10 of the Smartest Things Said About Building a Thriving Audience Online

Article by ThinkTraffic contributor Gregory Ciotti of SparringMind.com.

We both know that it takes more than quips and quotables to build a thriving audience online.

The thing is, we as marketers understand this so well that sometimes we forget that a lot of truth can be said in very few words.

Maxims, insights, “sound bites“: concise content has a way of sticking with you.

That’s why today I’d like to present my 10 favorite quotes on building a thriving audience online.

From providing value, to distinguishing yourself in a crowded niche, to the kinds of company you keep, I’ve looked for a breadth of tidbits from some very smart audience builders to help you stay on the right track.

I’ve also included elaborations on each quote with my thoughts included below.

But first, here’s some visual candy to get you started: all 10 quotes in slideshow format!

Tantalized yet?

Let’s move on to the main course.

1.) On Choosing A Content Platform

The secret is to spend most of your time and creative energy building assets that you control.

– Sonia Simone, CMO of Copyblogger Media

The context of this quote comes from when Sonia was highlighting the dangers that can arise from digital sharecropping, or having your audience based business being entirely dependent on someone else’s platform.

It’s nice to have a Facebook page, but should you really be doing all of that cultivating on someone else’s “land”, without a place of your own?

If Tumblr decides to go down for half a day (and even longer!), it’s your problem.

If Blogger decides they don’t want to host your content and then decide to delete your entire blog, it’s your problem.

I’m not saying that self-hosted platforms don’t come with their fair share of headaches, or that you have complete control over your hosting provider, but at least you have the security that none of these self-hosted bloggers have: you are behind the wheel.

Did you decide to start your blog on Posterous?

That’s too bad, because now that they’ve been acquired by Twitter, even the most adamant users are now in an outrage and scrambling to transfer their blog content to another platform (because it’s obvious from the press release that Posterous is soon to be closed off… for good).

I’ll take any ol’ hosting headaches over that.

2.) On Standing Out

Dig down deep and provide something really different and exciting to get the community to notice. Fight “sameness” with your every breath.

– Mark Schaefer, founder of Business Grow

I once heard a great piece of advice on Shadow Testing a new business from a professor that I had as an undergrad.

He advised anyone looking to start an entrepreneurial endeavor (referring to offline specifically) to go onto Yelp and research the absolute worst ratings that competitors in your market had received.

“Write those down, and then build your value proposition on providing the exact opposite.”

For instance, he used a lawn service business as an example: if the top 3 complaints were about lackluster cleanup, damage to property, and not showing up on time, you should establish your new lawn business as providing those exact benefits.

Wow people, astonish them with the epic shit that you write, and actively seek pain points that those other guys just aren’t getting right.

3.) On Finding Your USP

You don’t need unique ingredients.

You need a unique recipe.

– Derek Halpern, founder of SocialTriggers

Derek, with this single quote, breaks down the illusion that most people have about “being different” in their positioning.

When deciding on your unique selling proposition, you don’t need to worry yourself to death over being entirely original, you just need a unique twist to an already popular topic.

The myth of the “untapped niche” has to be one of the biggest in blogging; competition is a good thing!

How can that be?

With competition present, you eliminate your biggest risk: of building the best “asparagus restaurant” that has a market of too few people to ever be successful.

So don’t worry about being “new”, focus on being “new-ish“, and being the best at that.

4.) On Laying the Foundation

You can only build something massive by starting with something small to effectively close the distance.

– Danny Iny, founder of Firepole Marketing

What is it with the online marketing world that makes it just ooze with this “massive growth on a foundation of feathers” mantra?

Danny uses a great example in his post on why those guru strategies don’t work in the form of the metaphorical “skyhooks“.

In a nutshell: Sleezy marketers advocate explosive growth without building on the lower, foundational layers.

In short form, they advocate MIRACLES.

Avoid this snake-oil dream, and avoid the perils of perfectionism; start today, and start with the essentials.

This includes creating pieces of pillar content, establishing an email list from day 1, and positioning your blog to be different enough to succeed in a crowded market (discussed above).

Success can be aided by the things you do in the early stages, but it’s the continual progression (those additional layers) that launches you into the stratosphere, nobody gets there on a weak foundation.

