There’s one point where they do come together, though. Whatever moves you to build an audience for your content, you need to inspire one key response.
More than admiration, money or attention, you need to earn your audience’s trust.
Prove you’re a human
It’s a weird, Bladerunner world when we have to prove we’re human, isn’t it? But the Internet is a giant tangle of mistrust, aggravated by the use of viruses, bots, spiders, and other not-human things that creep around the web making trouble.
Small businesses and sole proprietors used to spend a lot of time and money trying to look big. Big meant trustworthy. A big company, after all, had more to lose than some little guy who had just hung up a shingle. Big companies were stable and we expected them to behave themselves.
No longer. In the era of Enron, WorldCom and Halliburton, you’d have to be out of your mind to trust big for big’s sake.
As the man said, Small is the New Big. Let people know you’re a human being. Put your photo somewhere on your site—we’ve got deep and important wiring in our brain that lets us create relationships with faces.
Tell stories from your personal experience. (And don’t make yourself the know-it-all hero.) Talk about mistakes you’ve made, and how they made you stronger and smarter, even as your pride got a little bruised. Get as naked as you dare.
People trust people. You don’t need to get painfully confessional if that isn’t your style, but let your individual human personality shine through in the content you create.
Take a stand
I have long been plagued by the curse of niceness. I probably would have made a great preschool teacher. I think it would be just wonderful if the whole world would hold hands, sing songs and learn to share. I can nearly always see the other person’s point of view, even if I vehemently disagree with it.
This is a horrible quality in a blogger.
No, you don’t want to be a bitter crank or a narrow-minded bigot. But nothing is more boring than lukewarm wannabe writing that refuses to take a position.
We can’t trust a person who won’t come out and stand for something.
When you find yourself wanting to write, “on the other hand,” hold back. Let your commenters chime in with the other hand, or another writer on her own blog. Don’t try to hold all sides of the conversation by yourself.
My dad, a magnificently unreasonable person, is a master of the art of the rant. Some years ago, on a day when he had gone about as far over the top as a person can go, he paused and said, “That’s how I see it. You might see it differently.”
I absolutely love this phrase, and I try to use it often. I’m pretty sure these ten words alone could solve most of the suffering that plagues us: war, famine, the Twitter fail whale. They let you take a stand—even an outrageous stand, without claiming you’re the sole owner of The Truth.
Be bold. Take a position. Then greet differing opinions with a generous, confident spirit. Not only will your work get more interesting, but you’ll mark yourself as a trustworthy person with strong opinions, who values debate without being threatened by it.
Take care of your people
This ought to be obvious, but sometimes it isn’t. You must treat the trust of your audience as your most valuable asset. Trust takes a long time to build and an instant to destroy. No matter how tempting the payout, never go for short-term gains at the expense of long-term trust.
The most obvious example is never to promote affiliate programs or products that you haven’t thoroughly vetted, or that you don’t believe will offer exceptional value to your content community.
Promoting great quality will increase your audience’s responsiveness the next time you have something to offer. Promoting junk will trash your relationship, and your bottom line along with it.
Along the same lines, and a little harder for many of us, don’t link to content that isn’t great. The blogosphere is a social place, and we all want to link to our pals’ content because we like them. But it pays to be ruthless. Your loyalty must be to your audience first.
If you only link to wonderful stuff, your readers will learn they can trust you absolutely. They’ll look for your unique take on what’s worth reading today. Sure, sometimes your idea of wonderful and theirs won’t be the same. As long as you consistently point them to content you believe is exceptional, they’ll keep clicking through.
At the end of the day, earning trust is about putting the needs of your audience ahead of your own. Speak with a personal voice that shows your humanity. Let your actions speak as loudly as your well-chosen words. And treat the relationship with respect.
Earn their trust for the long haul, and your audience will follow you anywhere.