I recently read a question in a LinkedIn group that was intriguing: What is more important in online communities, audience size or engagement of the audience?
While it may sound like a cop-out, I strongly believe that you need both. You need a sizable audience and an engaged audience in order to have effective online marketing. Let's dive deeper into why this is the case.
Why We Need an Engaged Audience
I've written a lot about developing online ambassadors for your brand in order to expand your reach and keep customers in the “loyalty loop.” You can read more about that in my post on The Case for Integrated Digital Marketing.
Essentially, our goal as marketers is to transform people into customers so loyal to and excited about our brand that they tell everyone in their network about us and why those others should also work with us. That excitement and interest keeps people coming back for more so that we're retaining customers, not having to spend all our time getting new customers. Because, as most of us know, it costs more to attract a new customer than to retain a current one.
Also, engaged audiences will tell us what is working and what isn't. If they are interacting with a piece of content by commenting on it, sharing it, tweeting it, etc., then we know it's connecting with them in some way. If we get less engagement, then we can analyze why this might be. Or if audiences openly tell us they don't like something for some reason, we can take it as a piece of advice and improve what we deliver. In most ways, engagement is a good thing and we want to foster it in our online communities.
For these reasons and more, an engaged audience is of utmost importance. Engaged audiences tell us that our marketing efforts are working and the content we are delivering is providing value to our customers. We're likely to see more business as a result of the engagement.
Why We Need a Sizable Audience
Some might say audience size doesn't matter as long as your audience is engaged. But this isn't practical at scale. Unless you can make enough money with a few clients, most of us need larger audiences to pay the bills.
Also, I haven't met many people or come across many businesses that are satisfied with the status quo of clientele. In other words, generally we want to continually grow our audience size. Even if we're at capacity with our client load, we want to have a number of prospective customers lined up in case an existing client falls through.
And for brand reach, it's helpful that more people know about you. For example, the larger your audience is, the more likely you are to be invited to speaking engagements or asked to be a contributor to a publication.
But Size Isn't Everything
However, what you don't want is a sizable audience that isn't engaged. This is a red flag for a few reasons. First, it might mean your audience is filled with spam accounts or generally inactive accounts. That is a problem because it hinders your reach when pursuing advertising.
With Facebook advertising, for example, you can select to boost a post to existing fans. By reaching existing fans, you are likely to have more engagement because existing fans already know you and are interested in what you have to offer. But if you have spam accounts or inactive accounts in your fan base, then your ads will be served to those and your ROI will not be as strong, particularly if you're looking at Cost Per Impression (CPM).
Second, unengaged large audiences might mean that you drew audiences in at one point but have failed to continue delivering. You should begin to look at whether you've been losing followers or whether growth has stagnated. This would indicate that you need to adjust your content and overall marketing tactics to stop the problem and begin to rebuild.
So as you focus on developing your audience, remember to focus on both engagement and size. Keep your audience involved with your content by sharing new and interesting material. And work on expanding your reach, bringing in new audience members to keep prospects in the pipeline.