Many social media pros believe that having lots of followers is key. Most of the metrics they use to measure success directly link back to the size of their following, but size is not everything. Having a smaller but engaged community can actually prove more valuable. Someone may have followed your brand, but it doesn’t mean to say they care enough to engage with you. In contrast, if people are asking you and fellow community members questions, sharing content and joining in conversations, then it’s much more likely they’re genuine fans of your brand and your business’s reach will improve because of this. Creating an engaged online community is a challenge—but hugely worthwhile.
Organic reach is on the decline due to recent changes in social network algorithms. To put things into perspective, Elegant Themes reports that reach can be as low as 2.5% per post on Facebook and 3.6% for Twitter. Building an active and engaged community is more important than ever if you have any chance of getting your messages seen. Sure, a huge following looks cool, but the main benefit of having lots of followers is the potential reach you can gain…if they engage with you.
In this blog, I’ll be discussing some of the ways you can grow and maintain an engaged social media community to help you ride the organic reach wave rather than drowning fighting the riptide.
STEP 1: Monitor Communities
To begin with, you need to ensure you have an understanding of your community and what makes them tick, both in a positive and negative sense. To uncover such insights, use a social listening tool like Meltwater. All great social listening tools offer the ability to track multiple brands, users, and keywords in one search. The benefit of this is that it’s much quicker than scrolling through hundreds of different timelines on Twitter, and then having to do the same on Facebook, Instagram, and so on.
Listen to conversations around your brand and uncover the themes your audience talks about, where in the world your community is located, what social networks they prefer to use, who the most engaged members are and more. You should also be doing the same for your competitors as well as tracking wider industry keywords. By being aware of competitive and industry insights, you can ensure your community management strategy isn’t created in a bubble. Agile and competitive strategies are never created in bubbles.
I’d recommend creating a document or mind map that includes:
- The most common hashtags in your industry
- Industry themes and trends you’d want to track
- Influencers in your industry
- Content from you and your competitors that has earned notable engagement
- Any topics that have created a highly negative or positive reaction
Taking the time to analyze your brand, competitors, and industry will give you a good idea of your media landscape, something that is needed for the second step.
STEP 2: Create Engagement First Content
So, you should now have a document that gives a good overview of your industry on social media. Key trending industry themes and the content that received a lot of engagement will be good sources of inspiration when you come to deciding future content themes. I’d recommend blending data found through social listening and SEM insights, such as incoming search traffic to ensure your content is not only engaging, but search friendly.
To create content that’s truly built with engagement in mind, you need to consider the medium you’re planning to post the message on. You may want to create a video, infographic, blog, whitepaper, or webinar. Different types of content work better depending on the channel. For example, Facebook video receives triple the engagement and 1,200% more shares than text and image posts combined. This stat will look different if you compare against Pinterest, for example, which is very still image based.
Don’t fall into the trap of choosing the social network based on the type of content you’d like to create. Your community must always come first if engagement is the end goal. As such, use insights found through social listening to decide which type of content you’ll create. If the majority of your audience hangs out on YouTube, video should be your main focus.
‘Engagement first’ content also considers content promotion before the content creation. Livestreams and Instagram/Snapchat stories are a great way to create engagement. If this is your audiences preferred channel have a think about how you can use the social networks key features to promote the content.
Something that remains the same across all social networks is the benefit of posting native content. This means embedding the content within the social media platform itself, rather than linking to it. Content visibility and organic reach are improved by doing so since many of the social algorithms favor native content as a way of keeping audiences on their platforms rather than driving them to external pages. The higher the chances of your content being seen, the higher the chances of creating engagement.
STEP 3: Join the Conversation
Having a social community is more than just pushing out your own content, no matter how engaging you think it might be. Community management is all about joining conversations. That doesn’t mean only replying to people talking to you. I’m talking about joining conversations about your brand, general industry chatter and introducing community members to each other to spark further discussions.
Reply to Your @ Mentions
This is really important. Whether someone’s complaining, asking a question, or complimenting your content, replying to inbound messages makes your audience feel valued. If possible, aim to respond to complaints and queries within the hour. Don’t try and sweep negative buzz under the carpet, it doesn’t work when you’re using such a transparent communication tool. Also, responding can work in your favor, increasing customer advocacy by as much as 25%!
Use the common hashtags you identified in the first step and search for people discussing them who may also be interested in what you have to say. Make an effort to contribute to discussions, debates and help answer questions from the wider community (not necessarily only people who follow you).
Remember: you don’t always have to push your content! If you offer useful advice to someone and link them to third-party content, they may be more receptive to your brand at a later date since you’ve built trust.
Promoting your community’s content is another great way to gain brownie points and overcome the issue of not being able to turn out content as fast as social media fans expect. In fact, posting content that isn’t always your own can make your social media profiles seem less corporate, more personable and help to profile your brand as a thought leader. I’d recommend posting 80% owned content and curate 20% from other sources (fellow community members, thought leaders, influencers, etc.).
Build Relationships With Influencers
Connecting with an influencer can help to increase our brand’s reach, create trust, boost sales and help us penetrate different markets. Authentic and sustainable influencer relationships don’t happen overnight (unless you’ve paid for them!) It can take months to get to a stage where an influencer will get involved with your brand because they like you, not because you’ve put your hand in your pocket. Build relationships in the same way as you’d build relationships with community members—like and promote their content, ask them questions, and support their community with valuable content.
This blog is useful for those seeking a step by step approach to effective influencer marketing.
STEP 4: Measure to Determine ROI
How can you tell if you’ve made progress in your community if you do not measure your efforts? I know first-hand how PR/marketing professionals juggle a lot of different tasks, but I also realized fairly quickly how important it was to take some time to measure my efforts. Not just to make me feel good about myself, but also to justify my existence as a main resource in the marketing department.
So how do you measure whether you’ve improved your community management strategy? Here are a few metrics to get you started:
While followers are a vanity metric, it is a quick way of discovering whether your efforts have at least grown your community. Be sure to combine this metric with others (like the below suggestions) to get the full picture.
Look at how many likes and comments you’re getting per post. Also, benchmark the number of social media mentions your brand gets between two periods of time. Meltwater clients tend to do this on a quarterly basis. Any good engagement tool can pull reports for you, so you don’t have to manually tally up engagement.
Are engagements more positive or negative? Look at the sentiment of social media posts around your brand to see how they’ve developed over time. This is a prime example of the need to blend follower size with other metrics. If we see a sudden flood in the number of people following us, this can spell crisis. If we look at following size and sentiment, we can easily detect if people have hit the follow/like button because they like us as a company or they want to follow a blunder.
A large and engaged community should have a relative impact on website traffic. Use Google Analytics to confirm this. You can look at the referral traffic to see the source of where people are coming onto the website from, which will help you understand which of your efforts are working well and which efforts need some additional work.
If you’re promoting gated content, use a marketing automation tool to track whether there has been an increase in downloads. Add a UTM code to social media posts promoting the content so you can accurately track the source of the download.
Have we stolen a piece of the (social media conversation) pie from a competitor? Market share is a major factor in any business, the same amount of interest should be placed on how much we dominate social conversations too.
How have you increased community engagement with your brand? Do your tips align with mine? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments.