The chief defining characteristic of social media is that nobody quite appreciates what a phenomenon it is. The Internet (specifically, the World Wide Web as implemented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 1991) was popular before. But it was still the domain of “just for geeks” for a few twilight years until social media took off with the advent of “Web 2.0” right around the turn of the century.
Since then, social media has completely reshaped every aspect of human life. We don’t depend on the nightly news broadcast to deliver us the news anymore; events break on Twitter before a TV news anchor ever gets their briefing. Dating is done online by default now, with the notion that partners will browse your profiles as a given. Crimes are solved by police seeing the perpetrator brag about their crime online. Social network profiles are commonly part of employment background screenings now. And naturally, you can barely even say you’re in business unless you have a blog. Even politics have been reshaped; the big news story of the day often starts with something the president tweeted.
The pervasive way social media shapes our lives was even parodied in the Netflix sci-fi series episode Nosedive, and we all agreed that it was a picture-perfect representation of the way we are and then did nothing to change it. Apparently, this is exactly how we want to live. China just hauled off and implemented the Social Credit System, launched after the episode broadcast.
Yet still, we just don’t appreciate how big social media is. Psychiatrists are scrambling to answer questions like “how is this changing human society?” We don’t know; everything happened so fast that we never got a chance to track the change. From the Arab Spring to the George Floyd riots, one social media post is enough to inflame worldwide unrest. History remains to be written as to the long-term repercussions of giving every person a worldwide free broadcasting platform.
Now that we’ve turned your hair white with apprehension about social media, let’s talk about how it can the best friend to savvy business owners!
Rules on the Social Media Playground
Before we dive into social media and how to use it for business, let’s make some cultural notes about this media atmosphere:
Many People Have No Filters
People are very, very frank about saying what’s on their mind. This isn’t even new, because people have always spoken their unvarnished truth on the Internet. What has changed is that before social media, users were often anonymous, where now the majority of us have posts tied to our real-life names or Facebook account. And yet we’re just as frank as before.
Misinformation Spreads Quicker Than the Truth
On top of the rampant conspiracy theories, fake news, foreign propaganda, and malicious misinformation campaigns, there are the popular misconceptions that are just plain innocently wrong. Fact-checking is rare, but everybody can hit that “share” button on an urban myth in no time.
You May Be Canceled at Any Time
Don’t get us wrong, the “cancel culture” gets it right at least 49% of the time. Some canceled targets needed canceling. But the Internet is a just plain mean place, and we get out the torches and pitchforks way too soon. None of us can know what will set off the mob next.
Everybody Pretends to be More Successful Than They Are
The age of the Instagram influencer has made popularity itself monetizable. Marketing is something that everybody does now, even with no monetary motivation. Who wants to go online and say “I’m really just some loser, ignore me”?
Social Media is Habit-forming
Some studies have hauled off and called it addicting, even. Basically, your brain has “happy chemicals” (neurotransmitters) that trigger when you discover anything new, no matter how trivial. Social media provides a firehose of new things all day every day.
As a business participating in social media for brand exposure, your first rule should be to remain professional. Rise regally above the petty squabbling you see around you. Keep it positive, upbeat, and brand-consistent, as long as you are empathic to the prevailing mood. Avoid controversy and avoid rocking the boat.
In counterpoint, it is possible to go against these rules and have an “edgy” corporate marketing account. We’re looking at you, Wendy’s, as if you didn’t get enough attention already. But do not try this at home! Edgy accounts are hard to pull off and easy to backfire, mostly reserved for comedians and entertainers. In Wendy’s case, they have a team of market-tested sanitized comedians coordinated by algorithms.
But at the same time, you should avoid becoming one of those stale, plastic, corporate social media accounts that do nothing but blandly promote themselves. It’s just going to fall flat and be something that people scroll past. You want to have just the right amount of personality. So, what do we do instead? It’s important to ask ourselves one question:
Why Would Anyone Follow A Corporate Social Media Account?
There are a lot of individual motivations that appeal to one group or another when it comes to paying a corporate account a slice of our precious attention. Some of the reasons people engage with commercial accounts include:
- They’re Customers: This is “bottom of the sales funnel” customer retention at work
- They’re Potential Customers: They’re keeping an eye out for coupons, promotions, sales, and events
- They’re in a Related Industry: For instance, if you’re in the IT field, it does you good to follow feeds from IBM, Microsoft, Apple, etc.
