In the age of the Internet, word of mouth is a powerful marketing source. Capturing the average user’s attention for approximately 135 minutes a day in 2017, social media posts are the modern version of watercooler conversations, multiplied by millions and reaching across the globe. With more people logging on than ever before, it’s the perfect time for small businesses to take advantage of this connectivity.
Past marketing strategies were often determined by a company’s ability to pay: the more money invested in a campaign, the further your reach. Social media success, however, is less reliant on cost than it is on content. Digital influencers have skyrocketed from obscurity to Internet stardom due to one basic skill: the ability to make people tune in.
So how can you harness this skill for your own small business marketing? While audience and content vary by industry, there are a few tried-and-true techniques that can help grow your online engagement. The following are five strategies that should work on any platform to increase brand visibility.
1. Create Compelling Content
This may seem obvious, but generating posts that are consistently compelling is no small feat. The sheer volume of content available to users is enormous and the risk of being lost in the crowd is a real concern. You only have a split-second to convince scrolling users that your article is interesting enough to explore. How do you do this? First, you need a solid headline.
Buzzfeed is a master of the compelling headline, a fact that’s made the news site immensely popular. You can incorporate many of its attention-grabbing techniques into your own writing, starting with the following:
- Asking a question
- Using humor
- Including unusual information
It’s also important to determine exactly how much to give away. If a headline is too vague, it won’t convince users that reading the article is worth their time. An overly packed headline, on the other hand, may give so much information that users feel they don’t need to read the article.
The work isn’t done with an eye-catching headline – your post should provide your readers with some value to keep them on your webpage and, more importantly, keep them coming back. This is why you want to be careful about using headlines commonly known as “clickbait.” Clickbait describes titles and thumbnails that are intentionally sensational without any payoff in the article. Often, these are outright misleading about an article’s contents, which is a sure-fire way to break reader trust and make users wary of clicking your links in the future.
Instead, you want to offer legitimate value in your content. This doesn’t mean you have to provide life-changing articles or continuously try to top your past posts. Value can be small, simple and – best of all – tailored to your industry. A few ways to add value include the following:
- Be entertaining
- Teach your audience something
- Connect with users’ emotions
Value not only convinces users to click and return – but it also convinces them to share. Providing content your audience believes other people will find valuable can be a major catalyst for your online growth.
2. Include Video and Photos
Visuals are an excellent way to catch attention and quickly communicate ideas. Some platforms, like Instagram, are built around this concept. Videos, photos, art and infographics are all excellent ways to make content compelling. In fact, images can increase engagement by 230 percent.
While you don’t need a Hollywood production crew to make a great visual, your final product should have professional quality. The Internet is known to be a vicious critic and social media platforms are the prime location for negative opinions to be made known. If your content appears to be rushed or poorly made, it can do more harm than good to your brand. Also, remember that the Internet is forever – if you delete a post due to poor reception, there’s likely still an archive or screenshot of it somewhere. While many algorithms reward quantity, users are more likely to judge your business based on quality.
Tapping into current trends is one of the often-given social media marketing tips, but you want to tread carefully. Memes (jokes originating on the Internet) and challenges have a short shelf life, and by the time companies generate content to cash in, the trend is usually over. It’s also essential that if you include a reference to a current trend, you research that trend’s origins. Oftentimes, popular online jokes evolve far past their original scope as thousands of users create and share their own takes. This means there’s a possibility that a trend may have been started by a user or community that contradicts the values of your company and audience. You don’t want your name entangled in controversy due to ignorance.
3. Invest in Community-Building
The biggest influencers don’t refer to followers as “viewers” or “visitors” – they talk about their audience as a community. The relationship between creator and community is a two-way street, with community members responding through comments, shares and even reaction posts. Building a community means having a conversation which, incidentally, is how to increase social media engagement overall.
Establish a Target Audience
While your online posts are theoretically accessible to any Internet user, only a tiny percentage of people are actually going to see them. Instead of casting your net wide, you should tailor content to appeal to users who are more likely to be interested in your industry. These individuals are the most likely to become members of your community and may even already be members of similar communities. In fact, studying the social media strategies of businesses with large followings can give you insights into how you shape your own online community.
Keeping in mind that every post is a potential conversation, there are ways to encourage users to engage, such as these:
- Ask your audience to share their own experiences with the topic
- Create a poll or survey where users can share their opinions
- Have giveaways related to milestones
>Asking your audience to comment or vote is essentially inviting them to join the conversation, which creates a personal investment. Over time, those investments can coalesce into a sense of community and belonging.
