Think Outside the Zoom: Four Inventive Ways to Keep Audiences Engaged Remotely

Not every type of remote engagement has to look like a videoconference. When you’re trying to reach your members in today’s largely virtual environment, clever content deployments are key to keeping audiences’ attention.

A year ago, when offices started closing and people began to rely on digital conferencing platforms, we were often just happy to see one another through a video chat.

But that novelty has worn thin over time, and reaching members through apps like Zoom, or through video meetups, can only take you so far.

Plus, there’s the constant risk of Zoom fatigue—something that Stanford researchers recently identified as a common issue caused by continuous eye contact and high cognitive load, among other factors.

This creates a new challenge. Associations, which excel at putting on in-person events to reach and renew their member base, have been forced to reinvent these get-togethers virtually, which does not necessarily deliver the same results. Given all that, what do you do?

The key is to broaden your content horizon and consider your audience’s experience. Whether it’s through clever social media content, written content, or more produced videos, you ultimately need to diversify your messaging so it reaches your members wherever they’re the most engaged.

A few ideas for doing just that:

Provide added value. Content can’t simply exist to entertain or excite people; it should help people do their jobs more effectively. This is something Manifest has been experimenting with on its blog, called The Itch. In addition to covering the benefits of content marketing in every post, The Itch features actionable strategies businesses can use to reach their consumers. Likewise, when you’re trying to reach your members, don’t just offer them high-level fluff. Give them real tips and tools to enhance their work.

Keep it light. When it comes to delivering information targeted at the business world, content that’s impactful doesn’t need to be dry. You can still make it eye-catching or amusing. One example of this approach is a post I spotted on LinkedIn recently that playfully pokes fun at digital marketing tactics to set the stage for its own offering: good old direct mail. Elements of humor and surprise can help draw in your audience and retain their attention in a fast-paced scrolling environment.

Think snackable with your content. Through no fault of their own, the pandemic has made it hard for people to focus. With that in mind, now’s a good time to consider chopping up content into more convenient forms. Instead of forcing people to sit through a five-minute video on social media, give it to them in a minute, with the option to watch the full series later back-to-back. For instance, during Black History Month, Manifest spotlighted its Black employees through a series of quick social posts that, viewed together, highlight the agency’s diverse culture.

Send them something fun. One way that Manifest has been engaging with its Zoom-fatigued employees during the pandemic involves mailers—sometimes with treats, sometimes with fun swag. This can be a good strategy for engaging members. Send them something to let them know they’re being seen and heard. (This approach combines effectively with virtual events, too.)

Ultimately, the content your association creates represents an exchange of value. You give your members something of value, and in exchange, you get their attention, their engagement, and ultimately, their membership.

There has to be more to the transaction than just speaking toward your members. They want to learn something, to be entertained, or to take the lessons from your offerings back to their day jobs—and to absorb the information you want to share in a form that’s convenient to them.

Your members are adapting to the pandemic. So, too, should your message.

Melissa Bouma, president of Manifest, has more than 15 years of experience building insight-driven branding and content strategy, with a client base representing large companies, major universities, and prominent associations.

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