by Thippana Vamsi on Fri 10 April 2015

How do brands increase engagement on social media? Today we have an estimated 1.96 billion social network users worldwide with further growth estimated in coming years.

The number of active users on social networks makes it clear that a brand's presence on social media is no longer a luxury but a must. This means creating an account on the requisite social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest just to name a few and posting about your product or company. Now, for the majority of brands this ticks the social media checkbox on their marketing plan and they call it a day.

However, to stay ahead of the competition, brand's can't simply have a presence on social media but must increase social engagement. Understanding the fundamental principles of why humans choose to engage within a group or community can help brands craft a more successful social media marketing strategy.

What Is Social Engagement

Social engagement refers to one’s degree of participation in a community or society. People tend to participate more in an environment that they perceive as safe or beneficial to their own goals. A safe environment helps people overcome their fundamental fight, flight, or freeze response.

The perception of the level of safety determines whether a person engages more or exhibits defensive strategies. In a safe environment, people engage without feeling the risk, and share their emotions and aspirations. So how does this fundamental understanding of human nature and community forming translate to increasing engagement in your online community?

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Social Engagement On Social Networks

Social media networks are strongly based on the notion of network of trust. Out of the myriad social media networks that exist today, the most successful ones are those where the users feel safe to share and discuss online content with their friends, family, and followers.

Just as in the real world where you have different communities for social, professional, and familial aspects of your world where each community may contain a different version of your personal self. Online social networks mirror this reality by having different networks that are either more personal ( Facebook ), professional ( LinkedIn ), or casual ( Twitter / Instagram ). As such, each community has varying degrees of social norms that are generally followed. For example, posting a baby pic on your professional LinkedIn account may not be the most appropriate thing, just as it may not be wise to discuss your weekend rager in Vegas at your office water cooler with your boss.

Brands should understand which social network their users are most active on and understand the underlying norms of that network and stay within the persona and 'voice' of that community. Thus a strategy of posting the exact same content across all networks is likely not the most engaging strategy. As stated above, brands should strive to create a safe and comfortable community which a potential fan or follower will feel a shared sense of community.

7 Tips to Increase Social Media Engagement

Below are 7 main tips to stay ahead of the competition by focusing on a strategy that boosts social media engagement:

  1. Create content that reaches for your brand's aspirations. Your goal should be to form a community around some common aspiration and not your product. For example, Nike sells shoes but they've created a brand around aspiring to be fearless and excellence. Apple sells gadgets and computers, but has created an aspirational brand of high design and accessibility for the masses.

  2. Do not create an aggressive/unsafe environment. In today's brand focused, product driven world this translates to: Do not aggressively promote or continually sell your product.

  3. Don't just talk, listen. Nobody wants to be part of a group where one person speaks with a bull horn constantly. Use social media tools to monitor what is said about your brand and interact appropriately.

  4. Speak in an appropriate voice. Following the above item, by observing your community you should have an appropriate understanding of that community's voice. RedBull and IBM consumers are drastically different, so the tone/voice/content of your social media persona should adjust accordingly.

  5. Do not blast the same content across different channels. Photos on Instagram, Videos on Vine, longer form content on Tumblr. Post the appropriate content on the appropriate network.

  6. Identify and gain trust of key influencers within the community. Effective communities have champions that will carry the torch and continually beat the drum for that community. Find these influencers in your community by using monitoring tools to help surface these potential champions. Gain their trust and make them your biggest advocate.

  7. Put your audience first. If you've followed the above steps, you would have created a safe environment where your audience will feel comfortable to engage with your brand. Effective communities highlight their members. If your audience is posting content that aligns with the general aspirations of the brand -- highlight and amplify it. Use tools to curate and aggregate your audience content and put them front and center.

Using social media to effectively engage with audiences can be a challenge, and it is likely that many firms initially won’t have the capabilities to succeed. The keys to creating engagement on social media is building a trustworthy and safe environment around the brand’s presence, where the audiences feel comfortable to engage with the brand socially.

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