- They Get Added Value: A commercial account can share ideas, recipes, DIY instructions, tutorials, and other useful information in their role as “thought leader”
- The Channel Provides Recreation: Pop quizzes, contests, trivia, humor, pictures of cute kittens, etc.
- The Brand is a Natural Lifestyle Statement: Trendy clothing retailers, cosmetics companies, and boutique food and beverage shops are among those in this category
- The Brand is a Corporate Activist: Charity work and support for social issues easily creates a following of like-minded individuals
These are just some of the motivations people have for following a brand’s channel, as varied as users themselves. There is even the kind of user who follows a channel just because all of their friends do.
Social Media Marketing Tips to Boost Audience Engagement:
Taking some of the above motives into account, here is a brainstorm of ways your social media channel can engage users with your brand. The only caveat here is that not all of these will work for everyone, but individual industries can find one “trick” that works for them.
Be “Socially Generous”
If they follow you, follow them back. Retweet any palatable post you see from your followers, not just if it’s praising your company. Respond to questions and issues. Let them know “somebody’s home” and that you’re listening.
Give Followers Exclusive Deals
By all means, advertise any promotions and specials you have going on. This is a great way to build brand loyalty and reward customers. Make it a routine event that brings followers back to your page to check for the latest discount. Photography printer, Bay Photo Lab, announces a new discount every Tuesday on their Facebook channel, which generates immense interest from existing customers and encourages people to give them a try.
Offer a Unique Perspective
Share your thoughts, insight, and wisdom about your industry. Don’t be afraid to be original and to use a different approach or share a different perspective. When everyone says the same thing, it’s boring.
People love to learn online, which is fairly obvious by the growing number of free and paid courses that are available. Beyond official educational offers, there are countless ways to learn online. People share how-to blog posts, create step-by-step video tutorials, or offer in-depth eBooks. Basically, anything you want to learn, you can online: from how to refinish floors to baking your first soufflé to fishing for trout.
This is an easy way to engage your audience and something people value highly. If you’re creating video instructions on YouTube or writing how-to blog posts, make sure that you blast them out to social media. You can even make a campaign exclusive to social media: for example, every Thursday you can share a tip relevant to your market. This will bring people back to your page to check out the latest info.
Social media for business doesn’t have to be completely serious and educational. It’s okay to have some fun. Feel free to repost the silly meme going around or comment on the latest Netflix TV show. Just be sure to be extra non-offensive. Toss out a funny observation of your own once in a while just to inject some personality.
Remember to celebrate your team’s successes and celebrations, as they’re often what defines your company. Consider running a weekly campaign to highlight team members or share photos from #behindthescenes. Don’t be afraid to show a little personality; it’s what helps distinguish you from your competitors.
Embrace a Social Cause
If there is an opportunity to support a social cause or charity that aligns with your mission and values, go ahead and boost that signal. Be careful not to be seen as transparently paying lip service to a cause just to try to win followers though. If users refer to you as “woke” in quotes, you’re doing it wrong.
Share Your Style
Could your company be a “lifestyle brand”? It’s easier than you think! If there is a specific demographic that is your customer focus, do try to pass along an attitude of unity for that demographic. This is hard to force, and not fit for every company, but if you gently cultivate a brand image, customers might take it up.
There are many ways to engage your social media following. To find out what will work for you, you need to conduct a little research and develop a plan.
Creating a Social Media Engagement Plan
Coming up with a plan for your social media strategy is easy-peasy lemon-squeezy:
- Define Your Market: Where do your customers hang out? They could be on Pinterest (ideal for lifestyle brands and retail businesses), LinkedIn (ideal for B2B commerce), Snapchat (popular with the younger generation), etc.
- Create On-brand Content and Share it: Keep a schedule or hire a designated media manager to oversee it.
- Create news for your brand: Posts from your blog, press releases, company announcements, new product launches.
- Share Content from Other Brands: You don’t have to do it all yourself. It’s good to share content from other businesses. It shows that you’re not self-centered and that you want to share useful content with your followers, regardless of who created it.
