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As a content creator, you simultaneously face two challenges: providing relevant content for your existing audience and coming up with something intriguing enough to also attract new people.

There’s a tricky balance between delivering the depth your long-time followers crave while creating entrance points and handles for first-timers to grab onto.

As if this wasn’t challenging enough, you then end up dealing with yet another party: the hecklers (aka the “Trolls”). These people aren’t within your existing audience, but can be easily mistaken for people in your potential audience.

How do you recognize the person who is never going to be in your audience? How do you avoid catering to their criticisms out of hope that they turn into a loyal fan when really they were never interested in anything other than heckling?

We talk about finding your message, going deep with the audience you have, growing your audience, and navigating the confusing nuances between legitimate criticism and full-on trolling.

Show Notes
  • Mishaps During the seanwes tv Launch
  • 01:25 Sean: You expect hiccups and minor mishaps during launches, but it seemed like everything kept messing up. We’d been recording seanwes tv for weeks and had 5 episodes all ready to go. At the last minute, we found out that tv005 had the wrong outro clip. It’s not the end of the world to re-render it, but my internet connection has absolutely terribly up speed. I’m talking 2Mbps. It’s bad. So it takes hours to upload a single video.
  • 02:51 After that, we discovered that tv003 had a missing image. There was a part during the episode where I mention the podcast and point up to what should have been the podcast artwork, and it was the colorful “missing media” image!
  • 03:12 Ben: “I hope you’re not going to change that though.”
  • 03:14 Sean: Someone actually commented on the video saying, “Oh, I thought you were just making a joke since you were talking about iterating in public in that episode.”
  • 03:23 Ben: “Yeah, and not just that but it also funny because the recent cultural reference… what was it? The Apple truck something?”
  • 03:33 Sean: Oh, you’re talking about the Apple keynote live stream truck schedule, yeah. The cherry on top of this mess was that one of the videos had some titles on it that said “Find, Protect, Invest, Monetize” (talking about your passion), and Cory had manually typed the titles in and “monetize” was misspelled. It ended up on the video that was posted.
  • 04:03 So I’m working through this and some of the Community members were helping me struggle through this in the chat room. I’m just realizing like I can’t do everything and if I want to grow, I have to delegate. I have to build the team. I have to get people to help and that means other people are going to make mistakes in my stead and we have to work through that. We have to get past it. I have to take the responsibility for it. The things like the misspelling is affecting my brand and it’s affecting my reputation. Even though there’s other people behind the scenes, that’s something I have to absorb. I’m no longer a spell check, I’m a leader. I have to work to get systems in place and this is just a part of iterating in public. I’m having to learn that. It’s the growing pains and it’s tough, but onward.
  • 05:30 Ben: “If I could share some of your own wisdom with you, I was watching episode 5 of seanwes tv and you were talking about The Long Game Mindset and the difference between expenses and investments. When you’re talking about investments, there’s not just a time or a money investment when you’re scaling. You also lose some sleep, you have some stress, there’s some struggle, there’s some emotional cost that goes into scaling and having to let go of things that you once were taking care of. It’s important to know that and be prepared to invest in that way as well. Because if you’re not willing to make that investment or if you’re not purposefully thinking that way, those moments when you have hiccups and challenges that from delegating are going to hit you like a ton of bricks every time. It’s good to pad yourself against that and to realize that as much as you prepare for those things and as much as you would like for them not to happen, they’re probably going to happen. You’re going to continue to be responsible. You’re going to continue to absorb those things. You have to deal with them one way or the other.”
  • 07:10 Sean: It’s so hard, Ben. It’s not that I have to deal with resolving the problems but I have to bear the brunt of the impression other people get. You know how it’s easier with a kid to clean up the mess yourself than teach them how to clean it up?
  • 07:32 Ben: “Oh yeah, and when you have a guest come over to your house, if your kid made a mess and didn’t clean it up for whatever reason, they’re not thinking, ‘That kid is so messy,’ they’re thinking about the responsible party.”
  • 08:01 Sean: It’s not only that you have to work hard to get your kid to clean up the mess themselves when you could spend half as much effort doing it up yourself, but in the meantime people are coming over and thinking, “Man, what’s with Ben and his family…”
  • 08:46 Ben: “Most of the time people are really gracious and understanding. Much more so than we think they will be.”
  • 08:56 Sean: I have to remember that.
  • The People Who Will Never Be in Your Audience
  • 11:14 I got some feedback recently from someone criticizing me and some of the things I say. This happens on occasion and sometimes it’s due to them not having heard previous teachings of mine that lay the foundation for whatever I’m speaking on and sometimes it’s just due to them coming from a very different place. In this case, it was someone who was clearly coming at this from a very traditional sense. In the recent client episode, I talked about how absurd Net 90 is. He claimed it was obvious I had “no experience” in the real business world because this is “how things worked” and you just “have to deal with it.”
  • 12:38 Actually, no. I’ve worked with government clients that have absurdly high Net 90 kinds of terms and I said, “No. This is when you’re going to pay me if you want to work with me.” Because they wanted to work with me, they did. Even working with government clients, you can set the terms because you are the professional.
  • 13:23 All that to say: you’re going to get feedback. You get feedback from people that are in your audience and you get feedback from people that are not in your audience. Of the people that aren’t in your audience, there’s people that could potentially come into your audience and then there’s people that never will be in your audience but they just feel like speaking up for whatever reason.
  • Your Two Audiences
  • 13:45 I want to talk about serving two audiences:
    • 1. Existing Audience
      • These people are already on board. They already like you, they already subscribe to you, they’re going to click your emails no matter what your title is. They know you have something valuable to offer. They’re along for the journey. They get you, they want to support you, and they like what you have to say.
    • 2. Potential Audience
      • These people maybe don’t know about you, or have kind of heard about you but haven’t really looked at your stuff.
  • We need to consider the two audiences while we are creating content.

