14 Best Practices for Brands to Grow their Audiences in Social Media

As a consumer, you are blasted with the same request over and over, “Follow Us on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook” As a consumer however it is more than natural to ask why should I or what’s in it for me? These are questions of which a significant number of businesses cannot genuinely answer.

Businesses are realizing the importance of establishing a presence on Twitter and other vibrant social networks. In many ways, hosting a branded account is now common practice, a required extension to the push channels created through email, traditional marketing and web sites. What businesses are still learning however is that creating a channel, hosting a channel worth following, and building a loyal audience is a far greater challenge and overall investment than initially anticipated. At the same time, the realization that a shift from a push mentality to that of two-way interaction is nothing less than disruptive to the operation of business as usual.

Today a notable number of businesses are approaching branded social channels from a ready, fire, aim approach. This method conjures a façade of achievement when in fact, any progress, if at all recognized, is short term and shoddy at best. Many focus on numbers without first analyzing who they’re trying to reach and why and more importantly how engagement satisfies the needs of their customers. To build vibrant communities in social networks, businesses must develop a remarkable and diversified channel strategy that reinforces the brand and communicates tangible business value and exudes customer-centricity. Without a mature content and engagement strategy, a great unfollow and unlike movement is inevitable.

A Focused Perspective

You can’t depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.
– Mark Twain

Competing for the attention of the elusive social consumer surfaces new challenges for brands. Rather than luring a static audience, brands must now demonstrate ongoing value in order to captivate an engaged audience. As a result, brands must now focus on defining a mission and purpose and delivering value for each of the audiences they’re hoping to address.

The key to zooming in on purpose and usefulness within social channels starts with the realization that there is no one audience. Nor is there a sustainable market for branded messages, marketing campaigns, or “Tweet/Like to Win” contests. Indeed, every channel created to represent the brand must carry a purpose, mission and corresponding value. One of the most common questions I’m asked by businesses of all shapes and sizes is “what is the right number of accounts we should have in each social network?” Or, “how many profiles is too many or too few?”

The answer is as simple as it is revealing. Create the number of channels that meaningfully extend the focus of your business, topline and supporting brands, and relevant stories to the dedicated audience they’re designed to serve. Additionally, only create the number of channels that strengthen the brand rather than dilute it and also possess the capacity to ensure its ongoing relevance.

For example, I’ve worked with leading organizations that over time accumulated hundreds of profiles on Twitter alone. Is that too many or not enough? If we bring it back to the earlier answer, it is only too many or too few if each account does not serve a purpose that strengthens the brand experience, appeals to a dedicated and scalable audience, and receives the necessary support to stay engaged and deliver endless value.

Initially many brands experienced unmanaged growth encouraging or in some cases ignoring, the creation of profiles simply because it was easy and trendy to do so. Best intentions aside, many of these accounts were unrewarding for followers and the account managers and in some cases diluted the brand through unfocused engagement. These channels were representations of an orchestra without a conductor that at times found its instrumentation inclusive of improvisational and amateur jams. Sometimes beautiful music was brought to life and more often than not, noise or worse, silence was the end result.

So what are the best practices in creating an engaging social stream? Let’s take a look at the traits of some of the more successful and regarded brands in the business.

1. Design an Effective Channel Strategy: Evaluate the main brand, sub brands, and notable personalities that require a “follow worthy” or “likable” presence. If there are other accounts that exist beyond the initial strategy, assess their value as a standalone channel and its current state. It may be best to simple truncate accounts or close them all together.

2. Create a Life Support System: Develop an organized framework that supports each presence uniquely. Ensure that each account establishes a rhythm that meets the needs of its audience.

3. Mission and Purpose: Know the audience you’re trying to reach and design a communicable mission and purpose for each account.

4. Develop an Editorial Program: Create an editorial program that addresses the various needs of the social consumer including entertainment, sales, service, engagement, HR, etc. Evoke the new K.I.S.S. (Keep It Significant and Shareable). Create content that’s both engaging, contextually relevant, and shareable. Think beyond the basics such as polls, curation, promotional content, questions.

5. Construct a Listening Framework: The best listeners make the best conversationalists. Build a listening framework that monitors the brands as well as the distinct conversations related to each account.

6. Establish Conversational Workflow:
Each account requires an information path and workflow. They also require bridges between them to ensure that every representative is informed and that the right delegates within the business are on point to engage or respond accordingly.

7. Formulate a Decision Tree: Draft a clear flowchart that details the steps for a variety of “if this happens, then do this” situations. This is designed to help representatives follow a pre-defined path for the real-time nature of engagement.

8. Initiate a Training Program: Representatives will require ongoing training to stay sharp and focused. Every engagement either reinforces or takes away from the brand experience. As technology moves faster than our ability to master its lessons, training keeps employees on track.

9. Install a Governance and Reward System: Much like the marketing team protects the integrity of the brand and how it’s presented, a social team is necessary to manage the integrity of each Twitter account as well as the overall portfolio. At the same time, a reward system must be put in place to encourage exceptional work.

10. Draft a Social Media Brand Style Guide: Chances are a style guide already exists that communicates brand presentation, usage guidelines, and other forms of brand-related marketing aesthetics. This guide requires a significant update to account for social media. Its primary function is to define the brand persona, characteristics, voice, and essence. Additionally, the updated style guide will define the design of each presence and how represents should accurately enliven it through narrative.

11. Compose Guidelines and Do’s and Don’ts: Develop a social media policy that conveys the do’s and don’ts in social media. If one already exists, update it. The law has changed and now protects employee rights to express opinion about employers within their personal accounts. Additionally, many employees complain that the existing guidelines are either too extreme or ambiguous to define successful engagement. Design the guideline to serve as guardrails and also a roadmap to success.

12. Serve Customers and Prospects: Social consumers now expect brands to solve problems and answer questions in social streams. Each channel requires a service function or a dedicated channel to satisfy needs and promote appreciation and loyalty.

13. Employ Language and Timing Techniques: Two points of note, timing is everything and in brevity there’s clarity. Studies already show that the time and day and the language structure of Tweets and Facebook updates determine overall reach and engagement. Optimize language and timing to make every update count.

14. Design Engagement and Performance Metrics: Monitor the performance of each account to improve the engagement and editorial strategy for each account.

Following these best practices will prevent your brand from falling victim to the coming wave of customer unlikes and unfollows. But more importantly, focusing social channels and investing in the value of each will improve the customer experience and encourage greater engagement. By increasing meaningful interaction, brand reach is dramatically amplified through the social effect, encouraging customers to not only Like the brand, but genuinely love it!

Brian Solis

Originally published on Mashable and BrianSolis.com

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