If there is one thing that I’ve learned while growing a business on social media it’s that realness is rare. And I think it’s slowly becoming more common now, as people and as businesses and brands learn that it’s an effective form of marketing. But I think there are still quite a few businesses out there who are afraid to just be real. And right now I’m not talking about showing up natural, with no makeup or flinging F-bombs or anything like that, but just acting like a real human. I think when we go to college and when we go through job trainings we adopt this mindset that businesses are supposed to behave like businesses, and there is a certain way to communicate and a certain way to present yourself that is professional and appropriate. But in that process, what happens is the human parts of you are sort of hidden behind this corporate facade and so because of that, you lose the ability to connect.
And you miss out on a huge opportunity to get to know your audience because people can’t converse with a billboard.
If we think about people and how we naturally operate, both as a human and as a consumer, we don’t just crave realness but we crave connection. And the reason we crave realness is because it gives us a means to connect and relate. To feel seen.
I remember there was this one time that I was listening to a keynote presentation at an online conference and I remember just being really moved by the presentation. So I decided to message the speaker on instagram and send her a note to say hello and that I really enjoyed her presentation. She replied to me with, “Thank you so so so much for the sweet message! I’m so grateful that we could connect.” I know that message is quite simple and it’s not necessarily personal in any way, but I remember that message feeling really good to receive. Just by adding a couple of extra words – “Thank you so so so much” and “i’m grateful we could connect…” It really felt like a sincere reply. And just by my reaction that I was kind of taken aback by that, it occurred to me that that sincerity is kind of rare in the professional world. I think it tapped into that human part of me that senses and longs for true connection. Something pulled at my subconscious and caused me to pause and was like hm. That’s different.
Over the course of building my business there have been several different things that influenced my approach to social media, but I would say that this was one of the turning points for me in my business and how I approached engaging with my audience online. Because when something stops you in your tracks like that, I think it’s wise to sort of analyze that and be like, why did this impact me the way it did? How can I take something from this and apply it to my own strategy?
So I am going to talk more about engaging in comments and DM’s in a later part of this episode but first I’m going to backpedal a little bit and start at the beginning with setting up your social media presence online. How would you approach this as a starting point if you want to engage and connect more authentically on social media? I’m going to share with you 5 tips that are straight from my own social media approach. So get your notepad and pen ready, and let’s get right into it.
Tip #1: SHOW UP AS YOU ARE
I think the first step in creating an authentic presence on social media is to show up as you are. If your followers and customers are going to experience this human connection, there needs to be a human on the other end for them to connect with. Right? And if you’re a larger business that isn’t just one person, you can still give the feeling of a human on the other end. You can still give your presence online a more personable and friendly feel. And even if you have a social media manager who is handling your direct messages and replies, you can still have your messages and replies and interactions feel personal. So remember that.
But, if you are a solopreneur you have the added benefit of being able to really lean into that personal aspect by showing up as yourself.
In terms of showing up authentically on your social media platforms, a good first step would be to introduce yourself through images and text. Share your name in your bio so people know who the person is behind the brand. Share a little blurb about yourself. Have your photo be your profile photo or at the very least, post a photo of yourself somewhere within your grid or – if on facebook, in a photos section of your profile. Allow your followers or customers to see and know your name and face when they come on your page.
The next step would be to begin showing up in person on your page through stories. Stories allow you the unique opportunity of being able to share the unpolished side of your business, because the images and videos won’t live forever on your feed – they will only live for 24 hours. So this is a perfect place to show up imperfectly in front of your audience and allow them a peek behind the scenes or give some insight into who you are, the role you play as the business owner, or even sharing a peek into your personal everyday life.
It’s up to you how much you want to share with your audience or how personal you would like to get on your business page. You can simply share a small peek behind the scenes of your business operation once a week, or you can allow your audience to completely immerse themselves in your process through sharing frequent stories, hosting Q&A’s, and creating lots of opportunities for them to engage.
