Strategies for engaging people on social media

Samantha Dancy

As a communications consultant, I am one of the first to advocate a brand's adoption of social media, whether for customer service, feedback & innovation, recruitment, sales, or simply for increasing brand awareness. However I strongly believe it has to be approached strategically, in the right way - for those familiar with Stephen Covey's '7 Habits of Highly Effective People', you need to begin with the end in mind. It's crucial to establish your objectives well in advance, or else your presence in the social sphere will achieve nothing. And I can guarantee that no matter what the objectives of your social media activity are, you will need an engaged audience in order to succeed - this is the very essence of any social activity.
So how do you ensure your brand is able to engage with those who visit your social media channels?

1. Know your audience
Social media is not a tick box exercise, it is not essential that every brand has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Vine, YouTube, FourSquare… You get the picture!. There are hundreds of different platforms out there, and your presence should be determined by your target audience and objectives. If you really know your audience profile - not simply the broad demographic - you should very easily be able to work out which channels they prefer (and for what purpose) and what style/language they respond to.

2. Ensure your content is appealing
Put your language style guide to one side for a second and think about what your audience want to hear and how they want to hear it; if these match then you're fine, if not then you really need to think about how your tone and style in order to ensure you engage and resonate with those who see/hear your messages. Do your research and test to see what works. There are some incredible case studies out there of brands who have had great success with their social media and produced some impressive campaigns, but don't just assume you can replicate these with your brand. The subject matter as well as the language has to be appealing and add value to your target audience in order to engage them.

3. Maintain variety
In order to sustain an audience’s interest, content has to be fresh, relevant and varied. This can be in terms of the subject matter or the type of content. Ensure to use plenty of images, videos, infographics, user generated content (ie fan photos and videos), expert tips, case studies, examples and guest contributions, and be aware of what is happening locally and globally in order to piggyback (when relevant) on trends, events and news of interest to your audience.

4. Ensure a clear call to action
It may seem unnecessary, but amongst the clutter of the social media landscape and multitude of messages being broadcast online, you need to make it very clear what you want you audience to do. This will depend on your objectives – generally your content might look to inspire, educate, entertain, build a community, sell/promote yourself, or any combination of the above - but in any of these instances you should be directing people either to visit a website/blog, send an email, make a phone call, pay a visit, or purchase a product/service. You need to clearly tell them what you want them to do.

5. Proactively seek responses
Nothing is more flattering to the human ego than feeling like my opinion is valuable and can make a difference. Asking questions of your audience, whether this is in order to solve a particular common problem, seek feedback on a product or service, or as a crowdsourcing exercise for development and innovation, makes your audience feel important and builds a sense of ownership in the brand, helping to cultivate loyalty and community spirit.

6. Recognise and reward loyalty
As your online community grows, you need to nurture those at the heart of it. Make sure you are investing in the monitoring of social media so that you know who is talking about you most and what they are saying. If you are aware of the conversation, you can begin to cultivate unofficial brand ambassadors from those advocates with the most influence to your target audience. Aside from targeted influencer engagement, you can look to competitions, incentives and events, which are limited to your social media following, as a way of recognising and rewarding loyalty to the brand. The most engaging way of doing this is by running a contest that encourages the audience to share their own user-generated content - this has extra mileage for the future too.

7. Be a human being
People relate to people, that’s human nature. Brands need to have a voice and a personality that people can identify and respond to, and whilst this is not a special requirement for social media, it is much more obvious on those platforms which are traditionally more conversational and social. Use your platforms to tell your story and talk with your audience, rather than to broadcast corporate messages and promotions.

8. Be consistent and topical
Integrate your social media activity into the wider marketing mix to ensure content is timely, topical, complementary and consistent. You don’t want people being bombarded with messages they have already seen in other media, in the same way that you don’t want the same message to go out to all of your different channels at the same time (why should people follow every channel in this case?) If the content is truly engaging, then it should have the added effect of growing your reach. Once your audience is switched on to your brand and responding well to the content, they will look to share this with others because they believe it will add value. As you continue to develop fresh, new content, don’t forget to invest some time into promoting these social media efforts and proactively growing your following. About Samantha Dancy An established social media and corporate communications consultant who has been in Dubai for a decade, Samantha’s work across hospitality, travel, wellness, luxury goods & services, retail, arts, events and F&B includes brands such as Jumeirah Group, IHG, Emaar, Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, Emirates Holidays, Starwood, Elite Jets, Holiday Autos and Arabian Adventures. Samantha is is an experienced trainer on social media and writing for the web, and as a keen social media advocate and travel blogger herself, she recognises the value of compelling, engaging content.

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