Today I want to tell you how I think about you. You, as in my audience. Whether you know me personally, professionally, or we’ve never met in real life, if you are reading my words, consuming any of my content, or stepping foot into my storefront, you are a member of my audience.
Audiences are worth a lot these days. People exert extreme amounts of time and energy, even money, to build an audience. Google it. Audience building is an entire industry. Why? Because there are people who will pay a lot of money to gain access to the eyes and ears of any given audience. Brands want to sell their products, and in the age of no commercials, online audiences are the golden egg. The bigger your audience, the more money brands will give you for access to your audience.
There was a time when I thought this was what I wanted. The idea of getting paid sounded cool. Honestly, it’s one of the reasons I relaunched my blog two years ago. I thought that if I could produce valuable content and build an audience, then I might be able to earn some money from brands who wanted me to write sponsored posts. It’s known as monetizing your blog, and it’s one way the game is played.
But I have always been personally bothered by the game.
When I started Hurley House, my mission was clear. Every decision I made was filtered through the lens of whether or not that decision would create space for others. Right off the bat a few choices became obvious. People would ask if they could hang flyers in our store. I did not anticipate hanging flyers as something I would have to figure out, but I knew I did not want our store to be a billboard for other businesses. I wanted it to feel like a home, and no one hangs flyers in their home. So I made a decision. Hurley House does not post any advertisements in our space.
As we started to gain attention in the local business scene, the phone began to ring. I was shocked to learn that lots of local publications, both in print and online, liked what we were doing, and wanted to include us in their “Best of” lists or “Top Ten” editor picks. I was so excited!
“Thank you,” I said. “I can’t wait to read the article. Is there anything you need from me for the piece?”
Oh, yes, yes there was something they needed. They needed me to pay them.
I was flabbergasted. Paint me naive, but I had no idea this was how it worked. I decided immediately not to pay someone to say they liked our product. I also accidentally made one girl cry on the phone when I told her that Hurley House would never pay to be included in a top ten list. If they thought our cinnamon rolls were that good, then they could publish that for free. Otherwise, no thank you.
Hurley House does not pay for for publicity because I believe that if our product is good, then people will talk about it. If you’ve seen us in an article, we did not pay to be there.
I don’t judge other people for choosing to pay to build their business or their audience. Building an audience is no easy endeavor. But for reasons that have nothing to do with others and everything to do with my values, I chose over and over again to do things differently. It was after the cinnamon roll incident that I began to more fully form my opinions on how I think of you.
I have chosen the slow road, and little by little my audience has grown. One follower at a time, one referral at a time, one devoted client at a time. I love it. If you are a part of my audience, it is not because I bought you. You found me, found Hurley House, and you decided to stay. That’s the way I like it.
As I began to be more active on social media, a few people encouraged me to start tagging brands in an effort to get noticed. But I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to do it. I am not here to serve brands. I am here to serve you. I want to build trust, and being paid to say a product is good does not line up with that desire. So I don’t tag or promote brands or other businesses from my social media account.
If you hear me say I like something, it’s because I actually use it and like it. End of story. There are a lot of people who I follow, love, and respect whose business model includes tagging brands. They probably make a lot of money doing so. What other people do in this regard doesn’t bother me. This is not about other people. This is about me.
As my online audience began to grow, I was delighted to find that when I would talk about something, whether it was how long to cook a turkey, or my favorite lip balm, or an Ina recipe that I loved, people would engage with me. Sometimes people would call the store and ask me more about the turkey. Sometimes people would stop me and say how much they were loving the lip balm. Strangers would tell me their favorite Ina recipe too. I loved it. It was real.
The engagement was the point, and being able to answer questions or connect over a shared interest is the real gift. And personally, I found delight in knowing no one paid me to say these things. They were my honest opinions, and I could walk in the integrity that my opinions are not for sale.
Slowly over time, little decision by little decision, I found myself squarely staring at a fully formed truth about my audience that I am ready to embrace.
My audience is not a commodity. My audience is a community.
You are not a commodity. You are a community.
It is rare in our culture to find a space where someone isn’t trying to sell you something, but I want Hurley House to be one of those spaces. I mean, obviously, we are trying to sell you our food, because we need to sell our food to stay in business. But honestly, we want to help you however we can.
Sometimes we talk people out of something we sell because it doesn’t best fit their needs. I want you to trust me, and I want you to know that while I will sell you something we offer, it’s not why I am engaging with you. I want to equip you and engage with you more than I want to sell to you. The truth is, I trust that you will still buy whatever Hurley House sells because I believe in the quality of our product. But if you don’t, that’s fine too. We can still talk about turkey and lip balm and Ina.
My largest fear in this decision is that years down the road someone will call my bluff and offer me a lot of money for access to you. Right now, a lot of money sounds fun. But in my heart, I want you to know that I think more of you than as a gateway to a payday. I know that without you and your continued support, I would not be able to pay my staff, have a storefront, or offer the kind of content that aligns with our mission and vision.
Thank you for being a community of engaged followers. I value your eyes and ears and appreciate your time. Thank you for sharing Hurley House with your friends and for beginning the grass-roots kind of following that feels a lot like a close-knit group of friends rather than a machine. Community does not just happen, it takes cultivation and care. I hope to serve you the best I can.