5.) On Gaining Trust

When you dole out information (free of charge), it helps establish you as a credible source. More importantly, it creates a trust factor (between buyer and seller).

– Brian Gardner, founder of StudioPress

Are you afraid of hard-selling to your customers?

Get over it.

Luckily for you, it won’t be as hard as you think, because gaining the imporant aspects of “know, like, and trust“, is about 80% of the battle.

How can you do that?

If you are looking to start a successful blog for your business, you’ve already begun.

Free content does a whole lot of the work for you: everybody becomes more eager to buy from someone they know, like, and trust, who’s been providing them with quality (even life-changing) content for a very long time.

Create content that informs, stirs up strong emotions, and most importantly, establishes a connection with your audience.

Remember, you’ve got to sell something (of your own or otherwise) at some point or another, so why not let valuable content do most of the heavy lifting for you?

6.) On the Company You Keep

One of the bad things that can happen to open minded people is getting mixed up with the wrong crowd.

– Kristi Hines, freelance writer & founder of Kikolani

This is a great point that I fear far too few people are willing to address.

Everybody will encourage you to start a mastermind group, but who ever talks about whether or not your group is really providing you any benefit?

In the context of this quote, Kristi is referring to those people who may take you under their wing, but then constantly bash other bloggers in your niche just for attention (you may not have come across this yet, but trust me, you will).

Do you really want to tie your name to these sort of folks?

How about people who conduct shady business practices or aren’t putting out the best possible content and products?

Do you want to associate yourself with anything that you truly believe to be sub-par?

Don’t give in to the satisfaction of being accepted: make sure the company you keep speaks to your own standards.

7.) On Storytelling

The first thing to do when you’re telling a story is to not address a mass of “readers”, but rather treat your reader as an individual.

– Sean Platt, founder of The Digital Writer

You like it when people talk to you directly, don’t you?

See what I did there? (okay, that was Sean’s next line! But let’s pretend it was me ;))

Storytelling can offer so much value in creating amazing content.

Yet many would-be audience builders out there speak like they are addressing a stadium of people, and that personal connection is lost.

When you are writing a new piece, weaving visuals and creating a truly enchanting tale about whatever it is your discussing, remember that content can also be a conversation.

And like a conversation, you shouldn’t be afraid to make it personal.

Make sure that you tell me what you think about this in the comments! :)

8.) On Criticism

Eventually you’ll learn that if you try to please everyone, your content won’t be worth reading.

– Corbett Barr, founder of Insanely Useful Media & ThinkTraffic

If you don’t have a few trolls after building a thriving audience, you are probably doing things wrong.

I won’t say it’s a must, but I’ve yet to see a blog where it hasn’t occurred.

Heck, even over on Sophistefunk (a dang music blog!), I had this one guy complaining that I wasn’t posting enough “dubstep” for his taste.

Nevermind the fact that I already have a dubstep centric blog specifically for this reason, or that Sophistefunk’s unique selling proposition is entirely based around more “mellow” electronica, this guy still had the nerve to complain about content he was getting for free!

At the cost of many hours spent by myself, I might add.

Point is, you’ll never make everybody happen, and you shouldn’t try to.

Find your target audience, wow their socks off, and let the trolls keep trollin’.

Take good criticism and make improvements, take pointless hate and put it where it belongs: out of your mind.

9.) On Community Endorsement

When you give people an opportunity to be part of something, they’re going to be proud of (and eager to share) something that they’ve helped create.

– Steve Kamb, founder of NerdFitness

I love this insight from Steve Kamb, and I agree with it 100%.

People love sharing something that they’ve help to build, even if they aren’t the “creator” or the founder of whatever it is.

Just check out how crazy the Minecraft addicts go on places like Reddit’s r/MineCraft.

People spend days creating submissions to be judged by the community at large, while Notch (the creator) may not be involved at all.

Content is a different, yet very similar way to do the same thing.

The thing you need to inspire out of your audience is a similar “goal”, whether that goal is improvement in a certain area (like Steve’s site aim on fitness for average Joe’s) or just entertainment.

I once got an email about Sophistefunk that read: “I’m glad our electro community is growing so fast, happy to see our music of choice is finally catching on!”

Our community, our music… the implication is clear, the site that YOU create can “outgrow” you; you’ll simply become a cog in a community powered machine.

And that’s perfectly fine.

