Business Link: How to Successfully Engage With Customers Online
Engaging with your customers online is crucial for the overall success of your business. It’s not only an essential part of managing your brand’s reputation, but also the best way to create emotional connections with your customers.
Research shows that customers who are emotionally connected to a brand are much more likely to stay loyal to that brand. Emotionally connected customers are more likely to be repeat customers and more likely to have shorter sales cycles. They’re also more likely to act as brand advocates and more likely to engage with your brand online, both of which can result in them turning others into emotionally connected, highly engaged customers.
When you engage with your customers online, you can create an emotional connection, which in turn creates more engagement, which starts this positive cycle all over again. All in all, engaging customers drives exceptional ROI. But how should you engage with your customers in order to foster the most engagement and connection? Read on to learn the eight things you should do to successfully engage with your customers online.
1. Engage (And Be Consistent) On Multiple Platforms
Today, most businesses understand how important it is to have a presence on social media. But if you want your customers to feel connected to you, you need to do more than just have social media accounts. You also need to work to actively engage with your customers on social networks. Engaging includes sharing valuable content with your customers and responding to both positive and negative feedback.
When responding to comments online, you always have an opportunity to influence customer experiences in a positive way and foster more connection with your customers. As long as you do so in a way that is personal, thoughtful, and true to your brand, engaging with positive comments, feedback, complaints, and/or issues can be good for your business. Responding to positive comments makes happy customers feel more connected to you and encourages other people to post positive comments. Responding to customer feedback or ideas makes customers feel heard and valued. Then, responding to issues or complaints is a must, since you need to not only resolve issues, but show old customers, new customers, and potential customers alike that you are the type of business that resolves issues.
When you engage with your customers in an online space, remember to be consistent in your branding and how you communicate. Sticking to your brand’s voice, tone, and values is a critical part of creating an optimal customer experience, as it will reinforce your brand identity and help your customers understand what to expect from you.
2. Use Social Network Tools and Algorithms To Your Advantage
Each social media platform has unique features, tools, and algorithms. If you’re new to social media marketing, these ever-changing aspects of social networking can feel like a barrier to communicating with your customers. However, if you take the time to learn how each social network’s algorithms and notification systems work, you can use your knowledge to your advantage and get your posts seen by more people.
Again, every social media platform has its own unique way of working. But there’s one thing that every social media platform likes: engagement. Social media platforms want to keep users on their platform, so they prioritize posts that users engage with. If someone frequently engages with your posts on social media, that social media platform will keep showing them your posts. If someone never engages with your posts, the social media platform will generally stop prioritizing showing them your posts.
So, in general, you want to try to keep your audience engaged. But how do you do that? Well, you need to post content your audience will want to engage with (more on that later), but you also need to make sure your audience sees your posts in their feed. To make that happen, you need to ensure your content and posting strategy is optimized for each social network’s current algorithm, which you can do by following a platform’s best practices and maximizing your use of a platform’s tools.
Follow Social Networking Best Practices
While social media platforms don’t share the exact way their algorithms work, they will periodically share guidelines or best practices. These let you know the things the platform does and does not want their users to do. If you follow a platform’s best practices, your posts are more likely to be seen by your followers. If you don’t follow a platform’s best practices, your posts may actually be demoted in the platform’s algorithm. So, if you want to make sure your audience sees your posts, at a bare minimum you need to follow each social media platform’s best practices.
Let’s go over a few examples of following and not following best practices. Both Facebook and Instagram have guidelines telling users that they should post frequently. Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get more engagement when you post daily rather than monthly. Facebook has also recently released guidelines warning users against “engagement baiting.” According to Facebook’s Business Help Center, the platform wants to “foster more authentic engagement” and does not want Pages to bait users into engaging by doing things like asking for reactions, asking for comments with specific answers, or asking users to tag their friends. Facebook now regards these actions as “spammy,” and has specifically said that they will “demote” posts that use engagement bait. So, if you use “engagement bait” on Facebook— even if you don’t know that Facebook considers it a bad practice— you could dramatically hurt your post reach on the platform.
This last example illustrates how important it is for online businesses to stay up-to-date with each social media platform’s guidelines. If you want good reach on a social media platform, you have to make sure you’re following the rules.
Use Social Media Tools To Your Advantage
Social media platforms may provide users with the basic rules of using their networks, but they don’t specifically tell users how to use the platform’s tools to their advantage. That’s something you’ll need to play around with and figure out on your own— but, to help you get started, we have a few tips we can share that have worked for us.
Let’s talk about four ways you can maximize your engagement on Instagram: adding alt text, adding relevant hashtags, liking comments on previous posts right after uploading a new post, and sharing your Instagram posts to Pinterest.
- Add Alt Text on Instagram:When you upload a photo to Instagram, you have the option of adding alt text, which provides a description of photos for people with visual impairment. By taking the time to add alt text to your Instagram posts, you make your posts accessible to a wider audience, which is excellent for your engagement. Not only that, you also provide text that can be read by both Instagram and Google. Instagram’s algorithm can scan your alt text to better understand what you’re posting, then show your post to users who are highly interested in that type of post. Then, Google can scan your alt text and index it for Google searches.
