How To Build A Highly Engaged Audience with Chris Brogan

In this episode of The Multimedia Marketing Show, we speak with Chris Brogan from We discuss how to go about building a highly engaged audience for your business. So go grab a coffee, sit back, relax and enjoy the episode.

Chris Brogan, has 12 years of experience in online networks, social communities and the digital business and has built a massive audience. He is a New York Times bestselling author, sought after professional keynote speaker and President and CEO of Human Business Works.


  • Chris Brogan – Then and now.
  • Laying the Foundation – How to build your community
  • Personal Brand – Why is it essential? Tips you can implement today to held build yours.
  • Engagement – Humankind’s greatest need is the need to feel wanted.
  • Audience Building – The top five tips to help engage your audience.


Introduction: Welcome to the brave new world of cost effective communications, tips, trips and tricks, how to’s, why to’s and what not to do’s and using the power of web-based content marketing to easily promote whatever you’d like.

Welcome to the Multimedia Marketing Show with Jake Hower.

Jake: Okay listeners. As we discussed in the pre-intro, we’ve got Chris Brogan from Human Business Works on the line. Chris, how are you?

Chris: Thrilled to be here Jake, thanks for having me.

Jake: Thank you very much for taking the time to come on the episode and to share your knowledge with our listeners.

Chris: I’m so glad to be here, and it’s really cool that more people are getting interested now and doing different kinds of marketing via multimedia.

Jake: Absolutely. That’s certainly the premise of the show is generally we’ll interview, or bring on a guest to discuss a form of multimedia that they are really dominating in. I could obviously bring you on and discuss just about any of those forms of media. I think before even doing that, there’s one really important aspect to doing this type of marketing and it’s about engaging with your audience, and this is where I really think you shine through.

Chris: Very kind of you to say. I think that that is, in a lot of ways, that’s where everyone kind of falls down. They will work very hard on making something really good and then I think that the opportunity is a little bit that you make great media, but then you have to follow-up with it or it just goes dead.

Jake: Absolutely. What we’re trying to do for our listeners is essentially lay a very strong foundation so that any of their marketing endeavors that they roll out are actually going to have the maximum affect. Chris, what I’d like to do is, for those listeners who don’t know a lot about you, if you could maybe give us a brief history of what you’re doing leading up to where you are right now.

Chris: Thumbnail sketches that I was back into the land of bulletin board services, way back in the ‘80’s. In 1998, I started blogging. In 2005 or so I started a podcast, and in ’06 I ran an event called PodCamp with Christopher S. Penn. From that, I really started to realize that there’s just so much more business opportunity.

I left my background in telecomm and wireless telecom and joined the circus and started running some events in the space of media making. Video on the net was the first one I did with Jeff Pulver. Since there I started and sold a consultancy, and now my company, Human Business Works, does courses around helping people do the work they want to do, only better, mostly in the digital space.

Jake: That’s fantastic. Essentially, for the last few years, you’ve got a fantastic personal blog which is top five in the Ad Age marketing blogs I believe.

Chris: Usually it bounces around with a few other folks in the top five, top ten or so. Let’s just take a look at the time of our recording (I’ll probably be way down bottom or something and be miserable, hang on). I’m three – hooray. I’m ahead of True Money and Copyblogger, but I’m behind Ads of The World and PSFK, both by the way who have something like a dozen or more people writing for them.

Jake: Excellent. What we’re going to run through in this episode is that we’re going to, I think first, I’d love to ask you some of your experience in how you’ve gone about building your own community and how you’re engaging with your own community. Then we’re going to deliver some action points that our listeners can go away and roll out in their own marketing endeavors as well. Before we do that, I’ve got a quick question going back to the hay-day of the Internet. You said you were playing around some journaling and stuff online. Was there any interaction with your raters? Did you know you had any raters?

Chris: No because there weren’t comments back then, and there weren’t really very easy ways to do that, so, way back when, I had a guest book. I don’t know if you even remember that technology, but it was like ‘come sign my stupid guest book.’ That was as close as we could have to any kind of human interaction, and truly, it didn’t even make sense to me that there should be interaction.

I think a lot of writers and authors, I think there’s that thing where we’re really craving feedback, and we’re just sitting around, as like needy as people could be, so I kept really abreast of those kinds of tools. What sorts of tools would allow us to do better interactions with people. That’s how I made it roll.

Jake: Absolutely. It’s amazing how quickly we’ve come so far in the last few years in terms of that as well.

Chris: Truly. Every single day seems to bring us something new to add to the potential for connectivity, as well as to give people the set of tools that will allow them to disenfranchise their community as well.

Jake: Let’s lay the foundation for our listeners. I want to get your experience in how you built your community, but before you do that, can you give us some stats or some information around what your community now entails?