Giveaways are a common technique influencers use to celebrate reaching a certain number of subscribers/followers, shares or likes. This appeals to audiences for a few reasons, the first being a chance to win free products or services. A second aspect is, again, a sense of community and belonging. A celebration of subscribers is, in fact, a celebration of community and recognizes the ways your audience has helped your brand grow.
You can also use giveaways to push toward a new milestone, especially if you’re relatively close to hitting your goal. The prospect of a contest or raffle can encourage community members to spread the word in an effort to reach that goal.
Choose Appropriate Topics
While the purpose of this social media marketing effort is to sell more products or services, you can’t think of posts as commercials. Users aren’t looking for a sales pitch – they’re more likely to be seeking entertainment. A good rule of thumb is the 80/20 ratio: keep your promotional material to 20 percent of your content and use the remaining 80 percent to deliver value.
A great strategy to keep your posts within this ratio is to research the kind of content your target audience prefers. There are a number of tools and studies available that track how certain demographics interact with online content. That’s one of the biggest advantages to using social media marketing – the entire system is structured to generate this kind of data, which you can use to determine the best path forward.
4. Utilize Social Insights
Social insights are data about your posts, audience, and engagement, and are provided by most major platforms. You can examine data for specific posts or analyze trends over long periods of time. There are also companies that gather and analyze this information on your behalf, which can be helpful if your business hasn’t yet established an online presence and therefore doesn’t have enough of its own data. All this information boils down to three major questions that influence your social media strategy: who, how and when.
Who Is Engaging
A major aspect of determining your target audience is figuring out their demographics. As a creator, you have access to a lot of information about engaging users, such as the following:
- Age range
- Other categories of interest
From this information, you can build a profile, then gear your content to appeal to those who fall within it.
How They’re Engaging
This question is quite broad but can help you figure out the best way to increase engagement. For example, you can identify which type of device users are most likely to access your site with. Since website appearance and visitor navigation are different on mobile devices compared to computers, you can organize your pages to suit the most-utilized device.
If you have a presence on multiple platforms, you can also compare post success. Are certain articles skyrocketing on Facebook but flopping on Twitter? This is an opportunity to examine where your online strengths lie and make thoughtful decisions about where to invest your resources.
You’ll also want to take a look at likes, shares, and comments. All of these are considered engagement but have different values depending on your ultimate marketing goals. Likes can be a great indicator of the type of content your community prefers, therefore steering your future focus. Shares expand your reach as new users are introduced to your brand by friends, family or other organizations. Comments are a gold mine of information you can use to get a more nuanced sense of a piece’s reception.
When They’re Engaging
The time that a post drops has a huge effect on how much engagement it receives. Most social media users receive a deluge of notifications and one tweet is easy to miss. Timing your posts to coincide when most of your audience is online can be a huge step toward getting your content seen by more people.
Exactly when this magic time occurs varies by industry and demographic. In fact, there are entire studies dedicated to narrowing down prime engagement time by age, industry, and platform.
If you have enough data from social insights, you can do this analysis for yourself by looking for trends in your best-performing content. Is it all posted around a particular time? Are the articles with the highest engagement posted on a certain day? Once you’ve identified the most successful times, set a schedule to give your links the best shot at being seen.
5. Boost Strategically
Some platforms, like Instagram and its owner Facebook, provide users with the option to promote or “boost” their posts. This gives you greater influence than “organic” outreach, as your boosted post appears on timelines beyond those of your current followers.
As useful as this can be in bringing new followers to your page, you don’t want to boost everything. Instead, it’s more effective to pick and choose which posts are promoted.
Consider the Cost
Most platforms charge for boosts, although the cost is generally very low. Facebook, for example, charges $5 – $10 for one post to be boosted to 200 – 1,000 people. To encourage companies to use this service, Facebook often provides initial credits, usually $5 – $15 for pages with very low engagement. The service, then, isn’t expensive, but costs can add up quickly if used indiscriminately.
Invest in What’s Already Flourishing
Posts that have already gained some traction are more likely to do well with a larger audience. These can serve as an introduction to your brand if boosted. You can also boost promotions or events that may appeal to new customers, such as a coupon code or free trial.
Need help streamlining your social media outreach? V Digital Services provides digital marketing services to small to medium-sized businesses in a number of industries. Our approach is flexible, versatile, and personalized for every client. To learn more, contact our knowledgeable and experienced team today.