Put the Social Back into Social Media

August 9, 2013 Shanna Mallon

Everybody knows there’s more to conversation than what you say—and that’s as true on social media as it is in your living room. So how does it work online? What are the keys to engaging your audience and building real connections? Do you know how to use networks like Twitter and Facebook to be less of a loudspeaker and more of a resource?

Here are some tips:

Do More Than Talk About Yourself

Nobody likes a blowhard—and when all you do on social media is talk about yourself and your content, a blowhard is exactly what you’ve become. Promoting your own blog posts and products is okay, as long as that’s not all you do. Instead of being self-focused, aim to be interesting. Here are a few ideas for doing so:

Share relevant news

Did a blogger in your industry post some relevant stats, stories, or ideas that you found worthwhile? Call out him or her on social media and provide links for your followers. This sets you up as more than an advertiser; you’re a resource.

Be funny

Everybody likes to laugh, so when you can be (appropriately) funny, go for it. Not only does this make you relatable, but it also makes your content worth spreading.

Example #1: On Twitter, Oreo pokes fun at its own question about which came first, the cookie or the crème filling.

Example #2: Toilet paper brand Charmin uses Twitter to post funny, highly relevant updates about situations where its products would come in handy, as shown here.

Be heartwarming

Nothing moves an audience more quickly than emotions—so to connect with fans, find ways to touch their heartstrings. You may post adorable photos, sweet stories, or something else endearing. The key here is to evoke an emotional response with what you share, as pet retailer PetSmart does on a regular basis.

Listen

The best conversationalists do more than talk; they listen. On social media, this means paying attention to what your audience is saying—reading their Tweets, keeping up with their blogs, etc. To stay updated, follow your target audience and regularly scan what they’re saying on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. Likewise, set up alerts through Google Alerts, Social Mention, and Tweetbeep to stay aware of the most important comments about your industry.

Ask Questions

Engage your audience by inviting them to talk with you. Ask open-ended questions that require more than yes or no answers. Ask for opinions, ask for advice, and show your followers you’re interested in them and what they have to say.

Example #1: Whole Foods Market asks for audience opinions of a recipe on Twitter.

Example #2: Chicago Public Library polls Facebook fans on summer reading picks.

Respond Thoughtfully

When someone says something that interests you on social media, particularly if it’s someone in your target audience, respond thoughtfully. Rather than just saying, “That’s cool!” or “Me too,” aim to add actual value to the conversation.

Engage Regularly

No relationship survives without regular interaction, including relationships that happen online. Don’t just email a contact one time and expect to build a meaningful connection. Instead, look at online relationships the way you look at offline ones: Regularly engage and interact with others.

Show Vulnerability

Authenticity and transparency are prized commodities in today’s Internet world—whether you’re the voice of a brand or a blogger. When you find ways to communicate a sense of genuine, personal content, your readers notice. What’s more, vulnerability opens the doorway for a deeper level of connection.

Be Thankful

When someone promotes your content or says something kind about you online, be sure to thank him or her. Gratitude goes a long way towards building meaningful connections, as shown by Cara of Big Girl Small Kitchen and Sunrise Senior Living below.

Your Thoughts

If you’re regularly practicing the above strategies, what results are you seeing? And on the flip side, if you’re not satisfied with audience engagement, why not put these ideas into practice online?

About the Author

Shanna Mallon is a writer for Straight North, a Chicago Web design firm providing specialized SEO, Web development, and other online marketing services. Follow Straight North on Twitter and Facebook.

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