Get Engaged Online! – or – Throw Smarter, Not Harder

On the last Wednesday of each month, Word Chef invites 10-12 top notch small business bloggers to participate in a “Blog Carnival” by contributing posts on a similar topic. This is one of those posts.


Carnival Game Strategy: Throw Harder

Carnival game - ball and milk bottlesGetting prospective customers to engage with you online is one of the core marketing struggles upon which most of the rest of your strategy rests…after all, if nobody’s engaging with you, then who knows or cares what you have to offer? i’ve seen people approach social media marketing like buckshot – or, to carry the carnival analogy, like throwing baseballs at a pyramid of milk bottles: paying to hurl tweets harder and harder at the social web, hoping that a direct hit at full force will win them that gigantic plush customer. Sure, sometimes someone will score a hit, but in the meantime the carnival booth floor is piling up with wasted balls.

Social Media Marketing Strategy: “Throw” Smarter

Robert Berry, fair enthusiast and creator of the pop culture Web site retrocrush.com, has been playing carnival games for years, and knows how to beat most of ’em. For the milk bottle pyramid, he says

Hit the bottom of the pyramid from the side with as much force as possible. And aim for the bottom of the pyramid so you can wipe out the whole thing at once.

(From an Eagle Tribune article in 2007)

Hit It From The Side

partial-logo-guessing-gameOften, getting people to engage means taking a less direct route. For example, i’m a graphic designer: i’ve found it much more engaging to post a close-up photo of part of a big-name logo and ask if anyone can identify it than to say “I DO GRAPHICS! YOU NEED GRAPHICS! EMAIL ME NOW!” :) That’s a silly, extreme example, of course…but you get the point. How to convert those engagements into actual paying customers/clients is another topic. For now, at least you’re talking to someone. A few other ideas:

  • Ask open ended questions. Ask your audience about THEM, rather than telling them about YOU.
  • Post photos and videos, in varying degrees of direct relevance to you or your business. The line between the content and your products/services should exist, but it can be curved, meandering, or even dotted.
  • Share other peoples’ stuff! You don’t have to come up with 100% of the content you pass on to your audience: Browse Facebook in Page mode and Like/Comment/Share things, and retweet great stuff you find on Twitter!

Aim For The Bottom

This doesn’t mean “set the bar low so you’re never disappointed”; it’s more like finding the lowest common denominator: post things that are easy for the broadest possible audience to engage with. In her book The Power of Social Networking, Tara Hunt lists “Design for the broadest community” as one component of becoming rich in social capital, by listening instead of talking. It also means choosing the most powerful responses that require the least amount of precious energy. A few ideas:

  • DON’T always talk about what you do! Mix it up with lighter posts – thoughts, observations, mini-rants…these things are powerfully humanizing and fairly universal. People will resonate with “real life” stuff and they can respond without deep thought, analysis, or research.
  • Share what you learn as you grow your skillset and business. Other people are either on the same curve and will appreciate the help, or will simply recognize someone who’s active and flexible in their field.
  • Watch yourself. Pay attention to the kinds of posts that engage YOU when you’re browsing the web or social media for your own personal interests, and think critically about WHY you felt compelled to interact.
  • Ask for help. If you get stuck, inquire of your audience! There are experts there too, and asking for help shows the same growth and aliveness as sharing an answer.

Don’t Just Start the Conversation: BE the Conversation

The ideas above are just starters, of course…once someone has invested their precious time, thought, and maybe expertise to engage with you, RESPOND! Sometimes a simple Like or Retweet is sufficient, but most times more is needed. Even “Thanks!” or “Great insight!” kicks things up a notch, and requires very little of your time/energy. Point is, blog and social media posts aren’t set-and-forget…you have to watch the conversation so that you can participate in it, which begets more participation.

i hope some of that is helpful to get some conversations started. These types of things are never exhaustive, and other advice may even seem to contradict some of this, because there are lots of variables. What remains constant, however, is that online engagement is about relationships, and that’s about being GENUINE. Don’t be afraid of crickets, either…sometimes a bit of content simply doesn’t get any traction right away (you can always repost it later, or rework it). Just because you know which bottle you’re aiming for doesn’t guarantee you’ll hit it every time. :)

What strategies are working for you to engage with potential customers online? What types of content have you noticed your audience resonating with, and which kinds fall on the floor?


[Here’s that code you’re looking for: MILKBOTTLE. Oh – and if you’re reading this post and wondering what the heck the code is for, click here to join the party.]

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15 Responses to Get Engaged Online! – or – Throw Smarter, Not Harder

  1. LOVE your carnie game metaphor, evan! Hitting it smarter, not harder is such a great tip. I’ve been noticing a lot more marketing messages on Facebook myself and it makes it hard to have fun there when all you see is advertising. The conversations are definitely what we go there for.

  2. evan says:

    Thanks so much, Tea! i wasn’t sure that particular game was gonna be a workable analogy, but it came together. lol

  3. Evan, well done – I really like the analogy!

    I also like your pitch technique – close-up cropped photos of a popular logo (yours is a Ford Mustang, btw). You’re absolutely on the mark when you hint that engagement isn’t about selling. In fact, it’s the complete opposite in my experience.

    I do nothing but teach; 99% of the clients I have came from WOM referrals from someone who took a class of mine. I can live with that kind of return on investment; I call it (and someone else coined this phrasing) the bikini principle. Give 99% of what you do away for free, and charge for the 1% that they really want.

    It’s a business principle that has never failed me, but it does take a bit of finesse on figuring out where the edge of the bikini is.

  4. Clare Price says:

    Evan, great ideas for engagement especially the point about not always talking about what you do and watch yourself. So often forgotten as we try to hard to “get the word out” about our great stuff. My best take away was RESPOND! We all like to know that we are being heard. Clare

  5. Yolanda says:

    Great post! Especially the reminder to share stuff that makes sense for your audience. I consume lots of information but I am careful about what I send back out. Certainly my business owner readers don’t want to know about how to field-strip a Glock, clean it and put it back together… right?

  6. Is it alright to publish part of this on my page if I post a reference to this web blog?

  7. Your Wife says:

    Great article, Honey! You are a great writer, a great business person, and a great husband AND father!

  8. Pingback: How to Engage Your Prospects Online

  9. Pingback: How to Engage with Your Prospects Online | Word Carnivals

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