I am sure it is obvious to most that building an online presence today, whether you are an organization or an individual, is not just important, but paramount to success. What is likely less obvious is exactly how we should go about building and maintaining that online presence.
Just the term “online presence” has probably already led you to believe that this blog series is going to be about social media. While that is partially true (I will touch on social media in depth in post #4, as it is very important) it is only one part of a bigger concept that is growing the digital you.
This blog series is based off the notes I have taken over the last few years during my very intentional effort to better understand what I was doing online. Before researching this “online presence” business all of this was just a fuzzy idea in my head. Like most people, I knew I needed to be online; I even had a very good idea of what I should be doing online. My social profiles were optimized, I was using the latest techniques and channels for engaging an audience, I was blogging and regularly active in groups and communities. But I felt like I was missing the point. I was reactive. I was mimicking, doing things because others said it was a good idea, not because I truly understood why.
So I set a goal for myself to better understand what exactly constitutes an effective online presence. I asked myself two questions:
1. What exactly am I doing online?
2. How can I do it better?
The result is this series of posts, “How to Build and Online Presence,” a system for defining and managing your digital entity.
What Exactly Am I Doing Online? – Building Your Digital Presence
There many methods and tactics that can be used to make your audience aware of you or your organization. But I think it is important to distinguish the difference between awareness and presence. Awareness is your audience’s knowledge of your existence. Certainly this is step one, but presence goes deeper. The actual definition of presence is: the state or fact of being present, as with others or in a place. Source: dictionary.com
Your audience can be made aware of you and then never interact with you again, but to remain present your audience has to be willing to let you stick around. Presence is much more difficult to achieve than awareness. You can achieve awareness though advertising or buying billboard space. To remain present, however, I can only think of one reason your audience will allow you to stick around – you have to add value.
A strong presence is founded on providing value to your audience. It doesn’t matter if your audience is your Facebook friends, in which case value may be in the form of: entertainment, tips, motivational quotes or even just a consistent positive attitude; or if you are a business and your audience is your potential customers. Value to them will come in the form of solving a problem, providing specific information or aiding in a decision.
We walk around with a device in our pocket that provides us with access to basically all of the information in the world. Therefore, it’s not hard to see how we expect to have answers at our fingertips, and usually instantly. People rely on the Internet and their social networks to find answers or solutions to their problems. The companies and individuals that can provide those answers, that can provide informative value, are going to be the ones that stand out online. Simply put, if you want to remain present to your audience it is important that you remain valuable to your audience.
Let me give you an example.
A newly married couple, let’s call them Mike and Molly, just moved in to their first home. Their first major improvement of this home will be renovating the kitchen. Naturally, they are in the market for some kitchen cabinets, something neither Mike nor Molly know anything about.
As Molly does some research online she comes across two local cabinet shops that look worth checking out. The first shop, Custom Cabinets Inc., has a nice website and tons of pictures of their beautiful cabinets. Molly likes the designs and writes down their phone number to get some more information. She is aware.
But before she calls Custom Cabinets she checks out the second company online, Riverside Cabinets LLC. The website is similar with many stunning pictures of beautiful cabinets, but Molly notices two extra tabs in the navigation menu, “Resources” and “Blog.”
The Resources section and Blog are full of guides, materials and information on topics like: Trendy Cabinet Styles, How much should I spend? and The Top 10 Must Have Cabinet Features. Before Molly can even spend 20 minutes on RiversideCabinets.com she has already had most of her questions answered, and answers to questions she didn’t even think to ask.
So which company do you think Molly called first and ultimately bought cabinets from?
Well it’s a fictitious story so you can decide how you like, but the point I’m trying to make is this, the additional resources on Riverside Cabinet’s website provided value to Molly. They helped inform her and made her feel more comfortable and confident making a large purchase, especially one that she has never had any experience with. This added value creates trust and credibility, two very important factors people consider when they allow others into their lives…into their presence.