10.) On Content Creation

Make sure your content or product is helping people become happier, or don’t even bother.

– Ramsay, aka The Blog Tyrant

Who’d have thought that a man that could invent the Sterling engine, the insulin pimp, and several water purification devices would ever find himself dealing with a colossal failure (no, Ramsay is not the guy who invented the insulin pump, although he is pretty smart ;)).

The guy who I’m referring to is named Dean Kamen, and as such a renowned and prolific inventor, it be hard to imagine him coming up with a “dud”…

That’s until he poured over $100 million into developing the Segway PT.

The thing is, the Segway is a highly advanced and incredibly sophisticated piece of equipment; I can tell you from riding one myself that’s it’s unmatched in terms of what it does.

The problem is, few people cared enough about it’s benefits to spend $5,000 clams on what was essentially a goofier looking alternative to running or bicycling to where you wanted to go.

Your offering’s success is completely dependent on people actually wanting what you have to offer.

Don’t dictate to people what they want.

Find what they could use to make them happier, and provide it with unrelenting enthusiasm.

What you want to provide will never dictate the needs of the market at large, so always keep your ear to the ground before becoming a crusader for an offering that has no audience.

Over To You…

What do you think about concise bits of information? Any great quotes that you think deserve mentioning in the comments?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Here’s what you can do:

  • Tell me one quote that you apply to your audience building efforts on a regular basis.
  • Let me know which one of the 10 above was your favorite.
  • Since you made it all the way to the bottom, download my free e-Book on ‘Conversion Psychology’ right now, no charge! :)

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the comments!

Gregory Ciotti is the founder of Sparring Mind and a ThinkTraffic contributor. Download his free e-Book on conversion psychology or get more from him on Twitter.

47 thoughts on “10 of the Smartest Things Said About Building a Thriving Audience Online”

  1. I’d like to add a non-online quote in to the mix: “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.

    A lot of people look for quick fixes, tricks and tips, but the sites and business of real value have all been built over time. In many cases, lots of time.

    Be patient, use the above list to make progress in the right direction, but never give up. Keep building slowly. Refine as you go. Just keep going.

    1. Perfect compliment to what I was getting at with the “skyhook” metaphor Chris, the point simply being that nothing that’s notable gets built on a weak foundation, and a strong foundation takes time to lay.

      Thanks for your contribution!

  2. Greg, this is a fantastic post with tons of useful and inspiring insight – very well done, and a very nice touch with the Slideshare presentation.

    I’m also honored to be included – thank you very much for that! :)

  3. I am usually just silently reading and never commenting (sorry about that!), but the #9 point – On Community Endorsement, really helped some ideas solidify in my new website endeavor.

    I have considered doing a “focus group” as I am in the beginning stages developing the website (my third), building connections as I am going along – is that advisable?

    1. Hey Angela, thanks for finally coming out of lurker mode to comment on my post! 😉

      What Steve meant was that when people start to become involved, even with something they are paying (or have paid) to partake in, they become the real “machine” of the operation while the owner is just the conductor.

      As far as focus groups go, I’m all about ‘shadow testing’ new offerings, or getting folks to make commitments for something new, and if it doesn’t work out, they get whatever they put in back (I just recently saw a new yoga studio do this, you had the option to sign up early and get a membership discount, but if the studio didn’t open, you’d get your money back)

      As far as the “free” focus group (as in, no commitment involved), it can be really useful, but you have to watch out for the feedback that addresses purchasing: people will typically say “Yes I will buy this” but that’s not the best indicator that they will actually follow through.

      I hope that my rambling above helped in some way. :)

  4. This is a nice read, the quotes did help to create more context for each tip. And you did a good job of making sure these tips cover major aspects of building a thriving online business. Thanks.

  5. Great post, fellow Greg! This is certainly a lot of info to digest, but it is all critical in being successful in the inundated career of internet marketing. This post was most successful to me because you’re focusing on content, not gimmicks.

    From your Write Epic Shit post I couldn’t agree more that most SEOs want to put the focus on using their techniques or widgets and practices. To get real, devoted READERS, you have to have something that is worth reading, not just if you post article a to these sights, spin it to article a 2.0 then post to these websites.

