We all face two major constraints throughout our entire lives: time and resources. You never have enough of both to do everything you want to do and as a result, things fall through the cracks. You’re not alone. I feel it too and the room full of founders and freelancers in my coworking space are all in the same boat.

These resource constraints often result in people focusing on tasks that generate immediate, measurable results and letting the more abstract, difficult to measure tasks go uncompleted. Closing a new client or interviewing a new engineer takes precedent over hunkering down to reply to an @ mention or fine-tune a blog post. At this point, you may be wondering why a blog post or an @ mention matter. Well, because…

Perception is reality

The short sighted approach of neglecting engagement with your audience can have disastrous long-term effects on your business. When potential clients visit your website and find a stale blog, they will wonder if you’re out of business. If you fail to reply quickly to an angry customer on Twitter, you’ve lost all hope of fixing the problem and securing a chance at earning back their trust.

For many freelancers, founders and brands, creating meaningful content to foster engagement around your business is time-consuming, hard to measure and easy to put off “until tomorrow.” But audience engagement is one of the most effective ways to grow your business – especially for small businesses and startups.

By engaging with them in an interesting way, you’re inviting customers to help improve your business through feedback, deepening the relationship by recognizing their role in the creation process and allowing them to share best practices about how they use your product or service. A lack of investment in audience engagement can be a risky, if not foolish decision that will leave you playing catch up later.

Whether you are planning to start a blog, just launched a new business or simply looking to grow your audience, here are three approaches for communicating with your audience taken from some of my favorite brands who are leading the way in engagement.

1) How R/GA is reinventing the B2B voice

Talk about things you understand and care about. Be conversational. Use an honest, human voice. Strive for excellence, not perfection. Have a sense of humor. Unlike many of its counterparts, leading advertising agency R/GA runs one of the best Twitter feeds out there. It’s always funny and current which is kind of the point of social media. For example…

In reference to… image00 People want to know that at the other side of the conversation is a real person with real human emotions, not a bot that’s analyzing their data and sending them curated listicles. What means more to you: a recommendation from Amazon or one from your best friend?

2) How Humans of New York engages hundred of thousands of people through photos

Consistency is one of the biggest challenges with content marketing (due to that whole lack of time situation), but it’s critical to building trust with your audience. Regularly producing meaningful content requires planning, creativity and often times, a little bit of help.

For example, Humans of New York posts across Facebook and Instagram every day, always in the same format, and always exceptional content.

Of course consistency is key for social media success in terms of engagement, but this can also apply to content or other marketing activities. Keep your content calendar in writing and plan at least 30 days out in order to avoid scrambling for last minute content. Diligently save those random blog post ideas that pop into your head in a notebook or Evernote, and don’t be afraid to ask others for help with ideas or contributions. You don’t have do it all by yourself and your audience may like to be introduced to and hear from people you admire.

Editor’s note: If your team uses Slack, Hipchat or another collaborative communication tool, consider creating a channel for submitted #contentideas or feedback! The CloudPeeps team collaborates on blog posts using Asana. You can find a ton of tools to help with planning and execution in this writer’s toolbox

3) How Fred Wilson racked up 45K+ comments on his blog

Your fans, followers and customers who reach out to and engage with you online are critical for your business. It’s no secret that word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing. The person who reaches out to you over the internet is likely to the person who will tell their friends about you — good or bad.

So when someone tweets at you, leaves a Yelp review or sends you an email, make it a priority to reply to them quickly. When you share something, be available to people who engage with it. If you post an awesome blog post that will generate a reaction from your readers, set aside time over the next couple hours after it hits to reply, and occasionally check back in during the following days to engage with people leaving comments.

If you need guidance, Fred Wilson is a master of this – he’s racked up over 45,000 comments on blog posts through Disqus alone.

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How? By creating stellar content that fills a need for a niche audience (startup founders and VCs).

Final thoughts

That’s it. To build audience engagement and a loyal following, use your real voice to regularly post meaningful content and respond to the people who react to it. As a result, you will build trust and a true relationship with your fans and customers.

Need help building and engaging with your community? Give hiring a Peep to augment your efforts a try! Peep agreements are flexible and lightweight, making them great for trying out new tactics.