Conversations Are a Two-way Street
The first tip for making online conversations may seem simple, but it emphasizes a fundamental concept that is extremely important. Always remember that conversations have two sides. Social media conversations are interactions between people; it’s not about collecting friends. Yes, it is important to broadcast links that drive traffic to your website, however, it’s equally important, if not more important, to listen, to ask questions, and to solicit opinions. Of course, you’ll also need to respond–to be visible.
Keep It Relevant and Consistent With Your Brand
Many times people have written to ask me what they should post on their social media. They ask, “Should I post personal stuff?” “Should I post humorous stuff?” “Should I keep it %100 professional?” “What topics can I cover?” These are all important questions that every person engaging in social media should ask.
However before you answer those questions, you need to take a step back and answer several bigger picture questions. What is my brand? What are my goals with social media? Who is my audience? The answers to these three questions will guide you and help you to answer the first set of questions. It is impossible for me to tell anyone what is appropriate for them.
For me, I describe my brand as: Passionate. Expert. Authentic, Practical. Interactive. Fun. So for me that means I post about research in communication. I post about the mistakes I’ve made. I post focus on practical tips and tricks. I like to be as interactive as possible, so I respond to emails and posts. And I like to post fun, funny things every now and again.
The key is to always keep my posts relevant and consistent your brand.
Ask For Opinions
The NBA Facebook fanpage is great example of an organization that “gets it”. Even if you not a basketball fan, I suggest you “like” their page because you’ll learn a ton of effective techniques for engaging your audience. Recently, for example, they posted, “As good as it gets! Tonight is for all the marbles. Who will win Game 7?” Then they used a FB application to poll for results.
What’s interesting is that more people responded in the comments. The point is that people will respond to questions that have no right or wrong answer—especially if it’s something they are passionate about. By asking for personal opinion, people feel more relaxed and are willing to respond both to the original question and to the opinions of other fans. And, in general, people love polls or quizzes!
The key is to ask simple questions that anyone can answer without any pressure. And if you can make it controversial all the better! Tracy Davison is a local news reporter in the Philadelphia area. On the days leading up to Thanksgiving she posted a question asking weather or not stores should be open on Thanksgiving. Tracy is the consumer reporter for NBC 10 so this question was a perfect fit. It was also good because there were strong supporters on both sides of the question. This is the perfect form of online engagement. When the followers have had their say, then the host can weigh in on the topic.
Post Videos or Photos
Another way to get more interaction is to post videos. Particularly on Facebook and YouTube, video is extremely popular (see my episode about creating good video content for more). If you look to the NBA facebook page, you’ll see a prime example of that. In fact, as of the time I’m writing, the landing page is a montage of photos, which when clicked show short related video clips.
I mentioned on my podcast that I read on Dan Perez’s (a professional video maker) website that 90% of Internet users prefer watching a video to reading an article. Short (less than 3 minutes) videos that are entertaining, directly related to your topic area, and that include very subtle shameless marketing are perfect. For a great example of what I’m talking about, view this video that award-winning film maker Dan Perez made.
Share Personal Yet Universal Topics
Inspired by Dan I posted the video our family made. At the time, I did this for a couple of reasons. One, I was hoping to generate more interaction. However, I also posted this video in an attempt to share something personal, yet somewhat universal. All parents struggle with choosing appropriate childcare. Part of the reason I think Dan’s video is so appealing is that it includes his daughter.
But, I quite frankly I missed the mark. Although I had touched on a universal theme, I broke the the second rule that I talked about. I missed the mark because childcare is not an appropriate topic for a communication expert. It’s not that I shouldn’t have talked about my children, that would have been OK, I just needed to keep it relevant to the topic of communication. So, posting the video and talking about how I talk to my kids about having full-time childcare would have been OK. It’s a fine line, but it makes a difference. I learned this lesson the hard way!
So, yes, you want to include conversations–or better yet some text, videos, and photos–about things that are related to your topic area, personal to you (yet not too personal or off-topic), and universal in nature. Topics like that are appealing, authentic, and likely to generate conversation. Some ideas for video include quick interviews, guided tours or perhaps something funny from the interns.
Reward Commitment to Your Brand
Another obvious way to generate interaction is to give away stuff. More specifically, it’s important to reward commitment to your brand by providing free samples, products, or services only found via these social media interactions. After all, that’s why most people initially join the conversation to begin with–because they are interested in additional related content and possible freebies from you.
Hold a Contest to Get Online Interaction
Holding a contest is a great way to generate conversation and enthusiasm. In the past, Oprah’s cable channel (OWN) ran a video contest. I’m guessing that you probably heard about the contest at the time—either because someone asked you to vote, you saw an entry on someone’s facebook page, or you heard it through the news or a podcast (like this one)! The point is contests generate conversation, and person-to-person conversation is, in essence, word of mouth advertising- the best kind of advertising!
First remember it’s a conversation, not a one-way broadcast. You always need to keep your conversation relevant to and consistent with your brand. Ask people’s opinion of anything that relates to your topic; that’s always a good conversation starter. Next, people love entertaining video and photos, but they also need content. Remember to occasionally share something that is personal yet universal and to reward your brand. Finally, consider holding or entering into a video contest.
I believe that networking starts with conversations—lots of them. Some of those conversations will fizzle out, whereas others will build into a “connection”. Using these tips you can transform your online friends to real connections and eventually with time and effort into relationships.