Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Lather-Rinse-Repeat Approach To Being A Master Engager

People who are charismatic, personable, and are able to effortlessly draw people to them usually have one thing in common: They understand what it takes to be engaging, and they have it set to automatic.  When we think of these people, we typically think of celebrities, politicians, and others in the public eye.  These folks are successful at cultivating their persona through their appearance, speech, and engagement skills.  You just know when you run into these folks.  They make a strong impact and they're unforgettable.

So how can the rest of us engage at the same level and be able to do so consistently?

Learn how to properly ask questions.  

Sounds simple enough, but first I want to list a few reasons why proper use of questions are important for engagement:
  • It demonstrates genuine interest in who you're speaking with.
  • It puts you in a better position to understand.
  • It facilitates conversation, which encourages discussion.
  • It promotes the exchange of new ideas.
  • It aids in diagnosing a problem.
  • It allows you to control the direction of the conversation.
  • It positions you as a brilliant conversationalist.
The list does go on, but the above should be enough to encourage you to incorporate questions into even your most everyday interactions.  So then, how best to use questions to maximize engagement?

Be genuine.  Don't ask questions just for the sake of asking a question.  Authenticity in your questions stems from a genuine interest in the person you're speaking with.  Just remember that no person is 100% uninteresting.  There should be at least 1 thing about each person you interact with that is worthy of further questioning.  If finding something interesting with someone you're talking to is a chronic issue, you might want to check out an earlier post about curiosity and the value of nurturing a curious mindset.

The goal within the goal here is to be observant and receptive to your audience.

Keep questions open-ended.  Make it easy for people to open up and talk about themselves.  Remember, everyone has an opinion and most are only too happy to share.  Initially, it's a good idea to focus on questons that solicit opinions instead of facts.  Questions eliciting facts tend to be more limiting due to the right/wrong component that's built in to it (and also comes across as interrogatory).  Questions on opinions keeps the responses subjective and will tend to shed more light about the person you're talking to.  Some great questions to use typically begin with:

  • What do you think of...?
  • What are your thoughts on...?
  • How do you feel about...?
  • How do you see yourself...?
  • What's your opinion on...?
The goal within the goal here is to seek to understand.

Listen actively.  Maintain your focus on their response to your question.  If done correctly, this should uncover further questions, which will only render the conversation more effortless.  Unfortunately, most people tend to worry about what they're going to say next that they miss a lot of what is being said.  Closed-ended questions are great to use here to confirm understanding or to help clarify a point.

The goal within the goal here is to identify areas where you can be most valuable to your audience.

Technology, in and of itself, doesn't make you more personable, interesting, or likeable.  Being genuinely interested in people, even if you don't always see eye-to-eye, does.  Facebook, Twitter, etc, only amplifies your personality (or lack thereof) to other people. 

I'd love to hear some of your favorite techniques to build audience engagement.  Please share in the comments below!

Also read: How Are You Engaging Your Customers?

Image source: jscreationzs /

Monday, February 20, 2012

Is Social Media Burnout A Rite Of Passage?

It's out of control.  You know what I'm talking about, I'm sure.  Always having to be 'on'.  After all, social media never sleeps, right?  You've decided that your business would be better served by becoming social and now it seems like it's taking on a life of it's own.  Social media doesn't recognize bankers hours, or holidays, or vacations.

It doesn't help that it seems like every day there's a new social platform being released which only adds to the noise we're already inundated with.  Dabney Porte mentioned in her post the importance of knowing your social media objectives and planning your social schedule.  This helps tame the beast in several ways:

Know what to say no to.
With so many new platforms and 'shiny new things' out there, it's easy to lose focus and spend a great deal of time being distracted.  By truly understanding your social media objectives, you position yourself to focus only on tools that will further those objectives.  This then makes it easier to NOT be so enamored with pretty new things that are just going to waste your business resources (read: time AND money AND sanity).

More is not better, consistency is.
I learned this the hard way.  The (incorrect) objective then was for me to be involved with every single new piece of technology out there and maximize each one to capacity.  Needless to say, I hit the wall rather quickly.  I have since learned to stay within my vertical and focus on blogging on things that I've experienced firsthand.  This allows me to work within a schedule that is comfortable for me while still adding value to my audience AND avoiding the burnout trap.  As Liz Strauss advises, everything in moderation.

Burnout is the enemy of creativity.
Just like tweeting while under the influence is a really bad idea, so is carrying out your social duties when you're burnt out.  Your audience can see it a mile away because your attempt at engagement will lack genuineness.  Save everyone the trouble and if you know you're burnt out, take time off.  Get recharged, even if it means getting behind.  Then, when you're back, scale back.  We all have our limits, only you know what yours are.

