The social media tools and techniques we have at our disposal are making marketers smarter, more effective, and more efficient each day, making days of “post and pray” a thing of the past. Or, at least, one would hope.

The truth is, when it comes to social media marketing, a brand’s first priority must be to create positive digital customer experiences at all times. Simply posting content and praying that it will automatically spark engagement is no longer enough. That’s not what today’s consumers want – and brands know this. Consumers thrive on thoughtful, engaging content just as much as they expect brands to be responsive (at all hours of the day!).

The problem: many brands still haven’t allocated the resources to make this a priority.

Think back to the last time you were quickly served up a useful, relevant, and engaging piece of content on social media. As social channels become saturated with what seems to be an endless stream of content, we are all finding it a lot harder to weed out the good from the bad. In fact, many of us are quickly “tuning out” altogether as a coping mechanism for digital overload.

Long story short: engagement on social media is a two-way street. However, 98 percent of consumer brands are still operating in “broadcast mode.” As consumer behaviours on social rapidly change, the rules guiding how brands interact with them on social must change, too. People today are being inundated with brand messages across all media at all hours of the day. The last thing they want is for brands to use social media simply as a self-promoting megaphone. They expect more and, quite frankly, they deserve more. Brands must deliver.

Take Control Of Your Story

So, how can brands get better at this? First, your message must be consistent, everywhere. That is the key to creating a great digital customer experience. You spend a lot of time building brand stories and marketing campaigns, all in the hope that those messages will resonate with consumers. Your unique and differentiating story must be the consistent thread throughout your entire digital presence.

Once you’ve got that covered, there are a few more things you can do to take your social engagement game to the next level, including:

1. Embrace Online Communities

Online communities can provide a wealth of knowledge, insight, and feedback to make your social marketing efforts more effective. They are also a great way to engage and enlist your most loyal customers in conversations about your brand – whether in the form of sharing news, inviting members to provide input on new products or services, or by creating a forum to provide real-time support.

That is, only if you listen to the feedback your community is gifting you and respond to it in a meaningful way. This “listen-respond” dynamic is the essential building block for social engagement; without it, brands miss a huge opportunity to build and nurture positive relationships with their followers. Nonetheless, online communities still seem to be an untapped resource for many brands. The brands that understand the power and influence of their greatest advocates, however, are quickly learning how online communities can play a central role in their overall social engagement strategy.

2. Community Management Makes A Difference (Owned And Earned)

Traditional community managers wear multiple hats. They monitor their communities for inappropriate comments, direct consumers to the appropriate channels where they can address their specific needs, answer general support questions, retweet or repost content, or simply respond with a “thank you” after getting a positive shout out. Failing to tackle any of these tasks can quickly shift a consumer’s perception of a brand from positive to negative – and possibly tarnish that relationship for life. Unfortunately, many brands haven’t invested in the resources to ensure that no opportunity to build relationships with followers ever slips through the cracks.

Community managers are just as much a part of a brand’s social strategy as the various social channels they use to reach and engage customers. They are at the front line, working tirelessly to close the gap between your brand and your followers at pretty much all hours of the day. They often become, almost by default, the thankless heroes of the social world – and that needs to change. It’s important to remember that every interaction with consumers plays a different role in establishing brand loyalty. If you aren’t prepared or adequately resourced to engage with consumers across every social channel you’re on, then you may want to rethink your social presence and strategy. Or, better yet, maybe it’s time to invest in an experienced community manager who can quickly take your owned and earned social media efforts to the next level.

3. The Power Of Storytelling

Every brand has a story to tell. In fact, many do it incredibly well through both traditional and digital media. However, when it comes to social, brands have had to overcome a learning curve thanks to that “broadcast mode” mentality mentioned above. While many brands have done a great job of posting engaging content for a long time now, it’s taken them longer to get a solid grip on social media as a storytelling medium.

Savvy brands are catching on. First, they review and assess their social media channels holistically in an effort to stay on-message and consistent. Second, 27 percent of brands now seize the opportunity to engage in “deeper” storytelling or, in other words, publish multiple or sequential posts on a given topic in a short period of time. This helps build a brand narrative that can span across social media channels and align well with other non-social marketing efforts. The result: consumers are given a “hook” to latch onto, giving them multiple reasons to check back to see what comes next. They don’t just want to be spoken to; they want to be a part of your brand’s journey and narrative. Embracing social storytelling in this way allows them to do so.

4. Collaborate With Influencers

Marketers have talked a lot about the perceived value of influencers, but many are still trying to figure out how to unlock and extract value from those relationships.

There’s no doubt that influencers can help boost a brand’s awareness, especially when a brand reaches out to new or more diverse audiences. One reason why we haven’t seen this kind of collaboration take off like wild fire is that the ROI associated with it – at least, in terms of conversions or attribution – is still a bit vague. And, when done in the absence of a solid strategy, such relationships can come across as being disingenuous or fake, which can detract from the positive effects of your storytelling efforts.

What we do know, however, is that influencers have the power to create positive brand associations based on their own reputation alone and are skilled at building highly engaged audiences. If anything, brands should pay close attention to how influencers operate on social – and follow suit. There are a lot of best practices to be learned here.

5. Go Live, Get Visual

Although this a relatively new addition to the social media experience, “live” video events have already proven to be a massive engagement tool for brands. In fact, a recent Facebook study showed that live streaming can increase engagement by 400 percent.

People love being a part of the experience as it unfolds. That’s why it’s no surprise that practically every major social network – from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to YouTube – has made it easy for brands to broadcast live events to their followers. And within those experiences, consumers can interact in myriad ways (all in real-time), helping them feel like they’re in the middle of the action. Live streaming allows brands to remove location-based barriers and expose more consumers to events across virtually any device. For example, an intimate concert for 100 in-person attendees could easily reach millions of digital consumers. That’s scale at its very best.

This is a reminder that video, whether live or recorded, continues to be a powerful engagement tool for many brands. In fact, 89 percent of brands today rely on a mix of innovative video formats – from live streaming to AR – to engage their target audiences. Consumers are time-strapped; when they want to consume news or information, they want to do it fast. Video is an easy consumption medium. It requires very little effort, yet creates an immersive and engaging experience for viewers.

6. Paid Media Works

As with all marketing, a little paid promotion can go a long way. While many brands have effectively used social media to drive sales or generate leads, many still haven’t fully integrated paid promotions into their social content calendars.

For many brands, social is simply a means to push relevant content around a broader marketing campaign cycle. This needs to change. Adopting a healthy mix of organic and paid campaigns is key to maximizing a brand’s selling potential on social. In fact, many brands already see the benefits of supporting “promote” and “convert” content (24 percent and 28 percent of brands, respectively) to not only drive deeper brand awareness and engagement, but also convert that engagement into actual sales. After all, social is where consumers spend a disproportionate amount of their time, a good reason why brands are increasingly flocking to social to reach them.

 

Even though many brands are moving the needle on their social engagement strategies, much of the world is still stuck in “broadcast mode”. Consumers don’t want to be spoken at; they want you to engage with them – and they want brands to use every tool in their arsenal, from online communities to live streaming events, to do this in authentic, meaningful, and relevant ways. They want to be at the heart of the brand experience. So, it’s incumbent upon brands to put the customer first, tapping into their wants, needs, and expectations to guide every business decision you make. This is the secret for creating a better digital customer experience.