Writing

The Good Artist Serves the Audience. The Bad Artist Exploits It.

Tim Denning Writing Tips

Photo by Sarah Ruhullah on Unsplash

This is why I hate personal branding and basically all marketing. It takes advantage of the audience.

The audience is treated like an abused victim ready for another beating. As a member of the audience, you feel like you’re being exploited or content-marketed to. As a result, something feels off. You run from the creative person and half the time you don’t know why.

You can’t spit on an audience and expect them to respect you.

Or worse, expect them to give you their attention. Or even worse, expect them to pay you money for your content. The creative world doesn’t work like that.

I choose to worship the audience. You can too.


The title of this article came from author Jeff Goins. He said this which I love:

Use the advantages of art to earn the attention of an audience. Then serve that audience with empathy. You will have a built-in market that will help you innovate and grow much more quickly.

An email list, content calendar, online course or eBook you put a price tag on isn’t selling out and it doesn’t make you evil.

It’s how you do each of those things that determines whether you serve an audience or exploit them. What makes up the “how” are your values as a content creator, your genuine interest in being helpful, and whether you’re obsessed with money or not.


Don’t Become a “Content Trafficker”

Too many creatives — writers, vloggers, bloggers, everyday people who post on social media (most of us) — exploit humans so they can make money from them.

There is a lot of content trafficking that feels like human trafficking.

Too much obsession with money creates a dirty little audience abuser.

Signs of an audience abuser:

  • Too many ads disguised as content
  • Too many asks to “follow”
  • Too many affiliate links that earn the creator a juicy commission
  • Too many interviews disguised as sophisticated podcast PR
  • Too many “I just tagged my mate”
  • Too many links in the content or in the description

This list of stuff content creators do is fine when done occasionally. The problem is when “occasional” becomes everything that person ever publishes. What happens when you meet an audience abuser? You become fatigued. That leads to feeling exploited.

How to Avoid the Audience Abuser Trap

I am not a content creating saint. Exploiting an audience as a creative is easy to accidentally do. I’ve whiplashed a few people with blog posts over the year by accident. The aim isn’t to be perfect; it’s to be conscious.

These techniques have worked for me and other creatives in my network:

  • Choose organic discovery of resources and people. I rarely say yes to writing about a person or sharing a study someone sends me unless I found it on my own. Or the resource/person really can change someone’s life. Otherwise, I say no. There are too many hidden favors creatives are asked to do in order to serve the interests of business or making-making entrepreneurs, rather than the audience.
  • Remind yourself daily of how average your content is. One viral hit can make you lose your mind. Virality is random. It doesn’t make you god. That’s why I tell myself that my creative work is average, so I don’t blow up my ego, and blow up everything I’ve worked for.
  • You won’t abuse an audience if you don’t worship yourself. An influencer is just a person that loves themselves too much. They are so obsessed with how they’re changing people’s minds and doing so much influencing, they forget the point of an audience — to serve them, honestly.
  • Remember: without an audience, your creative work will be lost in a sea of mediocre content. As quick as you can find an audience, you can lose them too by disrespecting them. An unsubscribe on your glorious email list is all it takes. It’s so easy to block, unsubscribe or never view a particular creative person ever again. Don’t you forget that.
  • Use the 90/10 rule. For every nine bits of content designed to serve an audience, chuck em an ad. An ad is a piece of content thats sole purpose is to holla and put dollars into your pocket.

I know when my creative game is off. The number of unsubscribes on my email list tells me.

Let your unsubscribes tell you when you’re being a bad artist. Then correct yourself before you wreck yourself.

Your Audience Cares About How You Can Help Them

Your audience does not care how smart, good looking and awesome you are.

I share success stats, sure. I do it to help people by using my life as the example. I constantly remind the audience why I do this so they’re clear: don’t worship me or think I’m a Genius like the real Genius Turner. I’m not.

My entire creative work changed when I stopped fluffing about and slapping my own ass, and got down to the business of finding ways to be helpful.

The unfortunate thing about being helpful is you’ve got to share stuff most people will keep secret. You’ve got to give away ideas, strategies and bits of information most people tell you, “you gotta charge for it amigo.”

You show your audience you care when you give them content they feel like they should be paying for. You show an audience you care when you give them more than they expect at the sacrifice of your own income potential.

I’ve sacrificed hundreds of thousands of dollars by giving away free content for six years straight. People told me to warm the audience up with shallow blog posts and then force them to pay money to get the other 80%. I said “how about NO, Scott?”

I wouldn’t change a thing.

Giving away most of what I know for free is the best decision I’ve made as a creative so far, after thirty-four years on this gorgeous blue and green planet.

When a content creator genuinely cares about you, you secretly feel loved and you keep coming back for more and don’t know why.

Treat the Audience like a Close Friend

Thinking about how to treat an audience is weird. It’s hard to give you a practical approach. Then, I learned a simple technique: talk to your audience like you talk to your close friends. Make your content conversational, too.

When you talk to a close friend you drop all the formality, the mask of perfection, the phrases required to make you sound smart, and feeling like what you’re about to say isn’t complex enough.

Talking with a friend is an experiment. You let your guard down with a friend. You let your thoughts flow. You get feedback from them. You don’t have an end goal when you have a conversation with a friend. You teach a friend something, you do it with empathy. You want your friend to succeed. You want your friend to be with you for the long-term. When your friend falls down or loses a loved one, you’re right there for them. You bring the Oreos and wine around to cheer them up.

If you do all of these things for your close friends, why couldn’t you do the same for the audience you serve? You can.

Treat your audience like your close friends and they’ll stay with you through controversy, troll fights, tweetstorms, and moments where you feel like you want to give up being a content creator.

This Is Practically How to Be a Good Artist and Serve an Audience

  • Reply to their private messages. Respond with care.
  • Use empathy when creating content for them.
  • Give them freebies they’re not expecting. (I gave away a 3-day course.)
  • Create for the audience, not yourself.
  • Use helpful language in your content.
  • Give practical, actionable tips.
  • Let the audience take over your main channel. Let an audience member host your podcast, or ask you questions in a Youtube video/blog post.
  • Occasionally do this — give away your paid products for free. Not the ones who ask for freebies. The ones who really need it and are too afraid to ask you. A bunch of people have been given my $20 eBook for free for the hell of it. It’s good to be generous. An artist doesn’t have to charge everybody a fee.

Final Thought

Most artists online abuse their audience. Often, it’s not intentional either.

Become a rare artist who serves an audience rather than abuses them by being a Human Content Trafficker armed with a fist full of ads.

An audience wants to learn, be helped, be cared about, be entertained, escape society once in a while, and get to know you like a close friend.

Let your audience in. Don’t push them away by exploiting them for money.

Tim Denning
Tim is a thought leader in the personal development, entrepreneur and startup fields.Outside of blogging, Tim works for a large organisation helping fast moving technology companies come to Australia as well as helping Australian tech companies go to the world.

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