Popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube can offer a rich stream of prospects for businesses that are prepared to get to grips with each platform and its users, and deliver bespoke-tailored content designed to appeal to their target demographics.
Businesses of all sizes have successfully used paid and promoted social media ads and organic content to raise their profiles, increase brand awareness and perception and to sell and advertise goods. However, the real value of social media for business comes from the ability of operations of all sizes to grow an organic following of fans and enthusiasts that will build its own momentum. Ultimately, this can enable SMEs on a budget to harness the power of social engagement, without spending a lot of cash.
Ignoring social media as a marketing channel is a mistake that few businesses (particularly SMEs) can afford to make, but social media users require a careful and well-planned approach in order to catalyse the desired action on their part; they don’t respond well to a hard sell or lots of direct response marketing spam.
If you wish to increase social media engagement with your business or brand to raise awareness and increase revenue, this article will explain how to achieve just this – and what to avoid in order to ensure that you don’t alienate social media users or compromise the effectiveness of your approach.
What is meant by “engagement” on social media?
Let’s begin with the basics, and clarify exactly what is meant by social media engagement. Engagement is one of the most important metrics used to measure the success or otherwise of a page, brand or campaign on social media, and it refers to actions taken by social media users within the platform itself as they interact with other pages or content.
Likes, shares, comments and tagging of others within posts are all forms of social media engagement, and the more engagement you can generate across your social media content, the better it – and your business – will do.
The value of social media engagement
Every engagement on social media holds value, and can help to raise your profile with not only individual prospects themselves but also the social media portals you use too. Accounts that perform well by means of gaining a lot of followers and engagement perform better within searches on the platform in question, are more likely to appear higher in search results, and stand a better chance of reaching a larger audience.
Engagement with your social media content lets your brand know that they’re getting seen and generating a buzz, which helps to inform the type of content that you post in future, and helps to provide valuable insights into your target demographics.
Additionally, if you are a small business owner the chances are that you won’t have a large marketing budget at your disposal for paid and promoted social media ads. Whilst generating organic engagement with prospects can be time-intensive and sometimes challenging, it is also very low cost. Ultimately, generating social engagement can be cost-free if you find the winning formula and play it right, but even dedicating a little money to boosting popular posts or enhancing your organic profile goes a lot further when you’ve already got a solid foundation of engagement behind you in the first place.
Getting your social media profiles ready for engagement
Before you get to work boosting engagement on social media, you have to make sure that your pages and profiles are all ready to support it, and to form a strong foundation for your future endeavours.
A brand-new page or account can take time to populate and build up a fanbase and following, and before you try to boost engagement you need to get the basics right, and be prepared to put the work in.
Exactly how you populate your pages and profiles and what you can add to them will vary depending on the channels you use, but at its most basic you will need to ensure that you have a good profile and header picture, page title and description, and that any opportunities to add supporting information or links (such as the “about” section in Facebook pages) have been taken.
If you’re starting a new page or account from scratch rather than fine-tuning or updating an existing page, you should also have some content ready to populate the page with to bring people to it, make it findable in search results, and keep prospects there when they do find it.
Check out competitors with successful social media profiles too and gather ideas and insights from their approaches and the type of content that they post, as well as the type of followers they have and the interactions that they generate.
This information may help you to emulate or better a competitor’s approach in order to appeal to their existing audiences, or it might make it apparent that there is an ignored or underutilised demographic being left out that your own brand could successfully target with your social content.
Five ways to increase social media engagement with your brand
Innovation, keeping on top of relevant news and hot topics and being prepared to put the work in are all essential to increasing a brand’s social media engagement, and next I will cover five ways to put all of these things to work to do just this.
1. Determining your brand’s social style and persona
When you’re populating or updating your page, you should always keep in mind the type of users you’re trying to attract, their preferences, and the tone of voice and style you want your brand to portray.
These are things you need to establish prior to beginning to generate engagement, and they should be at the forefront of your mind at all times. A cohesive, consistent brand persona and style is important when trying to appeal to social media users, and this persona and style needs to remain fluent and relatable for your audience at all times.
You might choose to post simply as yourself as the face of the brand, which is fine and often highly effective, especially if you are engaging, personable, funny and likeable to your target audience. You can also create a virtual brand persona for your social content, providing a relatable, consistent voice even if multiple members of your team post to the account.
You can potentially have several team members supporting your social endeavours (which may well become necessary if your social media collateral really takes off) and posting their own types of content, and this is fine too – assuming that the overall impression given by the page is cohesive, and does not conflict with or contradict itself.
