So, let’s talk about perception and engagement

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Storytelling is a specialized subset of communication. And communication requires two parts to complete a circuit of meaning — you need a speaker (writer, artist, Martha Graham-type interpretive dancer, etc.) and a perceiver. Then those two halves switch sides so information flows both ways. Then and only then do you get engagement.

You, my darling little alpaca, only have control of one half of that circuit. What do I mean? Gather ‘round and let Auntie Steph tell y’all a tale. 

I used to be shy. I know! I know. Keep the laughter down. It’s true. I was a little country mouse of a thing, quiet and unsure, and as a result, I tended to keep my head down and spend time in my own brain in the time honored tradition of nerds everywhere. Then my nemesis, frustrated and about to shove me in my locker yet again, asked me why I was such a snob. My quiet and my neutral expressions hadn’t come across as timid, y’all. They’d come across as judge-y.

Once I started, y’know, making eye contact? And smiling? And engaging with other humans? My whole life changed. Now you can’t shut me up — and now that “nemesis” is a close friend. Close enough I wore a truly hideous bridesmaid dress at her wedding.

(No, there won’t be a picture. I mean hid. Eee. Us.)

I reached out to change the perception, because I could only control my half of the circuit — but I listened to the other half, too.

Same thing with your online biz writing. You can’t own both sides of the circuit. But you better be paying attention to both sides of that circuit. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? C’mon, they call it “social media” not “shouting into an uncaring void.” And yet, you’d be amazed how many brands do just that. Shout into the void, never engaging or listening.

If you’re doing that? You are one of the brands behaving badly. No, I’m not going to name names. Instead, let’s take a look at the folks doing it right, one each on a different social platform.

Eat24 has a truly epic Twitter account. They respond. They retweet. They love bacon just as much as the rest of the internet. And they rock the hashtag #nopants to point out that you can have food brought to you almost all the way to the couch in a glorious celebration of sloth. Can’t lie to y’all; I’m about to use them to order dinner after this.

Denny’s has the sort of Tumblr account that makes other brands scratch their heads, but the natives love and adore it. The Daily Dot even called ‘em Tumblr’s Diner. They take full advantage of the .gif-rich environment and watch trends to stay on top of interaction. Come to think of it, they also love bacon. Hmm.

Oreo pretty much knocks it out of the park on Facebook. They posted 100 fantastic ads in 100 days for their 100th anniversary, and responded to comments the whole time. As of this writing they’re sitting pretty with 37,938,651 likes. That’s a lot of cookies. (But no bacon.)

What do these brands have in common? They engage. Both halves of the circuit. Sometimes they talk, and sometimes they listen. Thus do they reign triumphant. Get on out there and conquer your own realms of interactive badassery.

4 thoughts on “So, let’s talk about perception and engagement

  1. Fascinating. I’m not looking at this through the lens of business communication, but rather from the perspective of a fiction writer, and from that perspective I certainly think you’re right. We do have control over only a very small portion of our novels and stories, and so we need to make the most of that.

    I remember writing a short story and sending it off to several friends. One of the interpreted it in a standard way, the other came up with a crazy interpretation, and one actually viewed it as a full-on allegory. Needless to say I changed a few things to not allow for quite so many different takes on it.

    But it is interesting, and I think you’re right. Thanks for reminding me of this.

    • Thanks for reading it. My background is actually in fiction as well; I came to marketing through the back door, and tend to think of it as something that should be subordinate to storytelling. ‘Branding’ and ‘content’ and other buzzword-y terms are useful in a marketing context, sure, but “The [story’s] the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

      Incidentally, I was looking over your blog, and interested by your Chesterton groove. In the spirit of storytelling, have you read Neil Gaiman’s epic Sandman? Graphic novels aren’t everyone’s thing, but he has a character based on Chesterton in one of my favorite arcs.

      Looking forward to seeing your name on the bestseller lists!

      • That’s very cool to hear! Yeah, stories are fascinating in their ability to steal people’s hearts and minds. Thanks for perusing my blog!

        I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read any Gaiman, though I should get around to it one of these days. Are you a Chesterton fan?

      • I hope you do hunt down some of Gaiman’s stuff — he’s a real talent. That fella gets storytelling on a serious level. In fact, it might not be too much of an oversimplification to say the whole sprawling epic of Sandman is about (the power of) storytelling.

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