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March 24, 2016

Build Online Relationships with Engaging Content

by Donna Huber

I'm back with another Tips on Thursday post. I know at the end of last year I thought I would discontinue this feature, but after a couple of months I found I missed it. Also at the end of the year I was trying to stave off burn-out and didn't feel like I had any more information to share. Well, a break has done wonders and I find myself with a lot I want to share. I probably won't go back to weekly posts, but will definitely be doing a monthly Tips feature.

I've been participating in a group to encourage engagement on variou social media channels. You know, in an effort to make social media social again. But it has me wondering if people know how to socialize any more.

The point of the group is to have discussions, but I was surprised by the number of posts that were nothing more than "buy my book", "this book is now on sale" and other iterations. Seriously, some of them had no text beyond "get this genre novel for 99 cents". There was no context to start a conversation. Honestly, it had the absolute opposite effect on me than the author wanted.

I was looking to connect with people with a shared interest and instead I was advertised to.

According to this blog post, a consumer is bombarded with 300 - 700 marketing messages each day. I didn't need to go looking for more advertisements.

I was surmised 3 possibilities why people think 'buy me' posts equate to engaged posts.

  1. People don't see the point
  2. They don't know how to craft an engaging post
  3. They just don't care

Why should I create an engaging post?

A post that makes a person think is more likely to be remembered. I can't name one book from last week that was mentioned in a "buy my book" post though there was a couple of boxed sets advertised. However, I do remember the post about Irish legends, Native American folklore, a reality that sounds like science fiction, and even one on choosing the appropriate beer for St. Patrick's Day.

These posts made a lasting impression on me. They also showed off the author's writing ability. SHOWING me you can write is better than TELLING me you can write (or have other people telling me).

I'm horrible with names, but I will remember small details of conversations we have. The more memorable the conversation, the more likely I will recognize your name when I see it attached to something else.

Also, an engaged reader will continue to come back for more. And you will get more opportunities to sell your book to the person.

Don't believe me? Check out this post on Hootsuite's blog, which starts off:
It’s no secret: The better you know your audience, the better you will be at engaging with them. The better you are at engaging with them, the stronger the relationships you will build with them. And the stronger the relationship with them, the easier it will be to sell to them.

How do I write an engaging post?

When you sit down to write your post, approach it as a conversation and not a lecture. A conversation requires participation by two or more people, whereas a lecture is just one person talking.

Right now, this post is a lecture. While you may be enjoying the information I'm providing, there is no required action on your part. How can I turn that around? How can I make this more interactive?

In face-to-face conversations there are natural opportunities for others to interject. It is not as easy in blog posts, though other social media channels make it much easier because they are set-up to be more dynamic.

Asking questions, presenting a problem, stating a position can all encourage dialogue.

Examples of Engaging Content

Ask questions of your readers. Perhaps you think that tweaking your back cover blurb will increase sales. Ask your readers which blurb is more appealing and for any suggestions they may have. I asked two questions above and I didn't answer them. I think it is important to pose questions that you don't necessarily have an answer to. You can always follow-up with your ideas in the comments.

Present a problem such "I'm having trouble finding time to write. I need to find a better work/life/writing balance". People will offer their opinion on how to balance your time. As your target audience aren't necessarily other writers make sure it is a problem they can relate to - most people have struggled with life/work balance. I presented a problem with this post - creating engaging content.

Stating a position is opening yourself up to debate. And while it can create some of the greatest conversations, it is also the hardest to do. In one of last week's tweets an author put forth that there's no such thing as a fascinating woman. That was an excellent starting point for an extended conversation. I came back with I didn't agree with that statement. I expected the author to come back with an explanation of why they did or did not agree with the statement. I got a sad face which I couldn't figure out if it meant the author was sad that I didn't agree with them or it it meant they were sad about the statement. Either way it didn't encourage further conversation.

I debated how to start this post because I stated a position that others may see as an attack, which is not what I'm doing at all. By the number of articles out there on engaging audiences, it is a far larger problem than just what I'm seeing within this group. By the way, I think this article has great tips on creating engaging content.

(Side note: this group I'm part of is relatively new and a learning curve is to be expected. I've noticed better content this week.)

What does it take to engage your audience?

  • It takes work. I've been working on this article for a few days. While I've only been writing it for two days, I've been thinking about it and searching sources for a a little more than a week.
  • It takes time. You have to build an audience. You have learn what your audience wants. You have to build trust and a relationship. All of that takes time. Don't get discouraged if you only get a few comments (or even none), keep working on it. 
  • It takes diligence. You can't just put up a post and forget about it. Continue the conversation in the comments. That is where the real engagement and relationship building occurs.

What do you think? What do you do to engage your audience on social media?

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  1. I write short posts because people's attention spans are short. I use pictures to get their attention. I try out poetry, short stories, whimsical ideas... A few of my posts relate to my book. They might be another side to the story or a continuation of the story. I try to fit them in so that they don't stand out too much. Kind of like subliminal advertising. I don't know if it's working. But I do believe it brings in sales from Facebook, Tumblr, and Google. I share my posts across these media. It can be time consuming.

    1. Do you create individual (different) posts depending on the platform you are using?

      I can't measure my engagement so much by sales since it is free to read this publication (though I do make a few dollars from ads and affiliate links). So for me it is totally about the conversations that spin off from something posted here or on Twitter or on Facebook.

  2. Whilst, I would never argue with what you say as being true, I sometimes wonder if we, as writers, need to create an alternative universe with way more hours in a day than is at present. I love nothing more than a robust debate, especially with fellow authors or readers, but then....oh my God! I haven't posted my tweets today, I haven't written that blog, or updated that website, or worst of all.......I've written nothing on my novel today. Getting the balance is so what we need to be aiming for and frankly, I enjoy engaging discussions with people way more than anything else, except writing of course. It's hard, but I certainly take on board your comments and need to sit down and analyse more objectively just where those minutes, hours and days disappear to and whether the efforts I make are effective or not. Thanks for the timely reminder

    1. It may be a quantity vs quality thing. Would it be better to spend an hour crafting mediocre content (tweets, FB posts, blog posts) that few react to or spend that hour crafting 1 superior piece of content that hundreds respond to?

  3. I agree with you that only 'buy my book' messages on social media are not enough. But they do get your books out there, and engagement with those tweets and posts gets them shown to wider audiences.

    1. But is it organic engagement or just shares, etc that are "manipulated" engagement - like being part of triberr or share teams? I rarely look at my Twitter feed, just the mentions and retweet lists because it is just junk.

  4. I have had the same experience, and short links do make it harder to engage and share, but I think we are on the right track with our new experiment.

    1. I think it will be a benefit to everyone. I think as commenters we need to work on how to engage with the content on web. We are for the most part a "taker" society. We read great content, take what we need from it, and then move on, never letting the author know. I know this experiment is making me think more about what I'm reading and then leaving a comment.

  5. Interesting take on it. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Buy my book is the WORST! I write short blog posts too.