31 May 2011

What My Brush with Fame in Naples Taught Me About Engagement


I arrived in Naples in late July 1990 as a minor celebrity.

My article on Italian-American novelist John Fante had just appeared in the Naples daily, Il Mattino, in a translation by my friend and editor Francesco Durante.

Wherever we went in Naples it seemed everyone I met had read the article, had an opinion about it, and wanted to discuss it with me. 

I met more people who had read something of mine in those few days than I ever have, at least, until the Internet made it easier for me to reach a large, global audience.  What was so interesting about that experience was not the brush with fame..

No, it was how engaged people were with the writing, and not just my writing.  Mine was one of many articles about which they held and shared their opinions.

I wonder whether, more than 20 years later, newspapers in Naples still engender that kind of engagement and dialogue.  And I wonder how we can better capture such engagement on the Internet.  Disqus helps.  Twitter does it occasionally, although dialogue is hampered by that service's forced "retweeting" without commentary.

Some bloggers such as Fred Wilson, who blogs at AVC is a master of fostering such community; whereas another popular blogger, Seth Godin, does not allow comments on his posts.

Within a few days the talk had shifted from my article to the invasion of Kuwait and the first Persian Gulf War, just as we had moved on from Naples to Capri.  I realized those Italians I met were newspaper readers; it was the medium of their day and they formed a community of readers around their reading.

How are you encouraging community among your readers? What kind of reader engagement metrics do you use for your web site?  How are you encouraging dialogue among your readers or your customers?

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