Say you're visiting a new city and you stop to talk with a friendly stranger on a street corner. After a few polite words you ask, "Hey, do you know any good diners around here?"
"Nick's on Pico for sure," your new friend responds. "Try the eggs benedict -- best thing on the menu!"
This is social commerce at its finest! It's a recommendation by a third party with nothing to lose or gain by telling you what's good. And the invention of social media has not changed the fact that people like recommendations -- it has only enhanced it.
Platforms like Twitter and Facebook allow your fans to talk about you with their friends -- whether you sell eggs benedict or luxury vehicles. If done correctly, social media is one of the most cost-effective marketing campaigns a small business can implement. But the reason why so many of these campaigns fail (and actually become a major time suck) is that they lack community engagement.
So how do you engage your potential customers, drive them to buy, and entice them to share their experience with your company through social media? Here's what the experts are saying.
Know WHO you're talking to
In order to build engagement on your account, you must first find out who will be looking at your content. Your identification process will allow you to better customize your content, which will lead to interaction.
Experiment! Post content and analyze your audience's engagement with each type of message. What are people "liking" or re-tweeting? Are you seeing that they respond better to questions, inspirational quotes, or funny memes? Anything they are not responding to at all? Find out and tailor your content accordingly.
Also, keep your content consistent. Your homework is to create one post a day that is useful and interesting to your audience. They should miss you when you're not posting!
Make them insiders!
People enjoy being "in the know" or being trendsetters. FITNESS Magazine's Digital Director, Christie Griffin explains that in order to turn your consumers into marketers, it can help to make them "insiders."
"Post interesting or exclusive content only on your social sites," Griffin suggests. "Offer fun opportunities only for social fans, and give people a chance to show off a little."
Remember that when someone "likes" your post on Facebook, it will show up in the newsfeed of all of their friends -- opening you up to a much wider network. The same thing happens if someone re-tweets you on Twitter. The more enticing your content, the bigger the audience you open yourself up to.
Find out what people are saying about you
Karmaloop's Social Media Strategist, Malcolm J. Gray, interacts with his audience by finding out what they are saying about his company and actually talking back to them! "Every mention is another opportunity to create a relationship with a new potential customer," Malcolm explains. "Search your company name on social media and find out what your customers are saying about you. Use that to tailor your campaign and outreach."
Malcolm also notes that you should keep your content relevant to what is going on in the media, without sacrificing your brand's image. Although news about Miley Cyrus is engaging right now, it might not resonate with the followers of a furniture company!
Reward your fans
Emily Higgins, Social Media Strategist for the World Famous Laugh Factory Comedy Club, seeks out her fans and rewards them. "Don't just find people that have tagged you, but also those who have hash-tagged you or just mentioned your business in passing," she says. "Talk to them, favorite them, retweet them. Offer gift cards or company swag. Find those that already have started the conversation about you and jump on board!"
Christie Griffin agrees. "Unless your followers are deeply attached to you, they often want something in return for showing your brand a little love. You have to incentivize people, whether it's through sweepstakes, retweeting them to help them out too, or offering samples. Sometimes those efforts can feel like cheap gimmicks, but for a lot of consumers, it feels fair."
Never stop learning and growing in the development of your social media. Follow experts in this field on your own social media, keep up to date on the new ways they are implementing their company's brand on each platform, and figure out how that translates for your company. Your audience is waiting.
Follow Molly Reynolds on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Molly_Reynolds1