By Alicja Gados

It’s nothing new. The advice is prolific: you must engage your customers on social media! It’s easy to say, but to do it properly, there are some tricks and some advice you should know to really get it going.  You need to gain traction in the social media space for your brand, and start conversations with your fans, audience or customers.  This is the first step towards a sale. 

If you’re looking to build your brand, you’ll greatly benefit by sparking engagement with customers.  After all, social media is all about story telling, and you can leverage this to improve recognition of your brand.  Sparking engagement with your followers will help you build a stronger community.  Your fans are an important step to creating authentic content on social media.  So what are the best ways to go about doing this?

Listen

The most important first step is to listen to the conversations people are having in order to discover more about them.  Setting up hashtag monitoring on Hootsuite is one recommended way to do this.  With all the pertinent conversations filtered, you can find out what people are saying about your industry, your products, your competitors, too.  Sit back and try to gauge what they are thinking and feeling, and brainstorm ways to engage with them given this knowledge. 

Ask and answer questions

Ask your followers answer questions.  This will get the conversation started.  Exactly what to ask, will of course depend on your audience.  A campaign to promote hammock by outdoor retailer REI for example, ask their followers to send Instagram photos with a #NationalHammockDay hashtag. They challenged their community to find “crazy, cool spots to hammock.”  Photos were featured on REI’s facebook page. (Source REI Facebook page)

A great way of engaging the audience by encouraging creative photo submissions to create buzz around a certain product. Image courtesy of the REI Facebook page. 

A great way of engaging the audience by encouraging creative photo submissions to create buzz around a certain product. Image courtesy of the REI Facebook page. 

Your audience will ask you questions too, and it’s most likely they’ll use social media to do this. Never miss out on an opportunity to answer a question, even if you don’t have the exact answer. It’s important to acknowledge all questions and requested interactions.  

Keep responses positive and stay focused, your responses should be relevant to your business. 

It’s important to address negative comments and complaints as well.  Criticism is not always a bad thing, and can help you learn from the mistake, get more information about your target customers preferences and give you an opportunity to fix the problem.  The good thing is that this public criticism offers you an opportunity to fix it publicly. 

Give your fans attention

We have now an entire generation has grown up with smartphones, laptops and social media, and since social media is a main platform for social activities, would love an opportunity to get recognition out there.  When you give your fans recognition, you’ll also be getting user generated content. You can use this content on your other social media pages, your website and feature in advertising promotions.  The benefit to giving your audience attention is two-fold in that sense.

Outdoor retailer Backcountry.com encourages user submissions that have the iconic Backcountry.com "goat" logo sticker in various outdoor places, showcasing the outdoor culture at the retailer. Image courtesy of the Backcountry.com Facebook page.

Outdoor retailer Backcountry.com encourages user submissions that have the iconic Backcountry.com "goat" logo sticker in various outdoor places, showcasing the outdoor culture at the retailer. Image courtesy of the Backcountry.com Facebook page.

Have a contest

Contests can help your brand build followers and generate buzz.  The contest should include your audience in the most interactive way possible, by making them ‘do something’ and not just blankly submit their email to enter.  If your reach is too broad, you may attract people that only enter contests to win free stuff, don’t plan to use it and won’t interact with your company unless you are giving something away.  Your contest should ask your audience to submit a creative photo, video or design such that is relevant to your brand.  You can choose a winner yourself for best entry or better yet, ask other audience members to vote once you’ve narrowed it down if you have many entries.

Dedicated social service

To promote a consistent and specific social media strategy, consider having a person specifically dedicated to monitoring social media channels for your company.  If your company, and social media presence is big enough you may want a team dedicated to this task.  

Create community

This aligns with our earlier point about giving your audience attention.  When you promote other peoples content, this creates community and reciprocity: it encourages others to share your content as well. 

Ask for reviews

Reviews can go a long way to broadcasting your image, give you incentive to give great service and create a community of sharing.  Ask your customers to give you reviews on Facebook and Google. This will give you an incentive to show your superior customers service skills, make things right and gain publicity.  

Don’t forget about your employees

The data is staggering: your brand message will travel over 5 times further when shared by your employees than anyone else according to statistics uncovered by MSL Group.  A study by IBM has uncovered those leads endorsed with employee advocacy are 7 times more likely to convert compared to any other lead (source: Smallbiztrends). 

Edmonton coffee roaster Transcend Coffee posting a photo of staff enjoying coffee and asking readers to think of reasons why they love it.  Image courtesy of the Transcend Coffee Facebook page. 

Edmonton coffee roaster Transcend Coffee posting a photo of staff enjoying coffee and asking readers to think of reasons why they love it.  Image courtesy of the Transcend Coffee Facebook page. 

To start, select a few enthusiastic and willing employees for the task.  Assign a social media ‘task’ and once they’ve posted and shared it, collect data on which has garnered the most engagement.  You may want to assign a few people or one person to the task, depending on your needs and company size, but make sure the social media message is consistent and professional.

Repurposed content

Once content is done, it’s not necessarily used just for one purpose.  Repurposing content is a quick way to create new content. There are many ways to use it. For example, take a popular photo from the content and Pin it on Pinterest, asking a question if possible. Be timely with changing seasons and what is relevant in your industry. For example, a post published last year on “tips for hiking in the fall” can be posted each fall with new reasons to promote why these tips are helpful. Add new photos if you have them, promote new tips or gear updates that are relevant to the post, and send the reader to the original content.  This creates brand legacy and shows your expertise in a particular area. 

 

Sources and Further Reading

Hootsuite.com blog.hootsuite.com/how-to-use-social-media-to-engage-customers/

REI Facebook page facebook.com/REI/

Backcountry.com Facebook page facebook.com/Backcountry/ 

Transcend Coffee Facebook page  facebook.com/transcendcoffee/

American Express.com americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/seven-ways-engage-customers-using-social-media/

Scribd.com scribd.com/doc/249863818/Infographic-Social-Employee-Advocacy

SmallBizTrends.comsmallbiztrends.com/2016/07/marketing-on-social-media.html

 Social Media Examiner  socialmediaexaminer.com/4-ways-to-include-fans-in-your-social-media-activities/

Comment