Chris: On my blog I get around 200,000 unique monthly views, and that took me a really long time. For anyone who just blocked out that number, it took me eight years to get my first 100 readers, so don’t forget that. On Twitter, I think I have 227,000, about 22,000 on my personal newsletter, which comes out every Sunday, my favorite thing by the way. Then various other places, like Google Plus I have over 100,000, and I don’t much use Facebook or LinkedIn for business, so neither one of those counts to me.

Jake: That’s great. That gives us a little bit of perspective. It took you a number of years to get your first 100 readers. How did you go about engaging these readers?

Chris: Eventually I got smart enough to put my email address on the website before there were blog comments so that I could get people to write me and say, ‘hey, I really liked that story,’ or ‘I liked that thing you shared,’ and when I switched perspectives, the other thing that got a lot of engagement was I first used to write for myself and I learned that that’s great if I want to impress myself.

When I started learning how to write for other people and write to serve a community, that’s when things really lit up because people would want to engage because I was giving them more tools to do their work better.

From a long ways back, once I caught on to that perspective, the life, my world, just got so much better.

Jake: Essentially, you’re able to engage and by just realizing that you need to write for your reader or your community. Tell me, have you ever felt you’ve gotten to a stage where your community’s grown to a size that you can’t actually handle?

Chris: No. Again, at 200,000 or so people, and with the 20,000 plus email list, what happens every Sunday morning, which is when my newsletter comes out, I’ll get somewhere between 300 and 500 replies because I strongly encourage replies in the email newsletter, and so some people are like 300 to 500 mail? What are you doing? I love it.

When people are complaining, I’m saying, “Wow, that’s 300 to 500 possible impressions I can give people of what kind of a person I am that I’m there that I’m listening that I’m there to serve them,” and then oddly, when I have something to sell, the person will choose to buy it because one of the laws of influence is that people buy from people they like, and so by getting the opportunity to show people that I might well be the kind of person they like, they have a better opportunity to go forward.

Jake: That’s incredible. It’s fantastic that you take that mindset considering how large your audience is, and you’re exactly right. People buy from people, and here’s the thing. From my perspective, you only need 50 engaged customers to run a business and to run a very profitable business, so it’s incredible way to look at it.

Chris: My goal is my number is a little bit higher than 50 of who I really need because I’m hoping not to sell people into the ground. What I have figured out is that somewhere around 1,000, just like Kevin Kelly’s concept of 1,000 true fans. What I’m looking at is how do I get about 1,000 people at any one time as people who have bought. Then I can keep the larger community, 10 times or more than that, or 100 times more than that, so if I had a community of about 100,000 that I engaged with as much as I could then I have the sense that I have a standard steady 1,000.

Those are numbers based on the price points of the products and services that I sell now, which are an average price point around $400. That’s just the numbers I worked out. It’s going to be different for every one of our businesses.

Jake: Absolutely. You built your community. Has it been mainly built around your personal blog?

Chris: It has. The great majority of what has brought me some success was just building around my personal blog. There’s a few times I’ve really lamented that. I’ve had three different sale offers on my site and part of me was like, “Yippee, I’d love to.” The other part was, “How am I going to sell That’s my name. I have never gone with it. I have a little regret. I wish that I had thought that through and maybe made the blog called or something.

That said, Jake, what I’ve done for a strategy is make sure that everyone feels like they know me, and when that is true that makes it easier all the way around.

Jake: Exactly right. I think, potentially, you’re selling yourself a little bit short there, but building your own personal brand is very important because you are going to need it for as long as you’re on this earth. You built that personal brand initially, but you’re then being able to build out satellite brands around your own personal brand. I’d assume that’s what you’re thinking is a little bit with Human Business Works.

Chris: Absolutely. My belief isn’t that we need a whole ton of personal brands out there in the world. What the opportunities are, basically, are that people want to do business with people, so how do we teach companies of any size, or how do we teach professionals inside companies to do something really important. I think, to me, that’s the big opportunity is you can teach people how to build concierge class service, a very bespoke service. I think that’s a biggie. That’s where I push people.

Jake: Let’s look at your engagement with your audience. You touched on earlier about the fact that you’re getting 300, 400 emails on a Sunday morning. Could you run us through your process for handling your interaction with your audience?

Chris: It’s rather boring and embarrassing. I start at the top and I work my way down. It’s just as simple as that. I would say that the trick of it is, every now and again there’s something that will come up a lot of times in a row and on a Mac I use this app called TextExpander and make part of my response a copy/paste kind of a thing. More often than not, I’d rather do it 100% myself.

There’s times when a lot of times people will ask a very similar question and I think there’s nothing wrong with automating part of your answer as long as you personalize it enough that people feel seen and heard. Humankind’s greatest need is the need to feel wanted, so all I do over and over again is find ways to better express that through digital technology.

Jake: Absolutely. Let’s go back a few years. Let’s go to you’ve written a couple of books now. How did the opportunity come across for you to write a book?