    You have to create value for the people who already follow you and subscribe to you, but your content also needs to have handles for new people to grab.

  • 15:27 Your existing audience might not need a catchy headline in order to click on your article, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put the extra effort into making that catchy headline or designing a featured image that’s going to grab someone’s eye. Because some people are going to need that.
  • Creating Entrance Points
  • 15:47 You should treat every single thing that you put out as an entrance point. You are creating entrance points, not just something that serves your current audience. Treat everything as an entrance point.
  • 17:00 I know fall prey to forgetting this sometimes because I really like building on stuff. I feel like we can actually we can make progress and go deeper once we have some core principles and concepts we can refer to by name. A whole concept or principle can be immediately conjured for the person who knows what it represents and we’re able to go deeper with those people but we would be doing the new people a disservice if we didn’t at least explain or reference back to something in the past where we discussed in more depth.
  • 17:37 Ben: “I think there’s something that’s kind of attractive about the mystery of those things. Certainly we do create spaces and we do have a language we use that our people—our listeners—and Community members understand. They’re already on that train, they’re on board, they’ve been with us on this journey. For somebody who’s on the outside look in considering getting on that train, there’s something about hearing that language and hearing those references that seems really interesting. We’re not holding that up in a way that’s to say this is exclusive and that only “our people” can be in here, but we’re intentionally providing ongoing, deepening value. People from the outside looking in I think recognize that and it’s attractive. I think that in and of itself can be a handle.”
  • 18:57 Sean: Do you ask yourself questions or have any kind of criteria for what kind of content you put out?
  • 19:12 Ben: “Not as much as I would like to.”
  • 19:15 Sean: I think for me it’s more subconscious, but I want to try to articulate a little more to make it something tangible. You have two groups and you want to ask yourself questions to ensure it’s serving both groups:
    • Existing audience:
      • Does this align with my morals or what I stand for?
      • Is this fulfilling a commitment that I made to my audience?
      • Is this the kind of thing they have come to expect from me?
      • Is this the kind of thing I have promised or curated?
    • Potential Audience
      • Is this something that will pique the interest of someone who has never heard of me?
      • Does this topic actually provide value in and of itself whether or not someone else has gone back and heard something before it or understands a concept that is within it?
  • 20:24 Ben: “I guess that’s the jujitsu you do with this stuff. You want to make it as relevant as possible to the people who are already on board, but there’s also going to be stuff in there that people seeing it for the first time can’t understand the same way because they don’t have the context of all the things you produced in the past.”
  • 21:02 Sean: In my mind, the balance I try to strike is making it so that someone who listens to a podcast for the first time gets enough out of it that listening through was worth it. It’s not just a matter checking the box of provided some objective value that doesn’t require listening to something in the past, it’s providing enough value without any other context that listening to this whole episode was worth it for a new person, while simultaneously—and this is where it gets difficult—going deep enough on something that the existing audience is engaged.
  • 21:48 I think the good podcasts will do just that. You listen to something for the first time and you get a lot out of it—you get so much out of it that you say, “The time that I spent listening to that was worth it. These guys provide value to me and I think I’m going to go through and listen to other ones.” I’ve done this before. I’ve heard a podcast that gave value enough that it was worth my time and worth me even going back through the older episodes. I started from the beginning and caught back up to the episode I originally discovered and ended up getting a lot more out of it because I understood so many more things they were talking about and referencing.
  • 22:33 Ben: “Very often, there’s a lot of overlap. The things that are going to be valuable to the people who are considering becoming a part of your audience are also valuable to your existing audience, but your existing audience understands it in a way that the folks in your potential audience can’t yet understand it. As they come into your brand, they’ll increasingly begin to understand it more and more they way you intend for it to be understood.”
  • 23:16 Sean: Do you think most people think about these things when it comes to putting out content or do you think most don’t? What have you observed or feel like as as an outsider of someone else’s content that people more often tend towards? Do they appeal to a core group or audience and swing a little bit too much to that side of not thinking about onboarding new people? Or does it seem to be more trying to be super loud to bring on new people without actually having any depth?
