The Rules of Engagement

Engagement is one of the most influential – and inexpensive – ways to reach your target audience through social media. The only cost to you is time, but as any good businessperson knows, time is money. But do you know what else is money? Money. And studies have shown that companies that engage with their audiences make more money than those that don’t, so use that to your advantage.

The first step in engaging with your target audience is to figure out exactly who that is. Take your time and be specific. For most businesses, your audience will be divided into several unique groups, and each requires specific tactics and attention. For example, if you are an online women’s jewelry store, your obvious target audience is women with enough money to afford your product. But there are also secondary audiences to consider:

  • boutique owners who want to stock your product
  • men looking for gifts
  • other jewelry makers who you can provide knowledge to in order to position yourself as a thought-leader in your market

As you can imagine, these audiences are found in very different corners of the social-media marketplace, so the second step in your engagement plan is research. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and go the places they would go on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. Once you’re there, watch what happens. This is one place in the world where voyeurism is not a dirty word; most of the good stuff you find in these forums becomes apparent through listening, so practice doing that before anything else.

Once you’ve found the groups, users, live chats or general web “places” that your audience hangs out, your third step is to talk to them about what they feel is important. Jump into ongoing discussions or answer questions; any activity that shows you to be an expert in your field or a potential resource is social-media gold, so become a player by actually just playing around. One word of caution: don’t barge into a forum and begin immediately linking to your product just for the sake of doing so; social media communities are built on trust, and behaving in an aggressive or spam-artist way will get you ignored or even attacked.

Step four is twofold: produce and respond. Whether you’re promoting a blog, a service or a product, make sure your social-media platforms are both timely and communicate your company’s larger goals or personality. When people ask questions or make comments – especially negative ones – make a point to respond as quickly as you possibly can: the same day is preferable, and after 3 days frustration or apathy set in.

This is especially important when it comes to negative responses. You don’t want to waste your time engaging people who are obviously prone to “hate” on your business no matter what you do, but you need to quickly – and publicly – respond to those people who present valid concerns. Deleting those posts will only discourage transparency and accountability, and social-media users are the most aware of and the most vocal about people who try to silence them.

And there you have it. Engagement is becoming the norm rather than the exception, and many people view companies as inaccessible and out-of-touch if they can’t find or talk to them on social media. So be present, active and responsive and you will create a loyal audience. Never has the distance between consumers and producers been so small, and those companies who celebrate and capitalize on that fact are the ones that come out on top.