2. Posting engagement-worthy content, and how to do it right
Every type of social engagement has value; comments, likes, shares, tagging others and so on. It might only take a second for a person to like or share a post, or make a comment; but much like getting reviews for your products or services or encouraging prospects to share information about themselves to help your business, incentivising prospects to engage with you can be an uphill struggle.
Even given the lack of real effort that social engagement with brands costs prospects, nothing comes for free; and you have to be able to give your prospects a reason to want to engage with you in the first place.
Posts that are funny, interesting or topical – or that you can make funny, interesting or topical – tend to generate a lot of commentary and interaction, and these types of posts are often the best to generate engagement. However, keeping a continual stream of this type of content coming can burn out even the most creative of minds, and interspersing posts of this type with other forms of content produces a well-rounded page, and helps to avoid creative burnout.
New or informative content, from sharing viewpoints and commentary on what’s going on in the industry to keeping prospects up to date with things that are of interest to them also tends to incentivise prospects to bookmark and return to a page, and share its content.
Instructional content, how-to’s and problem-solving content also work well, particularly if your competitors aren’t doing this and you can get across the information you need to succinctly and clearly.
Promotions and incentives on social media are things that we’ve all seen – “like, share and comment to be in with a chance of winning this x-y-z,” and these can all help to boost a page and expose your content to new audiences. However, whether or not those new audiences will actually continue to visit your page and engage with you when the incentive is over depends on the quality of your content, and how well it fits your audience.
Relying solely on promotions and giveaways to boost your social standing can soon become expensive, and will quickly become old hat to your prospects too.
Getting your page’s fans to comment on your posts, share them or tag their friends can be fairly simple in some cases; posting something funny or topical with the CTA of “tag a friend who would like this” or “tag someone who always does this” will work well with many audiences, but only if it is relevant to them, and resonates in their minds.
The way you phrase your posts can also generate or hamper engagement too. Rather than posting a link or topic using simply a header or introduction to what it covers, set it up to generate engagement from the outset. Ask your prospects what they think, if anyone has a better idea, how they would do it, what they think will happen next, if they think it is good or bad and so on.
Ask questions, encourage interaction, and ask your prospects to help you by sharing their views. This not only helps to generate engagement, but also makes your prospects feel valued and involved, which pays off long-term for your brand’s reputation and how people perceive it.
Something else to bear in mind is that social media users (and internet users as a whole) tend to have short attention spans and be quite visually-oriented. This means that you will only have a fleeting chance to catch a prospect’s attention with your content, and you should make sure that an initial glance informs the prospect of what they’re seeing, and provides a good reason to find out more.
Images and video content are pretty much vital to help to round out your social content, appeal to different types of followers, and provide a full suite of collateral to enhance your operation. Around 72% of people would rather learn about something by watching a video instead of reading text, and 83% of consumers would consider sharing relevant videos with their friends too.
When it comes to pictures, social media posts that incorporate images generate 650% higher engagement rates than text posts alone, and it is wise to post a reasonable amount of image-based content as well as using visuals to support your core written content too.
3. Putting the time and effort in to engage with prospects
Creating a solid social media profile, populating it, posting great content and bringing in followers will only take you so far – you have to be prepared to engage with your prospects in order to get them to engage with you in return.
If you post great content and then don’t get involved in the commentary, the comment stream is soon likely to peter out or go off topic, and the more personal you can make each of your engagements, the more effective they will be for each prospect.
Reply to as many comments as is appropriate and relevant, use people’s names and tags, and take the time to make a personal connection. This is, of course, quite time and energy-intensive when things get busy, but one lone valuable interaction with one single prospect can soon snowball, as it will make that prospect more apt to share your content, spread the word, or return to engage again in the future.
Recognising prospects that help you and keep your page buzzing is brilliant too – feel free to offer a small gift or prize to a popular or funny commenter who is helping to build your momentum, as an unexpected reward for their time that will also incentivise future engagement. Post the offer to send them something or give them something publicly and ask them to DM you to get it, showing your other prospects that they are noticed and valued and might themselves be rewarded in future too.
4. Identifying groups and pages to engage with to create an organic buzz
Generating engagement from your social prospects can be a challenge, but before you even get this far you need to get those people to your pages or content in the first place, which means spending time doing the rounds on social media to identify where they hang out and are likely to be open to a good approach.
