Audience Engagement for Content Marketing

Note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
8468293074_47d0f3a2ba_hAudience engagement is an art, not a science. You certainly can measure audience engagement — click-through, session duration, social sharing, or something as basic as a headcount. But there is no reliable recipe for generating audience engagement. It’s like trying to write a hit song.

For twenty some odd years, I’ve concerned myself with audience engagement in live theater. As a performer, a playwright, a director, a designer, even a critic, I have spent sleepless nights wrestling with it. It took me years to work up the courage to put an intermission in my plays. I was that concerned with running the risk of losing people.

I’m not going to tell you I have all the answers, but I do have a better than average idea of how to accomplish this. So here we go:

The Feedback Loop

Actors have an uncanny “third eye” that monitors the audience. You can tell when you’re losing an audience. You hear more shuffling around, coughing; the silhouettes you can make out in the dark are slumped over. Actors can make micro-adjustments moment to moment to recapture the audience’s lagging attention.

In content marketing, the feedback loop is (thankfully) far more defined. Monitor your audience. Become an analytics nut. See what works, what doesn’t, and adjust. Constantly adjust.

Dramatic Tension

Dramatic tension is the interplay between an audience’s expectations and the unknown, multiplied by the stakes. A riveting performance, that series you keep tuning into, the page-turner — they all share this same thing. You have certain expectations, based on your knowledge of story, and those expectations are running up against what you just don’t know. When a character or performer’s life is on the line, the tension is drawn even tauter.

What does this mean for you? Consider what your followers expect you to say. How can you cultivate their expectations for your brand, and then defy those expectations with something better than they anticipated?

This could be as simple as deviating from your standard editorial calendar. Disrupting your own pace and rhythm with a surprise flourish, such as an infographic or video content. Building to the release of an eBook by dropping tantalizing teases that only hint at what’s to come.

As for translating the stakes part of the equation, take a risk. Color outside the lines just a bit. Step outside your comfort zone, and it will manifest as an increase in dramatic tension.

Convey, Don’t Display

You’re not in the marketing business, you’re in the storytelling business. We are social animals, and we respond to narrative. A skilled juggler who runs through her tricks may be interesting. A skilled juggler who shapes those tricks into a narrative is engaging.

Spend time on your editorial calendar. Determine your story arc for the year; the theme you want to convey. Every status update, blog post, Instagram pic, etc. should build towards and support that story arc. Unfold the story of your brand, don’t just tell us what you’re about. Metaphor and simile is more effective than the blunt end of a declarative statement. It is the difference between settling into a hot bubble bath, and being blasted by a fire hose.

The Struggle Is Real

Like I said at the outset, this is a subject I have concerned myself with for a long time. My last bit of advice is to spend every moment you can obsessing over audience engagement. Or better yet, hire someone to do that obsessing for you. (I am in the market, by the way.)

photo credit: “audience” by Marc Cornelis. Licensed under CC by 2.0.

Rhapsody for Angels

LosAngelesGetty
Los Angeles (part of it) as seen from the Getty Center
This town is restless;
relentless.
 
Glowing bright from the aggregate
of millions of individual souls
burning themselves out.
Some burn brighter than others.
Come for the dreams, stay for the work.
 
It’s a blue collar town.
Our nouveau riche pay top dollar
to manicurists
who scrape the shit and dirt out
of recently ascendant fingernails.
 
Our lowest gutters are steps away
from our loftiest heights,
and the transition between the two
(or complete lack thereof)
has driven people mad.
 
It’s a citadel with self-healing teflon walls.
And there are walls within walls.
It is a zigurat;
a tower of Babel;
a temple of the profane and a sanctified bordello.
 
It’s a western town.
Wild,
uncontainable as all outdoors,
sprawling
endlessly.
It won’t be fenced in.
 
It’s a storyteller’s town. A myth-maker’s town.
An unreliable narrator.
 
It’s a town that everyone
who has never been here
knows everything about,
and those who call it home
will never fully understand.
 
It’s a town where
the idea of the place
lives simultaneously with
the reality,
and the two may overlap at points
or stay
galaxies
apart.
 
This town will give you blisters,
but you’ll never walk anywhere.
 
