As a social media professional, I’ve seen the progressive methods of encouraging user engagement on Facebook and Twitter, and while overt calls to action such as “Like this!” and “RT if you agree” may still be appropriate for some brands, today’s social media-savvy consumer is now looking for something more than an instruction on how they should interact with a status update or image.
We are entering a period of deeper audience engagement where users are carefully considering the value of each interaction they have with a brand. This could include considerations such as “what does this brand have to offer me?” and “do I really want to publicly endorse this brand?” Consumers also have expectations to be amused, or treated to highly tailored content. In short, the social media audience expects you to know them inside out.
So, how do brands do this?
Listen to the conversation
Do you know what excites your audience, what they talk about the most, or what they expect from your brand's social media pages? Ignoring audience expectations is a huge mistake, and in extreme cases, can lead to a PR crisis. Instead, your brand should be standardising a system for community listening; this can be simplified with the introduction of a social media agency, or created internally with the customer service, communication and social media departments.
Now that you know what the audience likes to talk about, introduce this content into your social media activity. Don’t stop there: wade through your follower posts and publicly respond – think of brand social media pages as an extension of the customer service department, customers and brand supporters will look for the easiest form of contact, which currently is social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
Twitter offers great opportunities for discovering what appeals to followers and responding in real-time. Try hosting a Twitter chat – create a dedicated hashtag for the event e.g. #YourBrandChat so the conversation can be easily tracked. Followers will appreciate the chance to feed back to brands and chat is a valuable opportunity to reach out to your audience. Don't forget to raise awareness with your audience in good time to ensure practical participation levels.
In the case of negative comments left by disgruntled consumers, demonstrate how much the brand values consumer opinion – adverse comments need not represent disaster if brands respond in a timely and sensitive way.
If there’s one piece of advice I would give to brands interacting with consumers through social media, it’s to remain human. Today’s social media audiences don't respond well to bombardments of advertising copy in each post you make – whilst it is understood that social media networks are a platform for marketing to consumers, every post shouldn't be an ad. Use the intelligence acquired from your community listening to understand which topics, products or themes to incorporate into your tweets or Facebook posts.
Being human also applies when responding to comments and replies. Making a concerted effort to personalise responses will show the audience that you have actually read the comment, and understand its relevance and meaning to the user.
Creating meaningful conversations with your followers involves listening, researching and maintaining a human touch. The opportunity to interact with the target audience should be viewed as invaluable, as should expanding the social media department to hire a community manager should your following be large enough to warrant an extra member of staff.
(Image courtesy of Kookkai_nak / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)