The debate over whether or not your company should engage in social media is long over: Your target market has been posting vacation selfies on Facebook, showing off restaurant meals on Instagram, and live-tweeting about Game of Thrones episodes for years. Over 2.3 billion people around the world use social media, including 58 per cent of Canadians, so you can’t afford not to be there.

Most companies get this. But too many marketers are still making the critical mistake of equating the sheer size of their audience with social media success. Social media is NOT about collecting followers like mint-condition baseball cards. It IS about building real relationships with those followers.

Engagement Is Everything

Collecting over one million “Likes” on your Facebook business page may seem like an impressive feat, but are any of those people actually listening to you? Any company can convince a herd of people to like their Facebook page, share a tweet, or post a video if the prize is sweet enough, but many of these followers are hardly likely to engage with your brand or eventually turn into loyal, paying customers.

“Human-to-human connections are the heart and soul of business,” say Neil Patel and Ritika Puri in The Beginner’s Guide to Online Marketing. This sentiment is just as true on social media as it is when you have face-to-face encounters with your customers. Likes and Follows don’t matter if your audience isn’t engaging with the things you say. A disengaged social media audience of one million is nothing compared to a highly engaged audience of 10,000.

A Brief Review of Engagement

Why is social media engagement so important? Engagement is action, and action signifies interest and connection. Without audience engagement, your social media posts might as well be billboards on a deserted highway.

Engagement on social media can come in several different forms, including:

  • Liking a post
  • Commenting on a post
  • Sharing/re-tweeting a post
  • Clicking on a link in a post

Each one of these actions forms a connection between that individual and your company. As those connections build, they strengthen your company’s relationship with that individual, which is how a great social media post can eventually lead to greater:

  • Brand visibility (through sharing of posts)
  • Customer loyalty
  • Conversations between you and your target market

DiGiorno Pizza is well known for its quirky, irreverent Twitter feed, but its audience loves its tongue-in-cheek tweets. This fun little dating tweet garnered 179 likes and 79 re-tweets, presumably because it made DiGiorno’s followers smile. It doesn’t hurt that the company also stayed on message, indicating that pizza is a must-have to find everlasting love.  

Authenticity: Your Best Social Media Strategy

The internet is full of advice on how to improve your company’s social media marketing, but too often this advice comes in the form of tactics. You can find huge lists that will tell you how to blow up your Facebook following by giving away trips to tropical beaches, why you should accompany your posts with gorgeous images, and how you can cross-promote through guest posting.

All of these tactics can be useful, but only if you approach your social media channels with the right strategy. That strategy centers on authenticity. Ilya Pozin, a writer for Forbes, says it best: “Potential customers and consumers are looking for social media accounts that are smart and funny; they want accounts that are good conversationalists, but will also actually listen to their needs. Essentially, your target audience is looking for your social channel to bring value to their lives in some way.”

Tactics only go so far if you don’t present your company in an authentic manner and speak in a way that makes your target market want to engage. DiGorno’s dating tweet might not initially seem authentic, but it actually keeps with the tongue-in-cheek character of their brand and the young, hip audience they are hoping to attract.

So, before you start implementing “101 Great Tips for Getting More Twitter Followers,” step back and look at your company’s personality and how you are coming across to your audience. Maybe it’s time to dial up the authenticity.

Know Who You Are

You cannot speak authentically to your audience if you don’t know your company’s story and the profiles of your primary target market. Before you begin typing your next LinkedIn update, make certain you understand deeply your company’s personality and ensure that all of your communication reflects that personality.

The Old Spice and Charmin Twitter feeds could not be more different, but each holds true to its company’s unique personality. Old Spice embraces an oddball, masculine tone that its audience loves, while Charmin manages a soft silliness that appeals to its more family-friendly audience.

Show Off Your Personality

Once you understand your social media voice, it’s time to use that voice loud and clear. Create social media posts that come from a true place. Don’t be afraid to be a little wacky, fun, or weird. Remember, you aren’t posting a generic billboard to appeal to the whole world; rather, you are speaking to your unique audience.

When you think of exciting companies, Staples might not immediately make your list, but the office supply store knows how to have a bit of fun. Its Twitter account is filled with quirky, office-related jokes, including this delightfully low-budget video that makes for a perfect office time-waster. 

Create the Conversation Your Followers Want to Have

Creating engagement means sparking a conversation with, rather than just talking at, your followers. This takes a clear understanding of the perspectives, pain points, hopes, and priorities of your target market and how your products and/or services fit into their busy lives.

Barkbox is a company centered on the deep connection between humans and their dogs. As you might suspect, their Facebook page is filled with adorable and funny pictures of dogs, as well as interesting dog-related articles. A Facebook post that linked to a BarkBox article about how to introduce dogs to new babies received 147 likes, 33 shares, and over 20 comments in the first hour it was posted. By posting on a topic that was relevant to its audience, BarkBox gained great visibility with all those shares and likely earned a nice boost in traffic to its website.

Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Stand

Taking a clear side on any issue is sure to put off some people, but it’s also a great way to showcase your company’s personality in an honest way. It may also help you garner greater loyalty from your true fans. CoSchedule found that 84 per cent of social media users share posts as “a way to support causes or issues they care about.”

Health and beauty company Dove has made supporting realistic beauty standards for women a centerpiece of its brand. The company’s YouTube channel is filled with thought-provoking videos that celebrate women’s bodies and challenge women to reconsider how they view themselves. This wildly popular video from 2013, “Real Beauty Sketches,” is just one example of how Dove is keeping itself at the forefront of the movement urging women to see themselves in a healthier light.

Respond, Respond, Respond

When your target market engages, engage right back! A conversation is a two-way street, so don’t post and dash. The best corporate social media users actively respond to comments, share/re-tweet mentions, and keep the interactions going. Followers expect nothing less. In fact, research found that 78 per cent of people who post complaints on Twitter expect a response within an hour.

Arguably, no industry gets deluged by customer complaints quite like airlines. Some airlines, like Jet Blue, have become famous for addressing customer complaints through social media. Another company famous for its playful conversations with its audience is Zappos. Check out any post on the Zappos Facebook page, and you’ll see that the page moderators are constantly in the mix, responding to comments, addressing complaints, answering questions, and encouraging users to post images. It’s no wonder that their followers love sharing, commenting, and engaging!

Turn Engagement into Sales

Intuitively, it makes sense that we buy from the companies that we know, like, and trust. While it can be difficult to quantitatively measure how 10,000 views of a YouTube video directly relates to a company’s bottom line, we all know that building relationships within a target market is critically valuable. New research is starting to clarify the picture. A Socialbakers study found that when social interactions go up on a company’s social media posts, their website traffic also increases.

People engage with social media brands when they care about what the brand is saying, which leads to more brand visibility, increased loyalty, and possibly more sales down the road. A person willing to post their vacation pics to Zappo’s Facebook page is one enthusiastic customer!

Crank Up the Authenticity

Earning social media followers is just the first step in crafting a successful social media strategy. Before you focus on tactics and gimmicks, first nail down your company’s story and purpose. You aren’t just trying to get attention. You are trying to tell your company’s story to your audience in an authentic and engaging way that encourages them to respond. With every social media post you craft, whether it’s on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever new platform blows up next, you’ll always be on the right track when you stay true to your company’s brand and interact honestly and authentically with your audience.

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