This town will stay with me
like a limp
or an accent.
 
It may take a lifetime
to fully appreciate
everything it has given,
and everything it has taken away.
 
This town is just a place
on a map,
not some mythological land,
or “wretched hive.”
 
And for we lucky few,
even for the briefest of moments,
it’s been a home.

Waking Thoughts

The strangest things occur to me first thing in the morning. Here are some of those things.

They say, “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” But what if the sin is their only endearing feature?

Hipsters are like the Reavers on Firefly. In their madness, they do it to themselves.

You know how sometimes you’re like, “I had a weird-ass dream last night”? Wouldn’t it be funny if it was literally a dream where you had a weird ass? For instance, if your crack ran side-to-side.

Arguments over the definition of “professional” are sooo amateur.

Red Bullfighting. Get a couple of people all jacked up on Red Bull and turn them loose.

Christopher Cross should have done a crossover with Kris Kross before Chris Kelly crossed over.

Count Dracula is crate trained.

I try not to hold a grudge, but I remain bitterly disappointed that at no point in the movie Kiss the Girls did Morgan Freeman ask for a list of all sex offenders within the state named “Georgie Porgie.”

“In Soviet Russia, Cat Saves You! A Screenwriting Guide by Yakov Smirnoff”

A bumper sticker for turtles: “If this shell’s a-rockin’, that’s because I’m masturbating.”

Have you hit that level of social anxiety disorder where you look up the identifying markers of the disorder to make sure you’re presenting enough of them so that people realize you suffer from social anxiety disorder and aren’t just being a dick when you up and leave their party? (oh gawd, i hope that’s not just me.)

Internet quiz: “Girding Your Loin Or Loaning Your Girdle? Take Our Quiz To Determine Your Real Gender!”

The worst thing about a heat wave is getting Rob Thomas stuck in your head.

You know, that poop emoji looks awful full of itself.

We should name our footwear like people used to name their swords. Your right flip flop is “Spider Slayer,” your left croc is “Reckoning for Roaches,” etc.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If things are tight right now, just get a dimebag of prevention. That will only put you back four ounces of cure.

After a long day, Farmer Brown is loading his livestock back into the barn for the night. The last one in is his old milk cow. He says to her, “Get on in there, bossy.” The cow stops, indignant. She turns to Farmer Brown and exclaims, “MOOOOOOSOGYNIST!”

Charles Eames: “People ask me all the time, ‘Charles, why the chair?’ To which I reply, ‘Have you seen me? I’m a giant. If I didn’t sit down, I’d fall down.’ And so they ask, ‘Then why are you always photographed standing?’ To which I reply, ‘Shut up.'”

The Escape Club should shoot a PSA warning up-and-coming one hit wonders against tying their one hit to a flip of the calendar. “‘Living in the eighties,’ indeed,” says a steely-eyed Trevor Steele, as some weird arm bird flaps behind him. “Living in the eighties, and headed for obscurity.”

You know how there are international symbols for things like “No Smoking” or “Wheelchair Accessible”? I wonder if there is one for “Do Not Disturb.” It should be a pictograph of a bottle of Jergens and a box of tissues.

In Moments

I watch you in moments

taking you in
focused, intent, a slight furrow
in your brow

You purse your lips
slightly
golden strands, and copper
glance softly off your sun-kissed cheek

These silent moments
are the realest
Sharing space
and a location in time
with you

I reach out to touch
your back
my hand seems so large
Fingertips trace lazy circles
up to your neck
and cool skin absorbs
my warmth

Your soft sigh
of contentment
speaks for me

“I think of Sarah. The rest is easy.”

gordon-and-sarah
Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns

Valentine’s Day has just passed, another day of loving ovations and broken hearts. My wife and I spent the day job hunting (me), house hunting (her), and packing up our worldly belongings (both of us). As of this past Tuesday, we are in our final two weeks as Angelenos. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the least bit anxious, yet overall I feel eerily calm.

Spending our Valentine’s Day together, preparing for our impending move was our kind of romance, and it may help explain the gusto with which we are embracing this huge change. You can draw considerable power from a functional relationship. As far as I’ve been able to tell so far, it’s an endless supply.

