On SocialOptimized, I constantly exhort you to know your audience and know where they hang out online, to most effectively target them. However, Social Media is also a powerful tool to reach outside those pre-existing spaces and attract new interest.
Today we'll talk about expanding your audience through providing context.
The keystone of Social Media is relevance. Relevance is what drives you to share information with your network and your network to share information with their networks. To create relevance, you need to provide context. And, to provide context, there are a few assumptions you need to avoid.
Don't Assume It's About You
People follow/friend/fan/connect for a lot of reasons. The number one reason is that they think that by doing so, it will add to their lives in some meaningful way. They might expect you to provide information, entertainment, discounts, something. People look for a quid pro quo when they follow you.
As a business owner, don't get locked up int the idea that your followers want to know about you for your sake - what they want is to know about you for *their* sakes.
When you use Social Media, consider answering "what's in it for me?" before it's even asked.
Don't Assume Your Followers Are Fans
You have a fanpage for your business, or maybe you Tweet often. Or, perhaps you have a nice following of readers at your business blog. In any case, you know that people read you every day...or do you? Not everyone who follows you is going to check in with you every day. Your readers might be more casual than you think they are. There's a good chance that your followers don't read every post or tweet you make.
Don't Assume They Know What You Are Talking About
Your readers want to know what you are talking about, even if they come in in the middle of the conversation. Let them know that this is the middle of the conversation, when they do. It's easy enough to backtrack on most social networking systems - provide links, quotes, synopses, whatever it takes to keep people on top of what they need to know to be able to understand what you're saying.
Do Provide Context
Whether you have an article in a local paper, a blog post a Facebook status or a Twitter update, every word counts with your readers.
Let your followers know if this is a question, a chat, promotional, a link, food for thought. People have less time (and less inclination) than ever to think critically about everything. Let your readers know up front how much time and energy you are asking for. Are you writing about a provocative or thought-provoking topic - let them know! Are you waxing philosophical over something - or nothing? The more specific you are about what you expect from your readers, the better your response will be.
Do Make Your Point
See the above comment about time and inclination. Before you start writing - make sure you have a point. Whether it's a new product or service you want to mention, or a relevant event, it's important to let your followers know what it is that you are trying to say. It makes it easier for them to share the information - and easier for you to reach people who care about that topic.
Do Invite Feedback
It might seem obvious to you that you want to interact with people in your Social Network, but it's not always obvious to them. A status update is most often in the form of a declarative statement. Some people will not interpret that as a request for feedback or as a conversation starter. Provide a clue to your followers that they are welcome to comment, so they *know* their opinions and thoughts are encouraged. This will provide more impetus for sharing, when people know that the door is open for discussion.
Do Consider Sharing
Taking the time to craft your information so that it is understandable to people outside your field and repeatable across multiple platforms will increase your chances of attracting an audience outside your usual sphere.
Short, retweetable lead ins, strong quotes, good tag words. All of these will attract people who are interested in what you have to say, and encourage them to share that with others.
Don't Assume, Do Provide Context and you'll turn your Social Media into an effective tool to recruit a new audience.