By Dan Blank, Founder, We Grow Media
Having a solid engagement strategy can help you discover your online community and serve its needs with high-quality, relevant content, products and services. This strategy, when properly executed, can create the foundation for tapping into new revenue streams for your online efforts, especially for paid content models.
But an effective engagement strategy involves more than ‘just add water’ shortcuts. Social media has many people thinking that they can create content and engage an audience easily – even “virally” – if they just know which button to press, which trick to use, which guru to listen to.
They believe they can sneak in, plant their message, have everyone see how brilliant they are, and then have a crowd come running to them. But a real engagement strategy involves a lot more than that.
If you have the patience to create quality content, iterate your strategy and truly connect with individuals, then executing on your content strategy is a fun process, including some of the following elements:
- You will learn more about your market than you ever thought possible
- You will connect with more experts in your market than ever before
- You will establish deep research channels that give you incredible insight into the needs and challenges of those you serve
- You will find potential business models that support all sides of this equation
Do you have the patience to properly engage your community?
We all seem to admire companies that have established credibility in their markets over the long haul, yet too many companies (and individuals) nowadays want instant access, instant credibility, and instant quarterly revenue from their online initiatives.
We are left with questions like, “What is the ROI of social media?”
If you want to build a respected, stable online business that offers a legitimate return on your investment of time and resources, having a solid engagement strategy can fuel your company’s bottom line for years. But, you’ll also need a little patience.
The Patience to Explore.
It can be tempting to focus only on other large established players, especially for established media companies, but oftentimes, the exciting stuff is hidden, spread across dozens of other blogs, Twitter streams, LinkedIn groups, forums and other places. Of course, these great resources are mixed in with the not-so-great, and finding value here is time-consuming because Google will give you thousands of results for any topic you plug in to their search engine.
But this is how you find hidden opportunities: by NOT relying on the obvious filters that your competitors are using.
The Patience to Learn.
Whenever I find a great blog or interesting person on Twitter, I always like to find out more about them – something that gives me a 360-degree view of who they are. Doing so helps you understand their motivations, their expertise, and possible points of connection.
The “about us” page of a website is often my favorite, and often the most disappointing. Digging further, LinkedIn is a great source, giving you information about a person’s professional work experience, their network, and other places they might be posting online. Beyond this, a simple Google search of their name in quotes can bring up loads of great information. We are not looking to pry, we are not looking for scandal; we are simply looking to discover great, untapped resources.
The Patience to Listen.
When you find someone doing great work online, you should follow them wherever is relevant: their blog’s RSS feed, their Twitter feed, their YouTube channel, their LinkedIn posts, etc. These streams are about more than gathering information; you also get to understand their tone, their habits, and the nuances of their expertise, their goals and their challenges.
Too many people view social media primarily as an opportunity to share a message, but it is an even better opportunity to listen. The more you listen, the more nuggets you will pick up, and that your competitors will possibly miss. Companies consider their products and services in terms of a ‘unique value proposition.’ They should also consider how unique their listening system is – what are they hearing from their market that others might be missing?
The Patience to Ask.
The web and social media are incredible research channels. Some of this is passive research, as mentioned above, but active research is a huge opportunity, too. This can involve formal means of surveys and the like, but it can also be more informal – asking for advice, asking about preferences, needs and goals.
It allows you to easily explore the margins of your market – in areas that you may not be able to put huge financial resources, but that might offer serious insights that will shape your business and online offerings in the future. So much of business success is finding unmet needs in areas of your market that no one else is focusing on. The ability to reach out to these dark corners and ask questions can be a competitive advantage.
The Patience to Engage.
Commenting on blogs, responding to Tweets, giving feedback via email – these are ways to engage with no promise of immediate rewards, but building credibility is about giving your attention, your expertise, and helping others do the same. It is not about a transaction – expecting something in return for your mildest efforts or attention.
This is about helping others long before you would hope they might help you. It could be simple actions, such as reading, retweeting, linking, or deeper actions such as direct conversations, helping others connect, and sharing advice and hard-won insights.
The Patience to Build.
Too often, brands only care about social media for its potential to broadcast their messages to as large an audience as possible, as cheaply as possible. The real value, however, is in connecting with individuals, and not always with the ‘top dog’ in your market.
Engaging with those who seemingly have no power – eg: nothing of business value that you can immediately turn into revenue – but who have relevant expertise, has immense long-term social value. Just as you can’t put a price on your friends, or on experiences you’ve had with colleagues over the years, you can’t put a dollar amount on the social value of building actual, real relationships with others via the social web.
One. Person. At. A. Time.
Social media is not about going viral, or about instant, inexpensive scale – it is an opportunity to connect meaningfully with individuals.
The Patience to Create.
In a world where dime-a-dozen blog posts, ephemeral Tweets, and amateur videos are often “good enough” to satisfy but rarely enough to truly make a difference, creating quality content is not always as easy as some people make it seem. Merely aggregating a bunch of content rarely solves anyone’s specific problems.
Creating and curating great content often happens over time, through trial and error.
The Patience to Analyze and Iterate.
You must treat your engagement strategy as a business, something that is analyzed often, and iterated on without being distracted by fleeting trends or cutting into your ego. Most online successes started out as something different than they ended up; the more you are iterating, analyzing and iterating again, the more likely you are to find success.
Key Steps to an Engagement Strategy
Everything listed above is a resource-intensive process, which is exactly why you may need a formal strategy and clearly defined tactics to successfully engage your audience.
Gone are the days where each niche has one or two must-read blogs – now there are dozens of ways your market is interacting with each other via social media, and each one is another opportunity, as well as another way to feel that you can never catch up to it all.
These fundamental actions will put you on the right path:
Identify key sources that you will focus your attention on.
- This could be an industry blog or an individual on Twitter. For instance: I follow several hundred people on Twitter, but have a smaller list of a couple dozen people who I focus intensely on. For these people, I never miss a Tweet they share, and ensure I can contribute to their interests and goals whenever possible. It’s not enough to create a comprehensive list of blogs in your niche – you must create a filter of who you will focus your scarce attention on.
Measure your engagement in actions.
- It’s not enough to read a blog or a Twitter stream – you must ACT upon them. You need to comment, retweet, respond via email, or create your own blog posts in response to the work of others. In doing so, you need to add to the conversation, and when possible, promote the efforts of those you respect. If you aren’t acting upon something every day, then you are not fully engaging.
Create personal goals and milestones.
- It is too easy to feel that any effort you make in online engagement must somehow be helping you reach goals, but this can lead to inefficient strategies and wasted resources. Create clear goals for your efforts online, with appropriate milestones and benchmarks, and carefully measure your progress on a regular basis.
And, of course, have a little patience.
Dan Blank was Director of Content Strategy & Development for Reed Business Information for the past decade, where he worked with editors and bloggers across 50+ brands — including Publishers Weekly and Library Journal — with the goal of creating engaging content and community. Blank is the Founder of We Grow Media, an online media consulting & training company, where he works with writers, authors, editors, & journalists to build their online media & marketing skills and engage their communities in fun and meaningful ways.