  • 23:50 Ben: “You know, I don’t know that there are many out there doing either on purpose. I think some people happen to do it well because of the way that they naturally relate to people. I would say almost all of the time if you see somebody doing one or the other more, they’re not thinking about intentionally.
  • 25:16 “I haven’t even asked: With this podcast, how intentional have you been with trying to provide value for the existing audience while keeping the others in mind? I feel like this show has done that well whether it was intentional or not.”
  • 25:25 Sean: It’s absurdly intentional. I work really, really hard to make something that has good takeaways outside of context of past episodes, while still going deep, while having a headline that someone wants to click, while providing value to the existing audience, while having a featured image that will pull in people who haven’t heard the show before. I think that is a large contributor to the substantial growth of the podcast. I think for most people, it would be a good problem to have if they were so focused on providing value to a specific core audience that they weren’t even thinking about onboarding new people. But more often than not, I think people need to get to that point first. You need to ask yourself: who are you trying to reach?
  • 26:42 Ben: “If you could only have one or the other, it’d be better to have the focus on a core audience.”
  • 26:45 Sean: Yeah, exactly. Because there’s a lot of people who think they need to to get readers by going for what’s trending and what’s popular. They copy the popular headlines and when it doesn’t get retweeted about bunch they try something else, and they’re all over the place! Like you said, if it was one or the other, it’s better to be focused on an audience. Yes, that is just hitting the status quo and you’ll grow slower if you’re only serving a core audience and not thinking about trying to onboard people but at least you’re going to grow! Because if you’re all over the place trying to make noise and doing a bunch of different things and you’re not focused, you’re not thinking about one certain kind of person that is going to be reading this. Why should they continue to read from you? What are you about? If you’re not thinking about that, then you’re not going to grow at all. The first step is figuring out what your purpose is. What is your podcast about? What is your blog about? What is your newsletter about?
  • The Vocal Outsider
  • 33:15 This person is someone that is never going to be in your audience but they may still be shouting things at you over the fence.
  • 33:47 Ben: “Or they may shouting things at you in public with your audience listening. For instance, if you have a comments section, people who may not be a part of your audience can talk there too and might have plenty to say.”
  • Legitimate Criticism vs. Trolling
  • 34:27 Sean: This is a good point to differentiate between criticism and heckling. I think you should take what someone has to say objectively. In this particular email I got, it was heavily on the critical side and I’m certainly going to do my best to be objective about a lot of the things they suggested and really reflect on them—not with my emotions, but thinking about what they’re saying, where they’re coming from, and objectively dismiss what doesn’t apply to me. So in the case of things that are not based on professionalism—for instance, if he’s trying to tell me that’s “not how it works in the real world”—I can dismiss that. I’m intentionally trying to be disruptive. I also have a proven track record of doing things exactly this way and I don’t have to abide by Net 90. I don’t have to abide by multiple concepts.
  • 35:54 Ben: “In a way, he’s actually further confirming for you and supporting what you actually stand for even though he saying the opposite. He’s making a list of the things that you’ve already intentionally chosen not to do.”
  • 36:19 Sean: So Ben, how do you differentiate between trolling and a well-formed critique? (Related: e095 Overcoming the Fear of What Other People Think and Doing Your Best Work Anyway)
  • 36:47 Ben: “You can’t always go off of the tone. Trolling I think you can almost always recognize. It’s pretty much useless. It’s a fully-subjective opinion or idea or comment about what was seen that sometimes doesn’t even have anything to do with the main content.
  • 37:40 “A critic can speak negatively or positively but they are making an objective observation—or maybe it is subjective—but it’s at least about the actual content. They may agree with you or they may disagree with you, but the best thing that you can do is recount for yourself: ‘What is it that I am actually trying to say and how does that align with my values?’ Then look at the critique and say, ‘Okay, is there anything here that is supportive of my values or that I could use to further shape or further define my values in a positive way?’
  • 38:41 “If it’s a negative critique, you could ask the question, ‘Can I use this to further clarify something for the people who are on board?’ Maybe because I’m trying to make this more accessible, I didn’t get super clear on this one point. But because of this objection or contrary comment, I have an opportunity here to get even more laser-focused on what I really mean to say. That’s going to be valuable for my audience.”
  • 39:21 Sean: That’s my favorite one: the reframing. Taking what someone else was nitpicking or critiquing—even if they were coming from the wrong place—and highlighting an area that you can re-frame.
  • The key here is to not react and not even necessarily respond to the person that initially brought something up.