Commissioner Gordon gets it. In this sequence from Frank Miller’s masterpiece, The Dark Knight Returns, an old and retired James Gordon is being hunted by a gangbanger. His instincts fully intact, he draws upon the only strength he needs to answer the challenge.

There is considerable trust and communication in our marriage, and each feeds the other. The more we trust, the more we communicate. The more we communicate, the more we trust. It’s a perpetual motion machine. I know she has my back, and she knows I have hers.

The rest is easy.

The Bare Facts on Modern Nudism

As published in the Summer 2015 issue of Bachelor Pad Magazine: Nightcap Edition.

by Mr. Snapper

It is an objective, observable fact that volleyball is the sport of choice among the nudist set. There’s something freeing about letting your boingy bits bounce in the breeze as you smack that ball around. And who doesn’t enjoy observing the organically grown (or, for that matter, artificially enhanced) aesthetics of a human mammal in action?

And yet, why do those unabashed babes and boys feel the need to frolic and prance away from where prying eyes spy?  Since the 1930s, Americans have wandered off into the great outdoors to congregate together in the altogether. Both in private nudist colonies and public parks and beaches, you just know those nutty, naked cultists are up to no end of naughty hijinks, most likely set to the tune of “Yakkity Sax.”

At least, that’s the perception many of the textile set have of us nudists. In reality, it is not as “pinch and tickle” as all that. Nude is not necessarily lewd, as they say, but it can be enormously fun.

I like to be naked with my wife, Red Snapper. It’s not what you think … well, actually, it is exactly what you think, at least part of the time. But aside from “Mommy and Daddy time,” we enjoy bathing in the sun and air, free from the swaddlings society insists we wear in polite company.

You may be surprised to learn that California, with its reputation for easy-going, cultural taboo-breaking, sun-worshipping hippyness, is incredibly prudish when it comes to simple, non-sexual nudity.

Our adopted hometown of Los Angeles, in particular, has one of the most restrictive nudity laws on the books. The ordinance reads like the “no-no” section of Grey’s Anatomy (going so far as to list both “pubic hair” and “pubic hair region,” just to be safe). The City Council put the kibosh on skinny dipping in 1974, following a campaign led by the local Catholic Cardinal.

For the law-abiding nudist, where do you get bare? Certainly, there are a number of private resorts that cater to the unapologetically undressed, but what about publicly accessible naked places for the more casual nudist on a budget?

There are two freely accessible and legal public places near Los Angeles where one may greet the fresh air and sunshine in a full-body hug: Blacks Beach in San Diego, and Deep Creek Hot Springs in Apple Valley. Since Red and I are planning a quick Blacks Beach excursion during Tiki Oasis (the beach is a short drive away), this past spring we thought we would let it all hang out in the National Park to our north.

A hundred miles to our north. Easily a two and a half hour drive from Los Angeles, Deep Creek Hot Springs follows the grand tradition of naked places that are well off the beaten path. But before you get to the bone-jarringly bumpy gravel road that takes you from civilization to au naturale paradise, you must first traverse the very well beaten path that leads from the City of Angels to Sin City. You must plan carefully, lest you find yourself in bumper-to-bumper Vegas traffic on the 15.

Eventually, we parked our car and began the two mile hike to the spring. Two miles isn’t bad. Two miles plus a 900 foot change in elevation is a bit of a work out. And keep in mind, the hike is downhill on the way in, uphill on the way out.

But is it ever worth it! Deep Creek Hot Springs is a little slice of paradise. After crossing through the desert, we found ourselves in an oasis surrounded by wild desert greenery and the delightfully cool waters of the creek itself. The hot springs are on the other side of the creek, and range in temperature from amusingly tepid to lobster-boil hot. Red was particularly fond of the waterfall that fell from the hot springs to the creek below.

The day we went to Deep Creek, I was alarmed at the number of people who kept their “shame” wrapped up for none to see. Honestly, if you’re making the trip, avail yourself of the full experience. Or, if you will, the full frontal experience. Carpe diem, and all that. The thought of visiting a nudist locale might make you titter, and you may think you lack the cockiness to strut your stuff out in the open. Trust me when I say the hardest thing you’ll encounter is getting there. All the rest is as easy as pie.