My weekend was spent recharging.  Were you able to do the same or were you 'working'?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Social Media like it's 2012

Quite often when speaking with clients, I run into folks who are more than intrigued about social media.  They hear about it everywhere they go and understand that they need to integrate it into their strategy, but somehow they're not sure about how it's supposed to work or what they're supposed to do.

I see examples of misuse where various SM platforms are used just like how one would a bus bench, or a billboard.  Essentially, folks are adopting new digital media tools whilst employing traditional marketing techniques.     

Don't get me wrong, I give props to those who have the courage to embrace change, especially in this field.  Social media can be confusing, at best, especially when you're new to it.  My friend Gene Kilgore would say to me, "Sometimes you just gotta put the saddle on the horse and go for it".  Therefore, to help with the transition, I thought it would be best to describe how it works using an analogy most of us can relate to:


You heard right.  Most of us have been to a party or a get-together (some of us more than others).  For those that haven't, well, you'll just have to take my word for it (and see about getting invited to a few).  With that context in mind, I'm going to draw some parallels:

1. You're the host/hostess.
Every party has a person that organizes and hosts the party.  That person is you.  You're hosting this party in hopes of meeting new people, networking, and making new connections.  You realize that you're not going to click with every single person at the party, but there's also a good chance of forging some good long-term friendships.

2.  Parties & get-togethers take place in different venues.
There's Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, etc.  You don't need to host every single party out there, just the ones that make sense for you and your business.  Not everyone will respond to your invitation to your party, by the way.  The ones that find your party interesting will either follow, like, circle, or subscribe to you, depending on the venue. 

3.  Be a compelling & gracious host/hostess.
Acknowledge & interact with your guests.  Try not to monopolize any one guest to the exclusion of others.  Circulate.  Mix.  Participate.  Boring parties tend to lose people.  Lively parties attract people and helps spread the word.  Offer to help, connect & introduce people to each other.  Try to refrain from giving everyone that comes into your party your business card & your sales pitch, only do so if someone asks for the information.  Nothing kills a party faster than a host with commission breath!  

4.  Always thank your guests!
Your guests have taken time out of their busy schedule to join your party, thank them publicly.  Don't worry if people leave your party either.  The party may just not be a good fit for them!  

Now that you're in the party spirit, what plans do you have to liven up your party??

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

5 key habits to supercharge your engaging skills

It is a known fact that engaging your customer is critical to the success of your social media efforts.  It's the human side of the equation, regardless of which social media tool(s) you decide to use.  With that in mind, I decided to break down a few simple habits which, when practiced consistently, should increase your level of engagement substantially.

Although the habits listed below are proven to be effective IRL, they can be used just as effectively in your online interactions as well.  The habits are listed in no particular order, they are all powerful, yet simple to apply.  Ready?  Here we go!

  • Be curious - This should automatically be your mindset whenever you're looking to engage someone.  Not only does it put you in an inquisitive frame of mind, it also prepares you for opportunities that may arise during the interaction.  People can sense when you're genuinely curious and interested in what they have to say, even online, which puts them at ease and encourages them to open up.  Just remember your ABC's, "Always Be Curious".  
  • Learn to ask the right questions - The goal here is to interact with your customers, not to interrogate them.  People love to talk about themselves and their experiences, so make sure that your open-ended questions are relevant to your audience.  Great questions get people thinking and help propel the conversation.  Regular tweets, for example, provide a great opportunity to practice this habit and helps to embed your brand in your audiences mind. 
  • Listen - With all the noise from various social media platforms, this is probably the toughest habit on the list.  Getting your customer to interact with you is no easy task to begin with, so when your customer responds, you want to listen.  Learn to develop active listening skills by asking clarifying questions and repeating back what you heard.  This is more important in social media, where misunderstandings can easily arise due to the absence of nonverbal cues.  Also, people can be reluctant to share a problem or issue with you, so listening to what isn't being said is just as critical.  
  • Keep an open mind - It's human nature to judge, be quick to dismiss, or assume.  If you're compelled to give in to human nature, take this as an opportunity to add to your knowledge base by staying open to unexpected ideas.  I have learned that people don't always respond the way that I expect them to, or share the same opinions as I have.  These instances provide a great opportunity for me to enjoy a different point of view.  Oftentimes, it's after being able to suspend judgment that I'm better able to understand the reason for the disparity of opinions.  
  • Be grateful - There are a lot of things that have to be right for a customer to be willing to open up and interact with you.  Honestly, they're not obligated to do so.  The fact that they're willing to take time out of their day and interact with you, giving you feedback, is something that every company should be grateful for.  Always show gratitude in all your interactions.  It doesn't cost anything extra, it adds value to the interaction, and it brings good karma.  What are some creative ways that you show or express gratitude to your customers?   

