It’s 2019 and by this point, all social media platforms have introduced some version of an algorithm on their feed. And so far, that’s rarely been good news for businesses using such platforms.
Across the board, social media engagement isn’t promising. According to a Rival IQ study, these are the median engagement rates per post across networks:
- Facebook: 0.09%
- Instagram: 1.60%
- Twitter: 0.048%
Industry-specific engagement rates vary, but there are no real outliers:
In other words: social media engagement is a really difficult metric to grow.
This naturally leads to more and more businesses using paid advertising to get in front of their ideal audience. There’s nothing wrong with that—we’ve written extensively about Facebook targeting, campaign types, and ad formats.
We’ve done so because we believe in the efficiency of paid ads on social media.
However, there’s a lot that organic social media presence brings to the table, and investing in it pays off in the long run.
Engaging social media creates a sense of connection and openness with your customers and supporters. It makes you relatable and approachable, and it gives your brand a personality. Your reach can compound thanks to meaningful comments, replies, and shares.
Not to forget: engagement can drive revenue. For example, Instagram is a fertile ground for ecommerce growth because that’s where 60% of social media users learn about new products.
They’re also more likely to purchase after finding a product on social media if easy and secure payment systems are enabled.
Many social media marketers have noticed this: 80% of them said that their key strategy is to increase engagement across social channels.
If you’re one of them, this is the guide for you. We’re showing you how to organically grow an engaged social media audience without ad costs or expensive resources.
What social media engagement means for you, and what for your audience
It’s worth touching on why it’s worth focusing on social media engagement in the first place.
Sure, it’s nice to have hundreds of likes, comments, and shares. A large follower count is cool. It can all contribute to your bottom line, but what’s the underlying reason to invest your energy specifically into your social media audience?
Consider these as great answers to this question:
- You can listen to your customers and prospects and learn directly from them
- Your customers want you to be present on these platforms for them
- There’s so much content pushed out on social media that organic reach naturally declined
- Conversations with your audience on social media can drive loyalty and organic word of mouth
In other words, your impact can compound since all of these interactions are public. Caring for your audience and customers pays off.
On the other side, there are psychological reasons why your audience is looking for meaningful interactions on social media—here are just a few:
- People want to define themselves, grow relationships, and share causes they believe in
- They want to feel accepted and as a part of something
- People are visual learners
- There’s an element of giving value to your audience that builds reciprocity and trust on their side
- People don’t want to miss out—scarcity is powerful!
With this in mind, let’s dive into the strategies to grow an engaged social media following.
Ask questions they can’t help but answer
Not getting the engagement on your social media posts that you hoped for? Look back on 10 of your most recent posts on any network and see if you gave your audience a reason to engage.
In other words: did you ask for their engagement? Did you explicitly ask them to answer a question in a comment, encourage them to share, or have them tag a friend in their reply?
It’s too easy to forget to simply ask. Ask for opinions, answers to questions, or even help with decisions you need to make.
Barry Feldman, a marketing consultant, suggested these ideas for the “What do you think?” approach in your social media posts:
- Tap into your followers’ personalities: ask questions that will get them to share their opinion
- Test their knowledge: quizzes are irresistible and spread like wildfire!
- Poll your followers: offer 2-4 options they can choose from
- Just ask: relevant, timely, and provocative questions create dynamic conversations
All main social media platforms now give you an option to poll your followers. They remove the barrier of having to type an answer and let them participate with a single tap.
As an ecommerce brand, you can ask for thoughts on upcoming promotions…
…or simply ask about opinions on something related to your products or industry:
People like to have their opinions heard—be obvious when you want them to share it!
Be personal and tap into emotion
You’re the expert. You know your stuff. You deeply understand the industry.
However, consider this: so do your competitors.
The way to stand out and make your posts the ones your target audience (which is also the target audience of your competitors) engages with is to tap into their feelings.
From happiness, excitement, and inspiration to anxiety, anger, and disappointment, emotions are a powerful driver of action, both online and off.
In fact, people rely on emotions to make decisions, rather than on information. In marketing, emotional responses to a social media post will influence a person’s intent more than the content of the post itself.
