When it comes to businesses and social media engagement, make sure your account is a dinner party, not a soapbox.
Engagement has become the No. 1 goal across every social media platform, because honest engagement equals return customers and better rankings. And while it's easy to create an account, the challenge lies in creating an active, engaged audience that believes and trusts in your content.
Mallory Ottariano, founder of Kind Apparel, said engagement is all about building relationships. "Engagement shows customers trust you," she said, "and are more likely to show that with their dollars."
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As online engagement grows in importance, it's vital that your business knows how to correctly connect with your target audience. We asked social media experts to explain how to amplify your social media strategy so it's more efficient and effective.
Build a good rapport with your followers.
Consumers are demanding realistic depictions of life from brands, and businesses' social media accounts are following suit.
"Abolish any ideas of perfection," said Ottariano. "Show imperfection and real life. It's what your customers are going through and what they'll connect with most."
Make it a point to interact with your consumers, posting comments, liking mentions or tags, and asking or answering questions.
"Be an active user of the platform," said Rhea Freeman, social media and content consultant at Rhea Freeman PR. "Remember, it's social."
Having an active back-and-forth with your consumers humanizes your brand and helps your customers see that there are real people behind the posts. This makes them more likely to develop a connection to your business and can drive up sales, especially since more than 50% of consumers will follow or look at a brand's social media before purchasing a product. [Interested in social media marketing solutions for your small business? Check out our best picks and reviews.]
Therefore, your social media presence – or lack thereof – can make or break a customer's decision to conduct business with you.
"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, founding partner at the 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."
Prioritize one-on-one customer communications.
If a customer reaches out to you on social media with a question, don't let it go unanswered, especially for more than 24 hours. Sprout Social says 30% of millennials engage with a brand on social once a month, which means your interaction has the potential to make an even larger impression – either negative or positive. Facebook makes a business page's response rate public, so it's in your best interest to answer every message that comes in.
While crafting an individual response takes time, it's all part of providing top-notch customer service in a timely fashion. Writing a promotional post can wait if it means getting a customer the answer they need, said Andrew Caravella, vice president of global partnerships at Sprout Social.
"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 said. "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]."
It's important to know the time and place for using a promotional voice, said Brian Nunnery, director of social media at Saatva. "Be thoughtful. Social media channels today are so saturated with promotional content to the point that feeds are flooded with content that doesn't offer value." Nunnery said that consumers are looking for content that matters to them, and makes them feel seen and valued by the company.
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.
"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, former president of social engagement platform Postano and current vice president of display and commerce at Sprinklr. "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."
Devon Wijesinghe, head of corporate and business development at Cision, agreed that brands should remain authentic in their messaging, especially when 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 a few channels to curate a special community.
New social networks and apps 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.
Instagram is a popular platform, but it may not be appropriate for every business. Ottariano said that she commonly sees other brands posting for the sake of posting, which diminishes their social presence, because it doesn't add anything of value.
"Your company is intentional, so make your posting intentional," she said. "Posting stock photos and lame quotes just because you feel you need to post dilutes your image and clout."
When launching your social media presence, be mindful of who your audience is and what social platforms they are likely already using. Then create your profiles to fit the culture of each platform, using existing users as your guides to create your audience.
"Being on social is about building a community," Caravella said. "Rather than unattended profiles and scattered responses, customers will appreciate the dedicated efforts, communication will persist, and your organic following will grow."
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon and Danielle Corcione. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.