The idea that you need to have an engaged audience isn’t anything new at this point.
We know. We get it.
We’re doing it, already!
We know that people buy things from people they like, and the key to getting blog visitors to liking you is engaging with them until you’re not just a name on a screen – but a real person.
Once you do this you can look forward to unlimited business success because now that your readers are engaged, you know exactly what they want!
Wait a second - I think we missed a step there.
All the engagement in the world isn’t going to do you a lick of good unless you can leverage that into information about what your audience wants and needs from you.
And that’s not quite as easy as replying to your blog comments…
The Gap Between Engagement and Information
The reason people have so much trouble getting from engagement to usable information is that there aren’t really any hard and fast rules for how to do solid audience research without seriously depleting your bank of social capital.
You see, asking a question that could lead to the development of the product or service that you want to provide is a commitment you need your audience to make and for which they will expect a reward – or plenty of time consuming your regular content before you ask for anything else (like a sale!)
This will not do for a busy blog owner, so you need to make providing that information the reward in and of itself. Here are a few ways to do that:
Surveys Can Delight and Fascinate
This is an oldie, but a goodie. A well-constructed survey that applies a few gamification principles will have you up to your ears in useful data.
The principles that you want to keep in mind are hope, surprise and reward. Respondents need to hope that their answer is the most popular – the winner. You can do this by having the results appear atomically after voting occurs. They want to be surprised by the results, and fascinated by their implications, which means that it should be very clear to them why they’re providing this information and what to expect as a result of doing so. Finally, they need reward and recognition, or a more straight-up prize to make them feel as if their investment of time was worthwhile. This changes the situation from a favor that they’re doing, into an opportunity that you’re giving them.
Twitter Chats Make it Real
Twitter has myriad uses, but one of the newer and more interesting ones is live twitter chats with an expert, blogger or other person of interest leading a real-time discussion with many audience members. This is a potential information goldmine!
The first thing you want to do is choose your topic. This can be related to the specific information you want, or the general topic of your blog. Select a hashtag for the chat -the shorter the better, and it should be pretty obvious what it stands for. You’ll also want to choose a time for the chat, and let your followers know! Making a note on your blog header, or in your emails will remind people of these vital details.
Next, you need to decide on how you want the chat to be formatted. Question and answer? Series of questions, open answering? Blocks of time for each question? Free for all? More structure tends to be easier for people just getting into twitter chats.
Make sure that whatever format you choose – you design a question or two that will give you the kind of information you’re really looking for, as well as those that will captivate the interest of participants.
Reward Engaged Readers with Comment Competitions
If a thriving email list is the heart of a good blog, then the comments sections is the lifeblood. Comments are the best way for audience members to interact with each other. You want to encourage this behavior, and incentivize readers to go ever further.
You can do this with comment ranking – allowing readers to up and down vote each other’s responses, or you can reward regular, high-quality commenters with badges, titles and comment counts. These are awards that people appreciate and make them more inclined to live up to.
It can also be fun to give a random (or regular!) prize or giveaway to people who make really excellent, insightful comments – and do it publicly so that everyone else knows what you think makes a comment valuable. (This is where you get into rewarding the behavior – like providing information about problems and wants – that is the most useful to you.)
Likewise – recognizing a commenter of the month for their contributions could become a well-enjoyed feature that your readers – many of whom will likely have blogs themselves, will be thrilled to receive.
Facebook Pages and Groups Are Places for Community
People interact differently with Facebook than they do with other social media platforms – it’s more personal. This means you can use your Facebook page to get highly involved in your reader’s life.
While Twitter is for updates, Facebook can be for feelings, and if it’s a viable part of your business plan, you can get much closer to your followers on Facebook than you can elsewhere.
You can find out what their days are like- what their interests outside of your blog are – and you can use that to ask them questions about themselves that normally, wouldn’t be possible or appropriate. Too often, blogs’ or companies’ Facebook pages are all about promotion when they could and should be all about community. People share in a community what they won’t with a brand, so you can research many aspects of your visitors just by engaging with them naturally.
Our students at Firepole Marketing get a great deal of benefit out of the Facebook Groups we create for them to meet, network with and pick the brains of each other. You can use a similar set-up to spend more time talking with your audience casually, and the closer you become with them as individuals, the more you’re going to learn about their wants and needs.
Launch Yourself to Dinner Party Discussion Through Games
When you’re ready to really become a topic of conversation for your audience – you want to get them to play with you. Contests and Competitions are brilliant in terms of increasing engagement, loyalty, and you can create specific tasks and challenges that will require them to answer the questions you need the most.
How exactly your format any contest or competition will depend on your audience, and how they feel about that type of engagement, but commenting, guest posting and social media sharing are all good places to start. You can make it more interactive as well – create teams and forums for ease of communication, get people to produce and share multi-media… there are very few limits here. Any type of engagement can be hugely effective.
Make sure to include criteria about getting that info you want.
Prizes and Rewards are important to consider here. While the sharing of insights is great motivation for many – some will be more likely to pony up the info for a chance at a cash prize. Hey – didn’t we mention something about surveys…
Take It Up To 11
When it comes time to start making decisions about what to offer your customers for sale – having the right audience research at your disposal is absolutely priceless, but that doesn’t mean it needs to come at the cost at wearing out your good will with your community!
When you can add elements of fun to your information gathering, you’re achieving several major goals at the same time.
You’re engaging and building strong relationships with your readers.
You’re getting the information you need to create products and services that they’ll be anxious to purchase from you.
And you’re making yourself not just a source of information, but a source of fun, interest and stories to talk about with all of their extended networks. And that’s just for starters. You can read Tea’s Awesome Engagement Strategies contest entry for even more gamification examples that you can start applying to increase your engagement, and build your relationships today.