Listen, Talk, Listen.

It’s easy to overthink online activity, and waste time chasing the search engines, or sinking resources into ignored social media streams.

Web | 4 mins read | Michael Gough

Listen, Talk, Listen.
Listen, Talk, Listen.

At Sparks, we like to think of it as a conversation, a matter of knowing who we’re talking to and what we’re talking about.

Chatting in the corner

Everyone knows that to be viable today you have to be online. But too many organisations have made the mistake of thinking they need to be everywhere, all the time.

Open a Pinterest account. Instagram. Youtube channel. And why aren’t the marketing team tweeting more every day?

It’s easy to burn through your budget on viral videos that don’t go viral, or blog posts that aren’t really worth reading. Whole weeks of staff time vanish into tweets and Facebook page updates that nobody engages with.

When done without the thinking, it becomes a bit like standing in a corner at a party, and believing that if you just talk constantly, sooner or later someone is bound to come and engage with you.

But if you want any attention, at some point you need to summon your courage and go and start a conversation. Here are three steps to help.

1. Finding your audience

Before you can start a conversation, you need to identify who you’re talking to. ‘Everybody’ is not a good enough answer. You need to narrow it down – strategically, geographically, demographically. And to know your audience, you need to first know yourself.

• What’s our key message?
• Who’s interested in our cause?
• And from those answers – who do we want to be talking to?

By clarifying what it is that you have to share, the audience naturally emerges.

You’ll be at your best when you’re talking confidently about the things you know and understand, so work from your own competencies. Your expertise will speak for itself, and you’ll be offering something of value rather than just marketing messages and campaign requests.

Knowing our key messages helps us edit ourselves too. So someone’s brought Dunkin’ Donuts into the office and you’re dying to Instagram them there on the table. Unless your cause is related to snacks, you should assume your audience doesn’t care.

2. Making the approach

Before moving from talking in the void to engaging with real people, some more homework is required.

• Where does our audience spend time online?
• Who are the influencers and the key voices?
• Where is the overlap between my interests and theirs?

A little research into where our audience is already active will give us an idea of where we should be putting our content if we want it to get noticed. Then we can get proactive – tip off those influencers. Seek out some guest posts. Reach out.

Of course, you can’t just spam people you admire with links to your stuff. They’ll need good reason to engage with you.

The most interesting person in the room

If you’re going to succeed in starting a conversation, you need something interesting to say. That’s where social media can become a trap. Think quality, not quantity.

A single page or blog post that is creative and memorable is going to be much more valuable than a bucketful of social media chatter. Invest some time in good writing and imaginative presentation, and you’ll have something that can cut through the noise of petitions and worthy hashtags. Great content that connects with people’s interests will be talked about, shared, and passed around.

3. Building your audience

So you’ve identified your audience, created some great content and got yourself a little attention. Now you can begin to build profile. It’s easy to just get hits – you can even buy them if you’re desperate. The challenge is getting buy–in, to build relationships and give people a reason to come back. 

One of the most effective ways to do that is to get people to subscribe. Drop an email form at the bottom of a blog post, and invite readers to sign up for notifications. Invite people to bookmark your site. Link in your social media accounts so that people don’t have to leave the page to like or follow. If the content has resonated with the audience, they’ll be looking for a way of responding anyway.

For most organisations, getting people to engage with our online content isn’t going to be a goal in itself. Real change is not generated by likes and retweets alone. Action points matter, and that raises two final things to keep in mind:

• What do we want the audience to do?
• How do we make that action easy for them?

The ultimate goal of an online conversation is that it turns into action. Whether or not we succeed in getting readers to that next stage will depend in large part on the background work we’ve done. 

Like our lonely party guest, success requires confidence: confidence that you know who you’re talking to and what they’re interested in. 

So identify your audience, and create some content worth sharing. Then step out in confidence, and start the conversation.