Instagram stories makes it very easy for you to engage with your audience. You can use polls to ask your followers to share their insight with you on what they think of certain products, their perspectives surrounding your industry or niche, or what they would like to see from your brand. You can use question stickers to ask your audience questions or allow them to ask you questions – a great way to both give your audience a way to feel heard and to educate them about your product or service. The more you actively use stories, the more you will receive direct messages from your followers leading to further conversations. There are so many benefits to using the features of instagram stories to engage with your audience and build a stronger connection with your followers.
Showing up in person on stories, or even sharing your voice through stories can allow you to deepen the connection with your audience.
Tip #2: BE HOSPITABLE
Another strategy I use in my approach when engaging on social media is to think about it from a place of being hospitable. I think when you walk into a business, something that really makes a good impression and leaves an impact is when there is a sense of hospitality. You’re typically greeted when you come inside a store or an office. And you don’t always get introduced to the owner of that business right off the bat, but you usually can get a sense of what that business is about, either by the way you’re greeted or by certain messaging that is displayed, or in the way the business is visually represented.
When I worked at Disneyland for a short time, hospitality was a huge part of their customer service model. We referred to the park ticket holders not as customers but as our guests – which is another interesting mindset shift that you can practice when thinking about your business, just in general. What would this look like in terms of social media? Well, think of how you can make your followers (or guests) feel comfortable and welcome when they arrive on your page.
How hospitable and friendly are the people who work at Chik-fil-A? And does that not factor into your experience when you visit the Chik-Fil-A drive thru? Does it not make you want to return again? If you’re a huge chik-fil-a fan like I am, are you just a huge fan of the chicken? Or does their positive impression on you have to do with the feeling you get when you go there? I think for me it’s definitely a mix of both.
Part of how I approach my presence on instagram is I try to imagine it as a physical place where people will come to experience my brand. When people arrive on my page, I want to be a good hostess and to make them feel right at home. I want them to be greeted with a smile, provide an introduction, and I want them to be able to quite easily find exactly whatever it is they’re looking for. How do I do this on an instagram page? I can’t literally greet someone and smile at them, obviously. But I can create a sense of welcome in the feel of the page – through my use of the features that are available to me in the app. I can carefully choose the words in my bio so that my ideal customers know they are in exactly the right place. I can choose the feel of how I present my brand through the images I select. I can make sure new customers are greeted when they come on my page by seeing an image of me with an introduction as they are scrolling through my posts. I can portray an overall mood, message, or feeling in the language I use in my captions. I can use my bio link as a directory to help people find what they are looking for. I can use my highlight buttons to save and categorize stories that I want my audience to experience, helping me to control my brand narrative. On my page, I even have a highlight button for freebies so that my customers or “guests” can walk away with a free gift or tangible resource that can help them take the next step in their journey.
I received a DM just this morning from a new follower that said, “I just came across your page and wow, what a brilliant, beautiful and useful account this is. Thank you.”
To think that your account can not just be beautiful but be useful to a follower or potential customer. That it could provide value to them. That is making the most of social media as a marketing platform.
So when it comes to your instagram profile or wherever it is that you engage on social media with your customers, be a good host. Think of how you can make your followers feel right at home so that your page is a place where they like to be and a place they want to come back to.
Tip #3: ACKNOWLEDGE EVERY FOLLOWER
I think this should go without me saying, but if you’re thinking of your social media profile as a place where you host your followers and you’re inviting them into this space, it’s so important that you acknowledge your followers. The most obvious way to do this reply to each and every comment you receive. If you are at a beginner level in engaging with your audience on social media, at a minimum level, you should be replying to every single comment and DM. Rather than just liking the comment, take the extra step to comment back.
Maybe you are still working on building your presence on social media, and you don’t see a whole lot of comments on your posts. Maybe you usually just get a few likes on your posts. If that’s the case, spend a few minutes a day, take a look at that list of people who liked yourpost, and hop over to each person’s profile and send them a quick message or leave them a comment on one of their posts.
