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A handful of tricks and 13 bullet points to help you engage your audience

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There are a lot of tools out there to help you connect with your audience and after you’ve got a good grasp on the general concepts of being social online, you’re ready to dive in to the more technical aspects of it. Don’t worry—this stuff is really basic and I should know because it wasn’t too long ago that I was learning it.

How to figure out who your audience is

Two words: Google Analytics. There are a lot of analytics engines out there and it’s probably best that you use more than one, but Google Analytics is free, it’s effective and it’s really easy to use. Ian Lurie can teach you how to set it up in seven minutes.

The real beauty of Google Analytics is how deep into your information you can go: You can track how many people have viewed your site, what time of day they logged on, which browser they were using, where they entered from, which keywords led them to you…I could go on all day. To be completely honest, I don’t even think I’ve scratched the surface of just how much Analytics can do (there are a ton of hacks out there to help you dig deep and really specify the kinds of things you want to see).

Some big things to look for:

  • Where are people coming to your site from? (Tells you who’s linking to you—get to know those people.)
  • What keywords are bringing them to your site? (Knowing what people are using to find you will help you focus your content better.)
  • What are they accessing your site with? (A computer? A phone? Might help you know what kind of content to focus on.)

Like I said, Google Analytics isn’t the only ballgame in town. Most blogging platforms and commercial content management systems have their own analytics built it, which may do more or less than Google’s product. Like I always say, find what you like and use that, but make sure you know all the nooks and crannies of whatever system you’re using and above all, know the lingo.

How to find your audience

I always start by doing a few keyword searches for whatever content I’m focusing on and what geographic region I’m in. So if I were an editor/reporter at a newspaper in Renton, Washington, for example, I’d be searching things like “Renton news” and “Renton community” in places like:

  • Twitter (even if you don’t have an account, you can use search operators to listen in);
  • Facebook, where there are probably a lot of Groups and Pages about your community already set up;
  • Google Alerts, which will deliver Google search results for particular terms to your inbox as often as you like.

I’d also spend some time on customer review sites like Yelp or even Foursquare to find out where people in your town congregate.

Lastly, if you find any blogs or competing websites while you’re searching, don’t be afraid to drop a comment and say hi. A lot of people don’t mind sharing information or even seeing you link to your own content in comment threads—when it’s relevant. As long as you reciprocate, you stand a chance to develop a relationship with these other people that’s mutually beneficial (re: you link to them, they link to you).

UPDATE: Something I just found today: Twazzup. Type in your city’s name and see what you find.

How to have a conversation

Remember: If you just listen and never do anything with the information, all you’re really doing is lurking, which is a huge waste of time. Once you decide to act on the information you’ve seen, you need to engage. This takes many forms:

  • Most comment threads have a place where you can leave your name and URL—always leave your real name (it adds credibility) and always leave a link back to your home page (or Twitter account, or whatever it is you’re trying to promote).
  • If you’re using Twitter or Facebook, learn how to mention people with @ replies and hashtags. In my experience, these have been two of the most difficult concepts for new users and I have no idea why. @’s and #’s are the Twitter equivalent of holding down the button on a walkie-talkie—if you don’t do it, the person on the other end can’t hear what you’re saying (e.g. @jayrosen_nyu makes a comment of mine show up in Jay Rosen’s @ reply feed; #wanews makes a comment of mine show up for whoever’s following that topic).
  • Understand the ethics of making a reference online. If you write a story and talk about something you found on the internet, link to it. Every time you link the other site can see it; it forms a sort of conversation where they may be inclined to link back to you (at the very least, now they know about you).

Other pro tips

  • “Don’t go around mass following people (in the hopes that they will follow you back). Only follow people that you want to interact with and that would be interested in your organization or product.” —Patrick Thornton
  • “[Journalists] need to work hard to be invited into the personalized streams of people interested in the content they produce, find and share.” —Kevin Sablan
  • Blogging Tips’ 8 tips for making your blog a “thriving community.”
  • “…news is no longer a one-way lecture. It’s a conversation.” —Mark Briggs

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