Your value, and therefore your presence, is relative to the audience you want to be in front of. The things they find valuable are what you should be focusing on. The second post in this series will focus entirely on defining your audience and their main topics of interest, and a later post will cover listening to and engaging with your audience.
Online, you are your content. The topics you create, the questions you answer, the value you provide, all of that equates to the perception your audience will have of you, the perception that will ultimately result in their decision to keep you around or not.
How can I do it better? – The Social Media Jungle, Information Flow and Internet Noise
It is easy to get lost in the sea that is digital, with the multitude of social networks, content sources, tools and applications it’s hard to even know where to begin. It’s like housework; you can work at it non-stop and look back and feel like you haven’t gotten anything done. If you don’t go in with a purpose and equipped with the right tools you are going to get swallowed alive.
First things first, in order to provide value we have to first, know what our audience wants and second, be able to reach them with it, and third stand out from the crowd.
Knowing What They Want – Information Flow
It is important to stay abreast of news, trends and major topics, anything that will help you relate to your audience. You have to be a junky, a lifelong learner of your niche to really forge a strong presence. But, sitting down to open up your web browser can often feel more like sitting down in front of a fire hose.
It is very easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of information we receive from social networks, news sources, apps, communities and blogs on a daily basis. If you are going to be active in your niche you need some systems and tools to ensure you can remain efficient. Maintaining a reasonable information flow is very important. Too little and you your presence can diminish because you won’t remain relevant, too much and you will become paralyzed, always consuming and never producing.
We will discuss in Post #3 how to manage your information flow efficiently. This can be accomplished through a myriad of tools, sources, channels and online resources, knowing where to start will be half your battle.
Being Able to Reach Them – The Social Media Jungle
Being online is not a one-way street…social media made sure of that. We live in a world of dialogue, not monologue. Just distributing value in the form of information is not enough, you need to be engaged in other peoples’ content, posts, questions and comments. Your audience wants interaction, despite being online they want to know that on the other end is a real human. You need to be in your niche, living it, breathing it, and interacting with others in it.
Getting the attention of your audience in a crowded digital world is easier said than done. You need to build a platform to speak from, in order to get your valuable content noticed. That platform isn’t just likes, follows, and friends, but credibility, influence and trust. Your digital reach is made of quality and quantity.
Juggling multiple social platforms is difficult. Many bigger companies have one or more people dedicated to a single social network simply because it can literally become a full time job. In post #4 we will discuss how to setup a system to efficiently manage and grow your social media presence.
Standing Out – Internet Noise
We aren’t the only ones overwhelmed by information. Our audience is just as inundated with media. In 2013 the average American adult spent just over five hours per day consuming digital content, and that does not include television which took up another 4.5 hours per day. That is a total of 9 hours and 40 minutes of TV, mobile and online content! And these number are only supposed to continue to go up. Source: eMarketer
So what does this mean for you?
Focus, focus, focus. The best way to reduce noise and stand out is to narrow your focus. Instead of building a presence in “web design” go for “WordPress web design,” or better yet “WordPress web design for local restaurants.”
Also, in order to get attention and get shared producing high quality, relevant content is a must. This is time consuming and can be difficult, but will we cover some methods for handling this in post #4.
- Online presence is not awareness, you need your audience’s “permission” to remain present.
- Gaining presence is all about providing value.
- The digital world is noisy, overcrowded and changing. You need systems in place to work efficiently in it.
- Building a presence takes time. It’s important to see the long game.
More To Come
This fist blog post was an overview of the what and why in creating your digital presence. The rest of the series will focus on the how.
Post 2 – DEFINE and LISTEN
- Defining your objectives and audience.
- Keeping your ear to the tracks – learn what your audience wants and what will help you stand out.
Post 3 – DISCOVER and ORGANIZE
- Overcoming the information fire hose.
- Staying on top of your niche with knowledge.
Post 4 – CURATE and CREATE
- Content is king.
- Creating and curating content to feed your hungry audience.
Post 5 -PUBLISH, SHARE and ENGAGE
- Where, when and how to post your content.
- Being “in” your community.