Despite the fact that content engagement has dropped by 50% over the last three years, 92% of marketers still feel that social media is important to their business. This is likely because social media marketing has a 100% higher lead-to-close rate compared to traditional outbound marketing methods.
Why? Because social media engagement builds customer-brand relationships, strengthens brand loyalty, and increases word-of-mouth advocacy, which is a much more potent conversion tool than advertising.
So what's caused the drop in content engagement? There are a range of factors to consider, including Facebook’s News Feed changes, which have reduced Page reach, brands’ delay or reluctance to participate in real social dialogue, and a misconception that simply being on social media is enough.
But showing up isn’t enough anymore. Savvy marketers know that you can’t just throw a bunch of posts out there and hope that something sticks.
Audiences today are so desensitized by the deluge of content that brands need to find new ways to proactively reach out, rather than passively waiting for them to engage.
And the key here is engagement – two-way, meaningful, high-value conversations. Essential, the 'social' part of 'social media'.
If you’re seeing a drop in your engagement rates, here are ten tips to spark new ideas, and help break you out of your slump.
1. Be active and consistent in responding to comments and messages
The biggest key to social media engagement success is to build long-term, meaningful relationships with your audience.
Hacking and “viralizing” your content isn’t going to cut it anymore - what audiences really crave is responsive conversation, interaction that they know will make a difference.
The problem companies face is that while up to 65% of brands have adopted social media, their engagement efforts have generally only been one-way - they're using social as a bullhorn, rather than the walkie-talkie its designed to be.
Social media care is one of the most effective forms of new marketing, which means that if brands don’t respond to comments or messages, their real response is, “We don’t really care that much about you.”
The solution? Genuinely engage in conversations with your audience.
If done well, this can lead to a cascade effect, increasing your post’s organic reach and visibility on news feeds, which then leads to even higher engagement rates, and so on.
Respond quickly and consistently to as many comments as possible, and never use cut-and-paste responses. Standard answers are acceptable for private messages, but don’t look flattering when plastered one after another on public comments.
2. Have a personality
People will make judgements about your brand based on the way you engage with them on social media, so always be authentic. Know your social media brand voice - and yes, it is possible to have different brand voices when addressing different audiences.
This is particularly important because 80% of people on social media choose to follow brands based on whether their content feels and sounds authentic.
In fact, people often unfollow brands for not having a personality, or for using slang and jargon that doesn’t match their brand voice.
In the words of social media expert Jay Baer:
"Don’t just give your customers something to talk about, give them somebody to talk about."
Also, try replying to comments and messages with GIFs or memes once in a while - it’s a really easy way to inject some fun into your page.
This can make your audience more keen to engage, because they’ll be looking forward to your response.
3. Incorporate the right images into your posts
There are tons of statistics and studies which reiterate one clear finding – visuals matter.
Buzzsumo has shown that adding visuals to a Facebook post results in 2.3x the engagement rate, while tweets with images can generate over 150% more retweets in comparison to text-only updates.
But if your reaction to these statistics is to publish more images, then you’d be missing the point.
Images can't be hyperlinked, so most publishers work around this by putting their URL in the caption – which turns out to be half as effective as posting a link with an attractive preview image instead.
Emphasis on 'attractive'.
Unfortunately, Facebook recently removed the function which allows Pages to modify link previews, which means that whatever appears as the preview image, page title, and description are all pulled directly from the page’s metadata.
To get around this, however, you can try using a service like ShareKit to control and customize what's displayed when you share a link on social media. The added benefit is that if you share the same post or page multiple times (like your homepage, for example), you can customize each with different images each time, so that the link preview doesn’t always look the same.
Twitter posts also generate better engagement when marketers use Twitter Cards. ShareKit enables you to create these without having to fiddle with any code.
4. Ask for feedback and reviews
Need to conduct a focus group? You have the best pool of candidates right at your fingertips.
Ask your followers for feedback on your product or service, and respond to each of their comments (especially the negative ones).
Strike up a conversation about a trending topic and ask them what questions they would like to see answered in the next blog post or webinar.
Ask them how they tackle certain challenges or what was their best experience with regards to a certain product or platform (great for some under the radar UX research). The more you know about your audience, the easier it will be to come up with great questions and better content. Social media engagement needs to move beyond eliciting likes, shares and emojis to making real connections with consumers.
