While WoMO is difficult to cultivate, investing time in a deliberate and consistent approach to what I call the 3 “e”s can supercharge your efforts. That is to say that empathy, engagement and empowerment are essential in attracting an online following. We will explore this in three parts. In the first one, let’s double-click on empathy to better appreciate what it is and what it is not.
Previously, I defined empathy as:
Having the ability to relate to others and perceive their feelings from their perspective instead of your own, commonly thought of as “walking in their shoes.” In order to empathize with your audience, you have to get to know them. Really know who are the real people who make up your online audience by actively listening to their stories and reflecting heavily on those stories.
There are several calls to action in there, but I’ll rephrase the first one as a question because it’s easy to miss: Do you have the ability to relate to others? Well aside from a formal psychiatric diagnosis, here are a few cautionary signs to look for:
- You have a mandate to increase followers or friends on Facebook or Twitter or some other popular social network
- You are conducting a lot of market research to better understand your target audience’s wants, needs and behavior
- Your mission is short-term and success will be measured by short-term financial or commercial goals
These are all reasonable objectives but sometimes hyper focus on increasing them can actually subtract from empathy, the opposite of what you need to grow WoMO. Typically, on social networks, followers are attracted to great content that speaks to them and relates to them. Just be your authentic self in these forums and the right audience will find you instead of the other way around. That’s also why you should have to conduct very little research about your audience. In this case, build it and they will come makes sense, assuming you also develop effective mechanisms to share your content, which we will get to in part 3 of this series. It comes back to your mission…is it well-defined in terms that your audience understands? Even better, did you let your audience define your mission? Trying to build WoMO as a means of financial gain in and of itself will lead you to disappointing results. Your audience will spot a veiled self-interested campaign from many digital miles away, but if you listen to their signals and simply adopt their objectives as your mission, right away you would be relating to them.
Once you pass the litmus test of relate-ability, the next call to action is to “Really know who are the real people who make up your online audience.” Emphasis on real people. How else can you know “real people” unless you follow them? Where do they party? Where do they study? How do they eat? Who do they spend time with? What do they talk about and where do they talk about it? You might think this sounds a little stalker-paparazzi-like…because it is! Just don’t do anything illegal. Ideally, you already know some real people who you relate to and now you just want to blow that up from an N of a few to an N of large numbers of people, so you can interview those you know. Still, if you really don’t know for sure, then take a field trip. Grab a pen and paper (digital or physical, your choice), then go outside. Go anywhere there are people. Observe. Take notes. It helps to start with a hypothesis like “Our audience lives their days at Starbucks and their nights at art galleries…” Go to those places, listen to those around you and see if you’re right! Iterate.
Core to the idea that you empathize with your audience is one, having the ability to relate to them and two, getting to know real people who you believe are part of your audience and listen to their stories. If their stories sound like your’s, or your mission could have been copy/pasted from what you hear, then you’re on your way to cultivating empathy. You’ll find that your WoMO will take on a new life of its own too.