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Growing Your Audience with the Ant Mentality

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One of the most basic human instincts we have is to follow the crowd. Yes, everyone also has this need to be recognized as an individual, but on a genetic level, we see the crowd as the safe option. If a lot of other people are doing it, it must be a good idea, right? Yet, following the crowd has a negative connotation for many people, and I certainly don’t think we should be promoting the kind of mentality where people just mindlessly follow others to your blog like a flock of sheep. Mindless traffic is not a good way to grow your audience.

What I’d like to propose instead of the sheep mentality is the ant mentality.

I grew up in the country, so ants weren’t just an isolated problem; they were a common occurrence. If your kitchen floor wasn’t spotless, you were going to get ants, without a doubt. So, I learned from a young age how ants work and what to do to stop them. And ants are complex little buggers. Comparing your readers to ants is not an insult.

Every ant family has scouts that go out to look for food. Ant scouts leave this chemical trail that other ants can follow and that they can follow to find their anthill again. The trail changes based on what the ant is finding – food, danger, etc.

When an scouting ant finds a food source, it is only a matter of time before other worker ants follow the trail to find the food and carry it back to the anthill. That’s why you can’t just squash an ant and call your problem fixed – it is only a matter of time before more ants follow the “hey this way to food” trail and come calling. The ant traps that you can purchase aren’t designed to kill an ant immediately – they are designed to slowly poison, but not before the any carries the poisoned food back to the anthill, where it can kill all of them. If you don’t destroy the entire ant family, more ants are just going to continuously show up in your kitchen.

And ants multiply in a hurry. When one ant finds food, he leads an entire army of ants to your doorstep to collect it. Another way way used to discourage ants at how was with red chili pepper. If you find where the ants are coming into your home (i.e. the line of the “food this way” chemical scent trail) and you sprinkle pepper there…well I’m not sure if it confuses the ants or just deters them, but it certainly does work.

So enough about ants, how does this relate to content creation and your audience?

Well, think of popular bloggers or podcasters who have a large following as scouting ants. They’re always on the lookout for good content, and when they find some, they’ll lead others there with a trail of recommendations – retweets, “likes” on Facebook, even mentions on their blog. You go from one ant to a whole colony of ants in a hurry. If you have good food (i.e., good content), you’re going to attract scouting ants.

Or at least that’s the way it should work, though I know a lot of you are feeling frustrated right now. You have great content. You’re doing everything to ensure that you have unique, interesting ideas to entice the scouting ants. So why isn’t your content popular?

The problem? Without knowing it, you’re doing things to deter the ants. That might be a good thing in your kitchen, but it is definitely not a good thing on your blog or podcast.

  • Do you have enough crumbs?

First, in a home, you aren’t going to get ants in your kitchen if you have a clean floor. No matter how delicious your cooking might be, ants won’t find it if it is sealed away, with no crumbs on the floor. Online, this translates to social media and search engine optimization. What are you doing to promote and get your “crumbs” – aka, content – out there for the scouts to see? Are you ranking well on Google? Are you advertising your posts/episodes on social networking sites? Are you connecting with the people on your industry who have influence? Are you engaging readers? Are you networking with people in real life? I could go on and on, but the basic ideas is this: It is not enough to merely produce great content.

  • Are you poisoning the scouts?

Secondly, let’s look at one of the common ways to get ants out of your kitchen – the ant poison you can purchase that causes scouts to carry poison back to the hill, killing every ant there. For content creators, this poison is inconsistency and low quality. While I do believe that regular updates are important, what is more important in my opinion is that your everything you do is amazing. Some posts/episodes will naturally be better than others, but if you’re not passionate about the topic, if you’re not bringing new or useful ideas to the table, it doesn’t matter if you add more content once a day like clockwork. You’re poisoning your scouts, and they are killing off the readership connection that they could have brought your way.

This point boils down to the following statement: The worst reaction you can have to your content is “meh.” If you write something that people love, they’ll promote it. If you write something people hate, they’ll talk about that too. But if you’re just writing to meet your own self-imposed posting rules…you’re going to get a “meh” reaction, and no one is going to recommend it to others. They probably won’t come back either.

  • Are you confusing the ants?

Then we have the pepper deterrent. With ants, a line of chili pepper across the trail is confusing and off-putting. On a blog, make sure you aren’t confusing and off-putting to brand new readers. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my site navigation clear?
  • Do I have an “about” page that can easily be accessed from single posts and my home page alike?
  • Is my overall message consistent?
  • Do I make it easy to promote my work?
  • Am I personable, making my audience want to come back for more from me?
  • Can people easily subscribe to my RSS feed and mailing list?
  • Are there any technical problems that could be deterring people?

A lot of bloggers and podcasters, I’ve found, are their own worst enemies. If you have great food, ants should be knocking down your walls to get in, and the reason they’re not is because you’re taking measures to prevent them.

I’d love to hear your opinions on the idea of ant mentality – do you feel like bloggers and podcasters are deterring readers? What are some of the things that you see that would make you leave or not come back, even if the content was great?

Allison Boyer freelance writer and content marketing consultant. She also runs the food blog The PinterTest Kitchen with her mom and sister. You can follow her shenanigans on Twitter (@allison_boyer) or contact her at allisonmboyer@gmail.com.


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  • Teasastips

    It’s interesting your point about the ants because my brother and I were having this very same conversation today about ants. However, we were talking about it in the context of Google Adwords. We are often bouncing good business ideas off one another and he is the source of some of my blog content. Great article, and I linked to it on my blog as well!

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