Social media has enabled brands to put a fresh twist on marketing and engagement in recent years. While most business owners know platforms like Facebook have become effective channels for growing brand awareness and promoting themselves, the most successful brands recognize that social media is more than just a tool for promotion.
It’s a means to build relationships and more effectively engage customers. That engagement is certainly paying for those brands as well. In 2014, Facebook influenced just 36% of consumer purchases. That number increased to 52% in 2015.
While the main reason customers follow brands on social is to get access to promotions, coupons, and incentives, there are plenty of other reasons they stay connected online. Check out this data from Marketingsherpa gathered from a selection of U.S. consumers that shows why consumers connect with brands on social:
Here’s how some of the top brands on social media changed the way they use social to go beyond blatant promotion in order to connect with and engage a wider audience:
Promote Without Promoting
Just because 56% of consumers are following brands because they want promotions doesn’t mean they want to see those promotions around the clock.
Your followers are looking for value, so you’ve got to make an effort to post content that offers insight, entertainment, info, and more. It might be difficult, depending on your business, but even if you feel like you sell boring products and services, there are still opportunities to shine.
Staples knows how to get creative with less-engaging products.
You can’t get more mundane than office supplies, yet Staples creates content for its social channels that put an entertaining spin on the products they carry.
This approach is a creative way to combine entertainment value while keeping their products and brand in front of consumers.
Staples’ approach is smart: By mingling the two, they’re leveraging the power of images to boost engagement. Buzzsumo analyzed over one million of the most shared pieces of content and found that posts with images get 2.3 times the engagement on Facebook.
Be Human and Have Fun
Every product and service you sell has a purpose relating to the needs and wants of your audience. While those will interest your customer, it’s a very small part of their overall thoughts and interests.
Boosting social engagement means creating and sharing content your customers can relate to. Find creative ways to think outside of your product offering, where you can have fun with social media and show the personality behind your business profile.
Innocent is a smoothie company that does social media right, sharing a vast array of content that has virtually nothing to do with their products. This approach sparks conversations and shares and captures the attention of users looking for more entertaining content in their feeds.
At the same time, the company strategically mixes in the right kind of promotional content, infused with the same personality and voice to keep its branded products in front of followers.
Turn Social into Customer Service Channels
While brands saw social media as a growing promotional opportunity, customers took it in a different direction as more brands integrated social into their marketing efforts.
From requesting assistance with problems to putting companies on blast for wrongdoings, social has become one of the preferred channels for customer service, according to data shared by SmartInsights.
In fact, 59% of Americans who utilize social believe that platforms like Facebook and Twitter have made it easier to get questions answered and issues resolved with customer service. Another study from JD Power found that 67% of consumers prefer to use Facebook and Twitter for customer service, while research from Nielsen found that social channels are the first stop for 33% of consumers in need of customer support.
JetBlue is a prime example of a company that pulled back from using social media for heavy self-promotion and which, instead, focuses on creating a customer-centric experience as part of its customer service team.
If you look through JetBlue’s social accounts, you’ll still find promotional content mixed with other high-value content being posted by the brand. Their teams also monitor incoming messages as well as brand tags so when customer service issues arise, or prospective customers have questions, the team is quick to respond.
Influence Word of Mouth
Research from Nielsen brought some interesting information to light: Approximately 92% of consumers trust peer reviews when making a purchase decision. That can be online reviews, recommendations from peers, or shared social content.
While earned media and word of mouth are generally out of your control, there’s plenty you can do to influence it and encourage your customers to become vocal ambassadors across social media.
Take a cue from Uber’s approach to growing its brand visibility using social media. The company provided riders with codes to share with their friends.
It’s a simple referral program that earned those riders free rides and contributed greatly to Uber’s accelerated brand reach.
Target Different Audiences
Your customers can be segmented into groups with different interests and needs. Create and share content for those individual groups and make that content pop so it’s easy to recognize.
One way to make your content stand out is with branded images specific to certain types of content, specific content formats for a certain audience (like a how-to podcast), or by following Samsung’s lead with a consistently used hashtag for audience segments.
The brand provides a variety of succinct tips as well as instructional videos on the Samsung Support Twitter account.
The same applies to individual campaigns. Using hashtags can help promote and inspire user-generated content, like RedBull’s 2015 campaign #PutACanOnIt.
It went viral almost instantly because it was fun, creative, and easy for the audience to engage with and contribute content.
And it didn’t cost RedBull a dime.
Be Responsive to Followers
No matter how great your content is, your audience will eventually start to recognize it’s a one way street if you never respond to comments. That engagement will eventually drop, especially if you’re ignoring critical comments that relate to customer service or public questions.
Target is just one of many brands that understand that maintaining and growing engagement, as well as brand reach on social, requires two-way communication.
Subway also knows the importance of responding to customer comments, one after another, no matter how serious or silly the comment.
Give Customers More Ways to Buy
Businesses who want to improve conversions often focus on improving the customer experience, making it easier to find the right product or solution, offering multiple payment options, and a laundry list of other tactics.
Another approach to boosting revenue as well as the customer experience is using social media to offer more ways for customers to shop. A number of platforms are integrating commerce so customers don’t have to leave the social channel to shop.
According to HBR, having more ways to buy leads to customers who are willing to engage longer, buy more, and share the experience with friends and family more often.
Domino’s wanted to simplify the ordering process for customers, so it leveraged recent chatbot technology to provide automated ordering through Facebook Messenger, including the full menu and customizable orders.
Facebook also provides methods to sell products directly through business pages, as well as groups, but it’s not the only social channel with commerce integration. Pinterest shares a number of case studies on its site for brands large and small that use buyable pins to promote products/services and expand the shopping experience for customers.
Taco Bell is even getting ready to cater to busy office workers with its Tacobot integration for Slack, the social project management and communication tool for businesses.
Create an Exclusive Space for Followers
Not everything your brand does on social needs to be 100% public. One way to drive brand engagement and deliver extra value to your audience is to provide a space where they can gain access to exclusive content from special offers, early access to products, information, and more.
Plenty of brands use Facebook’s group feature to create private groups for VIP members and followers, while other brands go one more step.
Everlane set an entire social account to VIP status, locking its Instagram down as a private account where customers have to request a follow and access isn’t always granted. Think of it like a waitlist.
This kind of deliberate exclusive or special members-only access can really bolster customer loyalty.
Go Where Your Followers’ Interests Take Them
Most businesses have a number of social accounts, spreading their efforts around as needed to maintain post frequency and respond to followers.
It’s a good idea when you consider that 56% of online adults regularly use more than one social media platform—but your audience isn’t necessarily using those platforms equally.
For example, it’s safe to say that a majority of your customers are probably on Facebook, but the kind of content they access and share there may be very different from what they post and share on a site like Instagram.
Airbnb recognized that the same strategy couldn’t be deployed on every channel and that different segments of its customer base were active in different places. Instagram attracts travelers, making it a natural place for Airbnb to engage.
So, Airbnb was smart enough to follow the interests of its audience and create content (as well as share user-generated content) on its Instagram, selling the experience of travel.
Don’t divide your attention equally across all social networks. Instead, focus on where your key audience segments spend their time and create custom content that caters to their interests.
Social media should be something different for every brand. Don’t think of these examples as something to copy. Instead, use them as inspiration or a springboard for determining not only the best ways to engage your audience but the best content and the best social channels to improve reach and engagement.
Focus on building relationships and providing a better customer experience as you strive to grow the value you offer. Above all else—be interesting.
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