How to Start Conversations Online

Sarah was puzzled by another thing.  She knows she produces high quality material.  Whenever she asks someone to comment on her writing, she receives a positive response.  When she speaks in public, she receives a warm response. 

Place the same material online and nothing happens.  Her analytics show people read stuff and yet few comment.  Why do so few engage?

Customer Conversations

Just like Sarah, most of her customers are busy people.  How do busy people read?  Online, they don’t read in detail, they scan.  They are pressured for time.  Many people prefer to read books or readers that are easier on the eye.  Online they usually seek something and used to most of what they see on screen being of little relevance.

Many people use audiobooks and online they are more likely view video or audio.  Audio is good for busy people because they listen while they do something else.  However, there is still room for text.  Here are a few thoughts.  Some of what follows works under more than one heading. 


Busy people scan and so they must see immediately what this page is about.  By inviting those interested to read on, you invite everyone else to move on!  Anyone who stays scans the rest of the page to ascertain whether it is worth reading in detail.

When someone scans the page they read headings and subheadings, captions, highlights, links.  Anything that stands out from the main body of text.  Make sure standout text conveys what the page is about in summary.

Text accompanying video or audio is likely to be read.  The reader wants to know whether it is worth hearing the recording.  A summary also reminds someone of its content, if they decide to listen again. 

Remember to include a call to action.  What do you want the reader to do next? 

Blog Posts

The same applies to blog posts although perhaps visitors expect more words.  It is possible to be too long.  Reading online is still tiring and time pressured.

Choose any call to action but most common to blog posts is the invitation to comment.  The big difference between commenting and replying to an email is comments are public.  It’s possible to discuss the post with other readers.  (You can do something similar on your website – however be sure to get a conversation going.  Somehow an empty comments section on a webpage seems more of a problem than a blog post without comments.)

How do you get people to comment?  It is not easy.  Ask questions.  Invite comments.  Always reply to comments. 

Social Media

Again the main way to respond is through comments.  You are likely to receive likes and shares (the names of these features vary with platforms). 

Generally, informative posts get fewer comments than posts that pose questions.  Controversial posts are also receive more comments.  Watch others in businesses similar to yours.  Which of their posts get comments?


Networking is a great way to build lists.  Give people your business card and offer to add them to your list.  Connect with them on a social media platform to keep in touch but joining them to something specifically yours is better.

Why should someone want to connect with you?  Engage their attention.  Be distinctive.  Try not to sound like everyone else!  If you have a stimulating conversation that really interests the contact, they may be minded to continue the conversation online but don’t forget to offer the possibility of a coffee – it’s still possible to converse in the old-fashioned way!

What About?

Indeed!  You can afford to be mysterious or challenging in real life.  You can gauge responses and modify your approach as you go.  Online you don’t even know when someone reads a page or post.  If they comment, you can reply but most readers move on, leaving no trace of their presence.

Many are simply not interested and possibly never would be.  But some may engage if they see the right thing.  Social media is a good way of finding those who hang around until they see the right thing.  Once they engage, invite them to join your list. 

Valuable content is important but it is hard to generalise.  Make sure headings or subject lines, are compelling to capture attention.  There are email marketers I always open and start to read, others I mostly ignore.  Those I ignore may be compelling reading for someone else. 

Generally, keep the message as short as possible.  Start with a story and then link the story to a single piece of teaching.  Finish with a call to action. 

Master this basic model for a successful email or post before you try anything else.  You can keep this underlying model and vary it in effectively infinite ways.  How you do that is a matter of practice. 

Remember to use every opportunity to build and strengthen relationships with clients and prospects.  We will look at this in more depth next time.

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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