This guest post was written by Thomas E. Hanna, whom I watched go from zero to a recognized expert in a couple of short months. It was like watching a piece of engagement art created in front of your very eyes. And in this post, he'll share one key aspect of human interaction.
Real, actionable engagement does not come from cutesy guilt-infused graphics.
It comes from conversation. It builds off relationships. It grows into trust.
And it stops trying to build an audience.
The Problem With Audiences
Within the blogging and social media industry, we talk a lot about audiences.
We teach people to know their ideal audience, to write for their target audience, and to go where their audience is.
Yet, as a blogger, the last thing you want is an audience.
Audiences are passive. They are consumers of information, but little else.
The concept draws from a time when communication was a one-way street: writers published books, designers published images, and marketers published ads.
The goal was consumption, not engagement.
You need engagement. Engagement is the only metric that really matters.
An audience is not what you need.
What you need is a community.
Here are three ways that the audience mentality will block your blogging success, and how to fix it.
1. “Audiences” Fail To Cultivate Relationships
When we cling to the audience mentality, the value of relationships is overlooked or ignored altogether.
People become follower counts and are then viewed in terms of purchasing power or broadcasting power.
Consider the recent debacle still hammering the newly-rebranded Hawke and Company clothing line.
This past weekend, Christian Conti made a purchase and the company would not honor their discounts, even canceling his order. He commented about it on Twitter, and the company responded with “We’re sure your 320 followers will understand.”
And they did understand.
In fact, they understood so well that the company’s dismissive retort went viral, being retweeted by celebrities, authors, and getting picked up by news publications.
The clothing company began a series of increasingly awkward backpedaling strategies, including statements that “bad publicity is better than no publicity,” trying to pass it off as a “social experiment,” then offering a public apology and substantial discount (which was then deleted and ended a few hours later), eventually deleting the entire interaction from their Twitter timeline, and now they have an official statement offered as an apology.
The power behind this reaction did not come from Christian’s social media power. It was due to how deeply people today value relationships.
So what can we learn from this?
Honor the person.
Remember that we engage with people, not metrics. Take the time to know your readers and value them. Invest your time into relationships. It is that investment that will grow brand evangelists, which is a huge payoff.
Go deep rather than wide.
The initial temptation of social media is to try to be everywhere at once. This dilutes your presence and prevents you from being able to foster valuable relationships. Start with one focus, build a presence there, and develop connections. Then, let these relationships become the bridge as you expand into new social platforms.
Grow your community one person at a time.
- Be Memorable: 10 Practical Ways to Successfully Get Influencers’ Attention by Ana Hoffman
- How To Build Awesome Relationships On Social Media with Eric Enge and Peg Fitzpatrick
2. “Audiences” Treat Social Networks As Distribution Channels
It amazes me how many people attempt to fully automate their social presence.
- They tap into RSS feeds to push curated content to their timelines.
- They set up their blogs to auto-share any new material the moment it goes live.
- They set up auto responders to greet new followers and market their current product.
When you view your readers as an audience rather than as a community, the goals change.
Instead of fostering connections, you strive to push content in front of eyeballs. You look for opportunities to drive consumption, and rarely discover the avenues which drive engagement.
It was Dale Carnegie that said,
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.”
This is absolutely the case when it comes to blogging and social media.
Rather than seeing social networks as distribution hubs, view them as networking opportunities.
How do you do this?
Perhaps the most important piece of social media advice that anyone can give is this: be present. There are few things more frustrating than an individual that pushes a lot of content to their social profile, but never responds to any activity on it. This is a sure way to kill engagement. Instead, be present and be active.
Find engagement nodes.
On any social network, there are places where those people in your niche gather and interact. On Google Plus, it is in communities. On Twitter, it is in social chats. On Pinterest, it is on community boards. Find out where your people are, and go meet them.
Do you have a particular expertise? Unleash that pent-up knowledge on unsuspecting individuals. When someone has a question that you can help with, don’t just be helpful — be overwhelmingly helpful. Put the time in to become an asset. People see this. That visibility builds trust. Trust drives clients.
They are social networks, not social broadcasts. So network.
- How To Build Powerful Alliances On Google Plus by Martin Shervington
- Grow Your Social Media Audience Through Communities by Rebekah Radice
3. “Audiences” Kill Engagement
Here’s a little-known secret to blogging: you train your readers how you want them to respond.
In broad terms, that is called building a culture.
The culture of a website shapes the way that people interact with you, with your content, and with each other.
Part of this naturally follows your personality, and part of it is directly tied to your chosen field.
The most important piece, however, is tied to the way you lead.
If you want a community filled with people that share your content, that buy your products, and that tell their friends about you, then start by crafting a blog experience that focuses on engagement rather than consumption.
Here are some tips to get moving in the right direction.
Position your articles as conversation pieces.
One of the most amazing things about a community is in the collaborative power of ideas. When you publish an article, invite feedback and offer clear direction on the way you want that feedback to go. The easiest way to do this is to simply ask a question or include a clear call to action. View your article as the entry point rather than the destination, and draw a clear link to the next stage in the journey.
Respond to your comments.
Look, this should be blogging 101, but a mind-boggling number of content creators fail to respond to comments. If you want people to engage with your material — which includes social shares and conversions — then you need to create that culture by engaging with them. A comment is engagement kindling. When you fail to respond, you let that initial spark flicker and die.
Don’t kill the fire. Help it burn.
- Why Being Human On Social Media Is The Best Strategy You’ll Ever Have by Jackie Johnstone
- Is It Worth Responding To Blog Comments by Neil Patel
So Get Off The Street
Facebook Likes, Google Plusses, or Twitter Favorites are about as beneficial as cars honking at the “Honk To Support Candidate X” sign.
They may be motivating, but they do very little to actually help your cause.
If you want genuine engagement, start genuinely engaging.
Move away from the audience mentality. Focus on building communities.
Start investing in people, not tactics.
Now share this if you agree.
[share]No, seriously – don't forget to share the post; thank you![/share]
How do you improve interaction on your site? I’d love to hear from you. Share some of your tips for cultivating community here in the comments.
Thomas E. Hanna
Thomas E. Hanna is on a mission to rescue remarkable individuals from the pit of internet obscurity. He is the founder of BlogPhoto.tv, which provides content creators with the resources, tools, and training they need to stand out online. Looking to get your own site heading in the right direction? Check out his Launch Your Blog course.