Ten Best Practices of Online Engagement – Part 1

17 Mar

photo of phoneCongratulations!  You have entered the world of social media and are actively listening, monitoring, reading, and dipping your toes into engaging in conversations. You are monitoring social media mentions and measuring sentiment of yourself and your competitors. Moreover,  you are tracking larger industry trends, trying to understand what customers want, and listening for purchase intent. But as you know, listening is only the beginning stage of what you should be doing as part of your social media approach; engagement will make or break your efforts – after all, if no one talks to you online, the whole thing is a failed attempt.

If you know what to listen for and how to separate signal from noise, it should propel you towards action and engagement the right way. If social media is a blend of art and science, engagement is definitely the art of it. If you approach it in a heavy-handed or inauthentic way, you may scare people off and mar your reputation. All too often we see companies and brands use these “new media” channels with “old media” mentality: in a race to amass the most Twitter followers regardless of their engagement with the brand, or broadcasting a message one-way instead of a two-way conversation. Here is a quick list of Do’s and Don’ts to help guide your engagement efforts. Below are items 1-5 of my top 10 practices.

1. Listen first

There is an old adage “God gave you two ears and one mouth”. A wise person listens twice as much as he/she talks in real life, and social media is no different. Listening is tremendously important (especially if  you are new to the whole thing). Through listening, you should aim to understand the nuances of each conversation channel, who the thought leaders and influencers are, what the group dynamics and social structures look like, and how consumer desires and pain points are evolving.

2. Prioritize your outreach.

Although it should be a goal, it is not possible to reach out to every person who mentions your brand name on Twitter or blogs. There are simply too many conversations, and not all of them are 100% relevant. For example, I track “social media monitoring”, “sentiment measurement”, “voice of customer”, “opinion mining”, among other keywords, alongside mentions of Biz360 and about 10 competitors. On a weekly basis, these searches give me several thousand mentions. Whereas it is easier to respond to many more tweets than blogposts, I find that reading and thoughtfully commenting on industry blogs takes infinitely more time. I cover 20-30 blogposts and forum mentions in a given week, if I’m lucky. Thoughtful responses just don’t scale that well (more on this in point #3 below). And then there’s the signal-to-noise problem, which is more serious the newer you are to the industry. The key to dealing with the volume of social media is having a really good tool in place that helps you triage and prioritize. In Biz360 Community, for example, I go in and sort relevant blogposts based on either impact (our measure that figures out how many people read an article) or reach, and address the top 20-40.

3. Each interaction is unique; don’t cut and paste

Given the volume of content that an average community manager has to deal with (see point #2), the job of engaging can be quite overwhelming, time-consuming and even stressful at times. The temptation is there to cut and paste the same tweet or blog response over and over. After all, how many different ways can you talk about social media monitoring or sentiment measurement? Turns out, there are a lot of ways. Even though two blogposts are seemingly about the same thing, they are never the same. And as we know, most of the action happens in blog comments anyway; blogs are living, breathing communities. This makes each blog conversation as unique as a snowflake, even if the titles may be similar, and your response should mirror that. Trust me, if you cut and paste, you will be called out. Why should anyone respond to you if you didn’t care to take the time to provide an original thought? It’s the same caveat that cautions to never write form letters when you do blogger outreach.

4. Both positive and negative mentions are important

I remember one Twitter chat that I attended. One of the questions discussed was whether you should listen more to positive or negative mentions of yourself and your competitors. The virtual “room” was proverbially split. My opinion is that you should do all of the above. Listen to those who are having a good experience with your brand, engage with them and empower them to evangelize further. Listen to those who are saying negative stuff about you, and try to help them; you should always use negative mentions as an opportunity to learn more and get better. Listen to those who have a bad experience with your competitors to see if there’s an opportunity to provide a solution to someone in need. At the same time, take the time to gather competitive intelligence and understand what works by listening to those who love your competitors. Finally (and this is often missed), you should listen to non-users of your product category who are contemplating entering the industry; listen for signals of interest in the larger solution type.

5. Understand loose ties vs. strong ties and when it’s appropriate to go to the well

Before social media, you could only keep in touch with as many people as you could call or email. Social media has changed that – now you can “keep tabs” on considerably more people, and the actual interaction has gotten a lot easier. As a result, our networks grew. Because we still can count our best friends on the fingers of our hands (and perhaps our toes too), we now have more loose ties than before; you don’t actually have 1,000 best friends on Facebook, do you?

