Cultivating Connection

 5 easy ways to reach the right people

Engagement is a beast with many heads. It’s no longer enough to identify your audience, and have good copy or fancy pictures, you need to know why they’re engaging with your brand. You can craft your communications to build strong, authentic relationships, through positive, mutually beneficial interactions. But it’s easy to shoot yourself in the foot if you’re not careful.

During Halloween last year, Forest & Bird ran a campaign where you could ‘adopt’ a pekapeka (New Zealand long-tailed bat). For a $60 donation you would receive a plush toy, adoption certificate, information sheet and a magazine, with all of the proceeds going towards restoring pekapeka habitat and eradicating pests. In our house we are all about rescue animals and conservation so we were easily the target demographic for this: people who care about bats, who can’t commit to ongoing financial support but still want to help. I saw the post on Facebook, which popped up around the time of their successful ‘Bird of the Year’ competition. Adopting a bat was cool, quirky and very much on brand with what I was used to engaging with.

But since then I’ve been receiving letters with ongoing requests for cash. The ‘urgent’ request for money during lockdown felt insincere and bad taste. The latest missive sports a graphic photo of a dead dolphin, and the guilt trip of numerous calls to action, which come over a bit aggressive for my liking. These are way outside the context of our relationship, and the opposite to the kind of content I want to engage with. It kind of feels like going on a date and receiving an invitation to your wedding the following day. You’re expecting one thing but get blindsided by another. (Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to opt in to that kind of hard-sell, and be romanced a little before being asked to open my wallet.)

There are a few things happening here. Either Forest and Bird don’t have the ability to segment their donor database, or they don’t understand the importance of doing so. Either way a re-think of their engagement strategy is in order because it’s not enough to know that I’ve engaged with them, the important thing is why and how I have done so. I’m well aware that they’re trying to move me through their donor cultivation cycle/pyramid etc, but I’m just not the target demographic for these vaguely threatening demands for money to protect ‘nature’. Adopting a bat appealed to me because they made great gifts, and I knew my money was going to a specific cause that I care about. It made me feel positive towards the brand, and likely to support similar things again. But now I haven’t even read this letter that runs SEVEN pages, and I’m already annoyed because sending out reams and reams of thick, colour printed paper isn’t sustainable. Straight away I’m wondering about how much of my ‘important’ donation is being spent on shit like this, and on salaries for people to put it together, instead of on all these things they want support for. It doesn’t feel authentic to me.

Their message is coming through loud and clear. Unfortunately for Forest & Bird, all I’m hearing is that they see me as a number. I don’t feel valued. I feel like a prospect instead of a person. In the words of Simon Cowell, it’s a no from me.

It’s easier to fall into this trap than you might think, so here are 5 easy things to keep in mind to avoid a similar fate, and cultivate meaningful connections with your audience.

  1. Be authentic
    I cannot stress this enough. Authenticity ensures that you attract the right people into your orbit. It makes it easy to reach the right people if they’re already interested and engaged in your business
  2. Relationship is Queen
    If you approach comms, engagement, and advertising with the express intent of getting more likes, followers, or sales, you will be wasting your money. It’s not how many followers you have, it’s about how many of them actually believe in your business and engage with your content. Put in the effort to play the long game- there may be less reward in the short term but loyal, returning customers will help you thrive in the long run.
  3. Listen to your community
    Your audience will tell you what they like and what they don’t like, you just have to be willing to listen. In interviews Dave Grohl describes fans of the Foo Fighters as fellow members of the band, and makes sure they get a say in what goes onstage or onto a record. Treat your audience as contributing members of your business, and give them a say. Look at which posts move people to interact, and use that to your advantage. Give the people what they want!
  4. Be creative and original
    By all means check out what your competition is doing, but if that’s where you go for inspiration you will inevitably end up a poor imitation. If you want to be a business that leads in your field and inspires with their innovative approach, you need to stick your neck out and try some new things. If you make a mistake, at least you can take the credit for it!
  5. Don’t sacrifice content for convenience
    When was the last time you opened an email newsletter from a brand you like on Facebook? There’s a reason these things go into a folder called spam: automated posts, mass replies, newsletters and other ‘set’ content can come across as insincere. Used badly, scheduling apps can create distance between you and your customers. A scheduling tool can make your life a lot easier, but be careful not to rely on it too much. You want your audience engaging with you, not the robot.

If you think your communications and engagement could benefit from a different approach, I’m happy to help, just flick me an email

(Disclaimer- Forest & Bird are an amazing organisation that does great work. This isn’t a criticism of them, just their old school engagement strategy.)

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