Ask don’t tell

By Steve Outing

I’m getting requests to include more marketing advice on this site, and I’m happy to oblige. Here’s a marketing technique that people in traditional marketing and traditional media often overlook: Establish and work on having a relationship with your audience. Ask them to talk about themselves, and stop talking so much about you.

Let’s face it, it’s human nature for most folks to want to talk about themselves. Journalists may be in the business of talking mostly about what they know, but the opportunity with the Internet is to get the audience talking too. So to build and grow the modern audience, you need to give them — at every reasonable opportunity — the ability to talk about themselves, share what they think, and ask you questions.

If you study the Internet marketing world (as I have been lately), you’ll see this advice coming from lots of consultants’ and experts’ mouths. It comes down to this core truth: When you shut up and listen, you learn what your customers want. By soliciting their feedback and suggestions, you can create the product that they want to buy.

The same principles can be applied to news media. Here are a few ideas that will strengthen relationships with members of your online audience, who then will be motivated to get their friends involved. Ergo, better loyalty from existing users of your site, and audience growth.

  • Ask questions, often! Most news websites allow user comments at the end of stories now. (And if you don’t by now, for goodness sake, add them and join the 2000s.) Reporters can encourage comments by closing out stories with a p.s., which can be a question. They can ask questions within a story, linking down the page to the comment area.
  • Ask for reader input and advice in stories. This is especially good technique when a story will have follow-up coverage, or is the start of an ongoing series. Ask readers what else they want to know, so they can help guide you.
  • Do more polls, surveys and quizzes. Would this fit with a story you’re publishing? Then include it as an additional story element. (I’ll put in a pitch here for trying out the survey service and site sponsor SurveyGizmo, which I’ve been using lately and which is seriously cool for enhancing your interactive capabilities with your audience.)
  • When appropriate, write with more “you’s” in your stories than “I’s.” Include more question marks in your content, which brings “you” into the story more often.
  • Talk about the interactions you have with users. By writing about it when users interact with you, you not only acknowledge the importance of outside opinion, but model the behavior of user interaction. More people will join the conversation when they see evidence that other people are doing it.
  • Interject your personality; downgrade the corporate persona. If you want to establish a relationship with online users, then you need to show your humaness. Drop the corporate persona and be more personal.

Some of those ideas are just common sense. But I should acknowledge Internet marketing guru Jeff Walker, since some of the ideas above are his. (Though, frankly, there are a bunch of Internet marketing gurus offering similar advice.) His training program has helped me understand that the current thinking in the Internet marketing world can and should be applied to online news media.

What do you think? :)

(Yes, I think I will start following my own advice and ask more questions of you on this website.)

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!