness of your top 2 percent, those who have been acquired from a specific guest post, or even those who have been around for more than two years. Decide what matters first, and then ask the sticky questions.

Perhaps more concretely (this is an example after all), we want to know if people stick around once we classify them as a ‘top 2 percent follower’. Not just if they stick around, but for how long, and the value they bring to your business/community as raving fan.

“Your most sticky followers are your biggest asset.”

Advanced tactics

Discovering and measuring stickiness

You can do most of this analysis simply in a spreadsheet. Things get complicated when you bring in data points across multiple social media networks however this is an insightful start that will get you moving.

I’m going to make your life just a wee bit easier. I’ve made a Google Spreadsheet template for you that gives you a structure to start with.

When you open this Google spreadsheet, you’ll see that I’ve been quite prescriptive in the method — start with a hypothesis:

“Someone will click through more after they reply to me and I respond”

Then look through your data to either say “Yep, this could be true!” or “No, this doesn’t seem right”.

An example Trello card with an assumption to test.

Regardless of whether your hypothesis is right or wrong, document your learnings and test it again with different data.

I suggest making a Trello board with your stickiness hypothesis just like this one.

Start with your hypothesis as a new Trello card. Document your method and research within the card and then move it along the board from left to right as you gather more evidence.

Back up…why do we want to know this?

What is your audience worth to you, in dollar terms? (tick…tock…tick…tock)

There are many ways of making valuations. If you are an author and simply use your blog as your engagement tool, sending people to Amazon when your new book is released, you can easily calculate the audience value from your conversion rate in Amazon sales sent from your blog. Maybe you might want to add a multiplier to this value to encapsulate future books, future price rises, list growth, and referral traffic (from people on your list). But essentially the model is quite simple with a few assumptions.

See an example valuation model I made for you here.

Things get complicated when you don’t sell books. Maybe you make money from advertising (not my favourite), or affiliate marketing (great, when done right), or events/courses (can be awesome fun). Your intention wasn’t to build a list of human drones (Thanks Muse) simply to make it easy for you to spam them when you have something new to sell.

No, you have built a tribe of followers — people who trust in your words, recommendations and opinions. People who are better when they are connected to you and with each other.

Calculating the stickiness of your most engaged followers may give you a starting point to discover the real value of your audience.

Why would you value your audience?

…to get off your fricken’ island

Influence creates an exponential vacuum.

Those who are highly influential with millions of followers all started out with a handful of people who believed in them. The über successful people are the ones who everyone wants to connect with, and very few can. To get to where they are today, it’s very likely they collaborated with other successful people to build their influence.

No influential (wo)man is an island.

Go back to searching around the internet and you’ll find the most recommended method for leveraging the influence of others is through guest posting on their blog. You know — reaching out to someone with a big audience and requesting to write for them to build your own credibility. It’s a brilliant strategy however a problem is that it’s often hard to show what you can bring to the table.

Back to our example, let’s set up the scenario with a bit more colour:

  • You are a travel blogger.
  • You have 10,000 email subscribers and you know that 200 are absolutely hooked to your writing and recommendations, especially those on travel hacking. You speak, they do. Excellent.
  • There is someone who is an authority influencer in the travel hacking niche. Let’s call them Bob.
  • Bob’s audience is 100,000 and he sells a single product for $49 which is an online course on travel hacking in Europe.

With this information in hand you can pitch to do a guest post or interview with Bob and almost guarantee that you’ll bring him your engaged audience with potential revenue of $10,000. In return, you are looking for him to feature your post/interview for the purpose of growing your audience with more people that are similar to your best audience.

This is why putting a value on your audience becomes insanely useful.

Bonus points: if you can do this at least once and show that 180 of those 200 people purchased, then you add this to your pitch when you repeat the process with another influencer. The proof is in the pudding. (Yum!)

Is this about list building? Sort of. But not really.

90 percent of the work is in identifying who in your audience is in your top 2 percent and what type of content/products will:

a) make them happy, and

b) increase their trust with you, and

c) have them coming back for more.

Adding more people into the funnel is a (necessary) bonus.

Size matters less than you (and everyone) think(s)

The size of your audience definitely has some influence over how well you can negotiate content contribution and promotion deals such as the example above. However, a firm track record of your top followers taking action is your asset that no one can steal or copy.

When you’re negotiating partnerships or promotions, you are now bringing trust to the table.

Let’s Recap

What you need to do next

In this story we introduced stickiness, outlined why it matters and showed an example of how you can calculate stickiness in your audience today. If you’re serious about understanding the stickiness of those people in your top 2 percent of followers, I suggest you take these steps right now:

  1. Join the community by following this Medium Publication
  2. Take out a pen and paper and write down the assumptions you have about the behaviour of your top 2 percent of your followers. [Hack: Simply write pairs of cause and effect. Eg. ‘When I reply to their email, they will…’ or ‘When I send daily emails instead of weekly, they will …’ ]
  3. Start looking through your analytics for the most active people and look at their behaviour over the past twelve weeks. How does this compare to your assumptions?

This will get you started. Then go to the top of this story and work through some of the finer details. Go!

This story is one of a collection of Medium stories in the Own Your Followers publication. If you enjoyed this story, recommend it below and follow the publication to read more stories like this one.