So if your social media posts underperform when it comes to engagement, check back to see if all you were posting were generic messages. If you removed your name and social media handle from those posts, would anyone recognize they’re yours?
Start creating posts as if you’re creating it for your most valuable customer or supporter. Consider the emotional response you want it to evoke, and you’ll be much more likely to drive meaningful engagement with it.
Take it from big brands. Many of them are loud about where they stand on a specific social or political issue, and others have no problem laughing at their competitors, customers, or even themselves.
They do so even though they have a lot to lose. In the end, they usually end up winning.
Netflix knows their customers’ huge pain point and makes a joke out of it:
And Wendy’s takes a lot of pride for the way their food tastes (and loves to indirectly bash other fast food restaurants):
Nike has taken a stance on racism and police brutality by supporting and partnering with Colin Kaepernick and Serena Williams. After the French Open banned Serena’s catsuit (designed as such for health reasons), Nike publicly supported her with a simple yet emotional tweet:
Finally, Dove has been vocal on many issues over their lifetime, including self-esteem, body image, diversity, and more. They use social media to speak loudly about it:
Don’t be afraid to take a firm stance in issues your audience cares about—or simply make them laugh and feel good.
Run relevant and irresistible contests and challenges
Social media competitions are not a new strategy for getting engagement. Many ecommerce companies run contests on a regular basis and get great engagement from them.
Here’s the important element of successful competitions: they must be relevant and really hard to resist.
Done right, social media contests and challenges aren’t just a great engagement driver; they can also bring you extra benefits such as email addresses and loyal following from people that possibly never considered you as their retailer of choice in the past.
As Jack Paxton, the co-founder of vyper.io, said, it’s a fun, gamified strategy to drive lead generation, grow followers, and build an audience. Another key advantage is that it happens organically and fast, unlike ads that often cost $3-5 per lead, or organic list building that can take months or years to take off.
To run an effective social media competition, direct your efforts into making it hyper-relevant to your ideal customers.
For example, if you’re a fashion online shop, but run a competition to win an iPad, you’ll attract many people who aren’t interested in fashion. They just want a free iPad!
However, if you launch a competition that gives the winner an hour with a fashion stylist or a $75 voucher to spend in your store, your chances of attracting the right people are much better.
You’re the one making the call on the size and type of the reward based on your resources. This is another great moment to consider your most valuable customer—what would they love to win? Make it happen.
A great example comes from Boathouse. Their Instagram posts usually get only a couple of comments, but this contest attracted 2,000+ comments:
If engaging content formats are a challenge for you, consider hopping on video.
With the variety of topics, length, and styles, you can never truly exhaust your options with video.
Why would you focus on video in the first place? Sprout Social reported that 58% of consumers prefer visual-first content. To top that off, 74% of consumers share video content from brands on social media.
That’s too big of an opportunity to miss out on. As an ecommerce business, you can use video to…
- Educate your viewers about a topic
- Interview influential figures in your industry
- Interview your customers
- Demonstrate your products in real life
- Show the behind-the-scenes of various processes your products go through (such as production, packing, customization)
Mari Smith, Facebook marketing expert, praises video on Facebook as it gets triple the engagement and 1200% more shares than text and image posts combined. Furthermore, Facebook’s algorithm factors in the time spent on a video to increase its visibility and reach.
There may be many obstacles stopping you from doing video. No professional recording equipment, no editing software or skills, no fancy backdrops.
Don’t let this stop you from igniting engagement with your target audience.
You can start out with this simple setup:
- Your laptop camera, or a smartphone with something to keep it stable (a simple tripod or even a stack of books will work)
- A free video editing tool, such as Movie Maker on Windows or iMovie on Mac
- A list of 5-10 topics related to your products and industry
Start by creating short videos—between 30 seconds to 2 minutes in length—talking about something your followers would love to learn about.
With the fashion online store example, you could talk about styling tips for various items, color combinations, fabrics, maintenance tips, and more.
Just think about something you can talk about for a minute or two, record, and publish!
