The increasing challenge of engaging customers on social media

the struggle engaging customers on social media

I recently had the pleasure of presenting to and discussing how social media has influenced modern marketing with students at Freshwater Christian College. One of the most pressing points discussed was just how quickly the world of social media can change. Just like fashion, what was once on-trend quickly becomes branded a “has-been”. Combine that with social networks aggressive program of improvements to stay ahead, making what worked yesterday, flawed today. Then a modern marketer’s job has just got a whole lot harder.

Why should we bother engaging customers on social media?

Needless to say, with social networks such as Facebook clocking up 1,590,000,000 active users, they are important battlegrounds. A quick look at April’s report on active users across the most popular social networks highlights this further.

social network active users


What I thought was really telling about this graph was the number of instant chat or messenger platforms present. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and WeChat have a combined 2,800,000,000 active users. If you’re targeting 16 to 24 year olds, then this shift is even more profound. With many consumer brands already scratching their heads as to how they can reach their audience using these tools. It’s one to keep an eye on. Particularly if the age-biased adoption cycle of social networks is mirrored in instant messenger apps.

social network adoption rates

For those wondering what on earth Snapchat is; here’s a handy beginners guide for marketers.

The changes to Facebook may make it even harder…

Facebook’s recent changes to its algorithm, which prioritises posts from friends and family, will make it even harder for organisations to reach and engage with their audience organically. Forbes suggest this move, whilst predominantly to improve user experience, will also force businesses to spend more on Facebook advertising.  This will increase the cost to reach your audiences, to create a following and ultimately sales.

However, before you frantically blow your marketing budget on Facebook advertising; take note that there are still many options to engage with your customers or prospects on Facebook and other social networks. It’s also worth taking a reality check. Whilst most businesses and organisations predict that their social marketing budget will grow in the next year and five years:

Changes in social media spending across sectors in the us

(US Digital Marketing Budgets)


There’s skepticism around the ROI on social media activity.

What degree does social media contribute to ROI

In fact, some brands have completely turned away from paid-for social advertising. Proctor & Gamble have decided it’s not for them and you can see why. Their FMCGs are purchased through traditional channels, so ROI was always going to be a tough sell.

Enough already, how do you drive engagement?

When talking to the students at Freshwater, I highlighted the three different approaches to marketing on social media. Owned, Paid-for and Earned.

Owned being the pages, posts, tweets, videos etc, that a business manages and generates.

It’s important to remember that social media is about being social – a one-on-one conversation. Broadcasting and instructing the world to buy your product isn’t going to win you any likes or followers. With this in mind use social media to show the true character of your business, deliver informative, helpful and insightful content. Not everyone on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat is a “ready-to-go” buyer, so use it to generate and build interest.

Try to deliver “evergreen” content. Content that drives traffic and interest months or even years after its post. Neil Patel’s article on Search Engine Land, identifies the benefits for search but it also works for social media too. Posts such as Case Studies, How-to Guides, Problem Solvers will be useful to your community today and tomorrow. They will also share your content if it really does connect with them.

Another tip is to schedule your posts or tweets at key points of the day. Lunch time and evenings, maybe. Or even when your competitors are quiet. Use your insights and analytics to give you the best indication on the optimum times or days to post and schedule your activity around that.

Best time to post on Facebook

(source: Sprout Social)

Whilst you’re reviewing your past activity, also look out for trends for past engagement. What do your current fans respond to, what drives action? Once you know, create more of the good stuff.

Last but not least, use a blend of media. Don’t just rely on posts or blogs. Remember to make it easy for your audience. Pictures, videos or infographics can help communicate critical or complex points easily and quickly. Whilst the reach of native video on Facebook may have been extremely exaggerated, YouTube continues to hold audiences and that content can be embedded and posted anywhere.

Paid-for, is exactly that. Advertising, sponsored updates and promotions designed to drive likes, click-throughs or conversions.

Using your influence (…or theirs, in this case)

However in the age of internet idols, bloggers, vloggers and social stars, don’t forget the power influencer marketing can have. Particularly on Generation Z, who crave authenticity. Recent studies claim to prove ROI through influencer marketing, with some stating returns of $12 for every dollar spent. Whilst high-street brands are trying to woo high profile social media stars; it doesn’t mean you have to spend a small fortune to get key influencers on board.

Changes in social media spending across sectors in the us

In fact, findings suggest that blowing your budgets on minor or major celebrities can completely ruin your ROI. It doesn’t matter if they have millions of subscribers or followers, creating profitable action is what you’re looking for. The most awesome thing about our digital world, is that there’s almost always a key influencer in whatever sector, niche or geographic location you’re in. The trick is finding the right person or “fit” and discovering how you can work together legitimately and authentically.

Rather than default to your traditional celebrity endorsement of a product or service; think creatively about how you may develop engaging and digital friendly content. This may be curating or co-creating something completely new, or giving them the first demonstration of a new product, or letting them run wild round your offices.

Of course, Paid-for activity also includes your more mainstream advertising options that allow you to boost posts or promote your page. And, it’s not just Facebook that lets you do that. Most social networks have this facility; they are just formatted slightly differently.

What I really like about Twitter’s advertising module is the ability to target followers of a specific profile. This could be a competitor, a popular magazine or publication in your sector or a high profile person in your industry. LinkedIn lets you target an audience on their job title, company, education groups they like. In my experience, it’s slightly more expensive and doesn’t have the same campaign objective options that Twitter and Facebook do. That being said, it’s great for B2B targeted advertising.

Whichever network you choose to use, you need to ensure your posts or messages are in line with your audience’s interests, needs and wants. Make an offer that’s compelling. Remember that social media advertising is different to search engine advertising. Search engines let your target intent. Social media is about generating interest. With this in mind create offers that will hold little resistance. Some free exclusive content in return for their email address. Or, something extremely low cost. The key is to capture their interest using these platforms and then build awareness and desire further down the line.

Social media advertising isn’t as cheap as it once was

Social media advertising is perceived to be a cheaper alternative to search advertising. However, this is rapidly changing. Facebook’s average advertising cost increased by 9% in the 2nd quarter of 2016. This is following last year’s astronomical 220% increase.  So you are going to want to be careful with how you spend your marketing budget if you want to maximise engagement with your ads.

In these instances reviewing and optimising your ads, is going to help remove those that aren’t working. Also pay close attention to the “added extras” they sometimes sign you up for by default. For example, Facebook displays your ad on Instragram, Facebook Desktop & Mobile and it’s display network by default. Be careful on where you want your ad or boosted post to appear.

Multivariant testing, alongwith ad insights will help you optimise your ads further. Keeping your cost per click or like down.

Earned social media exposure is probably the most difficult level of engagement to achieve on its own. This is where your audience or customers talk about or engage with your brand without your direction.  The likes of Coca Cola’s #ShareACoke campaign blended offline advertising and named coke cans to drive nearly 500,000 instances of the hashtag.

But as with everything out of your control, you can never predict whether those discussions are going to be good or bad.Around the same time last year, Starbucks launched their #RaceTogether campaign created a bitter social media reaction. In both these instances, the brands sought to get people engaged and to do the talking for them. Earned social media engagement can happen out of the blue too. The difficulty is, knowing exactly what is going to catch on… It’s a bit like trying to write the greatest song in the world; even Tenacious D couldn’t do that.

So it seems like marketers have an uphill struggle on their hands to engage with customers or potential customers through social media. But that’s the same with any form of marketing. The same rules apply; know your customers, what they want, what they perceive of value and how to talk to them. The closer you are to your customers the more likely you are to be able to engage with them on all levels.


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