    Instead, reframe it for your audience.

    You’ve been made aware that something is being pointed out, now highlight it in a way that aligns with your audience and delivers value or helps them.

  • 40:12 Here’s the most difficult part—there are three levels of critique:
    1. Completely Negative Criticism.
      • The trolls: “Your hair looks dumb. You should wear a fancy hat in your videos.”
    2. The Mixed Bag.
      • This is the difficult one: “Your hair looks dumb, you should wear a fancy hat, and also you misspelled the word ‘Monetize.'”
    3. The Perfectly-Well-Formed Critique.
      • This almost never happens. Someone has to be very objective, very skilled, very tactful, and very patient to be able to submit a well-formed critique.
  • 41:18 Ben: “It’s also very generous. Because I think for the troll and for the negative critic, they get something out of getting a rise out of you. They get something out of getting a rise out of your audience. That’s kind of the thing that sucks. The person who is giving you a completely-objective critique that’s not necessarily in agreement with everything you said but is very civilly presenting their ideas and their thoughts—that’s a generous person! I think that you want to honor their gift. Not necessarily by addressing them directly, but by taking their gift and repackaging it for your audience.”
  • 42:12 Sean: What I find is that the vast majority of critiques fall into the second one: The Mixed Bag. It’s the valid criticisms mixed with the more troll-ish kind of comments. That’s what’s really hard. I’m not sure if I know the perfect balance of how much of those kinds of comments to actually to read, but to a degree you have to wade through some of it and find some things that you can highlight, repurpose, and reframe. To another degree though, you kind of have to just ignore it.
  • At the end of the day, you can either reply to everyone or you can continue creating the things that bring people there in the first place.

