Engaging Audiences: Social Media as a Dinner Party, Not a Soapbox

Article 6 min
Running a successful social media channel is a lot like pulling off a successful dinner party. Review how to make your platform a fabulous host. 

You are cordially invited to two wildly different parties. Both purport to be about the same thing and both sound relatively interesting. The first is hosted by Master Sergeant Soapbox and the second is hosted by Master Sergeant Moderator.

You arrive at the home of MSgt. Soapbox on time and are escorted into a room where there is no furniture - just a platform and a megaphone. It’s unclear where to put your coat, you can smell food but cannot see it, no one offers you a drink.

After several more people gather, your host, MSgt. Soapbox steps onto the platform and proceeds to blather on for about an hour jumping wildly from subject to subject. At one point, it appears to be a sales pitch. After several hours your feet hurt, you’re mentally exhausted and hangry. An hour or so later, your host sends you a text message with some links to local restaurants and a food blog.

A few days later another invitation arrives from MSgt. Soapbox only this time it appears to be a sit down dinner with guest speakers you really like. But, MSgt. Soapbox has done nothing to earn your trust back so you quickly decline.

Let's check out a different party, but this time it's hosted by MSgt. Moderator. As you arrive, you are immediately struck by the sound of music and conversation spilling outside of the house. As you enter, you are immediately hailed by the host and introduced to other guests.

As you walk around, you see several small food stations with bite-sized snacks. Visually interesting, artfully styled. Thoughtful details keep you engaged and moving around the room joining multiple conversations. MSgt. Moderator is showing you around and assisting you with meeting new people. He's engaging several people at the party while still allowing people to express themselves and have fun. Before you realize it, it’s been several hours, it’s time to go home and your face hurts from smiling.

Several days later, two additional invitations arrive, for a small more intimate gathering and a second invitation for a larger event with a guest speaker you’ve admired for some time. It seems your host was tuned in to the conversations that sparked the most enthusiasm among guests and has curated the next parties accordingly. Not only are you an immediate yes, you sign up to bring a guest as you’re certain you have friends who would appreciate the invite.

If these were social media platforms it's clear which one would be wildly successful and which one would be struggling. Let’s take a look at what MSgt. Moderator did right, in the context of a social media platform.

Studies show that users favor cool experiences over great products, something our second host totally understood. Great music, warm atmosphere, facilitated conversations. Presentation should emphasize the brand’s value and tap into the audience's desire for an enriched experience.

Let's look at a real time example. This image is stunning to look at, it's evocative and definitely meets the criteria of emphasizing the brand. But, can you tell at a glance that this photo is part of a contest? Are you clear on what is expected of you, the user, to participate in the contest? How much more likely would you be to interact with the post if the ask was just a bit clearer?

No one wants to feel like a face in a crowd, or worse, like they don’t belong. 84% of users have left a platform because of irrelevant or intrusive content. Master Sergeant Soapbox should have engaged his users more with interactive content. Would you stick around if the social media feed from your branch of service looked like this?

Users predominantly access content through their mobile devices so content needs to be bite-sized and impactful. Many Facebook users want more videos but want them to be short, sweet and easily consumable. User studies show that 15 second videos gets shared more. This video, as adorable as it is, probably maxes out your attention before the 60 second mark.

What else does our host, MSgt. Moderator get right? He understood his role. While the host may be responsible for keeping the conversation going, he doesn’t have to dominate it. He can start a conversation, invite another guest in and then back out.

Like 2nd Marine Division shows, your social media should keep the conversation moving but shouldn't dominate it. Replying to and liking your followers comments can have a positive effect.

By following these guidelines and ditching the soapbox, your social media platform will be the best party online:

  • share rich experiences
  • emphasize the brand's value
  • keep it short and sweet
  • engage your audience

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