If you get a new follower, shoot them a direct message and say, “Hey, thank you so much for the follow!” Think about doing whatever you can do to jumpstart that engagement and opening the door for your audience to engage with you.
By acknowledging each follower, and especially the ones who are going out of their way to like, comment, or engage with your content in some other way, it’s a way of thanking them and letting them know you appreciate them for showing interest in your brand. And that appreciation goes a long way.
Think about a time when a brand or business acknowledged you.
Tip #4: RELATE
One way to learn how to better engage with your audience in a friendly way is to try and relate to your audience members by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes. When I think about different times that I’ve sent a business or brand a direct message and received a kind and personable reply, those replies make an impact because they make me feel really good. In fact, any time I interact with anyone and leave feeling warm, happy or uplifted, I often think to myself, I want to make people feel that way.
Relating to your audience is something that requires a sense of humanity. It requires compassion, kindness, listening and caring. Those are things that leave people feeling good.
Relating to your audience makes them feel heard and seen. Because that is so rare in today’s fast and busy culture, where the majority of the human race is focused on themselves alone, that is something that can be extremely powerful. Even though listening and making others feel seen should be a baseline for human interaction, it does seem rare, doesn’t it? In fact, it’s so rare, that it almost feels like a selfless act when you experience it. You’re like, whoa – why is this person actually caring about me? And because of that, it’s memorable.
To relate to someone is to feel sympathy with or to identify with them. It’s truly putting their needs before your own.
Can you imagine having an interaction with a business or brand where that person on the other end did something for you that was completely selfless and simply in your best interest? Like taking the time to thoroughly explain something or giving you a valuable piece of advice, even if it didn’t directly serve their own objective.
Taking 5 minutes to type out a thoughtful reply to someone’s direct message might cost me a few minutes of my time, and it may not directly lead to a sale if I am just offering sincere advice, but it does leave an impact, and that goes a long way when building relationships with your customers. At the very least, that ripple of kindness will hopefully continue. Best case scenario is they come back when they’re ready to hire you for your service, and they share your name with others that they know, because they remembered that interaction they had with you because it left such an impression on them.
There is a favorite quote of mine by Maya Angelou – “People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
And I think that is very true and such an important thing to remember whenever you are engaging with someone from your audience.
Tip #5: TAKE THE EXTRA STEP
In your social media approach when it comes to engaging via comments or DM’s, think about going the extra step. Particularly that one extra step that will take you past just sending a polite reply, to making that person feel seen, acknowledged, and valued.
At the beginning of this episode, I shared with you that story about how I dropped into the DMs of this keynote speaker and she messaged me back with a really kind and thoughtful reply. So to backtrack and dig deeper into this story, I think part of what was so shocking to me about her response was that this person was like a huge person in the online marketing world. She was an acclaimed author and public speaker and she had almost a hundred thousand followers and the little blue checkmark next to her profile, the whole thing. But her reply made little old me feel important even though she had this huge successful brand and you would think someone like that would probably not see, let alone acknowledge a person like me.
Now, the point is not that she was behind her keyboard typing this message to me personally, it could very well have been her social media manager who typed the message or even an auto-reply for all I know. But the point is how it made me feel. It doesn’t matter how the message is being executed – what matters is the impact that it makes. Because regardless of who or what was behind that message, I remembered that interaction and it changed the entire way I viewed that person, her brand and everything she was about. That person now lives rent free in my mind in a whole new way. It was that message that made her brand stand out in my memory, and that is so important to achieve in a saturated market. Not only that but it inspired me to be more thoughtful in my own approach, because I wanted to make my followers feel good when I replied to their DM’s. And that is a very powerful pay-it-forward effect that could lead to big waves in a community.
So, let’s look at a few ways you could take the extra step to make your comments or messages to your followers a bit more meaningful.
