Discussions and comments: what to do when audience attention strays

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably got a handle on the social media basics. In short, as the as-old-as-a-saw-can-be-if-it’s-social-media-can-be goes, if you wouldn’t want it on a billboard in Times Square, don’t put it online. There’s the obvious privacy implication in that trope, but there’s also the sub-message that what you say online be worthy of a billboard.

…and yet. A lot of the things we say online would make a pretty boring billboard. That makes sense: social media and the associated community building require introductions, chatting, and small talk. While there’s room for soapboxing, monologues, and shouting from the mountaintops, that type of one-way broadcasting isn’t what defines social networking.

So how do you navigate discussion in these three areas knowing that the conversation will meander, and that it may not stay on the topic you’d hoped for?

Be interesting
…And be infuriated. I promise that you are sick of being told to create engaging content. Yet being interesting (feel free to substitute any of the following: authentic, witty, exciting, engaging, surprising, or whatever next week’s social media buzzword is) is still an excellent way to keep people, uh, interested.

Be interested and respond
If you’ve successfully found a topic that gets people talking, keep them talking. Go beyond thanking people for replying. You know the basics. You know everyone should get some sort of acknowledgement, but look for the deeper connection within the comment you’re responding to. If their comment reminds them of another aspect of what you do, sell, or present (which, hopefully, you’re sincerely passionate about), respond and ask the person if they’ve made the same connections. Provide links or brief anecdotes to illustrate your points.

Let it flow
If the conversation is polite and respectful and your followers feel like discussing something else, follow them there. You may be disappointed that your killer blog post didn’t generate the type of conversations you wanted, but if it generated conversation at all you’re doing something right.

With that thread of conversation, you’ve now got at least one fresh blog topic that you know will be interesting to your audience, plus you’ve shown that you pay attention to what goes on in the comment thread.

Discussions and comments: what to do when audience attention strays
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