Don’t sound like your mother: How to engage in online conversations

As a mother of three, I spend a considerable amount of time begging or demanding that someone listen to me.

Most times, it doesn’t happen. On the rare occasions when it does, I quickly fling my plea and/or directive into the void, hoping it will stick somewhere. Realistically, I know I have a limited window until the light saber or juice box beats me.

Lately I’ve seen some familiar nagging invade my online communities. We all love our mothers, but let’s reconsider if it makes sense to sound like them online. Here are a few common conversational gambits you may recognize:

  • You’re going to wear *that* to school? Pre-judgments are rarely correct, but we human beings enjoy flogging stereotypes anyway. Stop pretending you know how people will act and start listening to what they are really saying. (There are plenty of free tools to get you started, from old fashioned Google Alerts to Facebook Conversation Monitoring to Backtype.)
  • Don’t play with scissors, you’ll lose an eye: Does your thought leadership strategy rely on the power of fear? Fright is a powerful motivator for almost any audience, but I don’t think most folks will enter into a lasting relationship if they feel scared. If you describe a major risk, you’ll get an initial bump in attention, but it’s unlikely to last.
  • If you don’t finish your homework, you are grounded: Limited offers and repeated push emails with deadlines start to feel like empty and annoying threats. If people chose not to respond to your poll, quiz or survey the first time, don’t expect the third and fourth requests to change the situation.
  • You need to clean your plate! I’ll admit to saying this one to my kids on more than one occasion. But the B2B social media communities I participate in appreciate restraint. Instead of an “all you can eat” strategy, design programs that offer “a la carte” calls to action that allow your user to make choices. Subscribe to blog? Download white paper? Lead generation form? Let them follow the path that makes sense to them.
  • I’m going to pull the car off at the next exit if you two don’t stop bickering: Rodney King identified an essential human problem – we can’t all get along. So don’t try to market that way. Your audience is actually composed of many sub-sets, so cater to those niches. If you are a management consulting firm that focuses on M&A, create content that reaches high potential target industry prospects. Don’t just settle for a strategy to activate “the c-suite.”
  • We’ll be there in an hour: Don’t tell white lies. Not only will you be caught, but people will remember it. And for those that don’t, a simple Bing search will remind them. So if you announce a launch date, stick to it. If you offer a prize to the winner, deliver it in a timely manner.
  • Cleanliness is godliness (as she pulls out the white glove): Social media strategies are messy – get over it! Best practices are constantly changing, as are the applications and tools we use to execute. It’s really a never ending “test and learn” process. Failures are actually the “secret sauce” for success.

As a marketer, do you speak to your clients, customers or prospects like a harried parent? Or do you take the time to listen to their cares and concerns, to reach out to them before you need something?

Tomorrow I’ll share my own recipe for successful engagement. Until then, have you “heard” your “Mother” online recently? What kinds of things did “she” say? (share it the comments…don’t make me come find you!)

To reach Elizabeth:

Phone: 212.840.0017
Twitter: @elizabethsosnow
LinkedIn: Elizabeth Sosnow