Social media channels offer unique opportunities for brands to gain customer insights, provide customer service, extend brand awareness and engagement as well as drive sales. One of the key components of a successful social media marketing program, is generating an engaged follower base. This article outlines six strategies that effectively grow your social media followers.
The first step in building a social media following is to understand why customers and fans would want to follow you in the first place. Per recent research, the three primary reasons people follow brands on Twitter are: they like the brand, they want to be notified of special offers & promotions and they want to stay updated on brand-related news. The research implies that your existing customers desire to maintain or grow a personal connection with your brand, stay updated on the latest news and, when possible, get special offers. With this foundation in mind, let’s talk about techniques for building a fan base on social media.
Build compelling profiles
How often do you judge whether a profile is worth following based primarily on the photo? Description? Most recent post? If you said ‘frequently’ then you’re not alone. As a brand, you have mere seconds to capture the attention of a potential follower, so make the most of it by optimizing your profile. Key components to keep in mind include avatar/profile image, description and content. For starters, your profile name/handle should be intuitive, memorable and descriptive to maximize visibility and engagement. Your profile handle should also be consistent across popular platforms to streamline updates and marketing efforts. Next, your profile description/biography should be infused with relevant keywords to maximize visibility in searches (same goes for all content/posts in your feed). Thirdly, your avatar/logo/headshot should be high resolution, properly framed, professional and authentic. Your posts should be similarly authentic, compelling and unique as possible, incorporating relevant keywords for optimal reach.
Create content consistently
Anyone can put together a 140-character tweet, but it’s significantly more difficult to consistently create compelling posts that add value, build credibility and communicate essential brand attributes. The first step in creating content consistently over time is to create a content calendar. When outlining content for the coming months, think about the unique attributes of each platform and adjust your cadence accordingly. For example, a few posts a week on Google+ should be sufficient, yet Twitter will require a few posts a day to create any meaningful impact. When it comes to cadence, keep it even as well. Research indicates followers react poorly to bursts of updates (by unfollowing). Not surprisingly, most followers abhor negativity, so keep it positive. Another key element of content creation is broadening media types. Incorporate high quality videos as often as possible, mixing in animated gifts, images and audio with text updates. Research shows videos outperform images and images outperform text, in terms of engagement rates. Research is also a powerful tool in determining subject matter. Understand what your target audience wants from you via surveys, focus groups and secondary online research. See what your competitors and industry media outlets are doing, to help inform your content strategy. Regardless of the insights provided by your research, bet on the fact that being the first to share breaking news or important industry information has tremendous value and can extend your reach.
Even with an optimized profile and a research-based content strategy, followers may not materialize without a little help. For platforms that embrace hashtags, including Twitter and Instagram, utilize branded and unbranded (industry) hashtags as often as is prudent. For example, unbranded hashtags in my world include #SEO and #PPC while branded hashtags I use include #AnvilLive and #EOpdx. While platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn understand hashtags, use of tags on those platforms is considered taboo (for now at least). Less obvious than hashtags are the actual words used in status updates/posts. Even without a hashtag pound sign (#), a user may still search on a given term, which provides you an opportunity to rank across search engines as well as social platforms. Generosity is also an effective amplification technique, as the act of including relevant profiles in posts increases awareness and helps pave the way for growing followers and engagement.
Another way to amplify reach is to cross-post key content across multiple profiles. This works well when the profiles are in the same industry and overlap themes, vs. overlapping followers. Another technique for maximizing the reach of specific posts is to incorporate a live-feed on your website (in the template footer or home page). Google appreciates fresh content on a website and site visitors are more likely to follow your brand when they see a sample of your most recent social posts.
Don’t forget to incorporate fundament social ‘hooks’ on your website, including external links to your primary 4-6 social profiles as well as social sharing buttons to maximize shareability, visibility and social signals with search engines. The last recommendation is to link to social profiles in all electronic collateral, including email signature files and newsletters. For bonus points remind readers of print collateral and advertising that you are active in social by including profile names and social platform icons.
Expand your network
With a solid foundation in place, including optimized profiles, consistent content and amplification strategies, the next step is to broaden awareness and reach by building and leveraging your network. Utilize software tools, competitors, industry publications and good old-fashioned detective work to identify and follow relevant industry influencers. Odds are good that the influencers will reciprocate your follow by following you back. Regardless, use the opportunity to engage the influencer with questions, conversations and general appreciation for their insights.
Ensure your conversations are authentic, thoughtful and personal, however. As you expand your base of influencers, regularly analyze their followers and that of your competitors for new ideas. Lastly, regularly monitor industry publications and social profiles for emerging influencers. While time-consuming, the return on engaging influencers can be significant.
As mentioned previously, being gracious and generous to your followers and those you follow is a very effective way to generate awareness and engagement. It’s also good karma. Build time into your social media management schedule to regularly thank new followers and most engaged followers. Don’t forget to give a shout out to your customers, partners and even vendors on social media. Your constituents are an excellent source of future followers and easy engagement.
Another way to appreciate your followers, influencers and peers is to share their best content regularly. It demonstrates your commitment to reading their feed and retweets/shares are an easy way to amplify their reach (and yours, if they share or thank you). When sharing third party content, always be sure to cite the original source, at least by name if not official profile or hashtag. For legal reasons, be wary of piggybacking on brands or trademarks that are known for policing, including World Cup, The Olympics and The Academy Awards.
Lastly, another great way to build awareness and credibility is to answer questions from those related to your industry. I recall when a competitor answered a question about UPS shipping policies from one of my client’s customers, which built goodwill for the competitor’s brand and created value for the person asking the question.
Expedite the growth curve
The first five strategies outlined above are all considered ‘organic’ growth strategies, in that they require a good deal of time, but little, if any, additional hard costs. While affordable, the organic strategies can be involving and take time to generate a return. To expedite the growth curve, consider investing in paid advertising and sponsorships on social platforms.
At a baseline level, boosting posts is an easy way to increase reach, impressions and hopefully engagement and new followers. To maximize the value and impact of your best posts, consider boosting, since your followers have helped determine that specific content resonates with your target audience. Another paid opportunity is building out formal advertising campaigns, whether on Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, LinkedIn or YouTube. Each popular platform provides an advertising capability with excellent targeting options by title, location, demographics, interests and more.
When advertising, create exponential return with an incremental investment in contents and promotions. Instead of boosting a regular post or advertising your product or profile, consider creating an incentive for new followers with a contest or promotion (discount, premiums, etc.). To get more creative and increase engagement, test polls and surveys, which are intrinsically viral in nature.
To generate success via social media channels, brands need to commit to building a strong follower-base. With the recommendations outlined above, nothing should stop you from achieving greater returns from your investment in social media marketing.
Kent Lewis is President & Founder of Anvil Media, Inc., a digital marketing agency specializing in search engine, social media and mobile marketing for clients worldwide. Based in Portland, Anvil was founded in 2000 and services over 50 clients. For more information, visit www.anvilmediainc.com.