Despite having an amazing opportunity to initiate and sustain meaningful dialogues with their consumers, many brands treat social media primarily as a broadcast platform.
Emphasis, energy and resources are typically pumped into the creation and publication of meaningful content - which is great - but minimal effort is put toward initiating conversations with current and prospective consumers. Virtually all interactions are the result of consumers taking it upon themselves to comment on a business' content, ask a question, request customer assistance, or other consumer-initiated dialogue.
By proactively initiating a dialogue with consumers, you can expect to reach a broader audience, attract new consumers, build affinity for your brand, encourage reciprocated sociability, and increase the likelihood of consumers adding your brand to their consideration set. In short, you'll be on your way to building real relationships, and if properly sustained and nurtured, and you continually offer tremendous value, you will experience all of the resulting benefits.
Not bad for starting and sustaining a conversation.
And, it makes sense. In the context of face-to-face interactions in the offline world, initiating a dialogue is the best way to have a meaningful conversation. Lurking in the shadows, waiting for someone to talk to you rarely results in amazing interactions, and the same holds true on social media (except, of course, for rare circumstances).
So, the question is, how can you go about initiating a dialogue with your consumers on social media?
Spend more time listening
The openness of many social media platforms means that as a business or brand, you have the capability to listen in on and observe your consumers' conversations. By spending more time tuning into the pulse of your consumers' conversations, you'll be better positioned to identify opportunities to jump in and be a meaningful contributor to a conversation that is relevant to your brand.
Follow and subscribe to your consumers
A great number of businesses and brands have a strong focus on audience acquisition though rarely think about the benefits of following their consumers. Not only will this serve as an ice-breaker to introduce your brand, but will allow you to more easily monitor and follow the discussions your consumers are having on various social media channels.
Get involved in related communities
Believe it or not, your consumers are talking about your business and brand in channels that are not your own. In some cases, there are thriving, vibrant consumer-run communities that are focused on conversations to do with your business, brand, category, competition, and other related topics.
Take some time to monitor the discussions that are happening around the web that are relevant to you, and gauge the appropriateness of joining in. There will be some cases where the injection of your brand may be viewed as an intrusion, through there will be other cases where it will be welcomed. After thorough monitoring, use your best judgment to make a call as to how to proceed. The worst-case scenario is that you've found a meaningful forum for discussion to do with your business or brand, which can be a great source of insight.
Set goals and dedicate time to engagement
In my experience, the trouble most businesses and brands have with proactively initiating conversations on social media is a perceived lack of time. It's one more thing, and in some cases one more thing too many, to do on top of an already ambitious publication schedule, responding to comments and questions, and other marketing activity.
To overcome this, I'd recommend you add goals to your social media strategy for consumer outreach and initiating conversations. Start with something manageable such as initiating X number of conversations with targeted consumers daily. Keep it small, get a feel for the time it takes, and build on that.