04/01/2015 01:04 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2015

4 Steps to Growth Hacking Social

By the end of this year there will be nearly 2 billion people connected through social networks worldwide. Brands everywhere are trying to break through the ever-growing noise to reach their audience. Growing a loyal customer base is hard enough. How do you create champions? How do you make a real impact on social? That's the hard part. Every decision you make on social should be informed by growth. To help your business take your social media practices to the next level, here are four essential tips and strategies for growth hacking social in 2015.

Know your customer

Your followers have entered into a social contract with your brand and have expectations on how you should be engaging. It's important to practice active listening without getting overwhelmed by noise. Easier said than done, but step back and understand the big picture. Leverage existing social tools to help turn fast-moving streams into actionable insights. Note the topics, conversations, and themes that emerge; and create a word cloud of your customer. This may sound silly, but it can start to answer some crucial questions: Who are your customers? What are they talking about? What do they agree on? Are they excited for the new season of Game of Thrones, or Mad Men? Are they obsessed with March Madness or are they relishing in the Flat White (which I love in case you were wondering)? Use the larger macro lessons to inform your micro engagements every day, but always remember that your engagement shouldn't be transactional. Your followers want to interact just as if you were sitting across from them.

Provide value at every opportunity

Be careful of leaning too heavily on contests, coupons and giveaways to grow your network. While effective as short-term boosters, these tactics can come with a downside and can potentially attract bargain hunters. Hooking customers on freebies requires your brand to continuously offer discounts in order to buy their loyalty. According to Beyond, 1 in 4 will unfollow a brand's page because it didn't offer enough deals. Instead, focus on adding value with non-promotional tips, insight into company culture, multimedia, and how-to's around your product. It's important to forge real relationship with those already talking about your brand. For example, consider opening up a Q&A hour for customers with executives and allow space for a more personal communication experience. Even something as simple as the occasional motivational quote can brighten your customer's day and add goodwill to your brand. Go out of your way to make your customers love you with over-the-top service that establishes your brand in both hearts and minds.

Create awesome content

Every brand has a story to tell. What does your brand represent? Truly define your brand's identity and use it to create exclusive and captivating content, like GoPro or Red Bull. Social media is full of brands trying to keep up with the conversation. Let your competitors weigh in on what everyone else is talking about, but your goal should be to find authentic ways that tell meaningful stories. It doesn't have to be about your product or your company; in fact it probably shouldn't be. People are naturally skeptical of businesses on social media because of the perceived agenda so remember to dial back the marketing speak. Aim for evergreen topics that benefit and educate your entire industry, including journalists, customers, and even competitors. Your content should be designed to captivate viewers within the first few seconds and engages them on an emotional level. Sometimes it can be helpful to change your metrics. Instead of making every piece of content about a purchase, try producing content that's surprising, beautiful, or just goofy (if appropriate to your brand).

Stop taking shortcuts

For most companies, social media has become a checkbox they tick off their daily to-dos and many will automate their posts as a result. It's not that automation is necessarily a bad thing, because it does save time, but if you find yourself automating a majority of posts, it's time to reimagine your workflow. The trouble with taking shortcuts is that after a while, it starts to feel robotic, and it looks robotic. When followers go through your feed, they'll see your self-promotional blog posts and marketing-related tweets. You're missing out on the most important piece of social media - interacting with your followers.

Don't look at growing out your social media presence as a tedious task. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to get to know your customers on a more casual, personal level, while creating unique content in the process. With the help of a few social hacks, social media can result in a genuine relationship with your customer.