Engagement Drives Social Media Communities

In my last column, I talked about the “Four Pillars of Social Media Marketing,” which include research, strategy, engagement, and measurement. Today, let’s delve into engagement a little more, because without it, your social media marketing strategy won’t take off. Of course, you do need the other three pillars to have a successful strategy, but without engagement, there’s no reason to be doing anything in social media.

People Love to Share

Whether it’s thoughts, ideas, opinions, tips, tricks, photos, videos, or pieces of content they find valuable, people love to share. They share in many different ways – via e-mail, via links in instant messenger or on Twitter, by posting information in forums or message boards, submitting to social news sites like Digg or social bookmarking sites like Delicious, uploading videos to YouTube, photos to Flickr, or podcasts to iTunes.

They do this because they want to engage with people and get their opinion. They want some kind of acknowledgement from the community, whether it’s “Thank you!” or “That’s cool,” a thumbs up on a video, or a comment on a photo. There’s an inherent need of anyone actively engaged within a social community to know that whatever they’ve shared has been received. This type of engagement is what propels users to keep being actively engaged and contributing to a community.

I’ve written about engaging the influencers before. Engaging influencers is a whole different realm of engagement that requires research, planning, and engagement in a different manner. Today, I’m focusing more on engaging a whole community. There’s a reason social media is called “social” media – it requires that you be social, for it to work.

Lurking Isn’t a Form of Engaging

Just sitting back and providing different types of content to your audience isn’t a bad thing, but it will only take you so far. If, for example, you wanted to start a blog, it’s important to research and understand what kind of content you’re going to need to provide your audience and customers that they’ll want to share. In order to do that, you do need to lurk a little in the communities so you can get an idea of what you need to be planning for in your blog’s editorial calendar.

However, you can’t solely rely on passive listening and researching. Without engaging your audience, you’re not going to know what kind of other content they’re truly craving. They might not even know that you’re out there providing this type of content, unless you actively engage and tell them. You won’t be able to grow your community if you’re just “blogging” and not linking out to other sites, adding your own comments on other blog posts, or letting others know about what else you find valuable.

Blogging isn’t as easy as writing posts and putting them out there for Google to find. Google can find them and can apply its algorithm to your content on that page, and it might rank somewhere in the search results. But even Google recognizes that community interaction and engagement around a blog post helps to deem its relevancy to the community. The more comments, more retweets, and more links into the posts, the more relevant it becomes. The only way you acquire those is by engaging the community that the content was intended for.

It Takes Time to Build Trust

It takes time, this whole engagement thing – it doesn’t happen overnight. Just because you said thank you or shared one link, doesn’t automatically grant you an engaged audience in that instance. It takes time to establish trust and respect in the communities you’re engaging with. People want to know you’re not going to be a one-hit wonder or be there for one week and then disappear the next. They want to make sure you’re there for the long haul and there to make an investment.

Some companies get discouraged by the fact that the link they posted to their content in the social media community they’ve chosen to engage with didn’t “go viral” just after posting. It takes a few tries of sharing content before you “strike gold.” Again, it’s about the trust. They want to know that you’re going to keep on being a valuable source of information for them.

Engaging can be easy, but a scary proposition for some companies, because it’s against their very culture to actually “talk” to their audiences. For the companies that have strict rules and guidelines of who can do the talking (when, where, how, why, or what), their social media marketing strategies will most likely fail.

In order to see success in social media, you have to engage your audience and share willingly.

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