Alternatively, set up a poll just for fun. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all have built-in poll functions for you:
5. Post current and relevant content
Consider tapping into trending topics and doing event-based marketing on social.
And you don’t have to stick to conventional calendar holidays like Valentine’s Day or Christmas, either - pop culture holidays like Star Wars Day or National Puppy Day provide so much more potential for fun, shareable content.
Just see how Blizzard and Google did it below:
6. Have a clear message and call-to-action
Today is an age of transparency. The sophisticated audience knows when they’re being bamboozled into something (not just on social media, but for all other advertising as well) and 66% of audiences feel deceived when they realize they’ve been baited into reading paid or sponsored content.
The main takeaway is this: be upfront with what you want.
Using clear words like “download”, “follow”, or “retweet” can result in up to 23x the engagement rate compared to posts without clear CTAs.
Check out how fitness app Aaptiv did it:
Your audience is much more likely to interact with your posts if you address them directly, and you’re clear in asking for an action.
7. Recognize your fans and post user-generated content
There are clear benefits to using user-generated content for campaigns, the most significant of which being the increase in social media engagement rates.
Fans appreciate being recognized by their favorite brands, and reposting user-generated content is a great way to strengthen your community and include your customers in the conversation.
Don’t believe us? See how the ‘InstaWhopper’ campaign by Burger King garnered 34,675 coupons in 3 hours, or how this amazing #AIRMAXLINE campaign by Nike resulted in over 15 million impressions over a mere two weeks – purely organically.
8. Plan a content calendar
There’s an old cliche:
"If you fail to plan, you plan to fail"
Planning, via a content calendar or the like, is important to ensure that your social media postings remain consistent and timely.
Kevan Lee of Buffer developed a concept which he termed “the consistency pizza”, which basically postulates that quality content is already available in abundance, so perhaps the real key to stand-out social media success is actually consistency.
CoSchedule has one of the most comprehensive and in-depth content calendar tools in the industry, and they’re super generous with lots of free templates and actionable tips on what, where, when, and even how to schedule your social media posts for fuss-free campaign roll-out.
And don’t stress over having to create original content for every single post – curating and sharing others’ content is also a good way to boost engagement.
9. Switch things up
Not every post format will see the same rate of response across every audience.
Videos might get the most impressions, but may not necessarily score high on engagement because the audience sees it more as a show, rather than a conversation.
Similarly, the audience of a technology-related B2B social media page may not respond as well to a light-hearted GIF as compared to a substantial infographic.
A good strategy is to try a variety of formats – news, quotes, humor, surveys, videos, images, infographics. Track what works, then gear your campaign accordingly.
10. Remember that it’s not just about what you want
As Robb Hecht, Adjunct Professor of Marketing at Baruch College in New York, says:
“If the content strategy that is being developed is overly reliant on the brand strategy vs the target customer needs, content will sit on platform posts, unshared, without retweets.”
This is why social listening is so important - you need to understand what your target audience responds to, not just focus on what you want to say.
In fact, Buffer ran an experiment which showed why not talking about yourself could be the best thing for your brand.
Previously, they used to shy away from curated content because it didn’t directly affect their key stats - traffic, subscriptions, sales. But once they began posting engagement-only content, with zero business agenda, they found that their followers became more active.
The result: more movement down the sales funnel when they needed it most.
One of the best analogies of social media is the world’s biggest cocktail party, only without the drinking and at incredible scale, according to Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Media.
"At a cocktail party, you wouldn't walk up to someone and say, ‘Hey, I'm Dave. My stuff is 20% off.' What you do is ask questions, tell stories, listen and relate to people."
And then you sell your product.
Social media engagement is an investment in long-term relationships
If you haven’t yet worked it out yet, social media is about building relationships, so follow all the same principles as any other social relationship – be a good listener, be authentic, be consistent, but shake things up once in a while. And remember that it’s not just about you and your needs.
In exchange, you'll get a better understanding of your customer base, which will help you to build better products or provide better service, both key components in future-proofing your business.
Relationships also take time, so don’t be disheartened if your engagement rates don’t immediately jump overnight (but if they do, find out what your audience responded to and tuck that away to revisit at a later date).
Most importantly, social media is a continually evolving landscape, so be ready to adapt your strategy at any time.