One way is simply to reply in more than three words. Longer, more thoughtful comments are key to authentic engagement. Creating long and thoughtful messages requires putting a little more thought into your words, so naturally, they will be more authentic and give more value than a two or three word message could.
Even if the other person’s comment was one or two words, “Gorgeous!” or “Nice work!” try challenging yourself to respond with more than 3 words. This not only carries more weight for you in the algorithm, but what I like about this is it challenges me to think beyond the typical response and say something that’s more personal. Sharing a personal thought or – if I know the person, building on a personal connection. For example, if that person commenting is a current client of mine, instead of just replying “Thank you!” I could say, “Thank you! Can’t wait for your wedding day!” Or if it’s a planner commenting on an image from a styled shoot, I could say, “Thank you so much! Let’s plan one together soon!” Or perhaps the person commenting is someone I have never met, I could simply say, “Thank you so much for following my page and being a fan! It means the world!” That is a comment that leaves an impact so much more than a quick, “Thanks” or shooting off a couple of emoji’s that will disappear from that person’s memory as quickly as they were read.
Comments in more than 3 words are more likely acknowledged in the algorithm, which we are going to regard as an added bonus because there are so many other benefits to engaging more authentically with your audience than simply how you perform in the algorithm, although a little nudge from Mr. Zuckerberg here and there definitely doesn’t hurt.
Another simple way to take the extra step when leaving comment reply or message is to acknowledge the follower by name. If the follower’s name is not immediately visible, you can simply tap on their handle, go to their profile and look for their name in their bio, on their website, or even scroll and try to locate it in an introduction post. Taking an extra 30 seconds to find your follower’s name to be able to address them properly, is such a friendly gesture. And again – I hope you’re sensing a theme here – sometimes it’s these kinds of small and simple gestures that can leave a lasting impact.
There are so many other “extra steps” you can give them a follow back and let them know you’re a new fan of their growing business. You can give them a compliment. You can head to their profile and leave a thoughtful comment on one of their photos. You can send them a link to a blog post or resource they might enjoy and say, “here’s something I thought you might like!”
So, right now you might be thinking that taking these extra steps and going out of your way for one follower is not a good use of your time. And if that’s the case, I’d challenge you to think about why you believe it’s a waste of time. Where does that belief come from? Do you truly believe that or is it possible that you might have been trained to think this way – either through other businesses you’ve worked for, or just being brought up in a fast-paced culture where time is money and the only actions worth your time are ones that directly lead to results. But as someone who has taken the unbeaten path of taking the time to nurture relationships slowly over time, and seen beautiful results come from it, I have to respectfully disagree. And if you’re up for it, I encourage you to try thinking a little less about your business when engaging in a social media environment, and thinking more about your individual followers, and how you can serve them well and make sure each interaction leaves a positive mark. And if you are someone who needs financial motivation, think about it this way. Every new follower, and especially those who show interest by engaging with you on social media, is a potential future customer. And your paying customers are the people who pay for the bed you sleep in and the roof over your head. So if they are not the most deserving of your time and attention, I don’t know what else is.
So, to wrap up all that I’ve shared with you in today’s episode, if you’d like to try taking a page out of my own personal handbook for engaging on social media, remember these 5 tips that I’ve shared with you. And if you would like an easy way to remember these, they actually spell out the word SHARE.
- Start by Showing up as you are
- Be Hospitable
- Acknowledge each of your followers
- Relate to your followers by putting yourself in their shoes in deciding how you respond and what you share. And finally…
- Take the Extra step to make your comments and messages more personal and more meaningful (like leaving more than a 3 word comment, addressing your follower by name, or any other way you can think of to be more sincere in your approach.
By tapping into that human desire for connection, you can meet your ideal customers where they’re at and provide value to them that will leave a powerful, positive impression… and spread a little kindness in the process which – this world can always use a little more of that.
So, if you’re listening to this I dare you to surprise someone in your audience today by just being a real person. Just try it out and I promise you, the reward will be returned 10 fold in your business.