“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” – Wayne Gretzky
Wouldn’t it be great if the laws of physics guided our communication? How accurate we’d be if could follow rules of trajectory and speed like a hockey puck on ice? Thwack! you propel that idea in a certain way and your reader will be there to receive it exactly the way you intended.
“Wordslinger” comes to mind.
“Experience has made me rich and now they’re after me.” — Madonna
To engage readers and followers online — and keep them engaged for the long term — we’ve been talking about:
- Using Pictures.
- Consistent, frequent touches.
- Showing clear value.
- Being real and speaking their language.
- Advertising on the right channels. (Coming soon!)
Let’s dive deep into #4. Copywriters love to talk about speaking the customer’s language, addressing their problems by framing them in words they’d naturally use. And that IS important.
But if you’re studying people’s words like a scientist studies his subject, you may be going about it the wrong way. You might be pinning your audience down like that psycho killer in Silence of the Lambs pinned butterflies to a board.
The main downside to obsessing about your customer’s language is that you might lose your own authentic voice. The whole point of engagement is conversation. I throw the ball to you, You throw the ball to me. We play catch with words.
Want to attract people by mirroring them? Great tactic! Affirming your reader clears a path toward your way of thinking. The reader recognizes you; you seem authentic to him because you’ve triggered a memory, and share a common bond. All good.
Only you can’t just use the “right” words to get attention and then pivot and drag them into your web like the spider and the fly. That kind of authority feels like a power play and your reader will resist. Naturally.
The flip side of this tactic (and why the rules of copywriting are changing) is being real on your next move. Feedback is immediate and social. Try not to obsess over what someone said last week. Your blog will become a dreadful pandering place, like a beast you have to feed and nurture. Don’t feel like you must research every little idea before you type one word. UGH. If it’s that hard to produce content, then you probably won’t get many people excited about reading it, either. Funny how that works!
Even a technical or scientific blog has a voice, a commentary readers come to expect. They rely on the blogger/writer to supply it.
New writers and bloggers sometimes lack confidence to be themselves. Most of the time they walk around the planet, comfortable in their skin, possessing a nice supply of competence and charisma. But suddenly they are growing a business (or want to).
Suddenly they realize they have “a Platform,” a new and daunting position of authority. Careful, now.
It’s possible someone may actually read what you say, check out your profile on a social site, and even follow you! What if you let them down? What if your opinion differs from that really popular blogger who has thousands of friends and fans? What if you’re boring, or say the wrong thing and everyone thinks you’re a complete dork?
There, there. it’s not so bad. I’ve been there. I’ve actually had the privilege of being slammed by a popular blogger before. He didn’t say my name, but I could tell from previous correspondence that his derisive comment was meant for me. My fault, I fear. I tried too hard to get his attention with a guest blog post using a style I thought he’d appreciate. Not my own.
The idea was mine, yes, but the delivery — not so much.
You may stumble like this. It’s not uncommon when you’re searching for your voice, but hey, you recover. If you’re reading this right now, I’m guessing you want more engagement. Maybe your strategy is for a well-known colleague or competitor to call you out! There’s no such thing as bad publicity. At least it would bring traffic.
The root of Authentic is the same for the root of authority; from the Greek, it means factual, genuine, original, principle. When you’re shooting to be the authority in something, can you see where faking it might cause a face plant? Note: if you’re an authority at falling flat on your face, you may have a successful and engaging blog there!
In my case, I got no flurry of traffic (no surprise), just a sense of shame at being a bit of a fraud. I learned two lessons: First, for better or worse, no one’s paying much attention to your mistakes when you start. And second, don’t try to “BE like” anything; just be yourself, au naturel, complete with the weird fusion of experiences you bring to the table.
“I don’t know karate, but I know “ka-razy.” And I’m not afraid to use it.” — Roy O’Bannon, Shanghai Noon
Say what comes naturally, shoot from the hip.
One of my favorite movies is Shanghai Noon. The cowboy in the movie Roy O’Bannon is a talker. Not great at shooting a gun; he just likes to look tough. In a standoff with a bad guy, he tries to throw off his opponent and prolong the inevitable with conversation. Shmoozy? You bet, but sometimes it works for him.
Online, real engagement is about dialogue. Not the shmoozy kind, just the kind that keeps the conversation going. How do you start?
Imagine you’re you’re a visitor in a foreign land and you need to find the nearest bus stop. You wouldn’t lurch toward him drooling like a zombie, or grab someone’s arm abruptly and yell your question in their face. They’d run the other way.
Instead you’d offer a warm smile and approach them with a relaxed, unaggressive body language. Maybe your arms would be at your side. Maybe you’d gesture toward the street with a humble, open expression.
Make sure you really have a clue what you are talking about. No faking. Don’t give advice on things you’ve never done before. You’ll just be adding to the Internet glut of specialists and experts who aren’t who they say they are. The way to engage people is to build trust. Don’t be a know-it-all jerk, or put people down because they don’t have the same point of view as you. It’s easier to be helpful with things you do know. Remember transparency (that popular word tossed around by shameless politicians) means you’re an open book. When everyone’s BS detectors are up; honesty really is the best policy.
Respect your audience. Your demographic doesn’t matter. Millennials and young people are marketing-wary. To them, advertising ploys stick out like their mom commenting on Instagram shots. Boomers grew up without instant messaging and “likes.” They, too, are marketing-averse, however they may have more patience as you develop a story. Either way, all ages now know a sheister when they see one. Don’t be that guy or gal.
Offer a solution. With confidence. Why be wishy washy? If you know the answer, land on one side of the fence or the other. Stand for something as you develop you voice. Don’t fear the hecklers and haters. (You can block them, remember.)
Finally, practice: Copywriter Nick Usborne recently wrote an article advising writers to read their copy to a friend or family member to make sure it sounds natural. Again, authenticity resonates when it really sounds like a genuine person talking. Trust and transparency depend on it. You don’t have the luxury of being there in person, like that friendly tourist. You can’t make eye contact and give off all the thousands of physical signals that you’re approachable and trustworthy. All you have is your words.
Take these engagement tips to heart and you’ll disarm and engage the right people online. Fake it, and lose the engagement of your most valuable friends and followers. Build trust that sticks with you for a long time.