There are occasions where something like the old-school method of direct promotion is beneficial, but expect to spend the majority of your time being much more selfless, even going out of your way to make individual customers feel special as a way to generate a good feeling about your product or service that travels way beyond that one person.

Humanize your brand and be emotive

People use social media to connect with other people, so lower your barriers and show fans the real you, and the people behind your business’ logo; be transparent, open, and authentic in all of your communication – authenticity often means being a little bit more open about what your business might traditionally share with customers, but there’s a fine line – if you’re consistently sharing posts about internal conflicts or your love life, that line has probably been crossed! Establish your unique voice, show a sense of humor, use everyday language, etc.

And if being genuine endears customers to you, then they will be more likely to want to engage with your content, share it on to others, and support you financially when the time comes to buy, by choosing you over another brand who they have no connection with.

Rather than trying to manipulate fans into buying products or service, showcasing you and your brand’s true values and personality will go a long way to setting you apart from your competitors.

While all of this advice applies to your text interactions and tone of voice, human, emotional connections are similarly important in visual content. Studies show that images of humans (as compared to inanimate objects) – especially those smiling and making eye contact with the viewer – can help to drive conversion rates.

Even if the product you are selling isn’t tangible, e.g. data or financial services, you should still try to incorporate people and human faces into at least some of your images, whether they be of you, your customers, or simply people in stock images.

On a related note – and a powerful pairing to text alone – are emoticons. A study by Amex Open found that using emoticons in status updates increased comments by an average of 33%, while a separate investigation by Buddy Media discovered that posts with emoticons received on average 57% more likes, 33% more comments and 33% more shares.

Perhaps more significant is that many social sites – Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook included – all support the use of Emoji – fully -drawn, expressive emoticons and ideograms that have fast become a universal language all of their own, can add a whole new layer of fun and expression to your status updates. In a 2015 report, Instagram found that nearly 50 percent of all captions and comments include at least one Emoji.

Don’t over-promote: build relationships and provide value

The vast majority of social media users do not visit Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, et al. to be given the hard sell by companies; they use them to interact with family and friends, and to be entertained.

If they do “like” or “follow” brands on social media, they often do so on a whim (think about the number you “like” or “follow”), and all but the most passionate fans won’t care to see every single post you publish (in fact, it is unreasonable to think that you can even make it happen without spending a lot of money).

Therefore, it is your job to convince people to enjoy having your business as something that is a big part of their everyday lives, and continue to earn your place – don’t see it as a right, see it as a privilege.

You do this by building trusting and loyal relationships, by being friendly, sharing great content, helping people with customer service issues (with the odd promotional post in between, of course… which if the rest of your strategy is up to scratch, your audience really shouldn’t mind).

Ultimately, with social media content in mind, change your mindset from “what can we sell you?” to “what can we do to help you?”, because in terms of choosing to follow a brand on social media, your fans will sure be asking the question “what’s in it for me?”

With competition up and organic (non-paid) reach (the number of people who see your content) at an all-time low, it is crucial that the content you post touches people on a personal and emotional level.

Some of the most powerful emotional triggers are humor, awe, anger, and even narcissism (stuff that, by sharing, makes the individual look good in front on their peers on social media).

Once you get into your stride, one useful exercise to help you keep on track is as follows: from time to time, stop and take a look at your last 10 social media posts and ask yourself this question: “What value am I providing and what purpose am I serving?”

If you cannot clearly define the answer to this question, you should think carefully about amending your strategy to better reach audiences who are now smarter and savvier than ever before; people who easily look past weak content or an over-sale-message.

Just like in the real world, social media followers will resonate more with a brand that they can love and trust, much more than one whose sole purpose seems to be to encourage them to open their wallets at every opportunity.

To reiterate the point I made above, you should strive to become a seamless part of their expected social media experience, not a jarring element that they want to skip past. All of this good work will build a positive image around your brand and slowly convert into sales.

Consistently post high quality content

First and foremost, don’t launch a presence on a social media channel, post for a few weeks, and then let its activity dry up! For most social networks, one, two or three updates per day is a good target, but at a minimum, you should post at least a couple of times a week so that your content continues to appear in the news feeds of your most engaged fans.

To single out Facebook as an example of a social network that a large majority of brands use, here’s some wider perspective to explain why consistency is so important: When someone visits their Facebook News Feed, there are an average of 1,500 possible posts – generated according to the site’s complicated algorithm – that they can be shown at any given time, from friends, Pages, groups, events, etc.

Add the fact that around half of users don’t check Facebook every day (and, of those that do, they only browse for around 30-60 minutes in total), the chances of all of your posts being seen and engaged with in amongst all of that competition, falls considerably.

