Audience engagement in a noisy world

We all do it. Wake up, grab our mini computers and see what we missed in those all-too-short hours of slumber. Whether we jump into our favorite social app, go directly to email, or just start scrolling through notifications that built up overnight, come morning we want to be instantly informed about the world spinning around us.

But don’t worry, this isn’t a self help article like 5 Steps to Grow Your Twitter Following. No, this is a different look at audience engagement from the supply side of the equation and all of our quests as to how to do it better. So join me for a conversation with NAR Commercial’s communication guru Jacob Knabb where he shares some of his thoughts on how we can communicate with target audiences more effectively.

Jacob S. Knabb, Associate of Commercial Communications, Commercial & Global Services, National Association of REALTORS®

Nathan Graham: As the face, or maybe these days it’s the thumbs, of NAR Commercial, who are you trying to reach and what do they get by giving you a bit of their time?
Jacob Knabb: Our primary audience is commercial members of the National Association of REALTORS®, but we engage with the commercial real estate industry as a whole. NAR’s membership includes 80,000 commercial members and an estimated 300,000 members who conduct one to four commercial transactions annually.

We provide them with a blend of content covering educational opportunities, advocacy, industry trends, networking, and more. Our goal is to facilitate connections for our commercial members and empower them with industry-leading ideas and concepts delivered in an actionable format they can take and use right out of the box.

Two of our biggest channels are our print publication, Commercial Connections, and our monthly eNewsletter, Commercial Digest, which are both free to members. We also have a substantial online presence with over 30k followers on Twitter and a LinkedIn Group with 4k+ members.

NG: What is your process for curating, commenting and deciding which platforms to distribute content on?
JK: My decisions are a blend of my own experiences in media and the insights I’ve gleaned from working with director of commercial development and services, Jean Maday, and Jan Hope, vice president commercial real estate. Each has decades of experience supporting commercial real estate practitioners.

I try as much as possible to cater my messaging to each distinct audience and that can alter things like voice and focus. I think it’s unwise to follow a ‘one ring to rule them all’ style or approach.

For example, I’m working on a communications campaign now to promote NAR’s Commercial Data & Listing Resources, which provide members with commercial real estate technology options, often at a discount, that add value to their daily businesses.

Some of these communications will go to NAR’s association executives via an internal newsletter, who want to know how these technology companies will help them better serve their members and create successful outcomes for their associations.

But other messaging is more public-facing and will appear on Twitter or in Commercial Connections, and commercial real estate practitioners aren’t very interested in adding value to an association. So the messaging I direct toward them is more focused on the companies and services they provide, how they can save members money and help them better serve clients.

NG: Since people see NAR Commercial content in a bunch of different ways, how do you balance getting important things out to people without hitting them over the head repeatedly with the same stuff?
JK: I believe people don’t mind hearing a similar message if it’s not literally the same wording. It’s nice to know something is important and seeing it a few different places emphasizes importance and increases the likelihood of engagement. People like to be reminded about things that can make them successful or pad their bottom line.

At the same time, not all content is created equally. Some messages really only belong in one channel and pumping them out everywhere creates a negative impact. In the end, I try to ask myself what the reader wants and hone in on that to craft language and calls-to-action.

NG: What is your ratio of scheduling content with preset commentary as opposed to real time engagement with your audience and how did you come to that breakdown?
JK: I like to queue things up in advance whenever possible. NAR uses Spredfast for social, but there are plenty of programs out there. Our internal communications channels also support pre-programmed content. I want to have my messaging ready to go. This allows me to supplement with more ‘in-the-moment’ content.

NG: What platforms and people do you see hosting the most dynamic conversations regarding commercial real estate?
JK: I see a ton of associations doing a really good job with YPN programming and that’s a hotbed of great connections and conversations. I’m a fan of Urban Land Institute and Smart Growth America twitter accounts. Many CEOs of large commercial real estate firms post great stuff on Twitter. NAR has many good channels and the NAR and NAR Research accounts are great ones to follow. I’d also recommend checking out the NAR Hub where commercial members network and collaborate with each other year-round.

NG: What suggestion would you offer a commercial practitioner to help them engage their target audiences outside of social media, print and their website reach?
JK: Take advantage of networking opportunities. I hear stories all the time about members making connections at YPN events, tech talks, and other industry functions. But connecting with your community isn’t limited to commercial real estate functions. One member told a story recently about forming a strong connection with a client at an auto show for classic car collectors. Now they work together on retail investments and cruise around in mid-century roadsters. I’d call that a win.

As our members love to say, this is a relationship industry. So any strategy should always strive to result in sitting knee-to-knee with your target audience and having a conversation.

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