    Google will only continue to crack down harder on SEOs who continue posting these methods. Panda then the successor Penguin have proven this, and what P animal will be next with their next update is anyone’s guess(I vote for Platypus, but that’s just me!) I don’t work for Google, but it’s a pretty clear message they’re sending that you should deliver on the message, not the method.

    Thanks for the great post, I’m a subscriber now!

  6. On community endorsement is my fave for sure!

    I came into my niche when it was at an all time high. I rode the wave and established myself in spite of the odds.

    As that wave is coming down (as all waves do), I find myself getting frustrated. Shouldn’t businesses grow upwards? I’m steady now though and my community is becoming this beautiful tight knit group of readers AND other bloggers who just love frugal living.

    It’s OUR community and I love the ” cog in a community powered machine.” line. That’s what I want. That’s my new goal.

    Love it!

    1. Thanks Heather!

      It’s so true too, you become a conductor of a community powered train, and I think that’s essential if you want to really take off, because the community can promote you so much better than you can by yourself (even with a large budget).

  7. I think the biggest one here is gaining trust. As a blogger (or a business owner in general) trust is so important in gaining loyal readers and customers. Your content can be the best on the web, but if you don’t have trust you won’t have readers. Great compilation of quotes here!


  8. Point #6 was big. One of the turning points in my development was joining a local meetup group here in Hawaii, “Oahu Online Entrepreneurs.” Through that I met a guy who became my mentor and accountability partner. Later we also started a mastermind group with people actively working toward goals.

    My progress got fast-tracked when I had to report to others in my mastermind what I’m working on. Hearing things like, “Dude, you got to get your site up!” or “You already know enough to get started, stop reading about it and just do it!” were the push I needed.

    I can’t overstate how much that helped. Beyond making contacts, the main benefits were getting encouragement and accountability. Just knowing that you’re not alone and not crazy to try to do something online.

    As for my favorite quote. I’m paraphrasing this:

    “Solve market problems with your personal passion.”
    –Dan Andrews, TropicalMBA and Lifestyle Business Podcast

    The struggle is to find a balance between something you’re passionate about yet still useful enough that people will pay for. I thought Dan absolutely nailed that with this quote.

    Let’s say you love fashion, but you know that the odds of becoming a supermodel or famous designer are slim. But you know how to look catwalk-ready on a small budget. You could start a blog about how to find stylish affordable clothes and shoot simple how-to videos on applying makeup. (By the way, I know nothing about fashion. Just an example.)

    Just a small tweak in your direction can lead to more fulfilling work and some profits.

  9. Superb, actionable advice! Each point was very helpful – my favorite was #7 on storytelling. By writing in a way that directly connects with people, “you” take advantage of the more personal nature of the blog medium.

    1. Thanks Erick, glad you liked it.

      I agree with you, it’s easily to get captivated with someone’s writing when it feels like it was meant for “you” to read.

  10. Gregory, very interesting slide show – beautiful as well and I learnt a lot. 7 of people I knew are on the list and that’s great. BTW, Ramsey (blogtyrant) has been unveiled and glad to see you use his name and image here.


  11. Greg, you did it again! That’s now three times this week for me so far! It end on Sunday; can you do it again? :)

    Loved the content man, well presented and also very insightful additions to the already thoughtful quotes. As another commentator suggested, it needs some digestion and I will certainly take the time.

    Another quote I would like to add and that I try and keep in mind whenever I can is from Jon Morrow from Boost Blog Traffic and GuestBlogging.com I think, is:

    “It’s not about who you know but about what they know about you”

    which is exactly what killer content and persistence exercised over time will help you build, those trust relationships that can’t be bought.

    From the quotes you mentioned I like the one from Derek the most which I without hesitation and enthusiastically used in my eBook “The Best Traffic-Generating Strategies By 10 Top Bloggers | A Tribute” that’s soon to be released. Priceless!

    Once again, great post man!

  12. I have two favorite quotes from this article. Both of which I have heard before The first one is “You don’t need unique ingredients. You need a unique recipe.”

    When I first read this quote over at Social Triggers, it completely blew my mind. At that point I was spending a lot of time, trying to figure out what to my focus on with my blog. As soon, as I read what Derek said, it all became so much clearer. I had spent so much time trying to come up with completely unique ingredients… Which is insanely difficult, and now I believe very dangerous when trying to develop a business model. This quote gave me guidance and direction when I really needed it.

