Note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
Audience 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 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.)