Small businesses are increasingly realising the importance of social media.
This new form of communication has provided businesses of every size with a unique opportunity to find and speak to current and potential customers, and to develop relationships with them in a way that was not previously possible.
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All too frequently, though, business owners broadcast on these channels – but they do not strike up any meaningful conversation.
Encouraging engagement is perhaps the most difficult aspect of social media, but it is also potentially the most important. Here are our top tips to increase and maintain social media engagement.
1. Be prepared for a long conversation
Meaningful engagement on social media requires more than a couple of messages. You should be prepared to have a protracted conversation – and you should be prepared for the participants to be highly opinionated! Make sure that you set aside enough time to deal with responses, in order that participants don’t feel like they are being ignored.
2. Don't rely on standard messages
Social media users will see through standard, one-size-fits-all messaging. Rather than relying on stock phrases, make sure that you create bespoke content. React to what’s going on around you. For example, is there something in the news that might interest your customers or partners?
It’s not enough to rely on your audience to begin conversations with you. In addition, you should go in search of potential conversations elsewhere. Use social media monitoring tools to listen for mentions of your brand, or of topics of interest. Identify a few key blogs, Twitter accounts, and LinkedIn groups to check regularly, and engage proactively with them. Remember that engagement doesn’t just happen on your own domain or your own Twitter account.
4. Learn where your customers live online
Listening will also help you to build up a picture of where your customers and partners live online. For example, are they predominantly LinkedIn or Facebook users? Do they blog? Do they use forums regularly? By working out which platforms they prefer you can target your efforts more effectively.
5. Encourage commenting
Make sure that commenting is enabled on your own content, and that you are actively encouraging readers to give their opinions. There is a range of commenting solutions available. Most platforms will allow your followers to comment, and some will take this a step further with polls, forums and groups. Make clear that you’d like readers to contribute. It often helps to end with a question.
6. Give your business a face
Readers and social media users frequently react better when they can see a human face behind your content. Rather than interacting as ‘Widget Company’, consider using your own name. Engage with customers as a representative of Widget Company, using a picture and a conversational tone. This will help to make your conversations feel more natural, and less sales-related.
7. Vary your content
Once you find the type of content that ‘works’ for you, it is tempting to keep replicating that. Remember, though, that readers can be fickle. You need to vary your content, both by subject and by content type, in order to maintain interest and encourage engagement. Remember that not everything needs to be text-based. Consider experimenting with video or audio – both of which can be produced with very little outlay.
8. Become a conduit…
As well as publishing your own content, stay on the lookout for things that will interest your audience elsewhere on the web. Retweet them, link to them on your blog, or post them on Instagram, LinkedIn or Facebook. As well as helping you to develop relationships with potential partners, this will help to position you as a go-to place for information in the eyes of your audience.
9. …but lead the conversation
Don’t forget, though, that simply feeding or replicating existing content isn’t enough. Keep thinking about new, original ideas for content that have not yet been explored – as it is these that will ultimately secure your position as a thought leader.
10. Build a plan
Finally, remember that ‘winging it’ is not a good enough strategy when it comes to social media. Make sure that you develop at least the bare bones of a plan. You can always add to it later – but by deciding on (and writing down) a few key goals you can judge your progress and determine how best to target your efforts.