Building an audience online, and why it works: How understanding in developing social capital from over the last hundred years underpins contemporary ideas in building a successful presence on the internet.

The first rule of internet success is ‘build an audience’. Want to be known for something, have greater influence, sell a product? Build an audience of like-minded people, those who are interested in the same things you are.

The second rule of internet success is ‘give away your knowledge freely’. Demonstrate your knowledge and expertise, share your journey, be open about your wins and losses. This builds trust with your audience.

The third rule of internet success is ‘participate and reciprocate regularly’. Be part of the online community in your area of interest, engage with people, chat to them. And do it often to maintain the relationships.

Why? Because they all develop social capital, which is “the links, shared values and understandings in society that enable individuals and groups to trust each other and so work together.”

There are three types of social capital, bonding – ties between individuals within the same group, bridging – ties between individuals in different groups, & linking – ties across formal levels of authority

Bridging social capital is most interesting as it applies to building an audience on the internet. “Bridging describes social relationships of exchange, often of associations between people with shared interests or goals but contrasting social identity”

“Bridging social capital functions as social lubricant and leverage, to help one ‘get ahead’; it is comprised of weak ties, is mostly inclusive and consists of thin trust in light and ever-changing networks”

Create connections in common with people because as “bridging traverses social boundaries it tends to increase acceptance of different people, values, & beliefs through contact with diverse others.

Demonstrate trustworthiness, because bridging social capital is built on “earned trust” and removing “power relations that result in inequalities”. Unpacking Social Capital in Economic Development: How Social Relations Matter

Engage regularly with your audience because “the development of social capital requires the active and willing engagement of citizens within a participative community” Measuring Social Capital in Five Communities

That’s why Social Capital works. And this is how it works… the power of network connections. Bridging social capital can only work if we have a means of creating those bridges. Fortunately, the internet is the perfect tool for building social capital in this way.

Facebook research shows that, “Each person in the world (at least among the 1.59 billion people active on Facebook) is connected to every other person by an average of three and a half other people.”

Or to put it another way, as an audience grows, its potential growth grows at an exponential rate. If your audience of 44 people each brings 44 more, in six steps you’ve reached 7.26 billion people.

But just having the mechanisms to reach that many people isn’t enough, which is why developing social capital is so important for achieving whatever success you are looking for on the internet. Build an audience by sharing your value freely and regularly.