It's no secret that social engagement is one of my favourite topics and something that I feel is not discussed thoroughly enough when people post about the best practices for social: earning loyalty.
Maybe that's why I was so impressed during a recent session at The Social Shake-Up this September in Atlanta. More than one presenter was talking about building their social via engagement - a theme near and dear to my heart - and how creating relationships and connections just might be more important (and ultimately more profitable) than broadcasting offers.
As I took a few notes - especially during The Importance of Being Purposeful: How to Maintain Community Engagement, as I couldn't help but recognize the parallels between what I was hearing and my own experiences. Social truly 'works' best when it's about people connecting, rather than as businesses trying to reach an audience. Community building is one more way businesses can demonstrate authenticity and earn loyalty.
To go a bit deeper, here are a few of the takeaways that felt most relevant and powerful to me:
Social Engagement Requires Listening and Monitoring and Contributing
If you want to have meaningful relationships with connections and followers, you need to pay attention to trends on social channels, especially as they pertain to your business and/or industry. If everyone is discussing something and you're ignoring it, you are disconnected at best.
Another component of social engagement, however, involves keying in on individuals. That means meeting men and women who may become customers in the future, or might know people who can become customers in the future (in my experience, contacts-as-referrers outscore contacts-as-clients handily), and treating them like people instead of marketing targets. In other words, listen to what they have to say, and what they care about, and then respond in kind.
Focus on Goodwill, Not Sales
Goodwill is a big topic that can mean a lot of things, but in this context we're just talking about being real and doing the right thing whenever you can. If someone needs a link to the piece of information that's not on your website or related to your marketing materials, send it anyway. Rather than making a prospect complete a form to get info when they are talking with you, send it to them. Give honest answers to questions, and make introductions where you can even if you don't see an immediate personal benefit.
Doing these things gives others a chance to get the right impression about you and your business. More than that, it paves the way for them to refer others to you later simply because you were helpful. Make being helpful a habit. And even if that weren't the case, you get to go to bed at night knowing that you've done something good for someone else, rather than being another questionable marketer who will do just about anything to make a sale or get a signup.
Empower Team Members
As I've noted repeatedly in the past, social isn't something you have an online marketing agency 'do' for you. Sure, they can teach you the fundamentals and coach you along, but you still need to be involved in building relationships.
That doesn't mean you have to do it all on your own, though. When it comes to getting out there and meeting the world, why should your voice be the only one that counts? If you get your whole team in on the act, you don't just get the benefit of more social content and interaction, but also different perspectives.
You might want to provide a little bit of training and guidance to make sure your employees and partners don't go too far off script, but if you empower them to get creative you might be surprised at what they can accomplish, building on their own loyalty to your company in the process.
Building Communities (and Loyalty) Takes Time, But It Can Be Fun and is Certainly Worth the Effort
Engaging people in social media is like slow-roasting a ham vs nuking a bowl of instant noodles. It takes time, care, and even a little bit of passion, but the results aren't something you can rush if you want the relationships to be meaningful.
If you're looking for a quick fix to your online marketing challenges, social engagement and community building isn't going to be the answer. If you've been watching for a fun, ethical, and sustainable way to grow your company's online presence as well as grow your loyal connections, though, there's no better way to get started.
I'd like to thank these four leading women for inspiring me to pen this post: Natascha Thomson, Jeanette Gibson, Petra Neiger and Maria Poveromo whose talk at The Social Shake-Up stuck a chord and created a loyal follower in me.