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Top 4 Ways to Drive Engagement Online - AAN Conference Talk

Written by Andre Gaulin on June 12, 2012

Late last week I took a bit of a road trip to Detroit to speak at the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 35th Annual Conference. The talk focused on easy things any content creator can do in order to drive engagement across their digital properties.

Spawning from a recent Q4 2011 Comscore study, the average North American user is spending upwards of 40 hours online and visiting somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 sites per quarter. If you think of this as their current attention span, it’s critical that content creators are doing everything possible to grab a piece of that attention and hopefully grow engagement over time.  Luckily, there are a lot of things content creators can be doing to focus on engagement.

Ethnographic Research

This may sound foreign to some people, but all it encompasses is spending some quality time to learn as much as you can about your digital audience. As a content creator you want to uncover the repeatable patterns around what your users expect from your digital properties, how they want to utilize your content, and ultimately how to better deliver useful features and functions over time. Once you understand what makes your community of users “tick”, you are able to make much better informed decisions.

Leverage Users Across Mediums

For those that are lucky enough to have cross medium content (e.g. physical magazines, journals, etc.), there is a real opportunity to leverage users across digital and physical mediums. If you can offer your community an opportunity at “15 minutes of fame”, you may have an interesting hook to jump-start some deeper engagement. Something as simple as a tool to share recipes, photos or stories could be just what you need to spark the development of a very engaged community of users. Taking it a step further and using a physical medium to highlight and feature your most active and interesting community members and their contributions can really drive engagement. Hopefully you’ll also use some of your ethnographic research to shed light on this process.

It’s All Social All the Time

Obviously this is no secret and we’ve known about social features for the last few years. Users expect to be able to share and interact with content all across the web. The goal is to streamline the interaction with your content and allow users to engage with it on their terms. Since your content is going to live a life of its own on social networks, giving your users easy access to things like social login authentication features and sharing widgets can be a fairly solid first step at reducing the friction associated with sharing of content. Studies have shown that adding features such as social login can double time spent on a site, which is a key to growing engagement.

Don’t Forget Community Management

As soon as you start to think of your user base as a community, you need to be thinking about community management. Finding ways to interact with the community in a real and authentic way is critical. Community managers need to act as concierge, spam cop, customer support, cheerleaders, and ultimately a real human face in front of your digital offerings. A highly engaged community of users requires nurturing and care which usually requires a very authentic and passionate community manager on the job to make that happen.

Grabbing people’s attention and holding on to it is always going to be challenging. The sooner you can start thinking and acting on ways to understand your user base and offer them features, functions, and content that enhance engagement the better.

Related resources:

About the Association of Alternative Newsmedia conference

From Shel Holtz Communication Blog: Engagement models of the best media companies should inspire content-minded businesses

From Publishing Executive Blog: What Really Makes Your Publication Different? Intellectual Capital


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