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Start the Conversation: How to Engage your Customers with Social Media

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  4. Start the Conversation: How to Engage your Customers with Social Media

Social media marketing is often characterised as a conversation: a chance to get people interested in what you have to say, and set out your credentials as someone worth paying attention to. For a small business owner, this can be a great leveller. You might not have the spending power or instant recognition of some of your competitors. However, if you know how to start a social conversation and keep it going, you have a fantastic opportunity to grow your fledgeling customer base into a community of loyal followers.

In real life, a conversation that starts with a blatant sales pitch, or a topic you’re just not interested in, is an instant turn-off. The same principles apply to social media. The starting point is to engage: to capture the attention of your audience with something that stops them in their tracks. Here, we will help you discover how to engage with your particular audience, and suggest how different social platforms can help you engage with audiences in different ways.

How to discover what engages your audience

The boutique hotel chain CitizenM, has a very clear image of the people it is having a conversation with. They are young, tech-savvy travellers. You can see that each of its posts across social media are designed to appeal to this particular group. There are stylish, original, and intriguing images posted on Instagram. On its Facebook timeline, posts directly relating to its brand are blended with content linked to the interests of its typical customer. These include interviews with designers, guest articles from travel writers, and news about local arts festivals and gigs.

Your target audience

Very few of us click on each and every post that appears on our various social feeds. However, the more you know about your target audience, the greater the chances of being able to produce and share the type of content that will get them to pay attention. Researching your target audience enables you to find out more about the platforms they use, the content they are likely to respond to, and the tone you should adopt. Do this by looking at the profiles of your existing customers and by checking out the type of tactics used by competitors who have a strong community of social followers.

How to make an initial introduction

Firstly, you need people to talk to, and this requires building up an initial community of followers. On Twitter and Instagram for instance, you can search for relevant hashtags to find influencers. These are people who have their own social following, who frequently post, review, and provide their opinions relating to topics concerning your industry. Follow them, post your own comments and opinions in response to their content — and then do the same for their existing followers. This can enable you to extend your reach by encouraging them to discover, like, and follow your own content.

Location and reviews

If you have a physical location such as a cafe or studio, you could offer a money-off discount to visitors who check in to your location via Facebook while they are there. This tells their Facebook friends that they are visiting you. The same handy little feature tells those friends who you are, where you are, and what type of business you are. You are then on their radar, and have begun the initial conversation. If you please the original visitor with your service, it’s natural for them to follow up the check-in notification. This could be with a comment saying how much they enjoyed it, and for them to head over to your page and like your business.

How to engage by involving your audience

The t-shirt company Threadless is built around engaging its customers by getting them directly involved. Designers submit designs and then the company’s community of followers vote on the ones they like the best via its website and social media. The winning designers get a cash prize and get to see their designs converted into products.

Ask questions

Asking “What do you think?” can be a great tactic for up-and-coming businesses. For instance, are you trying to decide which three wonderful pizza recipes should go onto your menu? You could post pictures on Facebook and let your supporters tell you. You might even invite the ‘winners’ to enjoy a free pizza. It’s really useful for brand awareness.

Direct messaging

As a software developer deciding what features should be improved on the next version of your business app, you might want to direct message a handful of customers or industry influencers via Twitter or LinkedIn to get their input — get the conversation rolling.

This approach invites people to interact with you directly and it shows that you value your audience’s opinions. It can also give you an insight into you what your customer base is looking for so you can tailor your products accordingly.

How to engage with the right content

Even when you are talking directly about your brand, too much ‘salesy’ content is unlikely to inspire or engage your audience. Competitions, though, can be useful for picking up likes and shares. However, you should be wary about over-reliance on ‘giveaways’. This is because these can sometimes attract lots of people who like ‘free stuff’. However, they might not meet the profile of potential customers.

Find your USP

For inspiration, Hiut Denim is a company with a good blend of engaging content. Its USP links to the fact that it is a small, British manufacturer. It posts interviews with its employees and designers to reinforce this. In addition, it has a unique ‘No Wash Club’ challenge. This encourages customers not to wash their jeans for six months, and post their progress on social media.

With Hiut Denim, you won’t see any stock photos or uninteresting catalogue-like images in their social posts. Remember that no matter how interesting your content, there’s a risk that it will be overlooked completely in your audience’s newsfeeds without an image that catches their attention.

Engagement through social media is part of the bigger picture of speaking to your potential customers in the right way. For more hints and tips on marketing and using social platforms, check out the help centre.

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