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By day Simon Caine writes jokes for Twitter for brands including Marmite, Pot Noodle and Carphone Warehouse.

By night the community manager is a stand-up comedian. Between those jobs he does a radio show podcast, writes for newspapers and has authored two books on community building and relationship development online.

“The internet is the way I connect with people,” he told the audience at Small is Beautiful 2016 in Edinburgh.

It’s the equal platform artists and freelancers have been looking for to grow their communities, build networks and make money.

His five top tips on growing your online networks

Free is not a bad thing

A download is not a lost sale. The free economy is about building relationships through time, energy, communication, shared views and proper conflict resolutions. With the amount of content on the internet, how do you stand out? Make connections with fans through social media.

Simon says: “Free content equals sharing your work. Free content is the start of the conversation.”

Why pirating is not a bad thing (and how you might be causing it)

To understand this point, Simon says, we need to take a closer look at the reasons why people pirate, and the lessons we can learn from them. They pirate:

  • To share information/content with someone
  • To gain credit on a sharing website
  • To pass it off as their own work (a bad thing)
  • Because they believe the price is unjustified or too expensive
  • Because someone purchased the art legally on another format but now wants it on their new device
  • Because of the 'I’m only hurting a big business' syndrome
  • Because it’s not something they want to pay for
  • Because it’s not something they’ve been given a way to pay for at an amount at which they value

How to stop pirates

  • Create great art
  • Make it easy to buy
  • Release it on the same day worldwide
  • Make sure it works on any device
  • Sell it for a fair price or allow the audience to pay what they value it at
  • Be transparent about how the payment affects your ability to make more stuff

Building an audience is more important than ever

You need to build a community around what you do. Simon gives an example of the US comedian Louis CK.  

His audience initially pirated his work, which led to his bigger career. He offers another example of how brands can capture the imagination of their audience.

Simon explains he has “a deep emotional connection” with Innocent smoothies. Other smoothies may be available but not for him.

Two types of marketing can help you grow your audience: interruption marketing – TV, radio and YouTube ads, which try to grab your attention.

And then there’s permission marketing when people follow you on Twitter, like your Facebook or opt in to email newsletters.

People in your industry are not rivals

You need to figure out who your competition is and then decide how to make yourself different.

By offering a niche, you can stand out. He offers as an example entrepreneur Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow: Transform your Business by Being Remarkable. Be the purple cow in a field full of Friesian ones.

Simon says:  “You have to be authentically you. By doing that you eliminate a lot of the competition. The more you invest, the more inclined fans will be to support you.”

Instead of buying ads on Facebook, he advises to try to find your 1,000 true fans.

“A true fan is someone who would drive 100 miles to see your show,” he says. It’s about offering something that not everyone owns. With 1,000 fans you “can become sustainable”.

Make money by giving stuff away

By building your audience through giving away free art, you can make money from your audience. If you need cash to keep your creative work going, ask your community.

Ask them if they will support you and explain how they can do so through payment services such as Paypal or Patreon. If you do a podcast, you can ask people to sponsor you per episode, for example.  

What’s next?

Find out more about Simon Caine and his work at his website, or follow him on Twitter.

And find out what inspiring thinking other speakers offered up at Small is Beautiful.

Read more about the Small is Beautiful Breakthrough Fellowships for Creative Graduate Startups funded by Skills Development Scotland.

Learn more about the character, reach and scale of Scotland’s Creative Industries by taking a look at the Skills Investment Plan.

Find out more about what Skills Development Scotland is currently supporting in this key sector.

Learn more about the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016, including a toolkit to help businesses promote themselves.