Content Strategy

How to Build an Audience Without Depending on Social Media

By Bethany Johnson on March 13, 2018

Shhhh . . . do you hear that?


That's the sound of today's marketing professionals running out of ways to complain about the latest social media algorithm change. If you listen closely enough, you can hear their mental gears turning, churning out idea after idea-responding to the new pressure to create a social media marketing strategy that doesn't rely entirely on "rented land."

As always, the answer to the question of how to build an audience is as simple (no, not easy, but simple) as creating and maintaining a content hub that delivers a differentiated message regularly to your clearly defined niche consumer.

But then what? Followers often have no reason to detour each day just to visit your online publication. How do you benefit them without drawing them away from their daily routine?

Good question. Social was awesome while it lasted, but now, marketers are being forced to get creative yet again. And as usual, they're producing some inventive, effective solutions. Here are some of our favorites.

Good Old Email

Access to the coveted inbox has always been and will always be pivotal for marketers. As a consumer yourself, relive your experience this morning as you woke up: You unplug your phone from the charger, and while one hand brushes teeth, the other swipes to assess today's first round of new emails.

Pay attention here-you don't start the ritual by opening each file in the order it arrived. No, you start by deleting the ones you can clearly see you don't need. We all do this. What's left is either notes sent directly to you from someone you know, official business, or branded newsletters that have achieved their goal of becoming a trusted voice in your life.

Here's where content marketers diverge from traditionally minded marketing professionals: The emails that get deleted are often the 10-percent-off coupons or product-centric promotions that many advertisers assume are welcome. Content marketers, on the other hand, have taken this opportunity to give audiences a genuine gift. It's what we do. And while the email-sorting experience can seem harsh, at least it's the user's choice. Consider again the social media algorithm that doesn't even let a consumer decide.

As early as 2016, Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, predicted an "email renaissance," with brands shifting away from the concept of email as marketing collateral and towards making email a "truly amazing and relevant customer experience."

So instead of a round up of all the week's posts from your content hub, consider reserving the sweetest, most valuable experiences for your email subscribers as a special thanks for that access. This approach is philosophically opposite to a spray-and-pray social media marketing strategy that's totally dependent on that channel's algorithm of the day.

The Mobile App

Mobile-friendly has given way to mobile first as a digital communications strategy for many corporations. And it happened in what seems like a blink of an eye. According to experts at KNOWARTH Technologies, e-commerce brands especially benefit by offering a mobile app to consumers because:

  • Mobile apps are often much faster since data is stored on-device and functions don't rely on JavaScript alone.
  • Consumers are involved in personalization from the outset by setting preferences early and supplying engagement data for ongoing hypercustomization.
  • Users can access content and functions both online and offline, marking the most significant difference between a mobile site and an app.
  • App functions can interact with a device's native features.
  • Your user experience design is not dependent on browser elements.
  • With instant in-app feedback, customer-service complaints need not be in the public forum anymore, while positive praise can be published to social at will.

Most compelling, however, is the addressability that a mobile app provides. Push notifications and in-app alerts let marketers reach users at the right time, every time. Not only does the new access have the power to improve the user's experience, it also has the capacity to shape a thoughtful marketer's strategy.

Want to know how to build an audience that won't disappear overnight the next time Facebook's algorithm changes? These 5 creative content marketing approaches can help.

Image attribution: Chad Madden

Knowing you'll get through to your target audience should give you pause. No more will "quantity over quality" hold its lure.

The little red bubble that pops up on your users' screen by your mobile app is identical to the one consumers see when they're late for their weekly volunteering shift, a loved one texts a picture, or they've missed a call from the family doctor. In other words, this is sacred territory. Discerning marketers will know this and honor the territory as such.

Need more specific inspiration figuring out how to build an audience using mobile tech? Here are a few examples of awesome branded apps that add value and drive users back to the brand's mobile site:

  • Thermos, previously known mainly for manufacturing vacuum flasks, created a mobile app called OasisPlaces that helps consumers find, rate, and share public drinking fountains where they can fill up.

  • Air New Zealand has Grabaseat, the mobile app that alerts users to drops in flight prices, streamlines booking, and even provides customized travel tips.

  • Procter & Gamble's Charmin brand offers SitOrSquat, a mobile experience that helps users locate the nearest, cleanest, most reliable restroom while out and about.

  • Barclays launched a mobile application that played upon one of the most popular commercials in modern history. The game was completely useless to users, other than the novel fun it provided.