  • 42:57 How can you continue creating if you’re so caught up in wading through the mess? Like I said, it’s a balance because you can’t just put your blinders on and not take critiques. It’s tough. But the thing is, the vast majority falls into the second category—the mixed bag. Which means you have to be a very mature person to go through that and take something objective that you can reframe.
  • 43:25 It’s easy when someone is being a troll. You can immediately dismiss them. In the case of this email, what made it difficult is when they have valid criticisms interspersed throughout. It’s difficult because now it requires me to get past the emotional response I have to what I believe they are wrong about. Or to put it another way: at least where maybe they just have different values than me. If they don’t have similar values to me, naturally that’s going to inform their decisions.
  • Focus on Defining the Problem, Not Delivering Your Solution
  • 44:16 The difficult thing is they have these criticisms, and then they also tell me what I should do. I think when you’re giving someone a critique, you want to really define the problem. It’s kind of like we talk about with professionalism in design: defining the problem really well will lead to the right solution. Just imposing your solution on someone else arbitrarily isn’t going to do them much of a service. Because you’re less likely to be able from an outside perspective to define the right solution for someone else who’s in a different circumstance, with different factors, with different things to consider that you can’t even imagine because you’re not in their situation. It’s easier for you to objectively critique it and find the problem. If you’re going to present a criticism, present the problem rather than going into a solution.
  • 46:16 When someone gives you a critique and then gives you a solution and tells you what you should do, it’s hard to dissect that. Very rarely will the suggested solution be exactly what should be implemented. You’re involved in this project, you’ve been involved the goals, or what you’re trying to convey. Maybe it’s design, maybe it’s writing, but there are a lot of factors that go into it either way. Critiques should be kept objective. “The grammar here is wrong,” or “The contrast here is poor and it’s not very legible,” instead of saying, “You should use cyan on magenta.”
  • 47:00 So when someone says, “The contrast is poor, it’s not very legible, and you should use cyan on magenta,” you might be tempted to dismiss them as not knowing what they’re talking about because of the “cyan on magenta” comment, but really they did give you a legitimate criticism in there regarding the contrast and legibility—you just have to dig for it.
  • Don’t Try to Convert the Wrong Type of People
  • 47:16 Ben: “Putting ourselves back in the shoes of the recipient, it’s important to actively look for those critiques that are going to increase the value of what you provide to your existing audience. What’s difficult is when you receive a mix. Your mind wants to make it one thing or the other. You want to either accept it or toss it all aside. It’s really important to be intentional. Even though it feels like it’s one thing or the other, there are some constructive things you can pull from this and I can leave those other things that are not constructive. I don’t have to accept those the way that I’m accepting these other things.”
  • 48:18 Sean: To bring this back to defining the wrong type of person who will never be in your audience: in this instance, it’s people that are hardened or not interested in professionalism. Those are not the people I’m trying to reach when I talk about professionalism. I really don’t care about converting anyone else from a non-professional to a professional. If they want to let clients walk all over them and if they want to not get paid for three months because “that’s how it is,” that’s fine. I don’t really care to convince them. I can help them if they want to be helped because it doesn’t have to be that way, but they have to want to be helped. They can be dismissive of me and say, “Oh, you’ve never worked in the real world” when really, I have gotten paid quickly by government clients, but that’s not my goal. My goal is to reach the people who are interested in this. The students, the young people—maybe even older people that are new designers coming into this industry that want to be able to take hold of their projects, serve their clients, serve their clients’ customers, and provide value, and charge what they’re worth, and get paid. I want to empower those people!
  • 49:52 Ben: “What I think we should never do is try to convert the wrong type of people. You know, like trying to go into the YouTube comments and reply and defend ourselves. What we see as an activity that that we’re trying to use to help us get back up on top or put us in a better light really has the opposite effect. It makes us look more insecure and defensive.”
  • 50:50 Sean: I love the reframing. Rather than get into a YouTube comment flame war, highlight a comment and do a whole video on it. I think that’s so much more productive. You could find such better ways to provide value to your audience that way.
  • Conclusion
  • 51:29 To wrap up, you basically you want to simultaneously consider two things:
    1. The people that are in your Existing Audience.
      • Evaluate whether the content you’re putting out is:
        • Serving them
        • Fulfilling a promise you made to them
        • Providing value to them
        • Going deeper with them
        • Keeping them engaged
        • Not boring them
    2. The people in your Potential Audience.
      • Provide a handle for the new people. That means putting in the extra effort to make sure everything you put out is going to provide value to someone who’s new and never heard from you before.
      • Consuming your content should be worth someone’s time even if they are brand new.
  • 52:22 It takes a lot of work to think of compelling headlines! I can call the next episode “seanwes 126” and thousands of people will listen to it, but I am doing a disservice to people who could come on board. That takes a little bit extra effort but I think it’s worth it.
  • 52:40 Now, if you’re not even in the place where you feel like you have a well-defined audience, that’s the first place you want to visit. You want to find a core audience. Serve a very specific niche—a specific person that you’re talking to. Solve a specific problem in a specific context. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk about anything else surrounding it. I think that would definitely help it out. For example, if you’re talking to stay-at-home moms with multiple kids who are trying to do X, that doesn’t just mean you can only talk about X. Obviously raising kids has a lot of things going on around that. Maybe it’s grocery shopping or something else that applies to whatever this objective is— definitely talk about that. But at least you have this focus. You have this purpose.
  • 53:31 So I would say the first thing you want to do in either of those is find the audience.
  • Find your message. Find what you have say.

    Then then worry about trying to onboard other people.

  • 53:44 Lastly, make sure that you’re differentiating between critiques and trolling. Oftentimes, it’s going to all be in one and you’re going to have to wade through it a little bit. So if someone’s trying to impose their solution on you, don’t dismiss valid critiques just because they had some other comments in there that you felt like weren’t applicable.
  • 54:08 The main takeaway here is, if you’re getting these messages from people—and really, there’s no “if” just “when.” I’m just trying to help people in the best way I know possible based on my experience and what I’ve had success with and you’d think it’s crazy that you get anything other than positive feedback, but there’s no matter of “if.” It is guaranteed: with scale, you will get these messages. You will get trolls, you will get haters. What you have to do is reframe that. Don’t react, don’t engage. Ignoring is a perfectly valid response. Sometimes you just have to ignore it because you need to continue providing value to your audience, and if you’re engaging with the wrong type of people all the time, you’re stealing time and focus away from providing value to the audience that cares about you. This is audience that is tuning in. This is the audience that loves you and likes what you have to say. Maybe they’re just silent. Maybe they’re not telling you that, but you don’t want to pull away focus. If you are going to do anything, reframe it. Take it and present it to your audience in a way that that serves them.