“Engagement” isn’t Always a Love Story

holdhandshadowThink of someone you know with an “engaging” personality. It’s probably a person who has interesting, positive things to say, which is not to say they agree or necessarily support you. It’s probably someone who gets you thinking outside your box. He inspires you, challenges you, energizes you, and maybe leaves you a little breathless when he departs.

Through online and social media we seek to connect, to engage in a way that gets our current and potential clients interested in hearing (and doing, and buying) more. Businesses want to build buzz, gain followers, promote, succeed; to influence positively, and leave their customers and potential clients a little breathless. However, in the online numbers game, talk is cheap, and so are “Likes.” “Following” doesn’t equate “engaging” any more than holding hands equates with eloping; numbers don’t mean much without passion.

Engagement is a necessary element of a successful social media strategy, but clearly there is more to captivating an audience than putting on a virtual happy face and bombarding them with links to coupons and videos while building followers. Your engaging friend may know a lot about current events or music or wine varietals, but if she consistently just talked AT you, you would probably start dodging her phone calls pretty quickly.

Chances are she’s a really good listener, too, and it’s the banter and balance you value as much as her entertaining stories. She probably doesn’t care so much about the sheer volume of friends she has as she does the quality of her interactions and the positive energy she derives from them. Chances are, when she’s engaging you, she reacts to your reaction thoughtfully, knowledgeably, empathetically. Maybe she agrees with what you’re saying. Or maybe she doesn’t — standing her ground, challenging you with facts, photos, insights. She doesn’t necessarily prove you wrong; but she cares what you have to say, respects your opinion even if she helps you consider other possibilities.

If you’ve ever been part of a relationship (friend, partner, coworker) who adored your praise but in effect “deleted” your constructive feelings and responses, you began to lose the trust that what you said mattered to them. Online engagement demonstrates commitment; and transparent, productive, meaningful engagement demonstrates trust.

The “questioning” — the authentic interest in what, why, and how your “Likers” like — and understanding what they don’t — is critical, but the “answering” is where the success stories are made.

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Pinterest: Beyond the Brownies

Good writers know the power of the “show, don’t tell” rule for capturing an audience’s interest and imagination. Pinterest, the “Oooo, something shiny!” of social media, nails it, so to speak, proving that a picture is worth a thousand hours of otherwise productive time. According to Ragan.com, we are stuck on Pinterest for the pretty pictures, the minimal text, and its quick, easy, anonymous access to the objects of our desire. It’s “i-candy” for voyeuristic hoarders. Yeah, I’m talking to you.

When I first got onto Pinterest, I’ll admit there was a bit of a blind-pinning-the-blind dynamic. As soon as I signed up, people were automatically following my empty boards — and I theirs, thanks to Facebook, I believe. And beyond us was an international smorgasbord of colors, textures, flavors, shoes, and a lot of cats.

So I started slowly, exploring the glorious foods and exotic destinations and silly animal memes. Was this Pinterest? When I found my voice, though — my predilection for snarky greeting cards — my pinning came easily. And unlike Twitter, which can feel like sending out messages in bottles (has that ever worked for any castaway?), my funniest contributions lit up the Pinterest boards like Saturday night at the bingo hall. There was a sense of connection — and of fun — when people remarked as they repinned.

Now that Pinterest has surpassed the virtual tipping point of curiosity, the fur is really flying. Beyond the boards dedicated to pretty clothes, home decor, and food porn, are more and more pin-worthy creative, educational, recreational, and inspirational collections. “Putting a pin in it” can help build your brand, feed your brain as well as your family, advance your career, and plan life-stage events, for starters. Even libraries are getting the point.

Beyond the brownies, businesses are busy on the boards, of course, telling their stories, highlighting trends, engaging fans and customers. If you’ve got something to bring to the marketplace, tell your story by telling theirs. (Check out the Whole Foods “organic” approach). Nonprofits, especially, can take advantage of an effective, affordable pipeline to engage their target demographic with compelling graphics and images.

Not that there’s anything wrong with ogling money shots of fudge-drizzled cookie-brownies. Hey, it’s fat pants time somewhere.

