How to Consistenly Engage Well Online

Posted by Howard Kang, Ignition Officer

Want to know how to consistently engage well online? Want to know how you should respond to comments, craft great e-mails, know great, valuable and relevant content to post, etc.? The solution isn’t as hard as you imagine. In fact I can fit it into three words (technically, two): face to face.

What do I mean by face to face? Imagine every scenario as if you’re standing with whoever you’re talking to face to face. How would you talk to them? What would you share with them? What would your tone be? What would you try to express? Getting into that mindset helps us understand how to write to our audience. I think sometimes we get caught up in the thought that we’re communicating with technologies instead of people. Well, I’ll just break that myth right now – we’re talking with people not computers.I think Robert W. Bly, a great copywriter puts it well here:

“The Internet has not changed human nature, nor does people’s buying psychology change simply because they are reading your message online instead of offline.”

I agree and disagree with what he said. The message definitely needs to match the medium (as the social web has shifted the way we communicate), but his argument stands where he contends that at the end of the day, we’re talking with people and human are still humans whether “they read your message online instead of offline.”

The way we would treat people face to face while representing our institution must translate into what we do on the web. When taking time to empathize, understand who we’re talking with, and remembering that we’re talking with people, we will be able to provide better value and authenticity in our communications.

Here are a few examples:

Scenario 1: E-Mail Subject Lines + Body

You’re trying to craft a great e-mail and you want it to really grab attention and provide great information in the body. You consider having a subject line IN ALL CAPS. It grabs attention, looks different and also signifies importance and urgency. The face to face rule translates to a different scenario. I am standing in front of you and I’m shouting, “I HAVE AN IMPORTANT THING TO TELL YOU!” In real life when somebody you don’t know well shouts at you it’s rarely positive. In fact, most strangers that have yelled at me have been one of two things: crazy or having a really bad day.

Now, onto the body. You’re traditionally told that the body of the e-mail has to be really short because nobody wants to pay attention and they just want short spurts of information in one bite. Face to face speaks a bit to the contrary. If somebody is telling you something truly valuable and interesting, would you not pay attention? Would you not want the whole story and seek more information? Also, consider how face to face interaction works. You understand the person and what would be interesting and tangible for them.

Thinking face to face dictates that our e-mail subject line is personal, engaging and draws people in through sparking curiosity. Within the body of the e-mail face to face says that the content depends on who we’re talking with. When a story or conversation provides value, is interesting, or entertaining we pay attention. Being strictly sold to in person usually isn’t acceptable. We need to build relationships first, correct? Then it isn’t appropriate just because it’s an e-mail.

Scenario 2: Responding to Facebook Comments

Somebody post to your Facebook Fan Pages wall, “I just got my acceptance!!! I’m really excited to come here this fall!!!” Many administrators of fan pages don’t respond. From the face to face perspective, that’s like somebody coming into your office, exclaiming their excitement, and being ignored. That isn’t acceptable.

What about questions that come in? If somebody asked you about clubs on your campus, would you point them to a brochure or would you acknowledge them, talk to them, and provide them some resources to turn to?

Scenario 3: Negative Feedback

Imagine how you would respond if somebody was fuming and angry in your office. How would you respond? Likely you would be authentic, acknowledge the situation, and do what you could to make it better. The same applies for online communication.

Face to face will not always guarantee success, but I think it puts us in the best mindset possible when engaging online. What are your thoughts and experiences? Do you agree?

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  1. Great and interesting post! I think the face to face approach works really well for responsive communications where we, as a brand or institution, are answering questions or engaging with a community member who has initiated a discussion.

    However, I don’t think this comparison works as well for communications that we are starting. A quick look at any email campaigns open rates would show that our audience doesn’t have the same attention span with email as they would in person. They delete or quickly scan our message and move on to the next. We should still keep the language comfortable and informative, like you would in a face to face interaction, but I think we must accept and acknowledge the different attention spans in order to be successful.

    If you’re using an email campaign to open a dialogue and foster a relationship, than it’s important that your first “hello” isn’t a monologue. Share some information, keep it short and give plenty of time to listen.

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