Despite the prevalence of buying Instagram followers, the best way to grow and maintain a successful digital career is through a real audience.

As you build a relationship, you’ll learn how to craft content that your viewers will respond to while still making things that you enjoy. A more loyal audience means more reliable views and interaction as your channel develops, among other benefits.

Be realistic.

Before we go too far, it’s important to remember that relationships online aren’t the same as in the physical world. Viewers may have a distorted vision of content creators due to something that sociologists refer to as parasocial interaction; this is when a person feels they intimately know a stranger because they watch them on TV or now, YouTube. Of course, these relationships are very one-sided and mediated by screens rather than physical interaction. This phenomenon is more common with vloggers or other personality-based forms of content, rather than cooking tutorials, for example, but it’s still something that creators should consider.

Learn what your viewers appreciate and respond to that while still allowing yourself creativity.

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No matter how casual you feel when you turn the camera on, you are still creating a version of yourself that is different from how you appear offline. Creators should remember that even if they feel a strong connection to their audiences, it’s just not possible to truly sustain individual relationships with thousands, or even hundreds of people. It’s a tricky dialectic in that you have to respect your audience as individuals instead of an anonymous blob of usernames while also understanding that you won’t have the time or energy to really have a rapport with all of them individually.

Starting your videos with a simple greeting can make a big difference in how approachable you seem to your audience.

Encourage engagement.

All of that said, there are many healthy ways to interact with an audience. The easiest location for this is clearly YouTube, through your videos and the comment section. Even just a simple greeting at the start of your videos establishes you as friendly. It’s also fun to figure out a specific name for your audience, rather than the ubiquitous “hey guys.” Reference comments from the past in future videos for simple inside jokes, and be sure to stay active in the comments section in general. This helps filter out nasty comments, and it’s the most convenient way to interact with viewers. Sometimes, it’s more necessary than usual to watch your attitude when responding to “constructive” criticism, but the comments section can still be a good place for conversations. In every video, try asking a question to invite viewers to respond!

Use platforms outside of YouTube to connect with fans between uploads. It’s a great way to get feedback and form relationships.

Use social platforms with intention.

It’s also important to talk with viewers on any other social media platform that you frequent. In the vein of parasocial existence, it’s suggested to figure out which platforms you want to use in conjunction with YouTube videos and which should stay private for your personal life. On that note, decide whether you want to have a specific email for fans to reach you by. Taking use and purpose into account, Twitter and Instagram are probably the best non-YouTube platforms for audience interaction, while Facebook is more for close family and friends — but figure out what works best for you! Favorite those tweets and respond to tagged posts to develop your audience relationship — it’s pretty intuitive. One fun tip is to pick your favorite emojis and use them often enough that they are associated with you. There’s other smooth ways to stay connected, like wishing your audience good morning or reminding people to stay hydrated.

Cultivate the audience you want.

Across platforms, figure out what themes from your community you like and dislike. For example, if fans are harassing people in your name, put an end to it! Whereas if people are building friendships with each other in that community, that’s something really cool that you can encourage in your videos.

Overall, you should learn what your viewers appreciate and respond to that while still allowing yourself creativity in your content. Running jokes can be fun, but don’t use too many or it could confuse new viewers. Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of building an audience relationship is finding ways for viewers to participate. Whatever sort of content you make, it should naturally translate into methods of connecting with the people watching.

For instance, live streams are a really useful tool, whether you want to play video games, apply makeup or just chat as you make a meal. Polls on Instagram and Twitter to help decide what new videos you should make are also a fun way to involve your audience. Giveaways on your platforms are also amusing, and get people excited and eager to engage. It may take a while to build a relationship with your audience, but the effort is part of the journey.

As a whole, the most important thing is to create reasons for your viewers to be invested in your content as well as entertained by it.

Get YouTuber.