Social Media is meant to be social. The times sure have changed with social media. What started out as a way for the younger generation to connect online (anyone remember Myspace?) has evolved over the years to become a marketing powerhouse for businesses. And while social media is still widely used as a way to connect on, well, a social basis, more and more businesses and brands not only have a presence there but also use it as one of their primary marketing strategies. On Facebook alone, 90 million small businesses use Facebook Pages, groups and messenger for example. Why is this? Businesses and brands wouldn’t be coming to social media in droves to connect and nurture relationships with their audiences if there weren’t some significant reason. It’s simple. Because it works. When you really think about it, it makes perfect sense that the phenomenon that occurred in which millions (and now billions) of people found a place to gather virtually would eventually include one of the core aspects of current culture – consumerism. People like to buy stuff. And, as it turns out, they like to find out about and engage with where and how they’ll spend their money on social media. In this post, we’ll take a look at perhaps one of the most important and effective ways that businesses can make the most of social media when it comes to effective marketing. And by effective marketing, we mean reaching and connecting with their audiences in an authentic, value-driven way – through engagement. We refer to engaging on Social Media as Social Media Socialization. Engagement is certainly a social media buzzword these days, but for good reason. Before we explore what engagement actually means and some ways to do it effectively, it’s important to lay the foundation of how businesses and consumers are interacting on social media. How Are People Interacting With Brands and Businesses on Social Media? #1. Information gathering – One of the primary ways we see people engaging with brands through social media is simply by finding out more about them. 57% of consumers will follow a brand on social media, for example, and 89% of those folks will end up buying their products or services. The “old days” of slick marketing tactics have been falling by the wayside for a while, and content marketing has become king (or queen). When it comes to establishing and nurturing a relationship with consumers that leads to them becoming customers, then loyal and repeat customers and ideally referral sources over the long-term, valuable, helpful content delivered through social media has become a primary means. And, after delivering relevant and useful content, the next step in that process is engaging with the people who are responding to it—more on this in a bit. #2. Customer service – We’re also seeing more and more people turning to social media first for their customer service needs and it’s becoming an increasingly popular way to interact with businesses versus picking up the phone or sending a support email. One billion messages are exchanged between individuals and businesses every year on Facebook alone, and that number is only expected to increase in the coming years. #3. Direct sales – Lastly, recent years have brought a significant increase in direct sales happening on social media. Platforms like Instagram with its Instgram Shopping feature and Pinterest with its Product Pins have been forerunners of this phenomenon. So we see that there’s “demand” from the marketplace when it comes to using social media for finding out about, engaging with and purchasing from businesses. Now let’s take a look at how businesses and brands are optimizing their social media efforts to meet this demand. How Businesses Are Using Social Media A business or brand’s presence on social media is so much more than a profile. Ideally, it’s a well-oiled machine that functions in a few ways to create authentic, lasting relationships with its customers. Some of the primary ways businesses are using social media are:
Brand awareness – As we just discussed, people are coming to social media to find out more about where they’ll potentially spend their money. Businesses are using social media to communicate their values, messaging and general culture to the audiences they’re looking to attract. And, as mentioned earlier, they’re accomplishing this through using social media to deliver interesting, valuable and engaging content.
Audience building – Hand in hand with increasing brand awareness goes audience building. Attracting a best-fit audience with great branding and content is how businesses are growing their number of followers and subscribers, a portion of which will eventually become customers.
Driving traffic – To use a rather unsavory analogy, social media has become somewhat of a “net” for capturing an audience’s (i.e. potential customers) attention with the goal of driving them to a website and or offer. For the majority of businesses this is the primary role of social media in their marketing and sales process, versus direct sales on social media.
Direct sales – While the majority of brands and businesses use social media to drive traffic to an external website or offer, as we just discussed, many product-driven businesses are using it for direct, on-platform sales.