Chris: Jake, it’s so embarrassing to tell this story because it’s so unlike anyone else’s opportunity would ever be this way. I was sitting at South by South West, which is a big event in Austin, Texas, in the U.S. I was sitting at the table with Ellen Gerstein, who at the time was Director of Marketing for Wiley. She was asking me, “Hey, where would this book be?” She named a title that was coming out, “Where would that sit in a bookstore shelf?” And I said, “Well, in this kind of bookstore, it would be in Business Profiles. In this bookstore, they don’t have that, so it would be in General Business.” She just sort of looked sideways and said, “How come you don’t have a book deal?” I said, “Because books are horrible. It takes a long time. They’re slow. You don’t make a lot of money. I’d rather just blog.” And she said, “Oh, you should totally have a book deal.”

My ego got the best of me and there it went. I got a book deal. I called up my friend Julien Smith and said, “Hey, you feel like writing a book with me?” He said, “Okay.” With no better skill or ability than that, just knowing that Julian was a very avid blogger like myself, we wrote the book, Trust Agents. By absolute sheer luck, we hit the New York Times bestseller list, the Wall Street Journal bestseller list, Amazon and Ink Magazine, and we’re named one of the top books of the year from 800-CEO-READ. Not bad for our first time out.

Jake: Absolutely. For sheer luck, that’s an incredible high run.

Chris: Not bad. I haven’t repeated it since. Three more books later, not once again on the Times list. Once you’re that New York Times bestselling author, you’re the bestselling author of the crappiest book you could ever write too. You still get to put that on the cover.

Jake: Yes, they can’t take it away from you.

Let’s get to the actual arts for our listeners for this episode. Let’s start with, how would you suggest to our listeners, given I’ve got a blank canvas, how would they go about building their own audience out?

Chris: My opinion is, first, start with the content itself, which is start with making sure the content is such that people will be served by it. No matter what you’re making. If you’re making a podcast or a video blog or blog post or newsletter or all of those things combined, if it’s all about you and it’s all about how great your company is and how great you are and what you do, then no one’s going to care. That’s like when we were little kids and we used to want to play super heroes together, only one batman, only one superman, etc. It’s just not as fun. Make everybody else the hero and you succeed. That’s my first piece of advice is in the content.

Second, really streamline how you present that content to people such that they know exactly what you want them to do such as you can make it as easy as possible for them to subscribe. In the old days this used to be, grab my RSS Feed. It never really caught on. Tech savvy people understood what to do with that, and very few others did.

What I’ve done is, for instance, in the previous iterations of my website I just made it more email. I get 60 something percent of my blog readers are in an email format. I’ve gone even one step deeper, I’ve eliminated even that, and I don’t even seek new blog subscribers. I only seek email subscribers because that’s sort of where my gold is, so make it easy for them to get to you.

Three, make it really easy for people to contact you and get back in touch with them as soon as possible as often as possible. I think that’s such a huge, huge piece that gets missed by people.

Four, try really hard to answer the person’s question as such that it serves them. Almost never try to make it, ‘well if you took my special course,’ although sometimes that is the right answer. Ninety percent of the stuff that I do I give away for free. I find with that immense perceived generosity, what people get from that is the sense that, oh, boy, but if he’s going to charge for this, it’s going to be gold in there. I think that’s an important thing.

Last, in looking this all over, just really keep working and working and working on brevity, simplicity, quality. It’s not amateur hour anymore. If you go look at video blogs or if you listen to podcasts, the days of us having really low quality material is just not allowed anymore because it’s so inexpensive to do it well, and it’s so simple with some practice to do it well that it’s just not okay anymore to do it simple.

Jake: You make the entire process sound so simple. I love it. One thing I just want to point out with that as well, or add to it, one of my businesses is a travel agency and the goal of our marketing is to bring in new clients or bring in more clients, and there’s one think I’ve noticed is that this whole section of our audience who have never really booked with us, and at first glance I thought maybe these guys are a time set, but in further investigation, I’ve found the vast majority of the people who are really engaged with us who haven’t booked, I’d call them raving fans. Essentially what they do is they refer a lot of people to us. While they’re not potentially prospective clients, what they are is awesome advocates of the brand and as a result they’re bringing a whole heap of extra clients.

Chris: The best way to get that going is to start referring other people that you consider peers or even sometimes competitors. The more you can do that sort of generous giving, then reciprocity kicks in and people are going to want to refer to you when the time is obvious and right.

Remember this too. You’re serving a community, and the community will always be larger than the marketplace, but don’t ever shun the community for the sake of the marketplace. Serve the customers who pay you, but love the community who loves you because that’s where that gets grown. To me, that’s the biggest hinge that you can put in this whole thing.

Jake: Absolutely. All right, Chris. Thanks very much. It’s a nice, short sharp episode, but there’s a lot of gold in that. For our listeners, where can they find out more about you?

Chris: I guess the easiest is just come to and that’ll give you the biology of me and give you a sense of where you can push some buttons.

Jake: Fantastic. Listeners, thank you very much for tuning in, and Chris, thank you very much for coming.

Chris: My utmost pleasure. Thanks so much for having me, Jake.

Jake: Thank you very much.