Many businesses have a tricky relationship with social media. On the one hand, you know it’s important for your business to have a presence there—every business and marketing publication says so. On the other hand, it’s hard to feel like you’re getting much out of it, especially for the amount of time and cost that goes into it.
What you really need to make social media work for your brand is engagement. Getting the people in your target audience to not just follow you, but interact with you, as well. When there are so many other things vying for their attention on social media platforms though, that’s a tall order.
Using social media to push out your content into busy feeds isn’t good enough. To increase social media engagement, you have to find ways to cut through the noise.
Social media only seems free. For businesses that want to leverage the audience they reach organically on social, you quickly realize how much time you can end up spending on the platform without gaining any real traction. Your tweets and Facebook posts are, at best, showing up in a long feed of posts from self-selected sources your followers find interesting. At worst, they’re not showing up at all because of the social media companies’ algorithms or the timing of when your post hits their feed (on Twitter in particular, there’s a blink-and-you-miss-it issue).
Either way, all that time you’re putting in yourself or paying someone else to do is costing you. Paid social ads cost you money more directly, but they offer a guarantee that people will see your posts. If you’re hesitant to commit to a paid social plan, consider a few of the benefits it can offer:
The only people who see your social media posts organically are the people who already have chosen to follow you. And even they only see it when the social media platform’s algorithm decides that it’s relevant to them: Facebook has shared that it only shows users about 300 of the possible 1,500 posts they could see when they log onto the platform.Depending on organic reach on social media won’t get you very far. Paid search gives you the power to show up more consistently for your followers, and extend your reach to people in your target audience that aren’t your followers yet.
Social media is pretty much nothing but noise. In general, it’s full of the type of content people scroll mindlessly through without often stopping to think about or interact with. In addition to helping you show up in people’s feeds, paid search allows you to include autoplay videos or images that can make people slow down and pay attention.
Of course, creating the right ads to provoke this response is up to you. But paid search gives you an edge in getting the elusive attention of your audience on social.
Social media networks are vast. We’re talking hundreds of millions on most of the platforms, and over a billion on Facebook. You don’t need to reach everyone on those platforms, just the people most likely to match your buyer persona and become your ideal customers.
Your ability to target those people without paid ads is extremely limited. But once you start spending money, you have a lot more power.
Facebook’s targeting options go far beyond basic demographics to include targeting based on things like relationship status, political views and interests. More importantly to B2B businesses, they also allow targeting for business-related categories including industry, job title, employer and company size.
LinkedIn also provides valuable B2B ad targeting categories, including options like job seniority and degree level along with job title, industry and company size.
Even Twitter provides keyword, interest and behavior targeting that can help you home in on the people most likely to be in your target audience.
Across social media networks, paying to play gives you a lot of power to reach the specific people most important to your business.
People use social media to connect with other people. While sometimes that means connecting with people you already know, many people also turn to social media to tap into communities of people who have similar interests.
How that works on different social networks varies, but there are a few ways for brands to join and interact with social media communities.
On Twitter, one of the main ways people and brands can interact with a relevant community is through Twitter chats.
Twitter chats are scheduled for a specific time and are usually structured around a certain number of questions that participants can answer. Brands can benefit both from hosting their own Twitter chats (if you have enough followers to help you get decent participation) and from joining relevant Twitter chats that already are happening.
Experian puts on its #CreditChat each week, which attracts both Twitter users in its target audience and other brands that can use the opportunity to tap into a new audience.
One important thing to remember when you participate in Twitter chats is not to make things all about you. If a good opportunity presents itself to point back to some of your own content or mention one of your products, that’s OK. But don’t force it. Make your participation mostly about providing helpful information and connecting with the other participants.
LinkedIn groups are hit or miss. Many people treat them as somewhere to go drop a link as a lazy form of promotion and don’t take time to actually create relationships within them.
But if you can find or create a relevant LinkedIn group in your industry that includes real interactions rather than just a collection of links people share, it can be a good way to connect with people in your audience—especially if your business is B2B.
You can’t join a LinkedIn group as a business, but individuals in your company and marketing department can join. Everyone who does so can then post their own questions or comments and keep an eye out for relevant conversations. As with Twitter chats, it’s important in LinkedIn groups to keep promotional posts to a minimum. If someone asks a question your product can answer, then mentioning it’s OK, but adding a post all about your product’s benefits won’t usually get positive results—and may get you booted, depending on the group’s rules.
Making use of Facebook groups as a brand is tricky. For one thing, you can’t join or participate in a Facebook group under your brand’s page; only individual Facebook profiles can do so. That makes your best bet for using Facebook Groups to promote your business creating a group that’s relevant to your audience.
This solution won’t make sense for every business, but if your audience can benefit from having a space to connect with each other, it could be a good move for yours. And if your group attracts a good number of engaged members, you can see what types of issues they talk about and look for opportunities to jump into the conversation.
Instant Pot has a Facebook group where people who own the product ask questions and share recipes and pictures of successful meals they’ve made with the product.
With nearly 600,000 members, the brand clearly has tapped into a space relevant to their target audience. The brand very rarely posts, mostly allowing it to be a space for members to connect with one another, which makes it less intrusive when they choose to add something to the conversation.
We’ve already mentioned that using social media to simply push your own content won’t work, but if the only way you’re being social is by contacting people who contact you first, then you’re missing out on opportunities. Very few businesses are proactive in communicating with their audience on social media, which makes it a good way to set you apart.
Many brands are good at responding when someone tweets at them directly, but fewer are good at paying enough attention to notice the moments when they can help even when the mention isn’t so direct.
Merriam-Webster is widely praised for its Twitter game, and one area where it excels is finding opportunities to comment on definitions—even when they aren’t addressed directly. When someone tweeted about an argument they were having about whether hot dogs are a sandwich, they jumped right in with their quiz that covered what food items count as sandwiches.
Social listening tools can help you pay attention to certain hashtags and keywords so you can spot opportunities like this to join an online conversation where you have some expertise.
In any given industry, influencers gain prominence on the main social media sites. One way for brands to tap into the community of people interested in their industry is to pay attention to those influencers, and pay attention to the people following them, since there’s likely to be a big overlap in their followers and your potential customers.
Influencers can help you find the community you want to be a part of on social media sites. Once you find them, start contributing. Retweet good content you see people sharing and respond to tweets when you have something to add.
The education technology company GradeSlam follows a number of influencers in the education space and regularly retweets and responds to content they share. In doing so, it positions itself as part of the Twitter education community and increases its chances of being noticed by people in its target audience who follow those influencers.
If there’s one common theme in every type of social media tactic for engagement shared here, it’s that you must be careful to treat these channels as a way to build relationships—not as a selling platform. Focus on building connections and engagement first; if your products are right for the people you reach, the purchase will come later.