How to Set Realistic Goals for Your Social Media Engagement Efforts

It's possible that Don Shula, the former Miami Dolphins football coach, might well have been referring to social media engagement (SME) when he said, "The start is what stops most people." Faced with the head-spinning efforts of maneuvering a blog or Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, or another of the seemingly unlimited social media websites, being tackled by an offensive lineman might somehow sound more appealing.

In football, no player can quarterback the team, tackle players, and receive passes all at the same time. In social media, certainly, neither you nor your team can master all the engagement skills and participate in all your social networks at one time. You need careful planning and a process to juggle all the activities of SME.

Regardless of human limitations, being present in social networks is critical to your success at engaging via social media. You — or your team members or representatives — should actively and directly engage with your online community members, friends, fans, and followers.

How to assess your social media capacity

Honestly evaluating your company's capacity to handle every aspect of SME is important early on so that you don't set yourself up for failure — and everyone who works with you. If you're a one-person band for your brand's SME, you have to be smart and selective about the tools you use, the way you use them, and the way you engage.

To set realistic expectations about your aptitude for engaging with customers and prospects in social media, consider these factors:

  • Time: Determine how much time — daily, weekly, or monthly — you can invest in engaging in social networks.

  • Resources: Outline the support system you have in place to do the work. Resources in SME usually refers to

    • People who handle the work

    • Tools and services you use to streamline the work

  • Skills: Even if you have the people and the tools to engage, without the right skills or the capacity to develop those skills via training, no amount of resources will put you on the right track toward properly engaging with your audience online.

Maintaining a poor social media presence is worse than having no presence. With an inactive presence, your audience assumes you are listening, but will fault you for the days and weeks of silence when their thoughts and questions go unanswered. Avoid the temptation to let tools that maintain your presence in social networks substitute for using them well based on best practices.

Additionally, if you don't know how to properly engage, your presence in your networks can fall flat or — worse — create a social media crisis. Research how best to use the resources at your disposal — or make time for proper training.

How to evaluate the competition on social media

You can learn a lot from watching and analyzing the best behaviors of competitors. You need to know where you stack up in online reach, conversation, and engagement. Looking toward competitors for benchmarks is a common business practice.

Services such as Simply Measured compare and analyze you and your competition to determine who has the competitive edge. Simply Measured incorporates Facebook, Google+, Google Analytics, Instagram, Klout, Twitter, Vimeo, and YouTube. The analytics tool provides benchmarks for, and analysis of, how you and your competitors are faring across social networks in these areas:

  • Engagement rate: This metric looks at your overall engagement and your competitor's engagement, and at which percentage of the conversation is original from your brand versus an @reply to an existing conversation. The difference here is important in order to measure true engagement and not simply broadcast messages.

  • Responsiveness: Members of your community want to know that they can trust you. Gauge your level of responsiveness in relation to the other businesses in your industry. Your customers expect you to reply when they reach out. You can generate reports that measure timeliness, response rate (as in the percentage of time you respond to an inbound tweet), and the length of the conversation.

  • Reach: This term refers to the size and strength of your overall social presence in social networks, your fans and following, and their comments and likes, as compared to your competition.

Using a tool such as Simply Measured can help you identify realistic goals for your company's responsiveness as an essential part of SME. The manner and timeframe of your responses to queries in your social networks can clearly reveal your commitment to being present.

Note how present the competition is in their social networks and how engaged they are within their online communities. Learn from their successes and their failures. Improve on what they do well, and avoid what clearly isn't working.

Recording your own statistics over time is important; however, don't do it in a vacuum. Measure your engagement efforts against your competitors at least quarterly. Evaluating the competition isn't a one-time endeavor.

Search online to find ratings or reports on your industry's progress in SME. For example, the Vintank Brand Index measures how wineries are engaging on Facebook and Twitter and ranks them based on a number of factors, such as fan growth and interaction. Use these numbers to set goals for your own engagement activities.

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