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How to get social media engagement right


Social media engagement rules or protocols provide guidance to employees regarding how to go about participating in online conversation on behalf of the company. They are usually intended to direct rather than restrict, and are often perceived as more positive in nature.

Radian6 (now Salesforce Marketing Cloud) posed some questions of any organisation looking to develop social media engagement guidance:

  • Who are your organisation’s social media heroes today?
  • What kind of engagement is your organisation currently enabling?
  • How will your rules of engagement align with company culture and values?

They recommend that organisations:

  • Listen to what is being said across the social web and get a feel for the sentiment of existing conversation about your company before participating in social media dialogue;
  • Monitor the frontlines using listening tools, fielding frequently asked questions immediately and pushing those conversations needing a more detailed or experienced answer to the correct people with those skill sets in the organisation;
  • Develop a method to filter noise and spam from the relevant conversations using a workflow that meshes well with the organisation’s structure.

But the biggest challenge that most organisations face isn’t how to monitor social media, but what to do with the information they discover. That’s where the right engagement model comes in.

A five-stage model for engagement

If you subscribe to the view that social media engagement is about connecting with people to build relationships that are mutually beneficial and emotionally fulfilling, then you immediately realise that most companies aren’t actually geared up to work in this way. Here is a five-stage model that might help:

1. Evaluate

Is engagement actually required? A response might only be necessary if it comes from an existing or potential brand advocate or adversary, but things like deliberately antagonistic comments, ‘private’ discussions, generic mentions without any commentary, etc, may not warrant a response at all.

2. Acknowledge

With social media there is an expectation of immediacy. By the time the PR, customer service and legal people have all had their say, there is a danger that the discussion will have already moved on and the opportunity to build a connection with an advocate or build a bridge with an adversary will be lost.

3. Prioritise and Classify

If your brand receives a high volume of relevant mentions, it is likely that you will need to prioritise and/or classify them. That way you can ensure the right people deal with the highest priority items first as these are the most likely to escalate quickly before you get chance to evaluate or respond to them.

4. Escalate

The key to keeping major issues grounded and assessed objectively is to have an escalation procedure in place. By setting some simple criteria that must be met, you will be able to determine whether an issue requires escalation and, if so, who needs to be involved in resolving it.

5. Respond

Any response strategy should consist not only of what you want to say, but also who is going to say it and how, as responding online to a compliment is very different to responding to a criticism. Whatever you do, you must resist the marketer’s natural urge to control, target or infiltrate social media – the resulting fallout will provide perfect fodder for others, including competitors and the mainstream media.

Over the next few days, I’ll delve into each of these five stages in more detail.

Content marketing for B2B brands

For most business marketers, an effective social media strategy will involve some form of content marketing. This is driven by one basic principle: that creating and sharing useful content will attract attention, drive qualified leads and increase customer loyalty. A good content marketing plan isn’t about sales materials, however; it’s about adding value in order to benefit in a number of different ways:

  • Creating a strong relationship with your community;
  • Demonstrating thought leadership in your area of expertise;
  • Improving your search engine rankings and driving traffic to your website;
  • Increasing consideration for your products and services by educating customers;
  • More opportunities to engage with prospects looking to buy.

Knowing what content to create, for whom and in what format are the three most important determinants of a successful content marketing strategy.

Who are you creating for?

It’s assumed that you already have a good idea of who your target audience is and their pain points, so this is the best place to start. In How to craft a successful social media content marketing plan, social media monitoring company Radian6 (now Salesforce Marketing Cloud) suggests using personas to represent the individuals you’ll create content for. Armed with information about their demographics, lifestyles, interests, geographic locations, education levels and values, the following questions can then be addressed:

  • How do they seek information?
  • How do they use social media and which social networks do they prefer?
  • What are their job responsibilities and what decisions can they make?
  • What challenges or problems are they trying to solve?
  • What could stop them doing business with you?
  • How do they measure success?
  • What are they reading, watching or hearing already?

What are they interested in?

Personas can help build up a tangible picture of the people you are trying to reach, but insight about what they are interested in – and therefore the content and themes around which you may be able to engage them – can come from other sources too.

Ask your existing customers. Formal and informal research into what existing customers worry about, what sources of information they turn to and which – if any – social media channels they use can provide much-needed guidance.

Ask your sales team. Your salespeople probably spend a lot of time talking to prospective customers. They’ll know what kind of information gets asked for most often, and what competitors are doing right. They may also be able to tell you what kind of content would help build a better relationship, and this should form part of your content marketing plan.

Ask your customer service team. Like the sales team, your customer service agents are also talking to customers on a regular basis. They’ll have a handle on the common problems and issues being faced, and will know the most frequently asked questions. These provide perfect content marketing material.

Listen to customers on social platforms. Many of your existing customers may already be using social networks to engage in discussion with peers about products and services. They may be sharing content from other companies and sources. Look at what they’re saying and sharing for clues as to content your company could contribute.

Join online industry communities. Professional social networks are also good sources of content inspiration. Search for groups, discussions and questions being created on LinkedIn, for example, relevant to your industry and note what kind of content is getting shared and discussed.

Follow industry news sources. There’s a good chance you do this already, but think of them in the context of your own content marketing plan rather than just news. They may reflect issues important to customers in your industry and, with an increasing number of online news sources encouraging comment and sharing, you can see what themes are getting discussed and shared by customers.

Use search to your advantage. Chances are the success of your web presence depends a lot on search engines. Research shows that most online experiences still begin with a search, and industry benchmarks suggest that search engines refer the majority of web traffic. If you don’t already, make sure you know what people are searching for in order to reach your website and use this data to inform your content marketing.

Monitor others. It’s quick and easy – and often free – to get alerts when an industry term, service area or even company gets mentioned online. Look at how often people are talking about these issues, what terms and phrases they are using (they may not be the same as your own marketing ‘speak’) and ensure your content is optimised to reflect this.

Armed with this information, it’s a straightforward process to identify the kinds of content the audience would respond positively to, and develop a content marketing strategy following a simple five-stage cycle: