Many of us use social media day-to-day for business and our personal lives. Most people have at least a Facebook and LinkedIn profile, and millions of users log into Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. People love sharing their thoughts and feelings, engaging in conversations with friends and coworkers, and learning new things for work and home.
For businesses, this is where social media can be a powerful tool. It allows you to engage with your ideal customer base in a non-intrusive way (unlike paid online advertising), and to create and participate in genuine conversations that can help you develop better products, offer smarter services and tell your customers how you can help make their lives easier.
So What is Social Media Engagement, Exactly?
Before we get too deep into things, it’s important to determine what I mean by “engagement.”
Social media engagement refers to an open line of communication established over a period of time, and should be an important aspect of your business' customer relations strategy.
By maintaining active, positive and friendly profiles on social networks, you’re contributing to the experience your customer has with your brand. Every tweet or reply helps build engagement with your “target audience” or ideal customer base.
With this in mind, keep reading to learn 10 free ways you can improve your social media engagement.
1. Follow the 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 rule is a fundamental pillar of social marketing, and refers to the amount of content that you should share that is promotional in nature (sales, special offers, etc) and the amount that has nothing to do directly with your brand. The rule dictates that no more than 20% of your social media content should be directly about your brand, and the other 80% should be interesting, educational, informational and “shareable” content.
The reasoning behind this is simple: nobody wants to follow social profiles that are self-serving in nature. 20% of your content can be self-serving, but the other 80% should look and feel like it’s designed simply to inform, educate and entertain your audience.
2. Ask Questions
Asking your social followers questions is an easy way to learn more about their wants, needs and values. While simply posting a question may garner some response, it’s important to be creative and visually appealing in order to stand out from the crowd.
Some things you can try are:
- Create a fun graphic and ask your followers to comment on the image.
- Post a poll on Twitter and ask your followers to submit their responses.
- Film a short video where you ask a question and ask your followers to respond. It doesn't have to be high production value. The important part once again, is that you are genuine.
3. Host a Twitter Chat
Twitter chats (or tweet chats) are all the rage because they are an easy and cost-effective way for businesses to create conversation around topics that matter to them. Chats are organized by hashtag (# symbol) and can happen as often or as rarely as you like. Best practice is to choose a specific time and day to host recurring chats and build an audience. For example, you may host a chat on the second Thursday of every month to discuss hot topics in your industry, and include experts from your company and partner organizations.
Buffer, one of the leading social media management tools out there, hosts a weekly chat called #BufferChat, and they have developed a great following. During the chats, moderators post questions and manage replies, interact with Twitter followers and guide discussions around a specific topic.
4. Set Up Google Alerts
One of the easiest ways to establish your business as a go-to for information (and adhere to the 80/20 rule) is to share articles and news updates that are relevant to your industry.
If you don’t have time to scour every news site and forum for new content, just set up Google Alerts, a totally free tool which will notify you every time a specific keyword or phrase is mentioned online (and is indexed by Google). Set up the alerts to monitor what is being said about your brand name, competition, industry, trends and local hot topics. You'll have your digital finger on the pulse and can always stay up-to-date on what's happening in your market.
If you're already worried about a flooded email inbox, go the extra step and set up a rule in your email client that can organize these messages for you. For example, If you use Outlook, you can set up a new folder that these alerts can automatically enter, but make sure you look at them. And if you're using another email client like Gmail, you can also assign labels to your messages so they are even easier to identify.
5. Use Images
According to an eMarketer report, users are 87% more likely to engage with posts that feature prominent images than those without. But many people find it challenging to source the right photos for their social posts. And software like Photoshop can be intimidating and expensive.
Never fear, because there are lots of free tools at your disposal to help you create those eye-catching graphics:
- Canva - Design custom graphics with their set of images, icons and creative fonts.
- Easel.ly - Create incredible infographics in a flash.
- Pexels - Get amazing high-quality and royalty free stock photos.
6. Post During Primetime
There’s no point in posting anything if your audience isn’t going to see it, so knowing when they’re going to be online is essential for social media success.
Since the majority of people work Monday to Friday and keep regular office hours, the following times are optimal for sharing content on social media:
- Weekday mornings before 9AM
- Weekday late mornings between 11AM - 1PM
- Weekday evenings after 7PM onward
These are just general guidelines, so it’s important to track engagement over time to determine the best times to post content for your audience to see it, but following these times is a good first step.
To step up your game, check out tools like Buffer and Hootsuite, that have recommended posting schedules built into their platforms.
7. Schedule in Advance
Posting content on social media can be a full-time job (and often is!), but one of the easiest ways to maintain your sanity is to use free scheduling software to queue up your content in advance.
Hootsuite is also a great option because it allows you to schedule, post and respond all from the same dashboard, and has a “freemium” plan which allows you to manage up to three accounts.
If you're managing accounts for your brand, or if you have multiple team members working on your social media, you can also check out the paid versions of Hootsuite and similar tools. These offer advanced functionality, like assigning messaging to your team, adding additional accounts or profiles and more robust reporting options.
8. Use Strong “Calls to Action”
A call to action (CTA) is exactly what it sounds like — they’re brief statements designed to encourage users to engage in a specific action.
For example, if you’re promoting a conference and want your followers to join, post an update which briefly describes the event and end it by saying, “Register and save your spot now.”
It’s important to keep your calls to action clear, concise and to make sure that any posts featuring the CTA will link to the appropriate page on your website. Don’t send them to your main page and expect them to find the registration page themselves.
If you haven't already, include a CTA in many of your posts. These can be simple CTAs, like asking a question to prompt a response from your audience. Or they can be related to campaigns, like asking people to download a whitepaper or eBook.
9. Organize Q&A Sessions
Your audience most likely has questions about what you do, and collaborating with a qualified expert in your field can add credibility to your brand. This helps your audience feel more engaged with your business.
Let your audience know when the Q&A session is coming up and how they can engage. A few ways to do this are:
- Host a Twitter Chat and have the expert co-host your chat with you.
- Have users submit questions in advance and post a video of the expert answering them.
- Moderate a Q&A with the expert that takes place on your own Facebook Page, right in the comments section.
10. Connect with a Cause
Even if the cause doesn’t directly relate to your business, you can still show your support for important social causes and ask your audience to participate in your efforts.
Whether you and your employees participate in a Run for the Cure or collect donations for Winnipeg Harvest, make sure to let your audience know, and ask them to help you out by sharing your posts and donating their time and effort. Helping others feels great, and is an easy way to show your customers that you’re more than just a business: you are real people who care about their community.
Do you have any favourite social media engagement tips? Tell us in the comments section below.
About the Author
Alyson is a Winnipeg writer, content marketer and social media manager. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric & Communications from the University of Winnipeg and runs her own business providing businesses and individuals with their copywriting, content marketing strategy and social media needs. She lives and breathes digital culture and has been nicknamed the "Queen of the Internet" by her Twitter followers. When not online she can be found gardening, riding her bike or sipping fancy coffee.Follow on Twitter More Content by Alyson Shane