Effective Engagement: Context, Conversation, and Booze

Who doesn’t love a good dinner party? Worldly discussions and cocktails! Similiar to sociable hosts, savvy journalists are conversation starters.

They pull relevant points from hour-long public speeches. They give background on municipal budgets worth $613 million. And they listen to the wants and woes of the community.

How have I engaged an audience in four months? By providing context, invoking conversations, and going where the people are.

For Olivia Pope the fixer, her end game is to make the public aware of a topic, gain interest, and ultimately change attitudes and behaviors. That’s the watered-down version of “audience engagement” as described in Philip Napoli‘s Audience Evolution. Some form of mental processing must happen before someone becomes engaged.

So how does a journalist grab one’s attention? By being provocative, news-breaking, or insightful. Provocation frequently incites argument and story-breaking is rare. However, informed commentary or detailed context can set a writer apart.

Geneva Overholser espouses that because of the proliferation of digital storytelling, wise journalists should spend time reporting extra details. No longer are writers limited by newsroom word-count limits. There’s no fuss over uploading a black and white versus a color photo. It’s even a cake-walk to cite other sources. (It’s elementary to hyperlink!)

Readers can gain more information from online mediums, therefore, it’s virtually our duty to add more insight, or context, to reporting. That’s what I’ve attempted by covering local events. Post-event quotes, venue descriptions, and historical details add oomph to scene blogging, (rather than posting aggrandizing announcements).

Yet, no matter how much data or detail one provides, social interests must be piqued. “If audiences are looking for a human dimension in the creation and distribution of news, they might as well be looking for themselves in that process,” said Doreen Marchionni in “Journalism-as-a-Conversation.”

Through Rising Stars, I found it salient to depict millennials through a casual lens. While notable city publications profile the careers of young do-gooders and their accompanying head-shots, they lack grit and grind. In real life, informality and humility win people over conversationally.

Thus, I took Marchionni’s advice and reflected what people saw in themselves. And it’s worked. Now, each Rising Star post has garnered at least 100 views and attracts new site visitors.

Lastly, one thing I’ve noticed that works in engaging my audience is…booze! How do I know? Because Mayer and Stern’s engagement tips mention the importance of metadata. Google “Memphis Patio Hopscotch,” and the first 13 results are all my doing.

I wasn’t Google-bombing; I simply added appropriate tags and strategically posted on public Facebook profiles. Further, I used the same tactic when reporting on local juke joints, and that entry clocked 1,551 views. Either the Internet has a drinking problem or Memphians are loyal to their barstools.

Okay, while beer and wine aren’t ubiquitous ingredients for engaging fans, they are apparently relevant to my audience. And that’s my parting point! Find what your readers want to know, and serve it up on a silver platter.

One of several Overholser's insights from her 2014 guest lecture at the University of Memphis. Click for a descriptive Storify.

One of several Overholser’s insights from her 2014 guest lecture at the University of Memphis. Click for a descriptive Storify.

2 comments

  1. This is a really excellent post, Burton. I like this “savvy journalists are conversation starters.”

    I also like this: “While notable city publications profile the careers of young do-gooders and their accompanying head-shots, they lack grit and grind. In real life, informality and humility win people over conversationally.” I honestly believe that if more publications understood how to serve this audience, there would be greater demand for news.

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