We see the digital world through an Instagram filter; it’s like a real-life version of The Sims where we shape and create our individual realities and display them for the world to see, and, in turn, we watch other people’s carefully controlled versions of their lives unfold around our own.
Negotiating the web is like picking your way through a minefield of sponsored links, clickbait and false identities and we are quickly becoming savvy to what is real and what is a scam. The digital landscape changes so quickly it’s easy to get swept along with it, but if you’re writing content for the web it’s important to stay grounded and anchored to reality.
Audiences are fast becoming wise to quick-fix advertising online. The difference between catching the attention of your audience and keeping it depends entirely on a genuine voice, good, compelling content and honesty. In a throwaway culture where so much is disposable or replaceable it’s easy to think that making one quick sale, grabbing a one-off reader is enough, but to build a strong, reliable digital audience, you have to make them want to engage with your online presence and, more importantly, to keep them coming back again and again.
I have seen clever Twitter accounts that use generic platitudes and One Direction photographs to lure in teenage followers looking for retweetable content. These accounts generate random inanities and then try to exploit their followers by infiltrating their feed with adverts for diet pills, surgery or beauty products. It is unscrupulous and it is temporary; a scatter gun approach to sales and a lazy audience development technique. Truly strong audience development lies in a real relationship with the people you want to connect with.
People will engage with what appeals to them, they will not engage with heavy handed sales content over and over again. Continually bombarding your audience about your product, your event, your work etc. means that they will stop listening to you altogether, because you are not talking to them – you’re shouting about yourself at the top of your voice into a vast space with thousands of other people doing the exact same thing.
Knowing your audience and knowing what they want is the very first step to creating compelling and engaging online content rather than perpetuating an exploitative, disposable online sales culture. You can add value to what you are selling at no extra cost, just by engaging people in a meaningful way and you can help build a positive digital marketplace in which audiences and content makers are able to use the space to meet their needs.
Here are some tips for creating good, inclusive digital content:
Use excellent grammar and make sure everything is spelled correctly. It sounds basic, but bad writing implies that you don’t have the time, ability or resources to check your work thoroughly and that is bound to shake the confidence of your audience.
If someone speaks to you online answer them and answer them positively, even if they’re critical. Your image depends on how you react and interact with your audience. Timely responses to queries and problems suggest that you’re on the ball and dedicated.
Work with your competitors and your peers to share information. Of course the digital marketplace is competitive, but showing the confidence to share your the content of your competitors ultimately demonstrates your unshakable confidence in your own. You show that you are an authority in your area and people will look to you for answers.
Be open about your reviews – even the negative ones
Sharing unedited feedback holds you up as honest and reliable. Being unafraid of negativity highlights that you realise that you can’t always please everyone and shows up the positive feedback by comparison. You can also turn negative feedback into a positive; it is an opportunity to respond publicly and positively to criticism and will show your audience that you are ready to address issues quickly and efficiently.
If your online voice is interesting, engaging and trustworthy people will keep coming back to you. This doesn’t only mean that you’re building a solid base of customers and a reliable audience development strategy, but that you are taking an active role in developing an honest, interactive and genuine digital marketplace, where people aren’t just shouting meaninglessly into the void, but are sharing information in a balanced, symbiotic relationship.