Content marketing: Telling Meaningful Stories

[DIGITAL MARKETING] Actual conversation is overrated and here’s why

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In 2016 I was on the Heathly Wealthy Smart podcast and made this statement:


“Storytelling is a conversation even when people are not talking back.”

You are sharing a story with an audience – like you are talking to them. Sometimes they talk back through comments, emails, etc. But most of the time they don’t. They just listen. But yet you should still treat that as a conversation. They are listening.

I’m sure some of our so-called marketing experts out there will disagree with that statement and that’s OK. But I have seen an over-focus on some of the smallest metrics out there and those include engagement metrics. Those include the number of likes and re-shares, for example.

So why do we think of engagement  and conversation metrics as so important to begin with? My guess would be that it comes back to that we are taught that conversation is important and it is. But a lot of times online conversation is not always a two-way street. <Cue the “don’t just broadcast” camp.> 

Study after study has shown that the majority of people do not leave comments, do not share and do nothing except read the content shared by us storytellers. The majority of people consume content and doesn’t produce any of it.  And that’s OK but we need to stop over-fixating on the engagement.

So let’s say I have 100,000 people reading my article but only 100  share it and only a couple leave a comment. Oh no, what a failure of a project. That was not enough engagement and there was no conversation going on. Give me a break, people. 100,000 people read the thing. 

And through digital metrics-like on-site time, pages per visit, conversion to the next step in the buyer’s journey, for example-we can even see how engaged the readers were with our content.

Those are all signs of whether or not our message resonated. I would even go as far as saying that digital metrics are a sign of the audience talking back to us. They are leaving us messages on whether  content was interesting, helpful or maybe even inspirational. Sometime they talk with their wallet. Ca-ching. 

So instead of focusing on why they were only a handful of so-called conversation metrics, focus on the overall picture of effectiveness. That could include the size of the relevant audience and also liking, commenting and sharing. And of course transactional conversions. Remember to look at the whole picture. 

So how do we change our thinking on the topic? Here is the three-point checklist, because I know many of you love checklists:

  • Determine what the actual goal of the campaign should be and why.
  • Don’t just follow the trends. If some of the loud experts are saying that you should focus on engagement metrics, don’t  do it just to do it but really and truly evaluate why that’s the right thing to focus on.
  • Is the success metrics agreed-upon actually something people do? For example, let’s say we have an email newsletter and our only success metrics is the click through rate, which is typically super low, we might be setting ourselves up for a less than successful outcome from the get-go.

It’s great to go for the conversation, but keep in mind that sometimes conversation looks different on different channels and also has different iterations of conversation – especially digitally. 

To wrap things up here let me give you one more example of social media conversation. Or maybe I should call it alleged conversation. There’s a group of social media purists who claim that they’re having conversations on social media, but what they’re really doing is they are always arguing with everybody and that’s all they ever do in their social media conversations. So I’m not sure that’s good measure of success either or a good conversation. Plus, it gets old quickly. Come over here to talk – I mean argue. Yikes.

Here’s to all of us having more and better conversations online and off-line however that might look. Remember to look at the whole picture.


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Christoph Trappe

Hello and thanks for stopping by. I'm Christoph Trappe and I'm the Vice President of Content Marketing Strategy, Americas, at ScribbleLive, which is based in Toronto and is a global content marketing software company. Before I started at ScribbleLive I was VP of Content Marketing and Conversion at MedTouch, a Boston-based company that helps healthcare organizations with digital marketing. I've written two books, speak at conferences around the globe and blog frequently on here. I love sharing my stories and helping organizations share theirs. If you need help, just visit the Contact Me page in the navigation and drop me a note. I'm always happy to chat! Thanks for reading! - Christoph ctrappe@christophtrappe.com 319-389-9853

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