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When brands first began using social media to connect with fans, all they had to do was create a new post and their followers would be able to see their content. However, as social media continues to evolve, developed algorithms have made it more difficult for brands to get their posts in front of their fans. Now brands need to increase their social engagement if they want to reach a larger audience. This means that they need to share content that will resonate with fans, driving to likes, clicks, comments, and shares.

What is social engagement?

It’s not enough to just have a social media profile for your brand anymore. Instead, you need to actively work to build a relationship with your fans through interactions and opening up a long-term conversation.

The ways that you utilize your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts are a part of the customer experience. You should aim to establish your brand as someone that they can count on. Engaging with them on social media can help you to earn their trust.

Social engagement has changed the customer experience

In the past, it wasn’t always easy to get the brand to recognize a customer’s question or concern. From busy customer service representatives to an automated message chain, it was a tedious process for customers to feel like their needs were being taken care of.

Social media has changed the landscape for customer service. According to Sprout Social’s Q2 2016 Index, social media was the most preferred channel for a customer to engage with a brand. However, there is a disconnect between how brands use social media and how their customers use social media. Many brands continue to use social media to promote, rather than as a two-way communication channel with their customers. Customers recognize that social media is a powerful tool for them to communicate with a brand; however, brands will send 23 messages for every 1 consumer response.

While the number of messages to brands that require a response continues to increase, brands only respond to 11 percent of their customers. And when they do reply to customers, it’s not in a timely manner. Consumers can expect to wait up to four hours for a response from a brand, and the average brand response time is even worse: 10 hours.

How to improve social engagement

From the ability to leave reviews to sending a brand a direct message, social media has changed the customer experience. It’s important for brands to recognize that social media shouldn’t be used just for promotions. Instead, it’s time to view social media as a two-way channel for creating a dialogue with your customers.

If social engagement is so important, why aren’t more brands doing it? Social engagement can seem scary, but it’s just another way of making sure that your customers are cared for and feel like they are valued by your brand. The key is to learn how to utilize social media to connect with your audience. The five steps below are some easy ways to help you improve your social engagement.

1. Begin the dialogue

Social engagement is a long-term relationship with your customer and just like every relationship, someone has to be the one to start the conversation. A great way to do this is by posting things that are relevant to your audience.

The key is to be careful about promoting yourself in the early stages of the conversation. You want to position your brand as someone your audience can turn to for industry insights and information. One you’ve gained your customer’s trust, you’ll find that you gain followers more quickly.

2. Engage your brand champions

Another way to engage with your audience is to promote your brand champions. This means that when a customer mentions you or uses your branded hashtag, you engage back with their posts. User-generated content allows you to showcase instances where your brand exceeded customer expectations and engage with more fans.

You can also utilize social media to host contests to give away swag or product to users who share your post or use a branded hashtag.

Some brands find social engagement success through catering their posts to trends, hashtags, or events. However, it’s important to remember to be cautious when using this marketing tactic.

There are several instances where a company promotes their brand using an inappropriate hashtag or an untimely event. This can cause you to lose followers and receive negative attention on social media.

4. Remember to reply

Avoid making your customer wait for a reply from you. Waiting even a day to reply can be detrimental to a customer’s perception of your brand. It’s important to be active and attentive to what your audience is saying to you or about you and respond quickly. If you don’t, your followers may assume that you do not care.

Social engagement allows you to share your brand with more people. By increasing the number of positive interactions customers have with you online, you increase your chances of them recommending your brand to the people that they know or posting about their experience on social media.

At the same time, if you aren’t replying to a customer, you run the risk of them posting and sharing about their negative experience with your brand.

5. Team up

You never know what type of comment or concern a customer might have on social media. In order to best accommodate your customer’s need, work with a social media team to take care of social engagement. Here are some of the roles you might want to have on your social media team:

  • A content creator to plan, develop, and schedule your social content
  • A salesperson who can provide content that drives sales
  • A community manager to help with hostile customers and negative attention to the brand
  • A public relations manager to help the brand reach larger channels

It’s OK if you don’t have the budget or the manpower to create the ultimate social engagement team. Most brands will have one person wearing multiple hats, but it’s important to make sure that they are set up for success with the knowledge and resources they need to build up the brand’s social media presence.

How to measure social engagement

Data can help to highlight whether your social engagement strategy is working. If you’re looking for ways to improve your social engagement, here are a few core engagement metrics that you might want to track:

  • Estimated inbound messages vs. the number of replies
  • Response rate
  • Average amount of time to respond

You can also utilize the data you collect from your social media channels to see the effects of your social engagement strategy. Here are some common engagement metrics to look at for each channel:

  • Twitter: Mentions, retweets, replies, likes, organic impressions, links clicked, and direct messages
  • Facebook: Impressions, post engagements, links clicked, reactions, comments, shares, organic likes, paid likes, and unlikes
  • Instagram: Likes, comments, engagement per media, and hashtag engagement
  • LinkedIn: Impressions, likes, comments, shares, and clicks

Read more: Engagement in Social Media