If you want to make even more effort to connect with your social media audience with video, use live video. It can feel like a one-on-one conversation from your follower’s perspective, which can turn them into a loyal supporter of your online store.
Live video is outpacing the growth of other types of online video, with a 113% increase in ad growth yearly. And according to Tubular Insights, viewers spend 8 times longer with live video than with videos that were regularly published.
Considering that even celebrities leverage the power of going live (Taylor Swift announced her most recent album on Instagram live—then repurposed it into an IGTV video!), you really have no excuse not to show up on video.
Consistency is key on all fronts
Remember when I asked you if people would recognize your posts if you covered your name?
If you’re consistent across the board, you increase your chances of answering that question with a resounding yes.
Consistency on social media can be looked at from multiple angles. From the engagement perspective, we’ll focus on:
- Showing up regularly
- Keeping a consistent tone of voice
- Visual consistency
Showing up regularly
Posting on a regular basis matters much more than when you post. Because even the best, most data-driven posting schedule won’t help you if you don’t execute it!
Brandon Fargo, the founder of Brahvia.com, shared his 10 x 4 x 1 posting strategy. This means that 10 posts per week are inspirational quotes, funny videos, and interesting images that will provoke a response. Four posts are informational and valuable, like tips and tricks. Finally, one post is promotional.
You can define any frequency that suits you, but make it a rule and stick to it so that you always stay top of mind for your audience.
Keeping a consistent tone of voice
Your tone of voice can help you humanize your ecommerce brand and encourage people to respond to you and talk about you in a positive way.
In her piece for Social Media Explorer, Stephanie Schwab broke voice down into tone, character, language, and purpose:
Having consistency in the way you speak on social media matters even more if you have multiple people running your social media account. The last thing you want is for your posts to feel unconnected to each other because they’re written by different people!
To get inspired for your own guide on voice and tone, check out some publicly available examples.
Big brands that you can recognize even without their logo, such as Coca Cola, Apple, and Ikea, have lots of money, experience, and top branding experts that helped them get there.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve visual consistency and recognizability on social media without huge resources.
You can achieve a lot by simply:
- Sticking to the same couple of fonts
- Using uniform colors
- Using similar image and video styles (e.g. vibrantly colored, dark, crisp, always featuring human faces etc.)
- Creating graphics with consistent layouts
Apply this to all your graphics, video thumbnails, videos themselves, social media header images and profile images, and you’ve set a strong foundation to be recognized as you.
Turn social media customer service into your social proof
The availability of brands on social media means many people rely on places like Twitter and Instagram to ask for help with their purchases or product care.
In fact, Sprout Social revealed that 45% of consumers head to social media as one of the first channels they go to in case they have any questions or issues. Furthermore, 21% of them would rather message a company on social media instead of giving customer service a call!
The issue here is that many companies simply don’t give their customers the attention they’re asking for:
Jay Baer revealed that not answering a complaint decreases customer advocacy by as much as 50%.
Can you afford to lose that much of your hard-earned customer advocacy?
Most online stores can’t.
On the flipside, 71% of consumers who have a positive experience with your store are likely to recommend you to their friends and family.
Providing customer service on social media can be challenging. You often can’t gauge the true sentiment of a complaint because you can’t hear the person’s voice, and there can be too many complaints to deal with.
But instead of making customer service a thing you’d rather not do, we say: own it.
Number one thing is to respond to any customer that needs your support with their product, ordering process, or anything they’re struggling with. Do it timely and in your style and tone of voice.
That’s not where you should stop. The earlier mentioned Wendy’s often reply to mentions in a hilarious way, but they take complaints to their food seriously, and they don’t try to hide it:
Taking this even a step further, Rent the Runway took a customer inquiry and used it to build a feature. And not just that: they used that same tweet in an image that announced this feature!
This is what owning your social media customer service looks like, and your customers will love it and happily engage with it.
Social media engagement is possible—without ads
It’s time to take action.
How can you leverage questions, emotions, contests, video, consistency, and customer service to build a strong, engaging presence?
Pick one or two areas to start with and go all in on them. Once you’ve mastered them, expand onto the next one until you make all of them your regular social media practice!
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