In fact, without paid promotion (which we will look at later), Facebook makes it almost impossible for all of your fans to see all of your posts, and brands must now work harder than ever to eek as much free, organic reach out of their Facebook activity as possible. Facebook still offers businesses a ton of potential, but it is no longer as simple as it once was.

In addition to the above, in order to make sure that as many people as possible encounter the content you post (whether on the social network it was originally posted or if shared elsewhere), it must be top quality, i.e. the kind of entertaining, helpful, inspirational, valuable stuff that people will like, comment, click (if a link is included) and share.

In fact, in August 2013 – in an attempt to filter News Feeds to display only “high quality” content from brands – Facebook surveyed thousands of users on what they deemed as “high quality” content, folded the responses into its machine learning system and integrated it all with a master algorithm.

This algorithm considers “over a thousand different factors,” including the quality of a business Page’s other content and the level of completion of its profile when determining whether a post is “high quality” enough to be broadcast in the News Feed to its fullest potential.

Most people and businesses have a handful of “go-to” sources, either in their favorites or subconscious – websites and social profiles that they routinely share from (you probably have your own, in fact). This selection promises them consistently valuable content they can share with their friends and fans, and your aim should be to become one of these trusted sources.

The bottom line is that the more consistently engaged a customer is with your posts on social media content – liking, commenting, sharing – the more likely they are to continue to do so in future. And in the case of Facebook, positive interaction like this will ensure that your posts are to continue to appear in their News Feed for future engagement opportunities.

To refer to Facebook one more time, its News Feed Algorithm filters content into individuals’ feeds according to what it thinks is most relevant to them, so if a fan never sees posts from you (because you are inactive), ignores your posts for a prolonged period of time because they are not engaging enough (or, worse, has used the option to hide them), they will disappear from that person’s News Feed and you may find it difficult to get them back in there without paying for the privilege.

Note: With organic reach on Facebook and other social networks at an all-time low, it might seem that the best solution to gain exposure for your content is to post incredibly frequently.

However, in some ways this approach is actually counter-intuitive. Not even your most passionate fans will enjoy being constantly flooded by posts from you, and by decreasing the pressure of needing to produce a rapid stream of top quality content day in, day out, you leave more time to make sure that what you do publish is as good as it can be – stuff that will garner the most engagement from fans.

In addition, if you substitute the time spent on “excess” content for supporting “core” content with a few advertising budget, you increase the number of unique fans who see these posts and – if they engage with a like, comment, or share – they’re more likely (in the case of Facebook at least) to feed the next one organically in the News Feed.

Which types of posts get the most engagement?

One of the great debates amongst social media marketers is whether text, image, video, links, or other post types are the most effective in reaching fans and encouraging them to interact. The truth is that nobody can tell you for certain – social networks are forever tweaking their algorithms, forcing brands to play catch-up – and at the end of the day, it very much depends on what your

individual data reveals to you is working best.

For example, back in 2012 Facebook was telling businesses that posts that include a photo album, picture or video generate about 180%, 120% and 100% more engagement respectively than text posts alone, but what use is that potential for engagement if you notice that your text posts at any given point in time happen to reach 5x the amount of people than when you use images?

And in January 2014, Facebook said that link-share posts (those that generate an automatic image thumbnail when a news article or website address is shared within a status update) should be favored because “when people see more text status updates on Facebook they write more status updates themselves.”

My advice is to resist the temptation to blindly follow trends, fads, or “no guarantee” tricks that promise to deliver high levels of engagement! Instead, use them as a guide but always focus on providing awesome, valuable content first. Continue to test and tweak with a close eye on your own stats, and keep adapting to push on with what is working best for you (not everybody else) at any given time.

Don’t get hung up on reach; focus on creating loyal, passionate fans and meaningful relationships

As you now understand, fierce competition between individuals, brands and the way social networks’ algorithms work, means that not all of your fans will see your posts in their news feeds when you publish them, and by their own admission, sites like Facebook admit that this situation is only going to get tougher as more and more brands enter the fray.

Therefore, you need to think less about chasing “likes”, follower numbers, and post reach – as these metrics (although having some influence and merit, especially if they are from and reaching a target, high quality audience) can often be arbitrary.

Instead, concentrate more on producing great content that will grow you a loyal following of people who love what you do (showing it via post likes, comments, sharing your content, and eventually through sales), therein encouraging more people to invest in your cause. This goes not just for Facebook, but all social media. I’d say if you’re getting anywhere near 10% reach to all of your fans without paid promotion, you’re doing extremely well.

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