Are You Engaging or Interrupting? Why joining online conversations isn't enough

By Susan Gunelius

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Remember back when a marketer's primary goal was to catch the attention of consumers in any possible way? The content of the ad, brochure or sign seemed to take a backseat to the need for catching a consumer's attention for just a split second. The methods used to grab attention became more and more extreme as shock advertising, sexual innuendos and outrageous imagery took center stage in marketing.

However, with the growth of social media, marketers have learned that simply interrupting the online conversation doesn't always lead to sales, nor does it lead to positive word-of-mouth marketing. Now the goal of marketing is engagement. Consumers want to know, what are you going to tell them after you interrupt them?

Marketers have discovered that there is tremendous value in building brands and relationships through long-term social media strategy vs. short-term direct-marketing tactics on social websites.

Does that mean there is no place for interruption marketing on the social web? No. Carefully executed direct-marketing tactics that truly add value to the user experience online can be very successful.

For example, Dell's @delloutlet Twitter stream is very popular and features a great deal of tweets announcing discounts and special offers. However, the people who follow the @delloutlet stream know what kind of content they're going to get before they choose to follow it. Because of their expectations from the brand, they don't turn away from the direct-marketing messages they find there. They actively choose to follow that Twitter stream because they want to be interrupted with the valuable offers communicated there.

Interruption and engagement marketing can coexist online, but it takes research and planning to achieve success.

You need to understand who your customers and target audiences are, and what they want from your brand and your business. Then you can create the kind of content and conversations your target audiences want and need on the social web destinations where they already spend time.

Lastly, create niche content on your own branded online destinations that directly meets the wants and needs of the target audiences, and invite them to spend time on those destinations to access more valuable content.

The key is to surround consumers with branded online experiences and let them select how they want to interact with your brand. By cross-promoting your efforts and executing a fully integrated marketing plan, consumers are able to connect with you and experience your brand in the ways they choose. In other words, they feel empowered and in control of their relationships and interactions with businesses and brands. Don't aspire to just interrupt them unless they have already demonstrated their willingness to listen beyond the interruption. Instead, engage and add value to boost your long-term social media marketing success.

Make your marketing messages last beyond an interruption by starting every online marketing brainstorming session with this question: Once we interrupt the audience and get their attention, what are we going to tell them to keep them engaged?

Susan Gunelius

Marketing, Branding, Copywriting, Email and Social Media Expert

Susan Gunelius is CEO of KeySplash Creative Inc., a marketing communications and strategic branding company. She has authored a dozen books about marketing, branding, social media, copywriting and technology and is the founder and editor in chief of, a blog for business women.

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