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The foundation of engagement is showing care for readers

By Olivia Collette

Viafoura

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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When you work in content, “engagement” is a word you hear a lot — and often in different contexts. Engagement is an interaction, a campaign metric, a marketing funnel stage, an event on social media, an experience advertisers and media companies are constantly trying to provide, or sometimes even the name of a specific team in charge of various Internet-related things.

When I worked at a media company, the term “engagement” got thrown around so frequently by diverging departments that it eventually lost its meaning. It was thrown into conversations where it didn’t belong, while metrics and behaviours were treated interchangeably. So, I developed a training programme around content, and the first thing I did in that session was to distill the term “engagement.”

A lot of media companies lean into the idea of “audience engagement,” but ultimately what it requires is genuinely caring about the people who care about a particular news brand.
A lot of media companies lean into the idea of “audience engagement,” but ultimately what it requires is genuinely caring about the people who care about a particular news brand.

It’s another word for “caring,” I told trainees.

And I continue to make that analogy today, because what ultimately causes people to like, comment, follow, subscribe, or share is caring. They care enough about something to give it more than just their time and attention, which are hard-fought to begin with.

So, when we talk about engagement in a content-rich environment like media, what we need to focus on is understanding what people care about and how to make them care about the things we put in front of them.

People care about brands that reflect their values

Audiences don’t just flock to a specific media brand because they like how it covers the news. They tend to associate that brand with aspects of themselves, and they like to broadcast it to their entourage.

For example, they might tell others that they read something in The Atlantic or listened to a show on NPR about a certain topic, and they’ll expect the name-drop to infer their beliefs and values. It runs the other way, too, because Fox News audiences want people around them to understand that they’re conservative viewers. So, yes, audiences care about your content, but they also know that consuming it says something about them.

We find this in the commercial sector. For instance, an IBM survey of 19,000 consumers found that 40% of them were willing to pay more for products and services from brands they feel align with their values and lifestyles. This means people nevertheless turn to various brands to translate certain parts of their own personalities.

People care about expressing themselves

“We live in a dialogue society, where we expect to have conversations with each other, and increasingly, people want to have a dialogue with publishers they’re loyal to,” says Mark Zohar, president and COO of Viafoura.

The reason media brands are concerned about trolls at all is that they’re such a huge impediment to the quality of the dialogue around their content, and, in turn, to the experience their audiences have when participating in those discussions. When comments aren’t constructive or healthy, it can alienate users.

According to the Pew Research Center, 13% of Americans “stopped using an online service after witnessing other users engage in harassing behaviours,” while more than 25% of Americans won’t participate in a conversation if they see that it’s uncivil.

Even though your audience doesn’t always put energy into commenting, they care whether or not contributions from their community are harboured in a safe environment.

People care whether or not you care

It’s one thing for audiences to feel loyalty to your company because of the associations they make with your brand and how these reflect on them. But how invested are you in making it worth their while? Are you listening to them carefully when they’re on your platform?

This is where it’s crucial to really get to know your audience. You can’t convey that your values align with theirs or that they should contribute to your conversation unless you know who they actually are, what they do while they’re on your Web site, and what they like (or don’t).

And if you’re delivering an experience that lines up with your audience’s expectations and appetite, they’re more likely to offer their information freely. A study by Entrust, a data privacy company, found that nearly 64% of consumers are willing to share their personal information in exchange for “relevant, personalised, and convenient services.”

So, the real question is: Do you care about your audience? Because when you do, they can tell.

About Olivia Collette

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