- React to Followers: Answer questions, recognize insights, field complaints, thank them for feedback.
- Measure Engagement to Track What Works: Don’t keep posting without assessing how you’re doing. Most social media platforms have tools so you can easily track your performance. See the infographic below.
Social media management is a cousin of content marketing. In both cases, you’re putting out content as a marketing maneuver to get brand exposure and attract more customers. Typically, after you publish a post to your blog or a video to your YouTube channel, you’ll blast out a link to it on your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
Now, in case you’re wondering “How are we going to come up with all this content?” There are a few differences between content marketing and social media marketing that make this game a little easier:
- As we point out, you can reshare others’ content. Users love you for it. This is often referred to as “curating content.”
- You can recycle content! You can’t do this too often without sounding stale, but you can retweet “for those who missed it…” your earlier content every other day for a week. The maximum memory of social media seems to be about a month. Go back over your stream looking for popular posts and simply repost them.
- Any news about your business is fair game. Promote a sale, remind readers that it’s for a limited time, and squeak out a couple “last chance” posts when the promotional offer is nearing its end. Tout new service additions, new features in products you’re working on, welcome new hires to the team, etc.
- News about your industry comes next. Share news stories relevant to your customer base.
- Holiday greetings are easy. Find the nearest fun holiday coming up that aligns with your brand and tie in your product or service.
- When you run dry, ask readers for feedback: conduct polls, take surveys, and report results. If you’re inviting readers to provide feedback on your next business move (wish lists for product features) follow-up if you can.
- Stuck for more ideas? Look up your competitors and see what they’re doing.
Last but not least, you can outsource! Freelance social media managers are out there, and this is ideal work that can be done remotely. Even on a temporary basis, it can be helpful to get another fresh brain into the feed. Being sparkling and brilliant every day on social media can get exhausting, after all.
Some Industries Have More Fun Than Others
We’ve all seen lists of “top X Twitter feeds to follow” on Buzzfeed and the like. If you study those lists, you’ll notice several brands dominate the top of the lists. It’s a lot easier to keep up an engaging social media account in an industry that users naturally seek out. If you’re in any of these verticals, you’ve got it made:
- Entertainment: Netflix, Nintendo, and Sony
- Food and Beverage: Starbucks, McDonald’s, Krispy Kreme
- Fashion and Beauty: Calvin Klein, Forever 21, Victoria’s Secret
- Big Tech: Microsoft, Adobe, Oracle
- Novelty and Culture: Someecards, Funko Pop, ThinkGeek
These are no-brainers. If you’re in an industry like these, the posts seem to just write themselves. The above are all worldwide, famous brands, but there’s no reason any coffee shop can’t follow Starbucks’ lead.
But beyond the major retailer brands, there are still some industries naturally suited to social media engagement:
- Colleges and Universities: We’ve blogged extensively on this. Higher education is a natural on social media. Campuses are brimming with news and events to tweet, and your alumni is a built-in audience.
- White-collar Professions: The medical industry, legal firms, tax accountants, real estate agencies, etc. These industries generate news daily.
- Technology: As long as your company’s niche isn’t too narrow, gadgets and gizmos aren’t hard to come up with content for. Tutorials and HOWTO’s alone are more than enough to fill space.
- Healthcare and Wellness: Even niches like sports medicine and family counseling have plenty of opportunities to share uplifting inspirational content and healthy lifestyle tips.
- Housewares and Decorating: Anything related to crafting a beautiful and functional living space can just post photos of hardwood floors and authentic handwoven rugs all day.
We could come up with examples of easy industries to run a social media channel for all day. However, what if that doesn’t help you?
We hear you say “Look, our company makes steam flange fitting joints for petroleum refinery plants. Nobody cares about us. We have the personality of a storm drain.”
Yes, some industries may seem too dry, too technical, too niche, or just too unappealing to the social media audience. We feel you. In cases like that, your engagement prospects were low to start with. However, you can still run news for the industry you’re closely related to. You can leap from pipe fittings to petroleum plants to petroleum and the world fossil fuels supply from there.
To learn more about social media marketing trends in 2020, read our blog post “14 Social Media Advertising Trends to Watch in 2020.