If you and your pooch are regulars at your neighborhood dog park, you probably don’t even have to read this to know what I mean. For those of you who aren’t dog people (bless your hearts), dog parks are real live communities, with their own culture and social norms (not terribly unlike all those mommy-and-me playgroups I went to when my kids were bitty). And the “real” rules aren’t the ones posted on the gate; they’re the ones that community members absorb by being part of the community.
And that’s the connection with content marketing, social media, and customer engagement. There are the official rules, like paying attention to SEO, not being overly promotional, and offering something of value in exchange for your readers’ attention. And then there are the unspoken rules…but the fact that they’re unspoken doesn’t mean they’re not real. Because they’re very real, and true customer engagement is a lost cause if you ignore them.
OK, ok…I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. Here’s how customer engagement is like going to the dog park:
Be up-to-date on your shots.
In other words, do your homework. Familiarize yourself with the “official” rules of the community or social media channel you want to engage. Observe the culture. Don’t just show up and expect to be greeted with open arms even if you publish garbage.
Perform “poop patrol” without being asked.
Cleaning up after your dog is an official rule at every dog park I’ve ever been to. Most people understand that and follow it willingly. But…sometimes you just can’t find the poop. You see your dog taking care of business and make a mental note of the location, but, by the time you get over there with a bag, the offending substance is indistinguishable from the surrounding grass and mud. To prevent that, good dog park etiquette requires that someone act as a look out — marking the spot, so to speak — so that the appropriate human with the bag can find it.
What’s that got to do with customer engagement? Don’t just stand there watching somebody do a grid search. Be helpful. Help other people solve their problems. Write content about the things that keep your audience up at night. Be the go-to-person they can count on to help them identify and solve whatever problems are relevant to your business. In other words, help them find the poop.
Always talk about dogs first.
My husband is almost perfect. The qualifier is due to the fact that he’s just not a dog person. He (for the most part) cheerfully tolerates mine to make me happy, but it’s not part of his soul like it is mine. So part of what I like so much about the dog park is getting to hang out with my “tribe.” It’s not that conversations never stray, but people at dog parks want to talk primarily about dogs.
When it comes to customer engagement, this means knowing your audience on an intuitive level. Why do they come to your site or follow you on Twitter? What desire are they trying to fulfill, or what problem are they trying to solve? What’s the common thread that links them all together? Sure, you can go off-topic occasionally. But, for the most part, people come to your site for a specific reason. Give them what they want.
Ask before handing out treats.
At the dog park, you never, ever feed someone else’s dog without asking permission. And that’s pretty much what Seth Godin was talking about back in 1999 when he published Permission Marketing. That means that you don’t intrude on your audience by shoving your marketing message down their throats. Don’t join a conversation that has nothing to do with you or your product and try to highjack it.
Don’t expect other people to accommodate you.
At the dog park I go to, there’s one person whose dog likes to grab other dogs by the collar. His solution is to ask everyone else to remove their dogs’ collars whenever he’s there. Yeah…that’s not really how it works, whether you’re talking about dog parks or customer engagement. You accommodate your audience, not the other way around. You don’t get to tell them what they should read; you have to find out what they want to read and create that content. And you can’t get away with giving them workarounds for problems in your website navigation, your customer service, or your product. If there’s a problem, you fix it. You make your content accessible. The customer decides…not you.
Know when to leave.
Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Maybe your dog is cranky because he stole your leftover Popeye’s chicken (no…of course that never happened) and his belly hurts. Maybe there’s a dog he just doesn’t get along with (dogs can have bad chemistry, too). Maybe there’s a dog whose human obviously isn’t going to follow dog park etiquette, so that, even though you’re in the right, you end up having to leave.
Customer engagement is good. Customer engagement is very good (some would argue that it’s the whole point). But sometimes comments start a dialog that just goes in circles, or a Twitter conversation goes off the rails in the space of 60 seconds. You should have social media policies in place ahead of time so that you don’t have to make decisions in the middle of a firestorm. If you don’t have digital policies, go develop some — now. Until then, let your motto be “Do no harm.” Step away from the keyboard and think before responding. Always know when to call it a day.
Need some help engaging customers and creating communities that support your brand’s goals? That’s what I do, so please get in touch.