In just under two years, I grew an online following by a little over 160 times. As a result, I constantly get emails from readers and clients asking me how they can do the same — as if it’s some magical formula. ”How do I get people to follow my work?” they ask me. ”How do I get people to listen?”
They’re missing the point.
My relatively rapid growth was simply the result of applying some of the most basic and ancient forms of social influence.
The online world is not outer space. Sure, it’s virtual, with a few fun bells and whistles, and swarming with ones and zeroes — but when you strip all that away, it’s strikingly similar to the real world. This means that attracting a following and influencing people online is no different than what we’ve learned for centuries offline. Humans are still humans.
Here are five proven ways to transfer your in-person influence to the online world:
- Make real connections. Just because you’re behind a computer screen doesn’t give you a pass to never have another face-to-face conversation. The online world makes connecting much more scalable, but connections only really happen if you get out and connect. This can start on social networks and Skype, but nothing beats sharing a few beers, a nice meal or a tough workout. You have to get outside.
- Get people to like you. People respect and listen to people they like. This starts with real offline connections and gets magnified as you find ways to help and support those around you. Write about them. Do interviews. Suggest fun events that you both have in common.
- Be everywhere. Now that you have a foundation, start establishing a presence in as many places as possible. Celebrities are famous, influential and ridiculously well-paid because they’re all over national TV networks, entertaining the world in one way or another. You need to do the same: Write articles (or provide other content like art, video, infographics, research, etc.) for as many websites as possible. I grew my following by 10 times in a few months and over 160 times in just under two years by doing exactly this. Not sure who to contribute for? Reach out to the network you’ve been building and start with anyone who will take you, regardless of size.
- Give everything you can. Reciprocity is massively powerful. When we receive something, we automatically feel like we owe something to the giver. I don’t think it’s right (or even useful) to give with the intention of receiving, so I prefer to give without expectation; I know that the receiving will take care of itself. Try rewarding potential customers with giveaways: digital items that carry no marginal cost, such as a PDF report, workbook, software or course access, or physical items like small gifts, handwritten cards or paper books (my favorite gift to give is a meaningful book with a genuine inscription on the inside).
- Show people that other influencers are listening. I’d rather buy lunch from the sandwich shop with a line around the corner than the one next door with plenty of empty seating, and if that long line happened to be full of celebrities who were waiting for their favorite sub, then I’d race to experience that same meal. If no one is visiting your site or using your product, then why should I? Start with your strongest suit: Do you know a few well-known people? See if you can get their endorsement to put on your site. Do you happen to have a bunch of followers on Twitter or Facebook, or have you built up a large email marketing database? Pick the largest one and show that, front and center, on your site. If your site collects a ton of traffic already, find a way to show how many monthly visitors it’s getting. Cater to your strengths and start rolling the snowball!
When it comes to influence and connections, just about every proven tactic from the physical world of face-to-face interaction works like clockwork when applied to gathering an audience online or rallying a virtual cause. It’s not as complicated as most make it — start applying what’s always worked and watch what happens.
Scott Dinsmore is the founder of Live Your Legend, a coaching and digital product company helping people find and do work they love. He’s also a Managing Partner at Cumbre Capital, a value investment partnership modeled after the Buffett Partnerships of the ‘50s and ‘60s. His work has been featured on sites including The Washington Post, MSN, and Zen Habits. He also loves a good adventure.