Even though the travel site we’re developing (more on this next week) is a work of passion not profit, I still want to make it as effective as possible. High quality, useful content is the goal – and online engagement is an important part of that. To that end, I’ve been doing some relevant reading, much of which is aimed at small businesses.
Here are my top 5 take home messages from Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins in a Socially Connected World by Gail F Goodman. (While generally aimed at those working to convert online engagement into a sale of some kind, it also containes a lot of useful advice for the more general content creator.)
1. Start a conversation
“When you connect with your customers online, you stop speaking to your customers and start talking with them.” (Page 5)
I like the idea that online engagement can be a conversation. On my own social networks and frequently visited content creators, it annoys me to no end when I feel I’m being talked at rather than to. It’s usually easy to spot this kind of content, and when I come across it, I’m quick to hit the back button or scroll on to something more inviting. That’s what makes point #2 so important.
2. See things from the user’s point of view
“When you entice people, think about the connection from their perspective. In other words, what’s the benefit?” (Page 33)
One of my pet peeves with online content (or ‘sell’ content in general) is when the creator clearly did not at any point think about how it might come across to those reading/watching/listening to it. Usually superlatives are involved, and they are rarely justified. In these cases it’s all about self-promotion, but not in a way that is of value. Instead of ‘We did a thing. It’s great, and so are we’, I much prefer the ‘Here’s a thing we did/are doing that is relevant to your interests’ approach, leaving users to make up their own minds as to its worth. (There’s even then ‘Someone else did a thing. How cool is that?’ appoach, but more about that in #5.)
Overall, I think it’s less about singing a Bart Simpson-esque ‘I am so great’ song, and instead providing something that the individual engaging with your content can use in their own way. That engenders a sense that you’re working for their needs not just your own, and that you can be trusted to be a participating member of their community.
3. Figure out what works
“Try different content types to find out what resonates with your fans. When you’re starting out, view your ‘small’ engagement…as signs that you’re on the right track.” (Page 70)
I think this is a really important point to remember. Meaningful engagement is not something that happens overnight, and not everything resonates in an effective way. That means some trial and error in terms of what you’re posting or sharing, when you’re doing this, what your focus areas are, and even who you’re reaching out to. Any small steps forward can be counted as a win.
4. Avoid playing the same show on every channel
“If you create content specific to each platform, the people who follow you on multiple platforms won’t tune you out.” (Page 143)
Another pet peeve of mine is following an individual, brand, or business across multiple platforms and seeing the exact same thing pop up on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at exactly the same time, all the time. Sure, cross-platform posting is something that is going to happen, but while the subject may be the same, it is important to consider tailoring the style and format of the post to fit the platform.
For example, direct cross-posting from Instagram to Facebook does not appeal to me at all. Using a heap of hashtags is fine in Instagram, but on Facebook I don’t think it adds value. Instead, it just makes it seem like the Facebook post is an afterthought, which could alienate users on that platform.
5. Highlight content created by others
“…sharing the best of your industry is part of your value-add.” (Page 149)
This is one of my favourite things about creating meaningful engagement online. It can’t just all be about ‘me, me, me’. It’s about highlighting the useful, interesting, creative, or enjoyable content being created by others, too. That includes everything from videos to events, blog posts to images. There’s so much content out there, and pointing your audience towards other content that they might use or enjoy is an important part of being a worthwhile contributor to your online community.
What are your top tips for creating content and engaging users online?