Business is all about people. Understanding people. Helping people. Connecting with people.
Sometimes, those of us who work in the online world get so caught up tracking followers, retweets, likes, page views and conversion rates that we forget something very important for social media success – engagement.
No, not the kind of engagement that comes when your girlfriend finally breaks down and gives you an ultimatum. But, the engagement that comes from connecting with other people and building a relationship.
Even Walmart knows if they “connect” with people, it will help their bottom line in the long run. That’s why they developed the slogan – “Save Money. Live Better.” It implies that Walmart is more than just cheap products; they help you make smart decisions, save money and live a better life with the money you save by shopping at Walmart. People can relate to that.
What is Engagement?
I’m sure there are a thousand different ways you could define what it means to “engage,” but when I talk about engagement, I’m talking about establishing a meaningful connection with other people.
For example, if you send out a tweet to your 10,000 Twitter followers asking a question and not one person responds, that’s an example of poor engagement. The 10,000 followers are essentially worthless. Kind of like the tree that falls in the forest when no one is around to hear it.
If you have 1,000 followers and you send out a question on Twitter and you get 50 responses within a few minutes, that’s an example of excellent engagement. Social media is only useful if there are people on the other end who read your content or take action in response to your content.
It’s called social media for a reason. Social media consists of tools that allow you to socialize and be a part of a larger community. It doesn’t matter if that community is found on a blog, Facebook, Google+ or Twitter, the fundamental rules of engagement are the same.
We all know that the purpose of a business is to generate revenue (I hope we all know that). So, the purpose of social media, for a business, is ultimately to generate revenue. However, in most cases, social media is best used to generate revenue indirectly.
For example, there are people (or bots) on Twitter that send out nothing but links to affiliate products, sales pages, or squeeze pages day after day. That’s the direct method. Those people are trying to make money directly from social media.
If you’re trying to build a brand, a good reputation, a loyal customer base, or a business that will be profitable for a long, long time, the indirect method for generating revenue through social media is probably a better fit for you. The indirect method is about building relationships, which can lead to referrals, which can lead to opportunities, which can lead to revenue.
Are You Trustworthy?
People do business with people they like and trust. There are always exceptions to the rule, but if you’re selling services or information, you need to build relationships and you need to build trust.
There’s a very good chance that most people you meet for the first time won’t need your service right away. For example, if you’re a real estate agent and you end up chatting with someone new on Google+, the chances are very slim that they need a real estate agent at that particular time.
If you follow up with that person, connect with that person, and build trust with that person over time, they’ll think of you when they do have a need for a real estate agent. In many cases, the business won’t even come directly from the person you’ve connected with, but it will come as a referral from that person.
In fact, Michael Port, author of Book Yourself Solid, recommends you aim for a 50/50 balance. That’s 50% of your networking time building relationships with potential clients and 50% of your networking time building relationships with other professionals that complement your services.
The “other professionals” could end up referring you clients or you could end up referring them clients. If you’re a real estate agent, you might want to connect with accountants, architects, lawyers, carpenters and loan officers. These are people that complement your service, and it increases your value to have a high-quality professional network that you can tap into to help other people.
Another reason you should build relationships based on trust is to find out what problems people in your market are really facing. Yes, you can do research. Yes, you can send out surveys. But, the fact is that people don’t always tell you the truth until they trust you.
Have you ever been in a store shopping for clothes when the sales person comes over and asks if they can help you? Most of the time, we say “just looking.” While that may be the literal truth, there’s more to it. Maybe you’re trying to find a cheap dress for a wedding. Maybe you’re having problems finding your size. There’s more to the story than “just looking,” but most people aren’t willing to tell a stranger those details until a certain level of trust is established.
How to Engage Using Social Media
If you’re ready to start connecting with more people in your social media networks, here are a few things to consider.
1. Initiate contact.
We miss 100% of the shots we don’t take. If you’re waiting for other people to make the first move, you could be waiting for a very long time. It can be intimidating to contact other people out of the blue. But, the more you do it, the easier it will become. You don’t have to connect with everyone, focus on quality over quantity.
2. Break through the wall.
When we first meet people, we have our walls up. It’s a barrier that keeps us from opening up. In the real world, think about that sales person that asks if they can help. Or, the cashier at the grocery store. You might engage in small talk, but most of the time there’s no deep connection. Something has to happen to make the walls go down.
Same thing applies to the social media world. When you tweet someone’s posts and leave comments on their blog about how you enjoyed their article, do you think that’s going to establish a deep connection? It might get you noticed, but that alone won’t establish a deep, meaningful connection. You have to get past that wall.
A few weeks ago, I was walking down the sidewalk in a busy shopping area when a person with a clipboard asked me – “Do you care about the environment?” Not too long ago, people taking surveys in malls or on the streets used to ask – “Can I ask you a few questions?” Of course, most people would just say, “No, not right now.”
But, this guy was smart (or whoever created the script). He knew that asking if I cared about the environment would evoke some sort of response and throw me off guard a little bit. Once he broke through that initial barrier, I let my guard down a little bit and listened to what he had to say.
You can use the same principle in social media. Say something funny (not offensive). Recommend something useful. Send something personal. If you know a person loves Pringles, give them a can of Pringles next time you’re at a conference together. Think outside the box to stand out from the crowd and break through that defensive wall.
3. Be consistent.
Once you break through that defensive wall, you still have to build trust to establish a deep connection. The best way to do that is to be consistent. If you disappear from a social media platform for three months, then show up for a few weeks then disappear again, that doesn’t help establish trust.
The more positive experiences you share with someone, the more likely it is you’ll establish a deep, lasting connection. If you comment on someone’s blog, have a few short conversations on Facebook and then communicate via email a few times, this creates a good foundation for when you actually meet in person. It helps in breaking down the defensive wall in the beginning.
Compare that to walking up to someone at a networking event and introducing yourself. If you’ve never had any communication with that person through any medium, it will be more challenging to break through their defensive wall and have a meaningful conversation. Not impossible, but more difficult.
Make sure you’re consistent. Do what you say you’re gonna do and always follow up with people. Being consistent doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing over and over, but you have to show that you’re committed and reliable.
4. Be authentic.
There are some people out there that network just so they can use other people. Instead of “be authentic,” it might be more appropriate to say don’t be a jerk, because you can be authentic and still be a jerk. If you’re just connecting with other people because you want them to help you with something, it probably won’t work. Most people will smell it a mile away. You have to bring something to the table.
I like the analogy that Stephen Covey uses in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Relationships are like bank accounts. With a bank account, you have to put money in before you can take money out. If you take out more money than you have, that’s not good – you get penalized and it costs you a lot more just to get a positive balance again.
With an emotional bank account (a relationship), the same principle applies. You have to build a positive balance by sharing experiences together and doing what you say you’re gonna do on a regular basis.
The more positive experiences you share with someone, the bigger your emotional bank account will be. If you have a tiny bank account because you just met someone and then you suddenly ask for a favor, that drains your emotional bank account and you go into the red. The relationship will effectively be insolvent.
Social Media Engagement
Social media is different things for different people. If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels with social media, you might want to take a look at your level of engagement. Focus on truly connecting with people and providing as much value as you can.
How do you engage with others on social media? Share in the comments.