How to engage your audience through social

Here are top ten tips for engaging, rather than switching off, your key audiences online. Also, find out why voice is about to disrupt everything...

From Olivia Blairman, junior planner at communications agency TVC Group:

1. Put creative first
“Your creative should be fully worked up before developing your channel distribution plan. You simply cannot do it effectively the other way around – there’s no point choosing a channel to roll out your plan without first having a solid creative. Creative has to be native to the environment and natural to the channel. Different channels are consumed in different ways, with long-form video flying on some channels and a three-second glance being optimum on others.

“We’re continuing to see a shift towards increased use of visual content on social; people look for aesthetics so it is important for brands to recognise this and make content as visually pleasing as possible.”

2. Be consistent
“Having a common thread between day-to-day social posting and campaign content is key to developing a recognisable tone of voice and consistent brand identity. It’s vital to stay true to your brand’s personality, especially on social media.

“Always ask yourself who your target audience is and define who you want to see your message; try not to get carried away because of the hype around a new platform or new app.”

From Sam Williams, social media manager at agency Ranieri Communications:

3. Set clear goals
“Setting goals is the first essential step in any social campaign. Clarifying whether you’re wanting to promote a new launch, generate brand awareness or drive traffic to a website is key to success. Nailing this down helps you target the right audience, define the type and format of content you create, and ultimately impacts upon the results you achieve.”

4. Be flexible
“Just as important is preparing yourself from the off to anticipate barriers and be flexible. The nature of social means there are almost always hurdles once the campaign is live, whether that be a customer response or external event out of your control. Making sure you closely monitor the performance, sentiment and targeting of your campaign so you can optimise and adjust if necessary is essential.”

From Dan Stobbs, social media executive at agency BlueSky PR:

5. Create a dialogue
“One of the most overlooked yet simple methods to generate engagement on social media is to ensure that you are not treating the platforms as one-way broadcast channels. After all, social is meant to be social: you should be producing content that sparks debate, responding to customer queries and joining in with conversations around your brand.

“Think about your posts and aim to craft copy that is both personal and creates a sense of urgency or intrigue amongst your audience to drive engagement – for example, framing some of your posts as open-ended questions works extremely well for this and also helps generate discussion around the topic.

“This is now more important than ever due to the recent shift in algorithms from the major social media platforms which are now prioritising content which generates active engagement from users’ close connections, such as comments and shares.“

From Julia Ruane, head of PR and content at social media risk experts Crisp Thinking:

6. Plan how to deal with hate comments
“As well as thinking about what type of content to post, when to post and how to increase reach, a key consideration – that is often treated as an afterthought – is how to keep an eye on what people are saying in the comments. Hate speech, malicious links, brand criticism or trolling, these are all commonly left on both organic social media posts and social media ads. You need to have a clear policy in place with how you deal with these when they happen (note ‘when’ not ‘if’!). Do you respond? Do you delete/hide? How quickly are you alerted to them? Spotting what people are saying on your social media ads is particularly difficult when they are ‘dark posts’. Also, deliberate trolling (as opposed to genuine customer complaints) tends to take place outside of usual working hours. The reason being that so many teams don’t have 24/7 protection in place. So, make sure you have a plan for the more negative side of social media engagement if you want a more positive result!”

From Summer Equitz, digital consultant at agency Uprise PR:

7. Know your platform 
“Content that you would post on Twitter or Instagram might be different than the content you would post on LinkedIn or Facebook. Each social media platform has different strengths that you need to take advantage of to get the full potential out of your posts. For instance, high-quality, interesting photos are the centre of a good Instagram post. Keep captions simple and focus on the photos or graphics. On LinkedIn, know that your content will probably be a reaching more professional audience, potentially viewing your post while they are at work. LinkedIn might not be the place for the fun jokes or entertaining GIFs that might work well on Twitter. Once you’ve identified your audience on each platform, and what they respond best to, you can tailor your posts to work for maximum impact.”

8. Quality over quantity 

“Most social media blogs will recommend posting daily on all your social media channels. Whilst it is key to keep a constant presence so that your potential customers remain engaged, just posting for the sake of posting will quickly make your follower count drop. Take time to think about what you would want to see in your news feed, and what key messages and personality you want to associate with your brand. Keeping a consistent tone will help build brand recognition among your target market.“

9. Research 
“Blindly tweeting into the ether won’t be helping anyone, and no one will see your hard work! Take the time to do your research: make sure that you are getting the most out of your social media channels. Keep an eye on what your competitors might be posting, relevant trending hashtags, local events, breaking news, and awareness days and put yourself into the conversation. Make it easy for potential customers to find your posts by exploring well performing hashtags or geo-tagging your posts to get more traction. It is also helpful to spend time monitoring your posting schedule: when are your followers most engaged? Are posts sent at certain times of day doing better than others? By taking a good look at your social media analytics you can really make sure your posts are getting as much reach as possible. Keep up the hard work, and reap the rewards.”

From Anna Morris, head of excellence at PR agency Clearbox:

10.    Keep it real. 
“When planning a social media campaign, it’s not always about what’s hot right now but what’s going to build an affinity with your target audience. Most of the time that’s about the content rather than the platform.”

The future is voice

Stephen Waddington, partner and chief engagement officer at PR firm Ketchum, discusses how voice is about to disrupt the social space

The next shift in social platforms is set to be voice. However, voice won’t integrate into existing social channels – it is entirely disruptive. Voice is a nascent form of technology made possible by advances in speech recognition, high-speed internet connections, and raw computing power. The use of the social graph, and removal of the keyboard/screen as an interface, are the social components.

Amazon Alexa on the Echo platform and Google Assistant on the Google Home platform are making in-roads in the home. Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant are available on Apple and Android devices, respectively.

Number crunchers at analyst house Canalys predict sales of 56 million worldwide in 2018, up from 33 million in 2017. The US is the largest market accounting for almost 70% of sales.

There are four main opportunities for brands to use voice assistants as a form of branded or organisational communication.

Voice assistants can be used to serve media, much like any other computing device, or indeed a radio or television. Therein lies an advertising opportunity.

Second, voice assistants can be used to serve news. Both Amazon and Google serve content from more than 50 sources. It’s accessible in a bite-sized flash format, and long form such as podcasts and radio shows.

Third, organisations can build voice apps or skills. There are voice-directed applications that typically pull information from the internet, and serve it in an audio format. Amazon and Google have both published libraries.

Finally, there’s the opportunity for retail. Voice assistants bring a further level of disintermediation to the web. Alexa is an audio shop front for Amazon. Google serves products and services based on voice queries, location and your social graph.

Like any conversation, it is important to always take notice of the person you are speaking to them and not say anything unless it is worth saying. Most importantly of all, make sure you listen. Some of these tips may seem obvious, yet is surprising how many brands seem to ignore the obvious on social media platforms.