Going Social with the Grammys

I watched the Grammys this year, which was notable because 1) I don’t usually watch the Grammys and 2) I was simultaneously texting, 3) Facebooking, and 4) tweeting the Grammys. It doesn’t paint a very pretty picture, does it. Let me reassure you, I was not ALSO driving, doing my makeup, and eating a sandwich. (Now THAT would be extreme.)

Yes, I had my multitasking on, but I certainly wasn’t alone. Well, I was physically alone, but I felt almost as connected that night, sharing quips and comments about the Beach Boys on my Facebook timeline and texting about Bruno Mars’ hair, as I did at the Big Game party a week prior, where there were actual people in the same room with me. On Grammy night, with TV in front of me, computer in my lap, and phone at my side, I shared moments with colleagues, old pals, new friends, and high school acquaintances, in the same live stream as Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Oprah. And I didn’t have to buy pizza for any of them!

It’s odd, I thought, all the apps and electronics that now enhance our viewing experience. And by enhance, I mean offer the opportunity for multi-platform cattiness. Sorry, Taylor Swift, you left us no choice but to start trending #heehaw and #countrybearjamboree. (Still, we love you.) The Beach Boys somewhat eerie performance evoked confused and cathartic queries, while Chris Brown, on the other hand, drew claws on the typing fingers of the audience. It was a record-breaking night of 13 million social media comments.

Left to our own handheld devices, though, we find that dopamine glow of social media when we #hashtag the love. Not only do we unanimously seem to adore Adele, we adore tweeting about her. According to Mashable.com, there were more than 10,000 tweets per second in the moments after Adele won record of the year. And I was grateful to connect in real time with teary friends as Jennifer Hudson almost choked up during Whitney Houston’s tribute — and even now, if I try to write more than that, I’ll short out my keyboard.

Did I mention I don’t usually watch the Grammys? It hasn’t historically been my thing, and it certainly hasn’t been a well-attended family viewing event in my house. But this was about as engaged as you can get in a televised awards-show experience, and while 10K tweets per second is an, um, unrealistic bar to set, it’s an example of how social media tools can connect up folks in emotional, passionate and fun ways. I found myself a part of a vibrant community of snarky commentators, sentimental mourners, cheerleaders for resilience, and, oh yeah, music lovers.

Now the Academy Awards, THOSE I watch. See you (online) at the #Oscars!

Defining Your Social Media Bullseye

This is the time of year when you hear friends say things like, “I’m resolving to be healthier,” as they down that third eggnog, or “I’m going to be more careful with my money,” while swiping a credit card for a sweet flat-screen TV. Does “healthy” mean getting a lot of people to “like” eggnog? Does better money management translate to everyone coming to your house to watch the big game on your new TV? Even with the best intentions, pursuing vague resolutions is like trying to hit a target with a quiver of dull arrows and no clear bullseye.

Similarly, announcing that you are going to “do social media” next year is an exciting goal for your business, but to do it right, the targets need to be specific. Building a Facebook page for your business is a great first step, but without a plan for what you want it to convey or how to keep it fresh, it could end up working against you. Deciding you are going to start tweeting is applaudable, but not if your tweets begin and end with “Learning how to use this Twitter thing.”

Your social media efforts will be worthwhile if you can clearly define what you want to accomplish. Depending on the nature of your business, this can mean varied things as your products, services, or initiatives develop or cycle throughout the year. For some of your goals, it may entail just “listening” to the communities you’re targeting; on the other hand, it may be time to shoot straight for the heart of the conversation. Your strategy should be built around these specific targets, whether you want to:

  • Build a foundational client base or a following to set the stage for future announcements
  • Increase awareness of a cause or initiative
  • Solicit feedback
  • Introduce a specific product or idea
  • Sell tickets to a specific event or performance
  • Better understand your target audience
  • Establish yourself/your brand as a thought leader

Knowing your goal gives authenticity to your blog posts, focus to our Facebook shares, and context to your plan for “this Twitter thing.” Setting measurable milestones, even in modest increments, will help you evolve your social media strategy as your business achieves its objectives.

Wishing you a successful 2012! And go easy on that eggnog, ok?

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