This means that you will have to put the work in to find groups, pages and accounts that compliment your own, and that can provide a resource of prospects that have things in common with you. Getting involved in commenting and interacting with other pages can help to raise your own profile, but keep it relevant, well thought out, and appropriate. Spam and hard selling get very short shrift on social media where people go to hang out and socialise, and will soon get you ignored at best, or banned from other pages and groups at worst.
5. Incentivising and closing on social media
Social media is perhaps best for raising brand awareness, cementing a brand’s reputation, and planting the seed of an idea in the minds of prospects that will pay off in the future as a sale or acquisition. However, it is possible to incentivise and close deals on social media, or by means of using your social content to channel prospects to your website or online store to make a purchase or take another desired action.
If you wish to use social media to sell, it is first of all important to set up your offers and incentives so that they can be analysed and traced back to their source, so that you can review and assess their efficacy. This could take the form of creating unique website pages with their own URLs for each offer or incentive you post, and integrating each of those links into your social promotions and content to see which do well and which don’t pull their weight.
Offers of all types (such as free trials, free gifts with purchase, or a discount or time-sensitive offer) tend to do well on social media, but there are a few approaches that today’s net-savvy social media users tend to quickly disregard as dishonest or misleading. This tends to include content that offers things like “free for the first 100 respondents,” as by the time a prospect views an ad or post, those initial 100 free items will almost certainly have been taken; if they were even available in the first place, which many prospects will be suspicious of.
Clickbait, wildly ambitious claims (“this one trick can help you to lose 30lb of belly fat in 30 days”) and so on will all tend to be viewed with the scepticism that they deserve, so keep it real, and remember that your audience is intelligent, thinking internet users and not sheep who will be easily distracted by smoke and mirrors.
Be honest, transparent and open with your prospects, and integrate calls to action within your content where this is relevant. Links to pages or products that enhance a post, demonstrate how it works or let your prospects get their hands on something they have just become interested in tend to work well. However, make sure that your page maintains value and interest for your prospects in and of itself; using it solely to make direct sales probably won’t result in a huge number of them, and may lose you fans and followers too.
Social media engagement best practices
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about social media engagement for business is that it can work against you as well as for you. If you cock up or make an embarrassing error (like making a claim that can be proven to be incorrect, getting into arguments, doing down a competitor or otherwise compromising your brand image) this can take a lot of work to undo, and may never be fully recoverable.
It is perfectly fine (and even potentially very valuable) to posit a viewpoint, get involved in a controversial discussion or state an opinion that might be contentious – if you ask prospects what they think and are prepared to engage over it. But getting into rows on your public page with followers or even other brands is a huge mistake that you should avoid at all costs.
Things like that can result in a huge uptick in interest in your page and even a large number of shares, and you might eventually come out on top, but that is a gamble that isn’t generally worth taking. Don’t fall for the old adage that “all publicity is good publicity,” because this is simply not true.
Don’t expect your prospects to put the work in for you if you don’t engage with them in return, and always keep in mind what will incentivise your prospects to return and keep sharing your content. Keep them guessing too – when they check your page, offer a variety of different types of content incorporating text, images and videos, and news, informative content, commentary, and if relevant, humour too.
Finally, this should be self-evident but is worth mentioning anyway; even the most successful of social media pages that generate a lot of engagement won’t continue to do well if you don’t continue to put the work in.
Post new content at least a couple of times a week (and avoid posting several times a day as a policy, as a deluge of your posts at the top of a follower’s stream every time they log in is unlikely to offer a lot of value for them, and might result in an unfollow) and concentrate on quality, not quantity.
Keep a weather eye on your comment threads and be ready to engage within them, and curtail or control threads that are heading in the wrong direction, attracting trolls, or otherwise causing problems.
Increasing and maintaining social engagement for businesses takes time, work and creativity, and it is not something that will ever become wholly self-perpetuating when you reach a certain level of success. However, if you make your content interesting, engaging and valuable for your readers, they can help you to achieve organic social media success at a low financial cost, which will ultimately be reflected in your bottom line.
Polly Kay is a British copywriter and content writer with a digital marketing background. After studying Marketing (BA Hons) at university, she first honed her skills as a copywriter by working in-house for an award-winning creative agency in London before branching out on her own in 2012. Today, Polly Kay Copywriting and Content Writing serves clients ranging from small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK to well-known multinational brands. Polly specialises in SEO-friendly content writing for online use, and both brand-led and direct response copywriting for all applications.Read full profile