- Add Relevant Hashtags on Instagram:Hashtags are a major discovery tool on Instagram and adding the right hashtags to your post can have a big impact on who sees them. A great tool for finding and saving hashtags is Display Purposes. This site can help you find relevant hashtags and avoid spammy hashtags, streamlining your hashtag strategy.
- Liking Comments on Previous Posts on Instagram:A simple way to boost post engagement is by strategically timing your own engagement. For example, right after you upload a new Instagram post, go back to your previous post and like all of the comments on the post. This will prompt Instagram to send an alert to all of these users, who will probably come back to your profile and see your new post.
- Share Instagram Posts To Pinterest:After you post on Instagram, click the three dots next to your post, then pin your photo or video on Pinterest with a link to your Instagram post. Describe your photo in your Pinterest caption and make sure to include your Instagram name. While we don’t know exactly how this works within the Instagram and/or Pinterest algorithms, this sharing strategy is something we’ve noticed creates a huge boost in engagement.
These are four things we’ve noticed can maximize engagement on Instagram, but there are undoubtedly more waiting to be discovered. Think of all the different ways you can use a social media platform’s tools and see how you may be able to use them to your advantage. Finding the right posting strategy can take some trial and error, but getting an algorithm boost is well worth the extra effort.
3. Provide Value
If you want to draw customers to your online spaces and keep them returning for more, you need to provide them something of value. This could be something of entertainment value, inspirational value, practical value, and/or educational value.
What’s valuable to your customers will generally be very specific to them and your business, so this is something that needs to be personalized. One business’s customers may value inspirational writing, while other businesses' customers may value practical guides, funny videos, beautiful images, or high quality digital assets. If you’re not sure what type of content would be valuable to your customers, spend time thinking about who they are, what they value, and how their interests and values overlap with your brand.
4. Build a Community to Foster Group Customer Engagement
Building a community can help you engage with your customers and allow your customers to engage with one another, both of which will allow your customers to feel like they’re part of something bigger.
There are many ways to build a community for your customers, including quite literally starting some type of forum or group for your customer to post in. This could be a forum on your website or a group on a social media platform, such as Facebook or LinkedIn.
In addition to creating a literal online community, you can foster a sense of community in a variety of ways. For example, you could post regular questions for your customers to engage in on social networks. You could also feature your customers on your social media platforms or in a monthly email.
5. Host an Online Event
Hosting an event— whether it’s online or face-to-face— is an excellent way to make your customers feel like they’re part of an exclusive community. It’s also a great way to provide value to your customers. For example, a webinar can provide educational or inspirational value, and an exclusive online performance can provide entertainment value. An online event can also allow you to engage personally with your customers, which will help them feel more connected to your business.
6. Celebrate Successes Together
When you celebrate milestones and successes with your customers, it can make them feel like they’re a part of a winning team. So, don’t miss this opportunity to engage with your customers as your small business grows. Be sure to celebrate milestones with your customers and thank them for being the reason for your success.
Note that there are many ways to go about celebrating successes. The right direction for this can vary depending on what your startup offers and how you usually interact with customers. If there are milestones when customers use your product, you can share their personal milestones with them. For example, you could send follower/subscriber count notifications, user streak notifications, or a year end wrap up. If your users don’t have personal milestones, you can also celebrate business milestones or customer community milestones. For example, you could send an email to all your customers thanking them for making last month your busiest month ever. You could also thank customers when a new product sells out or when an online community hits 10,000 members.
7. Offer Exclusives
Offering exclusives is a time-tested marketing strategy that can help increase customer engagement and create loyal customers. Exclusive content, offers, or memberships can make your customers feel special and like they’re part of an exclusive group, which makes them feel closer to your business.
There are so many ways to offer exclusives to your customers. You could create a members-only forum, have a members-only email list with exclusive offers, or create content that only members can view. You could also provide members with early access to certain e-commerce goods or offer special pricing to members. But whatever you do with your exclusives, make sure that there’s a strong element of exclusivity. You don’t need to put your content behind a paywall (this won’t work for all business models), but most experienced marketers will tell you that you should at least require some type of sign up and log in for your exclusive content.
8. Assess Your Customer Engagement Strategy Regularly
One of the best things about online engagement and communication is that it’s fairly easy to measure. You can get data on things like social media engagement, website engagement, lead generation, conversion rates, customer retention, social CRM effectiveness, influencer marketing campaign results, and sales. So, don’t ignore all the valuable data that’s available to you. Assess your metrics regularly, then compare how this data lines up with your goals.
Regularly assessing your customer engagement allows you to see what is and what is not working for you. Every small business is different, so what works for you and your customers will be unique. It may take some time to find the right channels and strategies for your business, and you may have to try multiple digital marketing strategies before finding something that clicks. You may need to try a new social media strategy or content marketing strategy, or you may even end up deciding that you need to reassess your target audience altogether. However, remember that finding a way to connect with your customers will be well worth it in the long run. Listen to your customers, look at your data objectively, try new customer relationship strategies when you need to, be persistent, and don’t be deterred by roadblocks.