How to build an online fan base

Jerry Springer said, “Because of social media, everyone is a politician. Everyone is a columnist.”

Springer said this in his remarks to newspaper columnists and writers at this past weekend’s National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference in Cincinnati.

It reminded me of a favorite saying I often use (and my wife is sick of hearing), “Because of social media, everyone is a mass communicator.”

Springer and I are both referring to the abundance of social media posts that resemble candidate stump speeches or “deep” critical analyses of some issue, and that because of social media, we all have a megaphone to share and react to that content.

The problem is, of course, that some of these posts include content from the misinformed, the un- or undereducated, and the conspiracy theorists.

The bigger problem is that these posts are drowning out the informed, educated, rational discussions from some rather smart writers.

David Lieber, “Watchdog” columnist for the Dallas Morning News, sees this problem first-hand.

“I kill in print, but I get killed online,” he said, referring to the number of “hits” or views (of lack thereof) his column gets on the newspaper’s website.

His most loyal followers are those who like ink on their fingers, those who still walk to the corner newspaper box to get their daily news fix.

It’s no secret to Lieber and other columnists who attended the conference that, unfortunately, it’s hard to attract new online readers.

Four decades into his news career, 30 years of that as a columnist, Lieber isn’t giving up, even if he openly admits that his days may be numbered.

“Look at this guy,” he said. “How can anyone compete with that,” Lieber asked with a wry grin when showing a picture of his fellow columnist standing next to Stormy Daniels.

His colleague, Lieber admits, “kills online” because he’s able to attract readers who use social media to reach readers who devour these kinds of stories and opinions.

So, rather than fade away, Lieber fights on — online.

“I know what I have to do to build my online fan base,” Lieber said before laying out his strategies, step-by-step, for finding readers and those all-important page views. “But it’s not easy to do it.”

Getting people to follow him on various social media platforms is part of it, but it still is about good, genuine storytelling.

Good stories, according to Lieber, still include foreshadowing (telling the reader what they’re going to get) and good editing. He also suggests using self-deprecation, humor and vulnerability to let your readers know you’re human.

There’s something to be learned from Lieber’s list of strategies for nurturing a fan base. Regardless of what great social media tactics you use to find those fans, telling a good story should always be at the top of that list.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at

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