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IMG_8531

There was a lot I wanted to say back in September - about how whole-assing one thing instead of half-assing two things has the power to change our lives in many ways - but there just wasn't enough time. Since I took the stage at TEDxBoulder, I've had a lot of time to ruminate on what I said, and didn't, and there are a few things that were really important to me that I didn't get to share, but think are key to the point I was trying to make. In your personal life, the ability to focus on just the few things you really care about exponentially increases your enjoyment of those things. The deeper I've gotten into flyfishing, the more I know about water, bugs, gear, and my own skill set, the more I've been able to enjoy my experiences because the technical aspects are intuitive. My situational awareness and confidence has grown over time so that I'm able to push the boundaries of when and where I fish and I get to have crazy awesome days like the one I had last weekend in the middle of a snowstorm. This is just the result of time and effort and focus. (This was true of yoga as well.)

In your professional life (for me, that's marketing), focusing on the customers you really care about - doing your best to speak to them in an authentic and interesting way - not only keeps them engaged with your brand, but attracts new customers who also want to be a part of something real. With so much of the market in any sector - outdoor, yoga, blogging - growing more generic by the second (see also: Thought Catalog, Elite Daily), people are hungry for a community of like minded folks who don't apologize for their enthusiasm. When I created a focused Instagram campaign at the company I work for, showing our product in a specific context with consistent commentary, our engagement rates nearly tripled. Again, the result of time and effort and focus.

When I saw what had happened at work, I decided to run a little experiment with my own Instagram account that would become a big part of the inspiration behind my TEDx talk (though I didn't have time to fit it in). I was an early adopter, and I recognized the power of IG to get folks emotionally invested from the get-go (read Malcolm Gladwell's Blink for more on this). I look back at my Instagram account, and I'd been stalled out at 200-ish followers for the better part of two years. Getting a puppy provided an unsurprising bump in both followers and engagement, but nothing significant or long-lasting.

Now, I'll be the first to say that I don't care so much how many people are following me so long as the ones that do are interested and engaged in what I'm posting. (This is not "I am my likes" complex, I just want to post stuff that people enjoy if I'm going to post anything at all. Otherwise I'd keep my pics in my phone for my own entertainment.) As puppies tend to take over their owner's feeds, I made my pup his own account. It had more followers than mine did in a matter of days. Lots of breed-specific looney toons, but followers nonetheless and engagement rates pushing 50%. INSANE. My personal feed continued along the cliched path of airplane wings, half-eaten burritos and blurry concert photos. My following flatlined and my engagement rates were dismal.

Not so much due to intention as circumstance, I started posting lots of fishing pics as summer rolled in and I was on the river more. That's what I was doing, so that's what I was posting. The more river pics I posted, the more followers I gained and the more followers I lost. That second part kinda bugged me for a minute, but then I remembered that I'd rather the folks who follow me be interested than just empty numbers. The people who weren't interested in fishing peaced out. The folks who were, stayed on and interacted more and more with my content, effectively creating a community. THIS is what makes social media social. The exchange of ideas between like minded users. I had found my people by establishing a specific point of view.

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Screenshot 2015-03-02 11.01.32

Now point of view is both liberating and restricting. Like I said, I lost a lot of people at first, and every now and then I still do. But I continue to refine my community, and that's the most important thing about any brand, personal or professional, that the community is focused and engaged. So long as I'm on topic, everyone is happy. If I post a food pic, unless it's fish, no one cares. It's liberating in that I can geek out on fishing all day long, but restricting in that there are other things that I'm interested in that don't fit the brand I've created for myself, and when I post those things, my POV oriented community doesn't engage at nearly as high a rate.

Here's where context and commentary play a big role in community engagement. Flyfishing is still the main thing that I do and that I share. But just because it's my main source of content, it's not the only thing that I care about, and what ties fishing to everything else is my approach. With anything I post, it's about the experience, lessons learned, successes and failures, and I offer it in a way that I hope inspires others to chase what they love. So when I want to bring in other things that I'm passionate about, so long as I maintain that thread, if I provide the context and commentary to accompany content that might be considered off-brand, my community still engages, new people might get interested and the conversation continues.

So while your commitment to what you're doing doesn't have to be singular, you're commitment to why you're doing it does, because ultimately, that's what people are engaging with. Start with "why," even if it's airplane wings.

Keep it real out there, people.