There Are Many Roads to Engagement; Try Charting New Ones

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"Sometimes you don't know what the public is going to like until you make it available."

That came from Joel Coen, half of the much-accoladed, filmmaking team the Coen Brothers, in a recent interview in The Washington Post. We all want our audience to engage with, like and/or share the things we do—and if data can help us, all the better—but sometimes that takes a little risk to be original and creative.

Try new methods and see what happens. But remember you still have to tell people you're doing something. They won't find it by accident—I found number 2 through an interview he did. Here are some interesting ways to engage your audience.

1. Put up charts. Association Trends (of SIPA member Columbia Books & Information Services) does a good job of this on their website. The Upshot, a rather cool digital section of The New York Times, wrote about a study where the same information on a drug trial was presented with a chart and without. The one with the chart raised the proportion of those who believed in the efficacy of the drug to 97% from 68%. They concluded that charts offer the "veneer of science" and people like that.   

2. Pursue your dormant ties—connections to people you used to know, but have fallen out of touch for several years or more. Studies show that these ties actually provide more valuable advice than current ties—because, according to Adam Grant, "there's a residue of trust and familiarity that makes it easier to reach out... they've encountered new people and ideas in the time since you last connected."

3. Implement a quiz. On the site for his new book, Originals: How Non–Conformists Move the World, Wharton professor Adam Grant displays a 15-question quiz with the tagline: "Think you know what it takes to be original?" It's fun and infectious, and to get your score you have to give them your email. (SIPA members CredSpark and edCirrus Inc. can help.)

First question: "Compared to the general population, entrepreneurs tend to be: More risk-averse; Less risk-averse; Really, really, ridiculously good-looking. Another question: Right before giving a big presentation, if you're nervous, what should you say to yourself? I'm calm; I'm excited; I'm anxious; I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.

4. Tell a good founding story. This comes from Trekksoft, a Swiss startup: "If you can give customers an engaging story of how your business started, it makes it a whole lot easier to generate word of mouth. After all, when people recommend a company to friends, they often explain its background or a personal connection they have to it. Think about your own brand's story, how to tell it in a compelling way, and how to encourage people to recommend you."

People click on About pages—so take advantage of that. SIPA member Cabot Heritage Corporation does a good job of this, going all the way back to Henry Lovewell Lutts, born in 1849. Funny thing is I couldn't find Trekksoft's founding story anywhere.

5. Practice what you preach.

6. Test different delivery mechanisms. MediaShift cites an example where postcards actually proved the best way to get the word out on a new program. Email may work for one audience and Instagram for another. (Iconosquare will give you analytics for the latter.) SIPA will present a webinar next Wednesday on LinkedIn marketing—free for members. Of my friends, most like texting but some prefer email, others Facebook, a couple LinkedIn, and one or two even prefer that I call. Go figure.

7. Seek out new voices. "One thing that really frustrates me about daily newspapers is that we call the same sources and see the same people at the same meetings," said Rachel Damgen, engagement editor at the Island Packet in Hilton Head, S.C, on MediaShift. "There are entire pockets of the community that aren't part of our normal routine." What to do? Expand your community. Start a new one. Reach out to lesser known sources. Focus on new people—young or diverse—in your industry.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…