So how are businesses actually making this work? Social media is not a “set it and forget it” situation. In its way, an optimal social media presence is an ever-evolving, interactive, living and breathing thing. And, if we get back to our well-oiled machine analogy, socialization is the oil that makes this machine run at peak performance. Without effective socialization on social media, a business’s efforts through posting quality content and having a great, attractive profile will only go so far. People want to connect with a brand, even more so than just find out about it – it’s how we’re wired. Connection makes the idea of trusting a business enough to spend one’s money and perhaps even refer it to friends that much more safe and attractive. Next to valuable, helpful content, engagement seals the deal when it comes to the “know, trust and like” factor that people are searching for when looking to spend their hard-earned money. What is Social Media Socialization? A broad way to consider social media engagement is the way in which people are interacting with a brand’s content and page. When it comes to content (posts), this means liking, commenting and sharing. And in regards to a brand’s page or profile, it means liking or following it and ideally spending time there learning more about that brand and what it has to offer. But there’s another layer to engagement, and this is where the “work” often comes in for businesses in order to really be effective with their social media efforts. It’s also why more and more brands and businesses are contracting out to engagement experts and social media specialists to do this “work.” Specifically, we’re talking about the actual connection between a business and its audience, and that comes from interacting with them directly by responding to comments, engaging in conversations and oftentimes responding to direct messages. We’ll talk about tips for effective engagement in a bit, but ideally a brand would respond to how its audience is interacting with it on social media every time. This is what “puts a face” to the brand, so to speak, and nurtures that know, trust and like factor we just mentioned. Quality content is first To take a step back, creating a dynamic in which an audience would even want to interact in the first place means posting quality content that inspires a desire to connect, i.e. engage. While this looks different depending on the brand, its industry and its audience, it can mean thought-provoking, humorous, inspirational and/or value-driven content – or a combination of these. There is a literal sea of content out there in social media land, and we have a very short window (about three seconds on average) to catch people’s attention and get them to want to interact. For this reason, it’s crucial that the first touch point of content be captivating, valuable and yes, engaging. Why is Social Media Socialization important? As we addressed earlier, without engagement with its audience, a brand’s social media marketing efforts only go so far. Again, it’s one thing to create an attractive presence, but without engagement it’s like setting up a storefront with no one to greet and interact with the potential customers. Aside from being a vehicle to moving a potential customer through its sales journey, engagement also serves to legitimize a brand. Being an entity that can actually be interacted with makes it “real” and tangible in people’s minds, and therefore something they can trust as we’ve been discussing. Engagement increases visibility Finally, there’s a pragmatic aspect to social media engagement. Put simply, without it, a brand’s content just won’t get in front of many eyes. The social media wizards, responsible for the algorithms that make our posting efforts effective (or not), have been “on” to engagement for a while now. And, while social media is an ever-changing thing, this dynamic doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon. Meaning that, the wild west days of social media when you could post something and get it in front of a large audience just because, or organically, have come to a close. Platforms want to provide an effective, good user experience and this means putting content in people’s news feeds that is valuable and interesting. And, they measure “valuable and interesting” by how people are responding to and engaging to that content. To close the circle of engagement, so to speak, again that means promoting engagement by putting quality content in front of people and encouraging them to interact more by responding to their comments and connecting with them. While it may seem like somewhat of a “chicken and the egg” dynamic, when you grasp not only the value of engagement but the cyclical nature of it, you’ll see that it has a cumulative effect and is well worth the effort. 9 Tips for Effective Engagement Now that we’ve addressed why engagement is important, it’s helpful to take a closer look at how to best go about it. This list isn’t exhaustive, but will give you a deeper understanding of what engagement looks like and some ways to optimize your efforts. #1. Have a Plan As you drill down on making the most of your social media marketing efforts, it’s crucial to have some idea of where you are in your process. As we discussed, there are different ways that brands use social media and depending on the phase of their presence, i.e. brand new or more established, there may be more focus on one of those ways than the other. For example, a business with a brand new social media presence may be focusing more on audience building, versus driving traffic to an offer (although that could be a goal at a later stage). And, heading into any marketing effort without an idea of where you want to go is like throwing spaghetti at the wall – it can be fun, but not always effective. So when it comes to a plan, a good place to start is to ask yourself – what do you want your audience to do? Become a follower (audience building)? Share your content (brand awareness)? Go to your website or offer (drive traffic)? Make a purchase (direct sales)? It may be one or more, or all of these, but again, having a goal for your social media marketing efforts will help you when it comes to the tone and nature of how you’re engaging with your audience and what you’re asking them to do. #2. Know Your Audience and Post Quality Content We’ve addressed this already, but what exactly is quality content when it comes to engagement? Again, this depends on the culture of a brand’s industry/niche and its audience, and that’s why one of the first aspects of posting quality content is to know your audience. What are their pain points? Their felt needs? Who are they and what kinds of things do they buy? What do they care about? Won’t don’t they like or care about? Having a firm grasp on this information is what will drive the kind of content that will get an audience’s attention and engage them. Engaging content should be:
Information that is interesting and helpful, like tips and tricks, or how-tos, or list-style posts. This could also include blog posts, video and podcasts, for example.
Relevant to your audience.
Shareable, i.e. something that your audience would want to share with their friends and followers.
Engaging! Meaning posts that ask questions or polls, for example.
Visually appealing and brand consistent. 68% of social media users want to engage with content that contains an image, and 50%of them are drawn to posts with video, for example. And, if one of the goals is to get your content shared, then it’s important to have your branding (a logo, for example) included in your posts.
