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Step 4: What does good engagement look like?

If you run a social media account you should know your analytics inside out.

Identifying and understanding engagement rates and activity – do you know what your engagement rates are? And across all accounts, not just the main accounts? Which of your messages are the most engaging?

Engagement could be via a share, a retweet, a pin, a message, a follow, a like. The list goes on. Accounts busy with engagement are those which are more likely to thrive and provide business benefit. Those which don't may not.

Don't just wait for people to come to you

Very often the key to success on social media is going to where people and conversations are already taking place and not simply hoping they will visit your accounts and pages.

Top tip – finding your people

Put the name of your region, city, town or district into social media search engines like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. If you've not done it before you could well be surprised by the pages, groups and networks which already exist, and potentially useful conversations already taking place.

Take LinkedIn, for example. If you have business customers you would like to engage with, chances are that those who are active online will have a presence on LinkedIn. It could be a local tourism group or a network of businesses working together to promote regeneration in a region. Try introducing yourself and asking if it would be OK to join the group, share relevant information and engage in conversations.

A great example of this is a council in the North West who engage with coach operators via LinkedIn as a part of their marketing efforts to promote tourism, visits and spend in the area. Other social media platforms were tried but LinkedIn worked for this particular target audience.

Try a hashtag search of your area on Instagram too to see the size and scale of this aspect of your area's digital footprint. As an example ‘#Warwick' – a simple hashtag search throws up 293k posts for the town. That's a potential rich seam of images and conversations, some of which may be useful to engage in. As a minimum, if you're holding events which lend themselves to great imagery it could be worth taking a closer look at this platform and approaching relevant accounts.

Likewise with Facebook. Due to Facebook's ongoing changes to its algorithm it's likely that somewhere between two and four per cent of people who ‘like' your page will see your organic content (i.e. non paid-for posts or adverts). This percentage can climb if what you post organically is popular and receives lots of likes, shares, views and comments. But it's still likely to be a small percentage in comparison to the total number of your page likes.

So finding ways to get around this algorithm issue is crucial to getting the most from Facebook. This could be by taking out paid-for adverts – if it's for an issue such as recruitment, selling tickets to an event or encouraging people to join a campaign,  this can be very effective.

Another route is to seek out where relevant conversations linked to your own area of interest are already taking place and engaging there. Again, approach this in a courteous way by asking the Facebook page or group's admin person if it's OK to join in the conversations as you have interesting and useful content to share with the group.

Top tip – Don't over-sell

It might be stating the obvious but don't sell too overtly in these instances. Be a regular group member - engage in conversations and, where relevant share content, news and service/event information to the group - but don't abuse it. It can be a great opportunity to put right misinformation doing the rounds or to helpfully point residents and customers towards links to services they need to access.

Think about the tone of voice you use as well and try to ensure that it fits with the group or page you're engaging with. It's not a place for corporate speak, jargon or acronyms.

Here's a useful case study on reaching out to rural Facebook groups and pages.

Another way to be effective of Facebook, without the need to spend on advertising, is by using Facebook's ‘events'. Here you can promote your events by encouraging people to subscribe to your Facebook events for, say, a park or a visitor attraction. If someone has subscribed to your Facebook events they will get a notification every time you add a new one. Organic reach is very effective this way and can help to overcome those well-known algorithm barriers.

Bradford Council has experienced success with this tactic – The City Park Facebook page has 10k likes but, importantly, their ‘events' also have 1k likes. That 1k people who will receive a notification whenever a new event is added. You can read more about their experiences and lessons here.

One of the best ways in which to create genuine engagement is still by asking questions of your audience and taking a real interest in the issues important to them.

This can be done as simply as running a Twitter Poll, asking for feedback in a well targeted WhatsApp group or with a discussion in a Facebook group or page.

A well targeted, well promoted and well run Twitter Chat can still be powerful for encouraging engagement too. Give yourself a good two week's run up to the chat and promote it with your network and target audience.

Obviously it needs to have a relevance to them to help spark interest. Having good visuals to promote the chat helps as does pre-publishing the questions you intend to ask.

An example from a co-hosted Twitter Chat from August on the subject of good use of social media

It helped the audience decide if the content and discussion was of interest.

Good social media twitter chat
Good social media Twitter chat

If you are interested in running your own Twitter Chats here is a useful post by Buffer on their learning from two years of running their own regular chats.