It’s not rocket science: the real secret to communicating effectively online

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Chalkboard Speech Bubble

Yikes. Online media. It’s a little like a noisy bar where all of the cool people hang out but everyone talks at once. Loudly. So, how do you make yourself heard? You’ve got to know when and how to talk, so everyone else keeps quiet and listens, but also so the stranger you’ve got your eye on can hear you.

If you’re newish to digital media, or even if you’re a veteran who’d like more responses from your target audience, I also have a secret technique for you. It’s fail-safe — never letting me down in making new clients (especially online media newbies) think I’m a communication savant*, which is always nice.

1. Via email

When to talk?

Me to client: “When I’ve written your business email (or LinkedIn post), be strategic in sending it out. Timing is everything. Don’t send it on a Monday or Friday, when people’s mailboxes are full. Don’t send it first thing in the morning. Send it Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, late morning or early afternoon, when your audience is more responsive.”

Not rocket science, is it? And yet, oh, the number of times I’ve been regarded with sheer wonder for this simple little nugget… I’ve tested the theory myself, of course, and seen massive differences in read rates, response volumes and lead generation when my own business emails are delivered to their audiences at strategic times of the day.

How to talk?

This is simple. Talk briefly. It’s an email, not an annual report or a marriage proposal.

What’s more, your reader has better things to do with his limited attention span, you have profits to generate and everyone’s time is better spent away from wordy emails. Bottom line? Only tell the reader what he needs to know. Invite him to ask you for more detail if he wants it, but pretend you’re standing in an elevator and get to the point.

2. Via social media

When to talk?

For my money, it doesn’t really matter, as long as you talk quality, often (it’s like the guy at the party who always talks about Amway; no-one wants to sit near him). There are hundreds of online tools that can aggregate this and that, providing peak traffic and activity times, heatmap graphs and click-through rates for different things.

But the general rules don’t work as well with social media content, largely because a) the audience is bigger, broader, more faceless and spread across time zones, b) social media readers need to be intrigued more than informed and c) people engage with Twitter and Facebook as an escape; i.e. in queues, over lunch and before bed.

So, while you can — and obviously should — follow my time structure when sending business emails or posting LinkedIn info, your critical question for achieving social media relevance and interest should actually be ‘How intriguing is my content?’

How to talk?

The human brain has a built-in reward system, run on dopamine, that is captivated by unpredictability. Just like a kitten is fascinated by a twisting piece of string. So how do we get our readers’ attention? We need to surprise them with information that they can and will want to share, because surprise gets attention and has perceived value.

Bottom line? Forget fads and bandwagons: your audience wants cool newness.

If the aim of your message is to inform, surprise your audience in ways they think will interest others. If your aim is to persuade, link the surprise with an action that can be taken in 30 seconds (after that, the conscious mind gets involved, so it all goes to hell).

And be aware that social media is a double-edged sword. Yes, people can click quickly. Yes, sharing is easy and everywhere. But there’s more string for the kitten. Who’s to say that what you’re saying is the most interesting? You’ve got to make sure that it is.

In short
If you can combine the rules ‘be brief’ and ‘be interesting’, you’re almost there. Give your audience small tastes often, rather than force-feeding them infrequently. You’ll be more likely to be that guy whose message dominates the conversation.

*I’m not a communication savant.

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