Some other kinds of content to keep in mind are posts that personalize a brand, like sharing stories and actual photographs. This is, again, a highly effective way to foster that connection people are looking for when it comes to engaging with a business with a view to spending their money with them eventually. There are also other ways to share content and engage with an audience aside from traditional posting, and it’s a good idea to explore some of these and what may resonate with your audience. Some of these could include using stories (Facebook and Instagram), live events, video and hosting groups or communities, for example. #3. Be aware of platform culture This pointer speaks to a bigger topic, and that’s choosing the right platform for your brand. While there are many similarities between the social media networks, each one also has its own culture and your audience may be more drawn to one than another, for example. In that sense, it really goes hand in hand with knowing your audience and understanding what they respond to and what they don’t. And, when it comes to being aware of a platform’s culture for optimal engagement, this just means understanding that people interact differently on Twitter than they do on Facebook, for example. #4. Tune into your audience We’ve talked a lot about connecting with an audience through great content and authentically engaging with them by responding to their comments and messages. But there’s a deeper layer to this, and it means taking a step back and really listening to what they’re saying. Understanding and paying attention to how an audience is responding and what they have to say in their words is gold when it comes to streamlining your engagement efforts. This information will help you craft future content that will resonate with them and therefore engage with your brand or business at a deeper level. Because you get them, and your great content is speaking to them and their needs and wants. To take this a step further, you can also practice social listening. This is a somewhat advanced strategy, but a powerful one. It’s the process of monitoring social media channels for mentions of your brand and/or products, or even your competitors’. It’s an opportunity to stay one step ahead and keep track of how people are responding to and interacting with your brand, and is another way to conduct deep research on your audience to therefore optimize your engagement efforts. #5. Respond to everything We’ve already touched on this, but responding to all the comments on your posts is one of the primary ways to promote great engagement. As well, responding to direct messages as soon as possible is another super powerful way to increase audience trust and engagement. For this reason, it’s important to have a system in place to manage direct messaging on social media. Don’t just ignore it, as this is a great way to turn potential customers away. Either have someone monitoring and responding to messages, or create a system for driving people to your primary customer support. There are ways to automate this process, but the most important thing is to have that process fleshed out. #6. Use hashtags The use of hashtags is a big topic and worthy of its own post, however in general when it comes to engagement this is another way to get your content found and in front of the right, best-fit audience. Hashtags are a great way to communicate what your brand and content are about, and streamline the process of audience building and engagement. Because after all, you’re going for quality and not quantity when it comes to building an audience and again, you want to attract people who will be interested in your unique brand and offer. #7. Give people stuff People love to get stuff, especially when it’s free! This could include coupons, trainings or webinars and free resources like checklists and how-tos. These can also be positioned in your sales funnel to gather email addresses and build a subscriber list or to drive people directly to your offer. The end goal of driving traffic or building a list shouldn’t necessarily be the primary focus of offering a “freebie” when it comes to engagement, though. Rather, it should be putting something truly helpful, valuable and relevant in your audience’s hands. Because when you do, they’ll be way more apt to engage with your brand further and come back for more in the future. #8. Keep track of what works and what doesn’t There are a lot of ways you can do this, and almost every platform has some kind of native analytics tool to help you see how people are responding to your social media efforts. Depending on how involved you are with the daily workings of your social media presence, you can also innately tell what an audience responds to and what they don’t. The most important thing is to find some way to keep track of this information so you can do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. It’s also important to keep in mind that an audience is made up of people, and that means they’re not static – trends happen, things change, etc. What may work for a while may not after a point in time, and it’s important to keep track of this in order to stay relevant to your audience. #9. Be open to trial and error In keeping with the point above, it’s important to be open to and okay with the process of trial and error. Even though we’re operating in the digital world, we’re dealing with people. And so it follows that honing in on exactly what works with them and what doesn’t is rarely, if ever, something you’ll have dialed in right away. Accept that there is a learning curve when it comes to understanding how to best engage with your audience, whether it’s through the types of content you share or learning to “speak their language” in your direct interactions with them via comments and messages. The important thing to remember is that it’s all information, and to adapt to it accordingly in order to make the most of your engagement efforts. Taking Your Social Media Engagement Efforts to the Next Level Now you have a clear view of how consumers are interacting with brands and businesses on social media, how businesses are using social media for their marketing efforts and to connect with their audiences, what engagement is exactly, why it’s important and how to do it effectively. And, it would be completely understandable if you just felt like you drank from a fire hose when it comes to making the most of social media for your brand or business. Most business owners come to their endeavors with a vision, some spark of creativity that inspired them to set forth and bring what they have to offer to the marketplace. And, in the same sense, most business owners want to remain in that role of visionary and be able to tend to the higher-level aspects of their businesses, versus manning the social media machine on a daily basis. And therein lies the challenge for many brands and businesses – they get the power of social media for marketing and that it’s a dynamic entity that needs consistent tending in order to be worth the time and effort. And yet, rarely is a business owner attracted – at all – by the idea of tending to their social media presence in a way that’s going to make it as effective as possible when it comes to impacting the bottom line of their business. The great news is that you really don’t have to, and almost shouldn’t tether yourself to this aspect of your business. Our mission at Currents Marketing is to completely unburden business owners of this crucial aspect of their marketing by immersing ourselves in their audience, vision and goals to provide an optimal social media engagement strategy. If you “get” the potential of your social media presence but are even more energized by the thought of letting the experts make the most of it for you, it’s as simple as sitting down and having a conversation about your brand’s vision and goals – we’ll handle the rest. Ready to take your social media presence to the next level – and beyond? Reach out with your questions or schedule a free consult here.