It  seems like there’s a resurgence in interest in creating more than just text online to drive interaction.  I had a reporter contact me yesterday to talk about the use of podcasting for niche audiences, and then there’s the explosion of interest in Pinterest.  What does this all have in common?  Ultimately, it’s all about getting some more attention online, but what factors influence what gets noticed and what gets ignored? Here’s my take:

1. Know Your Audience.  Whatever you do, you need to cater a bit to your audience.  It doesn’t matter if you are a typical performer, or a teacher, or even just a parent.  You have to be aware of what’s going to capture the interest and attention of your audience, and hold it there.  That can vary, according to group dynamics, of course, but people need to hear relevant, meaningful information which they can use to then act.

That means when I create a podcast or blog post, I’m making something to share publicly, probably not just for me.  I need to put at least some attention into crafting the post so that there’s a sense of structure, an idea people can follow, and that I execute on the small details, like spelling and grammar, that are important for communicating without causing someone to lose the flow of the idea by the distraction of poor execution.  Likewise, if I want the attention of my kids, I need to choose a place and time where we can have a meaningful conversation, which probably is not in the middle of their favorite TV show.

2. Time, Place and Manner.  Just like the Supreme Court stated in rulings on limits of the first amendment, your messages will be better heard and conveyed if you keep time, place and manner in mind.  In terms of social media and business, this means that there may be a better way to approach people on Facebook than on Twitter; or the way you publish content on Pinterest will be different from Google Plus.  Some days may see less people interacting with you, while others seem dynamic and almost overwhelming.  By understanding each of the places you interact, when there may be a good time to interact, and then choosing your content and message appropriately, you’ll get a lot closer to your goal of engagement than blasting information 24 x 7 to an indifferent audience.

3. Authenticity and Originiality.  It’s said so often it’s a cliche, but Be You, because you can do that better than anyone else on the Planet.  Trying to be someone else is applying for a job that’s already taken.  This means you need to figure out who you are and what you have to offer others.  Unfortunately, this often takes a lot of work.  But we all know it when we see it.  And we all know it when we don’t, too.

For example, in the political race, all the small things about the candidates, ranging from their tone of voice, their micro-emotions, all that subtle communication we do that tells people how we really feel and whether or not we’re being totally forthright and honest- all of that goes into our perceptions of people, whether we’ve actually met them or not.   It’s when you listen to someone, and you can tell whether they really believe what they are saying, or if they’re just taking a position to win an argument or make a point. For example, as much as I dislike Rick Santorum’s politics, I think he’s authentic in his beliefs.  By contrast, I always feel like Mitt Romney is telling me what he thinks I want to hear, rather than what he really feels and thinks.  There’s a wall there that we can feel and palpate.

It’s what being unsaid that’s louder than what is being said.  That shows through in everything you do, so do yourself a huge favor, and be authentic.  That resonates far more than pandering ever will.

4. Appearance and Design Matter.  Not everything you put up online needs to be polished and ready to present to clients.  Pictures on Flickr can be blurry.  Your video doesn’t have to look like a BBC documentary.  Your podcast doesn’t need to sound like NPR or professional radio.  That said, you do need to pay attention to minimum production standards.  If you want to publish a podcast, people should be able to listen to you without the air conditioner or computer fan drowning you out.  Background noise shouldn’t distract from the content.  Your website should have a sense of flow, and people should be able to find what they’re looking for.  Too much interest and competition for attention in these spaces, and you overwhelming a peson’s ability to process information and make the emotional connections you want them to make to your content.

5. Confidence and Intimacy.  In almost every social situation, and this includes digital content, you need to be able to express confidence and authority, while also inviting people in to see what makes you tick.  The best blogs and podcasts I listen to have a blend of these factors at work.  The host has a sense of purpose in their communication, and a sense of inviting the listener or reader in to a more intimate conversation or relationship.  We share thoughts and ideas, sometimes raw and sometimes polished.  But the important factor in engagement is creating that sense of taking someone by the hand and taking them on a journey that will be captivating for the time spent.  It creates trust over time, as we blend expertise and adventure along with learning and friendship, gradually creating an audience that “gets it”.

All of these factors together help you create a community online over time.  This is the community that understands the inside jokes and the zeitgeist.  It’s a virtual relationship, that may even be largely one way.  But people will keep coming back, time and time again, to get their hit of your content, because it adds value to their lives on each experience.  This is what they will tell their friends about.

The quick methods of attention, by using shock or surprise, or merely the fad of the day, do get you attention, but it’s unlikely to give you the sustained attention over time that will be the key to your long term success.

What have I forgotten?  What are your key factors to gaining and sustaining attention?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.