If engaging clients and prospects through social media isn’t part of your overall marketing strategy, it should be. Social media represents a proven method for communicating with a target audience, building a loyal base of followers and generating leads. When businesses actively engage clients on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+ and other social media platforms, they’re not only increasing the opportunity to make sales, they’re strengthening brand awareness — the gold standard in marketing today.
Here are suggestions for successful digital age engagement:
Listen and learn
Do you know what your target audience thinks about you? About your industry and competitors? Such valuable information can be found on a variety of social media channels, where people comment all the time, both about your business and your industry. If you’re not doing so already, be sure to regularly check your business Facebook page and see what people are talking about. You can also set up a keyword/hashtag-monitoring stream to stay current on consumer sentiments on Twitter.
Get a conversation going
Of course, listening is only part of the interactive nature of social media. You can always kick-start a conversation by asking questions online — open-ended questions related to your business (and, when possible, tied in to current cultural events).
You’re also in a position to answer questions people pose online, thus demonstrating your willingness to engage with prospective clients on the social media channels where they “live.” People respond favorably to a business that promptly answers specific or industry-related questions.
The same principle applies to negative feedback. Occasionally, someone will post a comment critical of your product or service. Rather than going overboard with a defensive reply, think of this as a chance to build some goodwill.
“Customers will criticize and complain,” notes Andrew Pressault of Hootsuite. “Every comment and complaint represents a great opportunity, though — an opportunity to fix the problem, and do it publicly. Or, at the very least, show empathy.”
Make it easy to follow your business
Your various social media profiles should be prominently displayed on all of your communications and websites, from email newsletters to your “About Us” page. This makes it easy for clients and prospects to “like” or follow you. It’s also a great way for them to share your content with their own social networks.
Another tip: When responding to a blog post or client comments, be sure to include a link to your site at the end of your reply. Someone who likes what you have to say — or has a new interest in your product or service — can easily click on the link and go where you want them to go.
Offer content of value
It should be clear by now that social media is not the venue for blatant advertising or self-promotion. Instead, follow the 80/20 rule, making 80 percent of your content relevant and useful to your target audience, and 20 percent reflecting your key marketing message.
Content of value includes “how-to” posts, commentary on industry trends, “5 Ways to …” articles — whatever helps improve the lives of users. Not only does this generate goodwill in the social media realm, it helps build your reputation as an industry thought-leader.
“Posts that are rich in content reflect well on your company and have a higher probability of being shared on the social networks of your users,” notes Colton Matheson, SEO & SEM Coordinator at the University of Utah. “This can help increase your referrals and strengthen your online business profile.”
Share content from others and engage with influencers
Social media etiquette doesn’t preclude mentioning other businesses (and competitors) on occasion. When you come across valuable content from other sources, don’t hesitate to share it with your network. People appreciate getting useful information and will remember whom it came from.
Also, look for industry influencers and work on developing a relationship with them online. Such a relationship can open up a completely new audience for your business. Aligning your brand with respected voices in your field can help establish social proof and build brand awareness.
How do you engage with influencers? “For instance,” says marketing specialist Matthew Collis, “you can share some of their posts you like, answer any questions they post to the community, and closely monitor their social channels so you can see which subjects and issues matter to them, and then engage with them about those things.”
Don’t neglect email marketing
Email marketing is still a productive method for engaging with prospects and clients. It’s cost-effective and generally has a stronger response rate than direct mail. And it’s a great method for pinpointing your ideal demographic. When inviting people to subscribe to your email newsletter, you can (depending on the questions you ask) learn a lot about their age, what part of the country they live in, their unique interests, etc. — which helps refine your message to best meet their needs.
Traditional marketing remains a useful tool for businesses, but the results pale against the vast potential for client and prospect engagement in the digital age.