Whether you’re announcing your job postings or announcing your expertise to the world, getting noticed online these days is like being heard while whistling into a tornado. It takes a considerable amount of effort, planning, and trial and error to stand out among the millions of status updates competing for attention. So how do you get your signal widely detect through the noise?
Keep it Simple, Silly. Avoid people asking themselves “huh?” after reading it. Does your message need to be deciphered with a secret decoder ring, abbreviation lookup, dictionary, encyclopedia, or a team of attorneys? If so, don’t be surprised when it fails to spread.
Be pithy, and stick to the point. Trim your text to its core message. Leave no room for interpretation. If folks have to guess then they will either A) get it wrong or B) decide not to pass along your message.
Remove any superfluous embellishment, fancy or flowery language, and clever wordplay. (Remember, your audience includes many for whom English is a second language.) Note, however, that brevity should not come at the sake of clarity. Sometimes less is more, but not when you have to force it. Be sure people know what your message is, why it is important, why it affects them personally, and what they should do about it — aka the call to action (see #2, WIFM).
This is the age-old saying, “What’s in it for me?” If you don’t answer this for your audience, your message won’t likely be spread very far. People are self-interested — dare we say even a bit egotistical. Why not feed the ego if it will benefit your cause? Relate to them by tying your story to what drives them. Answer these four key questions in your reader’s mind:
- What? This is your core message (see #1, KISS).
- Why? Why is this important?
- So what? Make it about them, your audience.
- Now what? What should they do about it? Call to action!
Hint: use second-person pronouns (you/your) liberally, and lightly sprinkle other possessive forms (our/ours).
If you find your message is being drowned out by noise, change the timing of your posts. It is OK to repeat something occasionally, especially if you got the timing wrong, but don’t make a habit of repeating yourself too much or you’ll be perceived as a robot or spammer.
For example, say you’ve noticed that the largest segment of your target audience check their online sources around 3 p.m. You may be tempted to post at that time, but if it is a much more competitive time slot, the probability that your message will be forwarded, re-posted, or even read at all sometimes could actually be lower. This is because there may well be other more interesting things going on. Maybe fewer people are reading their online sources a bit earlier or later, but your message may just spread wider during slightly less busy times. Test various windows to see how your particular audience reacts.
Like timing, the mediums through which you choose to spread your message also affect how widely you are broadcast. The three most popular channels are commonly accepted to be Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but it is very likely that an influential segment of your audience is listening to other channels as well such as:
- Blogs: use blogsearch.google.com, technorati.com, twingly.com, and similar sites to find popular blogs that your target audience is likely to follow. Befriend key bloggers and arrange for some cross-posting.
- Ning: there are millions of groups. Just browse the categories and you’ll quickly arrive at popular ones you can join.
- Other micro-blogging sites like Tumblr, Jaiku.com and Identi.ca
It also pays to find the right groups within Facebook and LinkedIn where you can post your message and develop a following.
Facts are great, but people also care about people. We seek connections, so don’t just push a bunch of isolated facts. Craft a story and keep spinning it as you send out your messages. Not all your content needs to be tied to one single thread, but weaving it into many of your posts will give readers continuity and help keep them coming back for more. Dare to be different. Along those lines, you may want to consider breaking out of the mold a bit. For example, if your competitors use images, then you use video. Try your hand at humor or sarcasm. Find a hook that becomes your calling card.
You have to push to get the word out. It is very hard to predict what will go viral and get noticed. In order to increase the probability of your message being spread widely enough, sometimes you have to rely on your friends. Recruit your friends, colleagues, and others in your network to help you spread your message. Use every vehicle you can; make your message into a blog post on your own blog, or if you don’t have one, ask other bloggers to post it or to publish a link to it on their blogs. Direct-message your Twitter followers and ask them to re-tweet it. Post it on your friends’ Facebook wall and ask them to share with their friends. Post it on LinkedIn Groups and send a message to your LinkedIn network to post it as a status update. Make it easy for your contacts by telling them exactly what to do and why they should help you. Be sure to give them a list with all the links to your message in its various formats so they can just grab the one they use most easily/often.
There is no way you can do this alone. The more friends your recruit to your cause, the fewer favors you need to ask from each of them. One way to beat the noise is to become a choir. All the voices together are louder than any individual. You won’t be able to get all your friends to help you broadcast each and every one of your messages, but with enough friends you can share the workload. Take the effort to pitch your story to the “sneezers” — the gatekeepers who are most likely to influence their friends. What’s the worst that can happen? If you’re ignored or rejected, so what? It’s a numbers game. If you ask enough people, you’ll find some who share your interest, or at least are willing to help from time to time.
Once you have a list of “VIPs” who help you out, keep track of them so you don’t overburden any one of them with too many requests. One way to sell this is to approach it from the perspective that you are providing content of interest to them and their readers. This helps them as well as you. Make sense to their audience and you’ll recruit all the gatekeepers you need. Make it very easy for them to help you (see #6, Push).
Take a page from the news — literally! Headlines tantalize. Warnings and danger appeal to our reptile brain, our animal instincts. Messages highlighting a problem or warning us of something we should look out for are more alluring than just an “FYI.”
We scan headlines the same way we scan online content, looking for words and phrases that pop out and interest us. Don’t get stuck in the trap of trying to come up with a catchy headline; instead, focus on the keywords that are most often used in searches for that topic. Those same keywords may also be what reels them into your message. You can investigate basic keyword popularity with Google’s Adwords at no cost. For maximum effect, invest in the keyword tool that experts use. With another great tool, you can enter a competitor’s URL and find out what keywords they use when they pay for search engine ads, who are their top ad competitors, and the organic keywords that rank on search engines.
Plan your approach, focus your content, pick your medium, and involve your friends. Contemplate your audience deeply, because without them your message is just noise. See the world with your target audiences’ eyes: what do they like and dislike? Where do they go to get informed? What else are they reading about there?
Communication is as much up to the sender as it is the receiver. No matter how well you think you are stating your message, if your intended audience doesn’t “get it,” then it is entirely up to you to adapt when, what, and where you are saying things so they are more clearly understood, and more likely to go viral.