One of the things I consistently hear from my clients (and friends for that matter) is that they don’t believe anyone will be interested in what they have to say.
How we produce product x isn’t exactly exciting bedtime reading, they’ll say. For you and I, it may not be, but believe me, there’s something for everyone out there. l know this, simply from the wealth of custom publications that come across my desk each month. Take Potato Grower as an example. While the science of spuds means absolutely nothing to me, it’s probably incredibly engaging for people who’s lives revolve around these little brown bombs.
Sure, it’s no Esquire, but the copy is well written, and the photography is interesting (Read as: not just pictures of roots and dirt.). Best of all, Potato Grower asks for and takes part in -get this- discussions! The magazine focuses on both individual growers and products. It lifts up the common potato farmer onto a pedistal, sounding off on their issues and telling their stories in a very compelling way. Best of all, the magazine embraces the flaws of the industry as well as the successes. That content has kept spud enthusiasts coming back for 38-years.
If potatoes can grab eyeballs and start conversations, it shouldn’t be that difficult for you (or your brand) to strike up a few discussions of your own. How do I do it you ask? In my humble opinion these are the five absolute musts for creating engaging content.
1. Be Human
People read your content, so it follows that you should be able to act and write like a person as well. If you’re writing a blog, whether it’s corporate or not, the authors should present themselves as human beings. If it seems like a strange concept, it shouldn’t be. There are faces behind everything, whether those faces are running a business, government or a household (my wife Vita, for instance, is pretty much the loudest voice behind this particular geek’s domain). Tell me something. Don’t focus on the masses. If you make it personal and human, I’m more likely to comment and a lot more likely to become engaged with your message, your brand and the people that make it special.
2. Ask me what the hell I think!
This applies for anything in life, not just custom content. Whether you’re publishing a magazine, blog or telling a story, you have to ask your audience what it thinks at some point. If you never pose the question, you’re simply an orator, and eventually you’ll lose your audience. Everyone, I mean EVERYONE, has a threshold at which they’ll no longer want to listen to a talking head. If you ask people for input, you’ll get it. It’s a simple concept, but one that is far too often ignored by content providers (especially brands) that think they know what their consumers are thinking.
3. Empower the right voices
I can’t stress the importance of having a strong voice for your content. If you’re launching a new vehicle, I don’t want the message via canned press release, or your graying CEO struggling to climb out of the car. I want the enthusiastic gearhead, an articulate designer or a fanboy presenting it to me and to the world. If your executive set is engaging (Think Steve Jobs of Apple), by all means, let them do their thing. But if you have a boring voice, chances are pretty strong that no one will be paying attention to what you’re saying. Personally, I think Ford Motor Company has done a fantastic job of empowering some amazing voices to help create content and engage both their fans and critics. Yep, I’m talking about Scott Monty. (Eds note: If you don’t read or follow Scott, you’re missing out on a true Social Media/Content soldier).
4. Be topical, but don’t grandstand
I don’t want to read only about your company, your product or you. I want your take on things within your greater industry or organization. I want to know what you think about current issues that may factor into your business or your product. If you’re only talking about what you do, you’re not growing and you’re no longer being a source of information. Remember, we already said we were going to be human in rule number one. Last time I checked, humans were citizens of earth and thus, should reflect the world around them.
5. Have a strategy
So, you have the engagement, you’re a better steward in the fight to keep your customers informed, but that’s really not enough. Make sure you develop a theme or message, one that goes beyond your corporate or personal tagline. Keep your strategy consistent with your vision or the vision of the organization. Again Scott Monty does this incredibly well. On his Twitter feed he keeps his messages personal, but always frames his message with Ford’s vision and tagline in mind. After you read a few of Scott’s tweets, you’ll realize he’s being entirely congruent with Ford’s turnaround plan and really does embody the “Drive One” mentality of today’s Ford Motor Company.
Finally, just remember that once you get the engagement, respond. It’s great that you have a lot of comments, but if you don’t talk back, it’s no longer engagement and it’s certainly not a conversation. Have fun out there.