In your marketing communication activities, if you want to be a part of the social media conversation, you need to know how to use social sites effectively to engage with your audience and build authentic relationships with them. There is a knack to using social media in marketing communication.
By engaging with consumers and stakeholders through a blog or Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, you can spread the word about your organization to your target audience, shape your online reputation – and cultivate deeper relationships.
Most social media users welcome a closer relationship with the businesses they enjoy. According to Cone Research and Insights, 85% of social media users want their favorite businesses to actively engage with them through social media. This opens the way to use social media in marketing communication.
But there is a right way and a wrong way to engage with people on social media sites. The right way will help you cultivate a meaningful relationship with your audience, and convert interested visitors into lifelong loyal buyers. The wrong way will inevitably drive people away… and could even provoke them to ‘badmouth’ your business to others.
To help you avoid that fate, here are six ‘rules of engagement’ on how to use social media the right way to reach customers and stakeholders:
Rule 1: Do your research
Identify which sites are most popular with your audience. Are they spending time on Facebook or on Twitter? Are there any popular forums or blogs they tend to visit and comment on?
All the major social media websites have search tools that allow you to search on your keywords to find users and groups talking about the things you’re interested in.
To find forums and discussion boards, enter your keywords into Google with ‘discussion’ or ‘forum’ added to the end. Google will point you to groups where your market might be located.
Then type your keywords into Google Blog Search to find blogs with content relevant to your business. Once you discover some good ones, remember to check their blogrolls –the list of other blogs they link to in their sidebar, or on a separate page on their site – for more sites to investigate.
Make a list of the places where you find the greatest representation of your target market – and then you’re ready to get started.
Spend some time checking out the discussions already in progress, joining relevant groups, following and ‘friending’ interesting people you meet, and building up your identity as a trusted participant by providing solid ideas and information (without a pitch!)
Don’t worry about joining every single group. Start with three or four to familiarize yourself with them and then expand your presence from there. This will help you to avoid overload.
Rule 2: Create an interesting, memorable profile
Set up an engaging presence that builds trust. In your profile on each social media site, be sure to include:
- a friendly picture of yourself (or your logo)
- a pitch-free description of your organization
- your website URL
Use the same information and photo or logo for all your profiles – that way, people who meet you at one site will be able to easily connect with you at another.
As you start to engage with people on a social media site, aim to maintain a warm, helpful, professional stance. By offering friendly advice and tips, and pointing them to places where they can find more useful or interesting information, you will gather a loyal community of people who value your input and trust your recommendations.
Rule 3: Listen before you talk
When you sign up for a social media site, blog, or forum, take some time to listen first. If you jump into the conversation with a sales pitch, and start hitting people with messages you will instantly turn them off.
Spend some time reading posts, messages and tweets – and while you do, ask yourself the following questions:
- What are people most excited about?
- What topics come up again and again – and why?
- What are the most common problems people are facing?
- What problems aren’t being solved by existing products or services?
- What are your market’s biggest frustrations?
- What products or services are they talking about – for better or for worse?
By listening first, you’ll get a feel for the tone of the conversations already in progress, which will help you strike the right note when you join in.
You’ll also send the message that you value the information and opinions people are sharing with one another… and that you’re not just there to do a sales pitch. .
Now, if you find people speaking directly about YOUR product, service or organization, you will undoubtedly be tempted to jump in right away and respond to them.
If their comments are positive, feel free to offer a quick ‘thank you’ or note of appreciation.
If their comments are negative, however, respond politely and briefly to let them know you want to provide them with a positive experience – and then take the time to write an email or send a private note offering assistance or support.
Disputing their account publicly or engaging in a war of words will only make you and your organization look bad – which is exactly the opposite of what you’re trying to do.
Rule 4: Engage with your market – don’t just try to sell to them
To understand the true value of social marketing, you need to understand why people spend time visiting social websites.
Generally, they’re seeking diversion and entertainment, or pursuing information about their passions and interests. Popular activities include:
- corresponding with friends and family
- meeting and socializing with online friends
- watching funny or informative videos
- recommending interesting articles to fellow readers
- listening to entertaining podcasts
- playing addictive real-time games.
And they can smell a ‘pitch’ a mile away. Just today I read a grumble by a blogger that he receives heaps of ‘invitations’ to events via Facebook which are really thinly disguised promos for commercial activities. And many of those events are not even in the same State in which he lives!
Rule 5: Give them information they WANT
Once you’ve done some listening, you can start sharing information with your audience through social media. Then you can engage with your target audience by using social media in marketing communication – as long as you focus on providing value above all else, such as:
- Give expert advice
- Establish your expertise by answering common questions about your industry, and offering valuable information in related discussions and groups. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should answer every question by pointing to your product or service, even if it seems like the most obvious solution! You want to earn trust first… and let that lead naturally to positive relationships.
- Share thoughts about your industry
- Share your own ideas about what’s happening in your industry through blogs, Twitter and group posts. Start discussions that matter to you, and invite other people to share their ideas.
- Be transparent about your company information and mission
- Share who you are, how you got started in your industry, and your passion for what you do and why you do it.
- Communicate with some selected marketing information
- Put the word out about new product releases, new product features, media coverage or awards you’ve received.
- Provide great customer feedback
- Post common solutions, product bulletins, problem solving, best practices, training and tips for using your products or services. Don’t be scared to solve a customer’s problem publicly if they post it publicly.
- Tell customer stories (with permission!)
- Share stories of people who have had positive experiences with your products, service or organization.
- Have a little fun
- Post games, contests, and interesting pictures or videos related to your products or industry.
- Encourage feedback and research your market
- Questions and surveys targeted towards your community or customers can be a great way of getting valuable market research data, product feedback and information about the right direction for your business to head in future.
Rule 6: Participate!
If you want to build up a loyal community on social media sites, focus above all else on being someone worth knowing.
People are drawn to those who care about what they have to say, and who contribute in valuable ways to the conversations that matter to them. If you respond promptly and politely to people, and provide great information, they’ll love you.
On the other hand, if you only participate sporadically, and neglect to offer information that people find entertaining or helpful, you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to establish a connection.
Above all, when you communicate with your audience on social media sites, the most important thing is not to sound ‘spammy’. It’s perfectly fine to let people know what you do and what you offer – but not to hit them over the head with a sales pitch.
Few people go to social media websites looking directly for items to purchase – but they do appreciate coming across helpful people who provide good information and responsive service. And if they are looking directly for product or service recommendations, your active presence and solid reputation will put you in a great position.
How to adopt a mindset of using social media in marketing communication
Social media experts observe that social media tools can unleash forces that are difficult to control. Giving everyone a voice can challenge the worldview of people who are used to calling the shots. It is worth understanding the ‘rules of engagement’ for active marketing participation in social media.
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. His wide-ranging career includes roles as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer and business manager. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.