Maintaining Your Audience

So you’ve been putting out quality content for a while and you’ve developed a bit of an audience. Now you’re going to have to focus on keeping those people around.

From what I’ve seen, a majority of creators who have a massive following on social media have at the same time established a sort of community around their work.

The major difference between creators with just a following and those with a full on community is the degree of passion in their followers.

A community consists of people who are genuinely interested in the subject matter being posted. It’s that “loyal audience” I talked about in previous sections, the ones whose purpose aligns with yours.

In my experience, the number one way to turn your followers into an actual community is by getting them directly involved in your stuff.

Like I said before, the more time people spend directly engaging with you and your content, the more invested they’ll become. If people start feeling like their participation has an actual impact, they’ll feel like they matter as a member of your community. It doesn’t matter how small the contribution, they’ll want to see your project succeed because they put effort into it themselves.

There are a ton of ways to get followers involved and engaged:

  • Ask them questions. What’s their favourite character in your comic and why? What do they think about the latest page of your webcomic? What are their predictions for the next chapter of your story? Try to address as many replies as possible. Remember you want your followers to feel like they can actually connect with you.

  • To take that a step further, you can poll your followers regarding design decisions for your comic. This could be about anything really. Character and costume design, location names… Ideally you want people’s vote to have a visible impact for those you’re polling. When I first started out, I had my email list vote on their favourite design for the logo of my comic, and I now feature the chosen design at the top of each email as a constant reminder of their participation. That said, some artists prefer to keep the design process to themselves, leaving it a surprise for readers, which is totally fine as well.

  • Reply to the comments on your social media posts. Think about how great it feels to have people share and comment on your posts (assuming they’re saying nice things). It probably makes you appreciate that person more knowing that they care enough to say something to you directly. By interacting with your followers, you can reciprocate that feeling. They’ll see that you value their thoughts, which in turn will likely make them want to continue engaging with your work.

  • You also want to make it as easy as possible for people to get involved. If you’re sending something out to your followers, the more they have to navigate through web pages, or type long responses, the less incentive there is to participate. Each additional step you require will result in a drop off in responses. The best example I’ve seen as of late is the Twitter polls. Lots of big name creators are creating simple polls that get great engagement because they require only a single click to complete.

Another major factor in maintaining an audience is consistency of tone and content.

People follow things for a specific reason. If someone follows you because you posted an amazing painting of a frog queen, they’re going to expect similar content from you in the future.

Your audience may start off broad, but as people begin to understand the type of content you post about, their expectations will narrow and you’ll begin to gain a more specific following.

Now, it can be debated whether or not this is actually a good thing, but unless you’re posting completely randomly, with seemingly nothing tying each update together (and that’s not the best tactic for gathering a strong following), it’s probably unavoidable. Eventually you’ll start seeing a trend in the type of people who follow you. Once that trend forms, if you deviate too far from the type of content your community has grown to expect from you, you’re going to lose followers.

Imagine a Twitter account that has gathered a following over the years by posting daily four panel gag comics. It would be pretty safe to say that their audience would, over time, become primary people who like short gag comics. And those people would be more receptive to that content as well because they’re getting exactly what they signed up for.

Now imagine if that same Twitter account all of a sudden stopped posting four panel comics, and began posting exclusively about their favourite type of volcanic rocks. It’s pretty easy to see how they would annoy and probably lose a majority of their followers.

Again, I don’t want to make a statement about whether or not this “narrowing of your audience” is a good or bad thing, but the more you choose to take advantage of it, the more you develop a consistent tone in the content you produce, the more your audience will grow to respond positively to it.

If you ARE looking to maintain a certain tone with your content, there are a couple things to keep in mind:

  • Post content that relates to your purpose. Once again, remember that people follow you for a specific reason, whether it be to see funny cat videos, beautiful photos, or 12 AM rants. Your most loyal audience will consist of people whose purpose aligns with yours and so you should be creating posts that target them directly. If the purpose of your Twitter account is to promote your comic, post things that relate to that. By sticking to an overall theme, you’re establishing an understanding with your audience. They know the type of content they’re going to get and so your followers will be much more responsive to it. It’s okay to add variation to your content (in fact I encourage you to do so to avoid boring your followers) but your overall theme should remain the same.

    Many people create a second social media account strictly for their comic so they can keep it seperate from their personal account. This could be a good idea for you if you feel the purpose of each account wouldn’t have a lot of overlap in the type of followers they’d get.

  • Establish a brand for yourself. Ew, gross, branding. I always disliked thinking about “my brand” because it made me feel capitalistic and disingenuine. However, like your purpose, it’s not really your choice whether or not to have a brand. Your followers are going to perceive you a certain way whether you like it or not so you might as well be in control of it.

    Yoour brand relates directly to your purpose but is more about how you present yourself rather than the content itself. Things like your tone of voice, the formality of your writing and other quirks and identifiers all feed into your brand. Some people like to be really informal with their social media updates, cracking jokes and going on rants, while others prefer to play it straight and professional.

    Unfortunately there’s no single, best approach to take when it comes to developing your brand, so instead I advise you to focus your efforts on consistency. By maintaining a consistent voice throughout all the social media content you produce, you become familiar to your followers and thus more easily recognizable. People will know you as “the woman who starts her emails with a pun” or “that guy who always posts updates at midnight as if they were a horror show” and you’ll start gathering followers who enjoy that particular tone.

    Your goal when establishing a brand is for people to be able to see your content and immediately know it’s you.

    I structure all my email list updates the same way. First, I open with my comic’s logo at the top. I then have a series of light hearted personal updates, each usually with a sassy title that questions me in the voice of the reader. I then end with a more serious section containing a new comic making tip for my followers.

    Ultimately, the best thing you can do is remember your comic’s purpose, and focus on being genuine to yourself in how you promote it.

You also want to be consistent in your releases.

Imagine two webcomic creators: one that releases updates sporadically, going radio silent for a month then releasing five pages out of nowhere before disappearing again, and another that releases on a consistent schedule, twice a week.

As a reader, which style would you prefer?

Posting consistently, whether they be actual pages from your webcomic or just social media updates, helps your community learn to anticipate your updates and will get them in a rhythm of checking in on you frequently.

At one point in time I was scheduling weekly Twitter updates where I would post a single comic making lesson every Wednesday evening. I found the consistency brought me an increasing number of viewers.

Once you’ve developed a kind of schedule for your posts, try to stick to it as much as possible.

There are many apps you can use to schedule social media posts so they are sent at the exact time you want. Hootsuite is a good site for managing and scheduling all your social media profiles. Both Facebook and Twitter also have built in post schedulers.

It’s okay to deviate from your schedule, just be open about it with your followers. I’ve found people to be very forgiving if you simply explain to them why something is late. I’ve also found them to be ruthless if you blow past your deadlines without acknowledging it. ESPECIALLY on Kickstarter.

All that said, lots of creators find success in ignoring this advice and instead just updating whenever they have something to share. It takes the pressure off them and allows for a more natural, less forced, flow of content. As always, do what works best for you and the overall purpose you’re trying to achieve.

Also important to remember is that, while you work on maintaining your existing audience, you don’t want to stop trying to build it up. Ultimately you’re going to have to strike a balance between attracting potential new followers with exciting and different content and providing a comforting familiarity for your existing followers.

Some of the best marketing strategies I’ve seen achieve both objectives (building and maintaining your audience) at the same time. For example: One approach I took was to post a new piece of art to Twitter, and reward all retweets of that post with a chance to win an exclusive, one time only, print copy.