    “Eventually you’ll learn that if you try to please everyone, your content won’t be worth reading.”

    I first heard this quote in one of Corbett’s online courses. Man, when I heard it, boy did it make me take a step back from my work. I had been seeking feedback from anyone and everyone at that point, and was feeling pretty confused. I basically was in the process of creating Frankenstein. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time. But now I get it. If I write content that people strongly disagree with, I no longer consider this a bad thing, as it means I am able to get my point across. Bad writing, never stirs up emotion. But good writing can.

    1. Great analysis Izzy, and very true.

      As for Derek’s quote, it speaks to the Iron Law of the Market: you have to be offering something that people want, not what you want to offer.

      That is, your creativity can shine, but only in a market where there is actual demand, don’t expect to go starting the world’s greatest “asparagus restaurant” and expect to turn a profit!

  13. My favorite (or the point that I re-read several times) was number 5.

    Brian’s quote was alright, but, what I read and then re-read was your commentary:

    “…everybody becomes more eager to buy from someone they know, like, and trust, who’s been providing them with quality (even life-changing) content for a very long time.” (hopefully my html passes your filter)

    The notion of providing life changing content struck a nerve somewhere. I had never thought about blog content as life changing.


    1. I know what you mean, I think about the few blogs that I’ve read consistently for a long time, and I realize that a lot of the information there really *has* changed my life, because they’ve effected my day-to-day, even if the author doesn’t realize it.

      I’ve had people tell me that about Sophistefunk, because it’s exposed them to music that they know listen to and search for daily, and it’s nice to know that a guy with a laptop can have that kind of an impact. :)

  14. My favourite quote is from podcast with Pat Flynn. I don’t know who said it exactly but here it is – “If you want to make it right, you have to make the internet a better place!” It’s similar to Ramsay’s quote “Make sure your content or product is helping people become happier, or don’t even bother.” and I totally agree!

    Thanks for post!

  15. I love reading this article and you have shared great tips and I love this quote by Derek;

    You don’t need unique ingredients.

    You need a unique recipe.

    I think its says all in two lines and certainly blogging isn’t something that you learn overnight you have to work hard and research continuously.

  16. Nice article. I do believe that it is quite naive to start blogging without identifying your audience from day one. This not only makes your blogging unfocused, bu will also prove unhelpful with regards to response from the readers. Targeting and narrowing down is the key here, I believe.

  17. Wow! Thanks for this! Very epic stuff. It’s like you have saved me from having to read the complete thoughts of all of these bloggers by boiling it all down to 10 quotes. Appreciate it!

  18. Hi Gregory,
    Well said. Fighting sameness is the key here. With millions of blogs online people have way too many choices to make with who they commit to (in regards to reading).

    I make it a point to cover some obscure topics that other people in my niche would never consider doing. Trust is also a huge one when it comes to building and growing an online business.

  19. Thanks, Greg. Concise helps a lot. As a newbie, all the to-do’s seem like a giant mountain of stuff. Getting ideas like this in small, digestible bite-sized pieces makes it seem less daunting.

    Thanks also for the ebook. I’m all over it.


  20. Reading this blog was just exactly what I needed; I am actually in the audience-building business. Just downloaded your e-book! 😀

  21. Very interesting article. I especially enjoyed the comment about the snake oil! This tactic certainly doesn’t seem like it’s working anymore, as people are gravitating towards truthfulness and honesty. Giving the reader a glimpse into the writer’s personal life also builds trust, which is of the utmost importance when selling a product or service online. Thank you!

  22. For me, it was 4 and 8.

    Probably because I was “hooked” at the miracles. Spend some money on it. Then made a blog the hard way. Now that the blog is closed and not updated in an year, it still generates leads and grows! Now that’s a foundation, considering I knew so little about blogging back then.

    And 8 – impact is vital. With some friends we’re building a blog in a local scale and the goal is to provide sincere advice to people in the HR area. This is both the employees and the managers. We reveal “tips and tricks” that may be considered previously “unknown” by the opposing side (if we have to define them as opposing). Of course the idea is to provide an environment where both – the employee and the manager, can invest energy in the work, not against each other.

    This said, unethical managers will get hurt by the articles (directly on indirectly). And that’s ok.

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