Facebook page, Twitter handle and Instagram account? Check. Daily posts on each network? Check. A platform to monitor relevant hashtags, current events and industry trends? Check. If you have these things, your brand's social media presence is off to a great start. But you might not have all your bases covered yet.
"Brands have caught on to the sheer power and reach of social," said Andrew Caravella, vice president of marketing for social media management software Sprout Social. "According to the Q4 2015 Sprout Social Index, the number of messages sent by retail brands has risen 45 percent since the beginning of 2015. Yet they're focusing too much of their energy on broadcasting instead of taking that crucial next step to engage in meaningful conversations."
What do "meaningful conversations" entail? For starters, brands should be answering the numerous customer queries that come up on social media. The Sprout Social Index found that the number of messages consumers are posting to brands' social pages is steadily increasing but that just 16 percent of those inbound messages were actually answered.
"In 2014, retail brands sent three times as many promotional messages as replies on social media," Caravella said. "This preoccupation with broadcasting comes at the expense of sound customer service — eight in nine messages from customers that warrant a response go unanswered within 72 hours. That is not to say brands should stop broadcasting altogether, but there has to be a more delicate and thoughtful balance."
If your business needs a little help striking that balance, here are a few smart ways to make your social media strategy more efficient and effective. [Want ROI on Social Media? Focus on Building Community]
Put yourself in your customers' shoes
Take off your "business" hat for a moment, and think about what you, as a consumer, want from the brands you follow on social media. You'd probably be put off by a company that only shares its own links and nothing else — and so would your own customers.
"Many businesses approach social media as a one-way street and inundate their potential consumers with transactional messaging in efforts to drive sales," said Ben Hordell, a partner at DXagency digital marketing and advertising firm. "To remedy this, companies must think [about the] customer first ... to determine what the consumers would want out of their relationship on social, and work from there."
"We know that traditional advertising and marketing methods are no longer effective," added Devon Wijesinghe, CEO of InsightPool, a word-of-mouth social marketing platform. "Consumers don't respond to mass messaging, pushy strategies or unrelated communications. In the age of social media, people expect highly personalized messaging that serves them — not the company."
Hordell noted that consumers' goals should be the first of three important things to keep in mind when planning your social strategy. Beyond that, you also need to factor in your company's short- and long-term business objectives, as well as the needs of the specific platform.
"If a company can give consumers a great personalized experience ... and focus efforts on driving consumer engagement and retention at the same time, they can build a successful and sustainable program," Hordell said.
Prioritize customer communications
If a customer reaches out to you on social media with a question, don't let it go unanswered. Yes, it takes time and effort, but it's all part of providing top-notch customer service. Writing up a promotional post can wait if it means getting a customer the answer he or she needs, Caravella noted.
"The expectation is that, just like email, telephone and even in-person interactions at brick-and-mortar locations, customers want and need to be acknowledged [on social networks]," Caravella told Business News Daily. "That ability to be seen and heard, in turn, works in favor of marketers, because people are actually much more receptive to brands that take the time and effort to answer their queries on social [networks]."
Caravella said that when companies do engage on social media, they should make sure they're paying attention to queries on all networks, and not just the ones their audience happens to use the most. For instance, the Sprout Social Index found that inbound Facebook messages have increased in 2015, while messages sent on Twitter decreased slightly. However, many brands still prioritized Twitter, responding to customer concerns on Twitter 14 percent of the time, compared to 9 percent of the time on Facebook.
"Brands should indeed allocate customer service resources to the platform where their customers are most vocal, but they shouldn't let that attention compromise efforts on another channel," he said.
Know and own your brand voice
Social media experts often talk about defining your brand's "voice." This means finding a tone and personality that suit your brand, its mission and its values, and making sure all of your social media posts embody it.
"Businesses need to have a personality and make it clear that there is a human on the other side of the computer creating posts, rather than just pushing out products, statistics and data," Wijesinghe said.
While your voice may change slightly over time, you don't want to play around and experiment too much — once you've found the elements that make your brand recognizable, stick with them.
"A common mistake I see is when a business tries to go beyond their natural brand voice and try to be funny or edgy [about] current events," said Justin Garrity, president of social engagement platform Postano. "Oftentimes, it totally falls flat and does not align with a business's overall brand. The best brands on social media have a voice that is authentic to who they are and who their fans perceive them to be."
Wijesinghe agreed that brands should remain authentic in their messaging, especially when it comes to using popular memes and slang terms. Companies need to be very careful about this; otherwise, they risk alienating their customer base.
"[Don't use] slang language in marketing messages, especially when it doesn't fit the audience," Wijesinghe said. "Businesses should speak the same language as their audience."
Focus on the channels that make the most sense
New social networks and apps seem to pop up all the time, but that doesn't mean your business has to be on every single one of them. It's better to have a well-executed, active presence on two or three social networks than a mediocre presence on each popular channel.
"It's common for businesses to get caught up in all of the networks and the latest trends, but being on social is about building a community," Caravella said. "If you're just getting up and running, pick a network or two that best fit your audiences, and devote time and energy to cultivating a community on those networks. Rather than unattended profiles and scattered responses, customers will appreciate the dedicated efforts, communication will persist and your organic following will grow."