Creating conversations: Good things happen when people talk to each other

(This column was first published in the May issue of Auctioneer magazine. Part one of a two-part column)

By Carl Carter, APR

I’ve always been intrigued by street preachers. There’s one who sets up shop on the shoulder of a four-lane near my office and talks into a bullhorn several afternoons a week to people who are often zipping by at 40 miles per hour. As many times as I’ve passed by him, I’ve never once seen him having a conversation. He just preaches away.

Most of us have a little “street preacher” in us. We need to get out the word about our next auction. Or we want to tell people what great Auctioneers we are so they’ll let us sell their assets.

So we collect a lot of names and addresses and send people stuff. Brochures. Newsletters. E-mail blasts. We set up Facebook pages and dump everything into them. We set up Twitter accounts and post links to our websites, then we disappear.

Then we whine about how nothing seems to be working.

It’s because we’re not really having conversations. We’re street preaching.

Think about all the things you hear and read, and what prompts you to respond. Let’s say you get an e-mail — complete with graphics and fancy layout — announcing that Ames Assets has just hired a new account executive, and that they’ve got a catalog of rare antiques for interior designers and other firms just like yours.

But you know (because you send out email blasts, too) that the sender hasn’t given a single thought to your business. They may not even know you exist as anything other than an e-mail address they got somewhere along the way.

But suppose you get a simple e-mail like this:

“We met recently at the Mideast Antique Show, and I believe you mentioned that you were looking for more Arts & Crafts and Craftsman pieces. I just settled in as a broker with Ames Assets, and we have a couple of West Coast suppliers who have some collections they’re trying to move, including some Greene & Greene and Stickley originals. Would this be of interest to you?”

It just might.

Sure, you can send your email blast to 1,000 people faster than you can reach out to a couple personally. But one good conversation beats 1,000 cars driving by at 40 miles per hour.

Since everybody seems to be hanging out on Facebook and Twitter these days, it makes sense to go there for some good conversations that can lead to business. But there again, you need to make it personal. That starts with actually investing some time finding people who need your services, or who might be interested in bidding on the type assets you sell (Hint: They probably aren’t your cousins and childhood buddies).

There’s a right and wrong way to use social media, and it’s too big a topic for this column. But we’ll talk more about it next month. Meanwhile, my best advice is to look for groups and individuals with compatible interests. For example, I do a lot of work with farmland auctions, so I searched Twitter for posts that had #agriculture and similar tags. I found a number of editors of agriculture publications that I’d already had dealings with, opening the way to strike up conversations leading to articles about my Auctioneer clients.

When using social media, just remember to keep the “social” in it. It’s rude to just go in, post promotional messages and leave without speaking. That’s the equivalent of walking into a Chamber of Commerce mixer, throwing a bunch of brochures in the air, and walking out.

Carl Carter is president of NewMediaRules Communications, which has provided public relations and marketing communications services to auction companies throughout the United States since 1994.

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