Social media offers businesses an opportunity to get closer to their customers than ever before. As Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben once said, though: “With great power comes great responsibility.” The same tools that can be used to foster a community and build relationships with your audience can also alienate them from you. Brands that make missteps on social media can quickly draw not just the ire of their fans but actual negative press.
Ultimately, succeeding on social media is about understanding the give and take between brands and audiences on such a persistently public venue. You give them good content, and they take it hungrily—potentially even sharing it with their own circle of friends. They give you engagement, and you take it respectfully, while occasionally rewarding them with a direct response.
When social media marketing can be conducted under these principles, relationships can blossom. Getting to that point requires understanding both how to use the platform effectively and also how to respect social media users in general. You can use the following seven best practices to get your social pages on the right track and begin growing a loyal audience.
Know What Makes Your Brand Voice Unique, and Express It Authentically
Businesses are like people—no two are exactly alike. Even identical twins have different personalities, so just because your business has identical offerings to another doesn’t mean that your brand personality won’t be different.
When you post to social media, you have an obligation to make sure this brand personality is fully personified. It should be like your business is its own person who talks a certain way and is interested in certain things. If you’re a small, owner-led business, you can even combine your brand personality with your own in order to convey a sense of style that feels real, unique, and personable.
In order to accomplish this, your first step is to know concretely what your brand voice is. You can start by asking questions like “How are our customers different from a competitor’s?” or “How do the choices we make as a business separate us from everyone else?”
Defining your brand voice is important because people want you to speak in a conversational, authentic tone on social media. No one wants to read pushy ad pitches or cloying attempts at being funny or cool. Instead, they want to think of your brand as another person.
Finding out what sorts of content gets your audience to think of you as authentic can take some trial and error. According to a Sprout Social survey, 86 percent of people want brands to be “honest” and 72 percent want brands to be “funny,” but only one out of every three people think that being “snarky” is desirable. Among the things people absolutely hate: when brands use slang, when they make fun of their customers, and when they start talking politics.
Of course, your audiences might be different! Tread carefully, but don’t be afraid to try different approaches in your quest to nail down an appropriate tone.
Set Expectations, and Follow Through With Them
One-time engagement is a coincidence; regular engagement is built on habits.
Once you start posting to your audience, you’re giving them expectations that you should deliver on. If you’re able to be consistent and continually deliver, you’ve helped get your audience in the habit of regularly engaging.
The first way to go about this is to post consistently. Force yourself to post on a schedule—schedule content weeks ahead if you have to. Try to post several times a week so that people don’t forget about you.
It’s up to you to figure out the best days and times to post. You can use guidelines, like these tips from Sprout Social, to get a general sense of what works. But, ultimately, your audience will show you the way with their own engagement data. Experiment with posting multiple times a day or on certain days, and keep an eye on how it affects your engagement data.
Also, remember that consistency has to do with your content as well as your posting habits. If people engage with your content because it’s fresh or emotional, they will expect new content that’s equally surprising all the time. If you deliver the same old, same old instead, your timeline will get stale.
So make sure to post a variety of content and scrutinize why you think certain posts get great engagement. Learn what your audiences crave, and serve it up regularly to keep them coming back.
Know When to Engage and When to Hang Back
There have been a lot of really cool moments in recent years where businesses respond directly to their commenters. They can be thanking a loyal fan for their patronage, or they can be making right with a customer who was upset at things going wrong.
As a business, you definitely shouldn’t leave the public complainers hanging. According to an eMarketer survey, over a third of people will boycott a brand if their complaint on social media is ignored. Nearly as many will share their bad experience with friends—both offline and online. And if the brand does respond but in a unsatisfactory way? They have a 50/50 chance of getting boycotted and a 40+ percent chance of getting smeared both online and offline.
When it comes to positive or neutral mentions of your brand, don’t always feel obligated to respond. You can definitely thank someone who offers a glowing review of you as a business, but if you feel the need to have your say every time someone “checks in” or says something mildly nice about your product, you could risk seeming desperate.
Avoid responding too often in other conversations, too. As brands have caught wind of the importance of social media marketing engagement, some have gotten overzealous and try way too hard. Think twice before making a pop culture reference or inserting a meme, otherwise the reaction could be more cringes than smiles.
Turn on Safety Tools
Most social media tips are complex, but these aren’t. Turn on two-factor authentication on your account so it’ll be harder for you to be hacked or have your password stolen.
Also, turn on comment filters so that people don’t turn your replies into a cesspool of trolling, harassment, or non-sequitur ranting. The standard filter captures most naughty words, and you can use custom filters to edit out problematic phrases you’ve had to delete in the past.
Tell Audiences Where You’re At!
A great way for your brand to feel like a real person is to let people know when you’re out and about. If you’re operating a table at a local fundraising event, for instance, tag your location.
Your social media manager can also occasionally tag themselves when they’re doing normal-people things like visiting a local restaurant that has something related to your business. Using this feature with discretion can help you appear more personable, but know that doing it too often can get annoying.
Don’t Overlook Stories and Live Broadcasts
Instagram and Facebook both have a new “Stories” feature that works quite similar to Snapchat.
If you’re not familiar, ephemeral content on these platforms disappears after 24 hours.What’s the point of that? You can more freely express yourself without worrying about cluttering up your timeline. Simple slice-of-life moments like a dog at your work desk might not be worth publishing to everyone, but people who take the time to browse their Stories might enjoy it.
You can also use stories to ignite FOMO (fear of missing out), such as offering a limited-time coupon or highlighting a place where you’re currently giving away free samples.
Stories also tend to help your content get discovered more easily. By using relevant tags, you can appear in the Explore tab of Instagram for certain users. For instance, if someone follows tags related to their hometown and you frequently share content with the same tag, that person might discover you.
Live broadcasts are another great social media marketing tool for businesses to use. Facebook claims that over two billion people have watched live video on the platform. People tend to engage with live video out of curiosity as well as classic FOMO. Best of all, live broadcasts serve up several notifications, ensuring that your can’t-miss content actually isn’t missed.
Respond to Feedback from Your Data Insights and Your Community
Your data tells the most clear story about what works and what doesn’t in regards to your community.
And—as anyone who’s been on the internet for an hour could tell you—audiences also tend to be quite vocal when they have an opinion. Don’t feed the trolls, but do take criticism of your content from real people seriously, especially if the same complaints pop up frequently.
Since social marketing is all about building relationships, practice self-awareness to help those relationships last. By seeing through numbers and words how your audience reacts to your content, you can get a sense for what encourages them to keep coming back for more.