9 Ways to Boost Social Engagement

A report released by Experian this spring states that an average U.S. desktop user spends 16 minutes of every hour on social media sites (that’s 27% for non-Math majors). On mobile, users spend as much as 15% of their time on social networks. Brands need to be where their customers are, so it’s not surprising that according to a study by HubSpot, over one fifth of marketers say that social media has moved into a more prominent position in their company’s priorities in the past six months.

Social is where it’s at; but too often marketers overlook the “social” aspect of the medium. Social media is an opportunity for brands to connect with their audiences, encourage their input, engage in conversation, and nurture creativity. Unlike most other channels, it’s reciprocal: Audiences talk back and brands should embrace that. Brands that do can bask in social love.

Here are nine tips on social media strategy from industry experts:

Dare to be different. “If you don’t have something relevant or entertaining to say, you’re going to be a flatlining-snoozefest whether you’re a big or small brand,” says Ly Tran, director of digital strategy at Proof Advertising. Consider Cargill’s Schweigert Meats brand, which launched its first ever Facebook page this May. Instead of creating another Facebook foodie page littered with food porn photography and repurposed recipes, Proof Advertising created custom content, memorable memes, and videos living up to the brand’s no-nonsense tagline, “Overly Uncomplicated.”

Unleash your brand personality. “Consumers want brands to have personality, charm, and consistency,” says Bill Sussman, president and CEO of Collective Bias. “Without genuineness, you won’t be able to build the kind of relationships you want with your customers. Be straight with them and incorporate them in your inner circle. The result will be advocacy and loyalty, something all brand managers want from their customers.”

Be crafty. “Taking one platform’s communication message, repurposing and leveraging it on another platform…shows the customer that the brand is listening and gaining inspiration from their loyal audience,” says Sarah Pritts, public relations and social media strategist at LEAP. Consider “Wendy’s, [who] launched its newest sandwich, the pretzel bun and bacon-cheeseburger, by taking tweets and creating love songs/videos on YouTube. Consumers want to be a part of the brand…and Wendy’s has done its followers—and itself) a huge favor by taking the customers’ words verbatim, and promoting both their product and social channels.”

Hear out your audience. “Your customers’ voices and opinions are now perhaps even more important than your company’s own, so do whatever it takes to ensure they’re on your side,” says Michelle Lauer, account coordinator at Lucid Agency, who recommends taking full advantage of the potentially interactive nature of tools like QR codes and interaction channels like social networks. “Be responsive to any and all feedback and establish a dialogue with users. One-way marketing is boring and old-fashioned. Monologues are dull; conversations are not. Engagement is the name of the game.”

Reward creativity. “Social media users love getting creative,” says Mairead Ridge, marketing manager at Offerpop. “Seek user-generated content, like photos, videos, and artwork. Reward them for their submissions by featuring them on Facebook, or offering great prizes. You’ll see engagement skyrocket.”

Try social video. “HEY! Did I get your attention? That’s the first goal of marketing: to break through the clutter and get the viewer’s attention,” says Devra Prywes, VP of marketing and insight at Unruly Media. The second goal is to convert. Consumers are more likely to make a purchase if a product has been recommended by somebody in their social circles, so Prywes advises brands go beyond static reviews and try “social video: user initiated branded content from advertisers that is highly shared…and generate an army of sharing consumers advocating for your product and brand.”

Connect emotionally. Too often, brands are preoccupied with the functional utility of their products at the expense of becoming detached from their audiences. “Great content opens up an emotional connection people have with the products they use,” Sussman says. “It helps [customers] understand not only how to use [the products], but what problem they solve, personally. Taking that approach spawns pictures, recipes, ideas—[in short,] great content.” Ridge agrees: “Connect with your community’s passions first, and sell your products second.”

Ask for it. “If you want more engagement with your social posts, ask for it,” Ridge advises. “Seek your fans’ opinions on relevant news articles, run social quizzes around hot trends and topics. Prove that you want to hear from them, and then make sure to respond to their comments.”

Live in the moment. “Oreo’s tweet when the lights went out during the 2013 SuperBowl set a new precedent for “timely” posts,” Pritts says. “Allow the brand to exist in the moment. Instead of [solely] developing huge campaigns that take months of planning and execution, also develop smaller, timely campaigns that help the brand maintain its voice, but are tied to current events. You never know what opportunity may present itself if you give it a chance.”

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