And herein lies the nuance: just because you are friends with some folks on a social network does not entitle you to pound your entire network for a personal favor. You can’t amass 5,000 Twitter followers and then direct message them to retweet your last tweet (in fact, you probably shouldn’t do that to anyone who is not one of your best friends or significant other). People will choose to pass around your message if they find value in it, but loose connections will typically not do things for you as a personal favor. If you are found “going to the well” too many times, you will probably lose your professional credibility before too long. Don’t get me wrong; it’s completely acceptable to ask questions and do modest self-promotion. However, you must pay attention to the rate at which your message is amplified and responded to. If you are finding that your message is not making as much of a splash as you expected, create something better next time, but never force the issue by asking individual people to retweet or respond.

This concludes my top 5 items. Tomorrow, I will post the remaining items 6-10.

Photo credit: mollybob

  • http://twitter.com/tbsocialmedia/status/10683662982 Marco van de Kamp

    RT @biz360: Top 10 practices of social media engagement – Part 1: a post by @themaria http://bit.ly/dznzJR ^MO (via @jacobm)

  • http://twitter.com/whatinspiresme/status/10683760395 Andre

    RT @jacobm: RT @biz360: Top 10 practices of social media engagement – Part 1: a post by @themaria http://bit.ly/dznzJR ^MO

  • http://twitter.com/lpollock/status/10683766780 leslie pollock

    This is superb RT @themaria: Top 10 practices of social media engagement – Part 1: my post for @biz360 http://bit.ly/dznzJR #fb

  • http://twitter.com/arora_puneet/status/10687477354 puneet arora

    RT @themaria: Top 10 practices of social media engagement – Part 1: my post for @biz360 http://bit.ly/dznzJR #fb

  • http://twitter.com/cristinaparicio/status/10688980368 Cristina Aparicio

    Lo de siempre… volver a los básicos RT @TopsyRT: Ten Best Practices of Online Engagement – Part 1 http://bit.ly/cYSDMr

  • http://twitter.com/ryankuder/status/10698427342 Ryan Kuder

    Over on the @biz360 blog, @themaria posts on the top 10 best practices for online engagement: http://bit.ly/dznzJR #peoplelovelists

  • http://twitter.com/jd_biz/status/10737148733 Jason Dent

    RT @biz360: Ten Best Practices of Online Engagement – Part 1 http://bit.ly/cYSDMr

  • http://twitter.com/xtinasf/status/10750739881 Cristina Roman

    Another great article: Ten Best Practices of Online Engagement – Part 1 http://twurl.nl/kucufr [via @biz360]

  • http://twitter.com/pramitjnathan/status/10786343991 Pramit J. Nathan

    10 Best Practices of Online Engagement | 1: http://bit.ly/bsdLQl & 2: http://bit.ly/9yTp6v | RT @dahara @2morrowknight

  • http://twitter.com/presleyhandw/status/10849645855 Glynese Presley

    RT @biz360: Ten Best Practices of Online Engagement – Part 1 http://bit.ly/cYSDMr

  • http://twitter.com/themaria/status/10880586646 Maria Ogneva

    Community managers, have you seen my 10 Best Practices of Online Engagement? What do you think? http://bit.ly/aWXjyv & http://bit.ly/bfFU58

  • http://twitter.com/petesluyter/status/10879414561 Pete Sluyter

    RT @biz360: Ten Best Practices of Online Engagement – Part 1 http://bit.ly/cYSDMr

  • http://twitter.com/johnfmoore/status/10880692214 John Moore

    RT @themaria: Community managers, have you seen my 10 Best Practices of Online Engagement? What do you think? http://bit.ly/aWXjyv | Gr8t

  • http://xeesm.com Axel Schultze

    Love the photo indicating “shut up and listen”. Prioritizing outreach: right on. The challenge however is a) how to prioritize and then b) how to focus. One of our partner said recently: It’s much easier to convince somebody to listen if they have a process to execute on what they learned. So they put what they learned through biz360 into a “Flight” in Xeesm and relentless execute.
    (my personal profile)

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