    Oftentimes, we get caught up in the headlines touting the newest tech gadget, social network, app, etc., that we push aside the human element in it all.  It's good to step back occasionally and remind ourselves that the endgame here is still to interact with people.  These 5 habits have helped me in my own personal journey.  

    What are some of the habits you rely on when engaging your audience? 

      Wednesday, July 13, 2011

      How are you engaging your customers?

      I decided to step out of my usual self and decided to look at social media from the other side, the consumer's point of view.  Not that I'm not a consumer myself, but I wanted to get a more objective view.  I wanted to get a better read on how it feels to be truly engaged by a company.  To be honest, I was drawing a blank.  Other than companies that typically do business online, I couldn't think of one company that is trying to engage me via social media.  Now I'm thinking of restaurants, retail stores, service-oriented companies, those types of businesses.  Local businesses that can benefit by using social media tools to engage local customers.  None.

      Now on the flip side, I get loads of folks trying to engage me who are in the social media industry.  Whether it's an SEM/SEO company, bloggers, marketing companies, that sort of thing.  But then again, this is what they do, so it makes sense.  But none of the other sectors appear to be equally represented.  I do see ads for these other sectors on Google, Facebook, Groupon, and so on, but that's all they are.  They're just ads.  No engagement whatsoever.  Maybe it's still too early for them, too complicated, or too much of an unknown?  I doubt it.  These business must be hiding under a rock to not realize the potential social media has to offer.

      There are instances where certain sectors have a high level of engagement.  The food truck industry is a good example.  There are also a handful of other sectors that have benefited from using social media to engage their client base.  But I notice that these are more the exceptions, for now.

      These are some things that would engage me as a customer:

      • Questions - Light, open-ended, rhetorical.  No polls.  Just to get me thinking and nothing else.
      • Ideas - Little ideas that are relevant to me (and in areas where the company is an expert) and would make my life easier.
      • Invites - Special events, tastings, naming a new dish, etc.  Give me an opportunity to have a little involvement somehow.
      • Feedback - Ask for feedback, but only after all of the above are done.  Reserve this for the very last.
      What engages you might differ from my list above, but the main idea is to engage the customer regularly using little bursts of relevant communication and involvement.  Ironically, it seems as if the goal of engaging customers is temporarily hampered by the proliferation of technology.  I'm looking forward to seeing more local businesses engage their customers via social media.

      It's normal to get enamored with all the bells and whistles of the newest tech gadget or app, but when the dust settles, it's still about building and maintaining customer relations.  Oftentimes that endgame gets lost in all the noise.

      How are you best engaged?

      Thursday, July 7, 2011

      The secret to gaining influence

      I've been thinking for some time now about Klout scores and influence in general.  And just so we're on the same page, a Klout score is a metric of one's overall online influence.  The score can range anywhere between 1-100 and is calculated by using over 35 different variables.  According to Klout, this score then represents the degree to which a person engages their audience and also the size of the impact the message has.  Pretty nifty gadget for seeing how different people rate as far as online influence goes.  

      But then, I was wondering.  Would Klout scores only be valid for online influence, or would it also give us an accurate picture of how influential they are IRL?  In other words, would you be able to roughly assess a persons score in a face to face interaction with them and would that number roughly coincide with their actual Klout score?   We understand that celebrities, athletes, and public figures typically have high scores due to their visibility, but does that make you want to do business with them more than someone with a low score?  Does that make you trust their opinions or recommendations more?  At what point does it begin to become a popularity contest?

      To be fair, I'm going further than just talking about Klout scores.  I'm more interested in what it represents.  I perceive someone influential as having the ability to persuade another towards a certain opinion or behavior.  Therefore, should I be interacting with someone truly influential, I should be compelled to take a course of action or espouse an opinion which I wouldn't consider doing otherwise.  And to do so willingly after a healthy interaction with the influencer.  Think of your best friend inviting you to a movie, even though you really weren't thinking of going in the first place.  Is she an expert on movies?  Is she coercing you?  Does she have a high Klout score?  As your best friend, all those things are immaterial.  You decide to go, largely because the relationship is there.  In this case, she is your influencer.

      After all, you wouldn't make a decision to date someone based on their Klout score, would you?

       Key to becoming an influencer then, is forging relationships.  Often, the focus is on influencing via the various social media tools readily available to anyone with a computer.  A more effective approach would be in utilizing these social media tools to create and foster new relationships and connections, letting the influencing be a natural by-product.  Social networking opens up opportunities for us to connect with those we otherwise wouldn't be able to connect with.  Just like any other relationship, it takes work, especially online.  But if done with care, these new connections will begin to look to you as their influencer.

      I like what companies like Klout are doing, but I think it is one factor out of many when determining influence. The scores help narrow down the field and provide a starting point.  The fact is that social media tools are the way of the future, but they are no substitute for human relationships no matter how sophisticated the metric.

      Let me know your thoughts.