Tuesday, July 28, 2009

hey, where's my audience? 5 questions

I've been hearing similar questions lately when I speak on social media or on public speaking, and the questions go something like this:
  • "We set up a blog, and we know people are reading it--because they email us their comments. But they won't post their comments on the blog. How do you get people to do that?
  • "How do I handle audiences when they don't agree with the approach I'm trying to get them to take?"
  • "I've got to get more Facebook fans, so I asked my personal friends to sign up as fans of my work page, but they're not signing up. How can I get them to do that?"
  • "I keep asking people to please re-tweet my post on Twitter, but they don't do it. Isn't that impolite?"
Communicators have long known that paying attention to the audience is essential, but never more so than now, when social media gives them more tools and options they can control--and that audience control is changing live-audience expectations for public speakers, I've observed.

If your audiences aren't showing up -- in your comments section, fan page or as an agreeable listener when you speak live -- you may need to reconsider your approach. Ask yourself these questions to get a better handle on your audiences:
  1. Have you made it easy for them to participate, or set up barriers? If your blog requires commenters to register or you won't approve anonymous comments, you'll get far fewer comments--and some will avoid your blog altogether. That holds true in speaking situations, too. If you don't let your audience participate with questions, interruptions or their own observations, you'll get far less feedback and interaction.
  2. Have you forgotten to promote participation to audiences you don't know? A great advantage of social media is the opportunity to find fans you didn't know were there--if you promote your site, blog or page appropriately. A targeted Facebook ad, sharing links on Twitter, some traditional media announcements, and other promotions can help you gather followers from a broader base. You can't just "build it and they will come."
  3. Is it your way or the highway? Listening, discussing and sharing are all hallmarks of social media--and they're fast becoming what audiences expect when they see you in person. That may mean disagreeing with you. You'll be better able to engage a disagreeing audience if you use some of your speaking time to air their views, ask them what they want to hear and make it a discussion. Using a speech, or social networking, as a bully pulpit won't work as well these days. The same goes for re-tweet (forwarding) requests: You can ask, but there's no guarantee others will share it.
  4. Are you giving it enough time? Blogs take time to develop readers, and many readers prefer to remain silent (and enthusiastic). The same is true for any social media application. Don't give up if your first few months go without comments or replies--and don't stop your promotions.
  5. Are you too focused on numbers? Work on the quality of your fan base, not the size, and the numbers will develop on their own. Make sure you're fueling your fan page, Twitter posts or blog with frequent and high-quality content...that's what attracts and keeps audiences.

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