Entrepreneurs all over the country are finally starting to see that having a presence on major networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter is just as important as having a website. But just having a presence isn’t enough. Creating a Facebook page or Twitter profile, only to abandon it and hope it attracts new business, is the digital equivalent of buying a storefront and leaving it empty, hoping people will come in and leave money behind.
In order to be successful in social media marketing, you need to have an engagement strategy: building a following by making people feel involved and integrated in a digital community. There are many strategies you can use to do this, but here are 10 that I’ve found to be especially effective:
1. Reach out to new people.
One of the easiest ways to attract people to your Facebook or Twitter presence, especially if they haven’t heard of you before, is to reach out to them. It’s a simple strategy, and a very effective one. Twitter makes it easy to do this. Look for companies or organizations similar to yours and take a look at who is following them. Go through that follower list and follow a handful of people who might be interested in your products. With Facebook, this is a bit more difficult due to privacy settings, but you can invite your own friends to like your page (and encourage your coworkers to do the same).
2. Create and nurture a group (or list).
People want to feel like they belong in a community; this is the foundation behind most of these strategies. When people encounter a company page on Facebook, they view it as a corporate bulletin board, not a community. However, if you create a Facebook group pertaining to a specific product or service you offer, you can invite your followers and create a more tight-knit, interactive community. Just be sure to pop in regularly to stir up conversation and keep your followers involved. Alternatively, you can create lists in Twitter and interact with them in context.
3. Open a discussion with a question—and participate!
If you want to get people talking, ask them a direct question. It can be about your company, asking people what they love about you, but theoretically it can be about anything that would get people talking. For example, you could ask your users what their favorite product is—or you could ask them who their favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle is. When people respond, keep them talking—depending on how many people respond, you could address the group or address individuals by offering your own opinions.
4. Start a poll or survey.
Along similar lines, Facebook offers you the ability to create a mini poll, asking a question and allowing users to choose from a list of options (and see what others have picked as well). You can also do this on Twitter, but Facebook offers a much easier, more visually appealing format for such a survey. When people see the results of the survey, they’ll likely start a discussion around it on their own. Make your question controversial or at least make sure it elicits strong opinions. The more conviction, the better it is for discussion.
5. Ask users for feedback on your products.
Make an open call to your users to share their opinions about your products and services. This is especially valuable if you encourage them to post reviews in a visual format, such as an image or a video. There are three reasons for this; first, you’ll be showing your audience that you care about their opinions. Second, you’ll be forcing people to engage in your community, creating a stronger group mentality. And finally, you’ll get more social media visibility for your products and services. You might get some negative press, but people prefer honesty to pure positivity in most cases.
6. Start a promotion that encourages responses.
Do whatever you can to encourage responses and engagement, even if it means investing money in a special offer, such as a free giveaway or a special discount. As an example, you could distribute a coupon code or a special prize to select users who Tweet with a certain hashtag or post on your Facebook wall within a limited amount of time. This is a great way to encourage new purchases from your current following, but it also gives you a chance to get a topic trending as more of your followers publicize your campaign.
7. Take advantage of local events with hashtags.
If your business thrives on local customers (and even in most cases where it doesn’t), take advantage of popular local events by Tweeting your presence with hashtags or posting about it on Facebook. Event attendees will see you there. If those attendees are already familiar with you, it will strengthen your brand’s relationship with them. Attendees who are not already familiar with you will see your presence and might follow you as a result.
8. Have specific users beta test your new features.
If you plan on rolling out a new product, or a new update that changes your app or website, consider taking a portion of your following and giving them a special invite to try out your new features before you roll them out to the general public. This will greatly strengthen your relationship with those individuals, securing their loyalty to your brand, but it will also be a perfect opportunity to get some real feedback on your new material from real customers.
9. Use a hashtag-based giveaway to celebrate a milestone number of followers.
For example, you can offer a $100 gift card to one randomly selected follower when your Twitter account reaches 10,000 followers. If you do this, encourage your users to tweet using a specific hashtag by entering them in a drawing once for each hashtag-containing tweet they make (with an upper limit to deter spam). The spike in hashtag popularity will increase the amount of traffic to your social profiles, and users will encourage their friends and family to follow you in an effort to help you reach that pivotal milestone.
10 .Sponsor a Q and A session.
Finally, hold a question and answer session in real time, preferably one that you schedule far in advance. Encourage users to ask your chosen representative about anything, and have your representative give honest answers. Your representative could vary depending on the session, but consider using your CEO, a developer, or a customer service lead. If you’re consistent and you provide real value to your customers, they’ll come to your event regularly and in increasing numbers. Just be sure to keep the focus on the community, and not on your speaker.
Effective social media marketing requires patience and consistency. You aren’t going to attract a million followers overnight, but if you apply well-branded, consistent strategy to foster a natural community, eventually the payoff will be extraordinary. It’s a kind of gardening; you have to lay a great foundation, and treat your seeds well with regular attention. Only after weeks and months of diligence will you see the fruits of your labor, but believe me, those fruits are worth it.
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