  • A B2B example is Office Depot's Elf Yourself, a seasonal (if nonsensical) experience that now includes augmented reality characters that dance beside cube mates and chummy sales rivals.

  • A more helpful B2B commercial mobile app is Adobe's Spark Post, a mobile tool that turns everyday smartphone photographers into graphic designers.

Committed Collaboration Tools Like Slack

Want (some of) the benefits of a mobile app without the risk and cost of building your own? Consider putting a new spin on a professional collaboration tool like Slack.

Remember, some of the best content marketing plays are well-nurtured communities. Users feel safer asking one another questions and debating back and forth with peers than with a government agency, a media company, or a brand. Creating that safe place is the perfect magnanimous gift to both build an audience and earn credibility. Again, it can be tempting to simply morph your Facebook page into a group. However, now is the perfect time to consider tools like Microsoft's Yammer, Cisco's Jabber, or Slack, where fickle algorithms won't destroy friendships you've worked hard to build.

Since these tools are usually used for work and productive collaboration, the creative concept of employing them to support an encouraging community is both novel and effectual. When someone in the group inevitably asks a question that's already answered on your content hub, you can share it-unless another fan has already done that naturally. And because engagement tools like these feature push notifications and offline access, content marketers can easily make the case for a thriving community in addition to the requisite social media marketing strategy. Depending on your plan, it may even be a good stepping stone to the full-fledged mobile app investment.

In-Person Events

Another often-overlooked opportunity for content marketers is the in-person event. Hosting a regular conference, retreat, class, or meet-up can be a gift that keeps on giving. Attendees pay for much of the creation of the event (if not all of it), and every keynote, panel discussion, Q&A session, and bar-side conversation can be repackaged and repurposed into other ongoing content assets. Best of all, everyone who attends walks away with similarly inspired ideas that will forever be attributed to your time together. The camaraderie you build in person far surpasses the productivity of purely online friendships, and the more tangible memories last a lifetime. There really is nothing like the authenticity embodied by a well-hosted event.

Want to know how to build an audience that won't disappear overnight the next time Facebook's algorithm changes? These 5 creative content marketing approaches can help.

Image attribution: Helena Lopes

The question of how to build an audience that's more meaningful and more engaged than 60-mile-per-hour social traffic could be as simple as the timeless get together.

Try Platishing

The term "platisher" came on the scene a few years ago as content marketers navigated their "plat"-form and publ-"ishing" options. Media companies like BuzzFeed, Gawker, Forbes, and the Huffington Post opened their sites to all contributors-in effect, loaning their hard-won audiences to anyone with a point of view. These publishers, then, became platforms. They handed everyone a bullhorn and trusted the good stuff would rise to the top.

Around the same time, new platforms like Medium were born, and not out of media companies but as an entirely new type of media company. They were created to be platforms from the outset. It was their purpose-not just a tactic.

Platishers, then, posted their content on both types of sites. As you may know, the former model stumbled. Gawker is gone, BuzzFeed is struggling, and Forbes and Huffington Post just switched gears to ensure only high-quality, paid content creators can contribute.

The self-publishing sites that started as platforms, though-like Medium, Tumblr, and SlideShare-are still proving valuable for both contributors and readers alike. Once you've created a story, you'll publish it as a one-off or add it to a compilation that can eventually become a sleek publication. Most importantly, the Medium community has established itself as discerning and intolerant of anything less than excellent. So to the marketer who won't miss Facebook and its capricious algorithm-who is secretly thankful to be rid of the renters' struggle-you may find a warm "welcome home" on platforms like Medium.

So what's next for your brand? Together, we're all learning how to build an audience that's worth the effort. If the Facebook apocalypse took your team by surprise, please, don't simply migrate your whole strategy unthinkingly to the next social channel. Now is the time to exercise the creativity that makes you the pioneering marketer you are.

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Featured image attribution: Alexandru Zdrobău


Bethany Johnson

Bethany Johnson is a multiple award-winning content marketing writer and speaker. Her work empowers marketers to ditch interrupt advertising in favor of original content that converts passive readers into active followers. Thriving brands like Tom's of Maine, MasterCard, ADP, Fidelity and the Content Marketing Institute currently rely on Bethany's fresh style to connect with audiences daily. As a consultant, she combines simple change management principles with her insider knowledge of freelancing to show traditional marketing teams how to flourish in today's gig economy. For more, visit