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THOUGHT LEADERSHIP

How Can Businesses Boost Their Online Engagement?

For a business to be successful, no matter the size, interacting with customers and encouraging them to engage with you should be a daily occurrence. It’s common knowledge that a person’s attitudes and behavior effect their buying choices, which is why conversations are so important. However, consumer habits and expectations evolve every day, and online marketing engagement strategies need to keep pace and continue to transform along with them.

With so many new apps and digital platforms, everything is now connected. This means that, beyond buying and selling, consumers expect a personal relationship with brands that offers value to them, and they expect this relationship to happen across many different touch points. Brands can no longer disseminate information about a product or service with the hopes that the right audience will resonate and make the conversion to a customer. The Engagement Economy shows that there needs to be an exchange of ideas taking place, and the consumer is more involved than ever in dictating what a brand represents.

Engagement is a win-win for both the consumer and marketer. On the consumer side, successful engagement means there will be an improved customer experience that is more individually tailored. Consumers receive benefits like discounts, promotions and better service and support. In exchange, the marketers get more data and information about how they should innovate, and engagement builds trust necessary for brand loyalty.

The following information provides a global snapshot of some of the things consumers are saying about engagement:

Understanding your consumers and personalizing your messaging are pivotal to maintaining successful customer engagement. Unfortunately, engagement becomes more challenging when brands offer too much irrelevant content, boring content that only focuses on products and services, and ask for personal information before a consumer is ready to give it to them.

With these tips in mind, it’ll be easier to lay the foundation on some of the most-used channels for customer engagement, including social media, web and email. Because each channel provides a different experience for consumers, you’ll need separate strategies in order to effectively boost your customer engagement, rather than looking at engagement as the same concept across the board.

 

Social Media

In January 2017, there were more than 2.7 billion social media users worldwide, and the numbers have continued to rise. With so many users and now many different platforms, it can be overwhelming to know how to engage.

When most people think of engagement, they’re thinking of a conversation. While this doesn’t encompass every platform, it is how we engage through social media marketing. Successful customer engagement through this channel will offer an open line of communication with your customers that establishes a long-term relationship. Through social media, you’re not only able to disseminate relevant information, but you can go above and beyond your products and services to show your followers the “personality” behind your brand, what your brand is interested in, and how you fit into the world around your customers.

A social media engagement strategy should include:

  • A different style of communication for each platform
  • A process for listening and answering your customers
  • The opportunity to build partnerships with influencers and brand enthusiasts

To start, look at overall trends showing how users generally interact on each platform. For instance, Twitter and Facebook tend to be used more for customer complaints, while Instagram and Snapchat are great platforms for brands to build awareness. Pair this information with your own data about who is engaging with the platforms you’re using, and start your social strategy there. Different audiences may be on different platforms, and they’ll also be communicating differently.

Social media is the channel where you’re able to have two-way communication in the timeliest manner. Use your platform with the most social engagement as a listening tool, and you’ll be surprised at how much information your potential or current customers are willing to offer you. Likes, dislikes, retweets and favorites all lend insight into what your customers appreciate, and even negative comments will show you the type of people you should focus on winning over. Try to experiment with asking questions, answering comments and testing different links to see what people are clicking on.

Another great way to leverage social media is by partnering with influencers. You may think that celebrities and public figures are the only types of influencers, but small businesses are more likely to connect with micro-influencers and people who are making an impact locally. Partnering with influencers allows you to think outside of the box, or beyond your own social platforms, in order to gain credibility and higher customer engagement. You can also include your own customers who are brand enthusiasts. People who are already invested in your brand will help spread your messages farther, and user-generated content always lends more credibility to audiences you haven’t converted yet.

As with other channels you’re using, your social content needs to be easy to understand and reliable. Once you’ve been established as a credible brand in a consumer’s mind, they’ll be expecting relevant information and knowledge that only you can provide them. Furthermore, always keep your visuals and content clear and concise, and make it obvious which landing pages you’re linking to inside of your posts.

A general recipe for social media engagement includes creative, reliable content and timely, two-way conversation with your audience.

 

Web

Business websites are the second-highest channel used to initiate user engagement behind email, but websites are where consumers go the most to learn about products or services. Even if you’ve laid out helpful, informative information, if your customers aren’t engaging or taking any action on your website, it may be time to go back to the drawing board.

With websites, engaging means continual testing and an ongoing process of experimentation that allows you to understand what users want and provide it for them. This should go hand-in-hand with an optimized user experience. To implement these inside an engagement strategy, your steps should include:

  • Content optimization
  • Simplifying your design
  • Intuitive calls-to-action
  • Testing and experimentation

This may sound like a given, but your content needs to be easy to read. Clean and unambiguous titles and headers need to successfully point your audience toward what they’re looking for. Furthermore, your customers will undoubtedly run away from careless spelling and grammar errors. Mistakes like that will make you look unprofessional and reduce your credibility, but luckily they’re easy to fix. In addition, you’ll also want to make sure all of your content is utilizing consistent SEO tactics. There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to SEO (Search Engine Optimization), but to start you can focus on using keywords that relate to your brand and adding your location throughout your site pages.

When it comes to design, keep your website clean and easy to navigate. When it’s easier for users to find what they’re looking for, they’re more likely to spend time on your website and take action or engage with you. You’ll also want to make sure your site is built properly to ensure fast loading times. Big images and too much animation can not only be distracting, but they’ll also slow down your pages. Remember that convenience is key, and if a customer isn’t getting that from you, they’re bound to turn elsewhere. Within your website design, it’s also a must to check for mobile optimization. In 2016, mobile web browsing overtook desktop browsing at 51.3% versus 48.7%. This trend is bound to continue expanding, and customers won’t engage if it’s physically impossible for them to do so on their mobile devices. A mobile-friendly website will also be a huge plus for your SEO since Google favors sites that are mobile friendly.

To interact with your site visitors, test different types of forms or calls-to-action. Pop-ups don’t have to take up the entire page, and they also don’t have to ask for personal information. A pop-up that slides in from the bottom could show your users some of your most important, timely business information, and as they continue to explore your site, they may be more likely to complete an email opt-in form or call-to-action at the bottom of a post they’re reading. Internal linking is also likely to extend the amount of time a visitor stays on your page and engages, and it’s very helpful for a consumer to find information.

A user-friendly and informative site is the starting point to engage your customers, but your strategy isn’t complete without a process for testing and experimentation. Don’t walk away from your website after you’ve set it up and developed your content. Instead, marketers should continue to return and check your analytics so you can see what your consumers are interested in or ignoring throughout the content marketing pipeline. Your process should start with a hypothesis based on the analytics you already have. Perhaps a certain page you have is yielding a very high bounce rate. From there, you can develop a list of simple optimizations that might boost engagement on that page, such as headline copy or different images, and perform some A/B tests with these optimizations. Review your tests after they’ve had enough time to run, and implement the winning elements.

A successful user experience will start with copy and design and continue throughout testing and experimentation. Keep in mind that everything on your site should also show consistency across the remainder of your marketing efforts, including social media and email.

 

Email

Even though email has been around for about four decades, it’s still king when it comes to touch points with consumers. Regardless of whether you’re B2B or B2C, email marketing is used 79% of the time to initiate engagement, and it’s the second-most used channel for consumers to learn about products and services (right behind websites).

With email, customer engagement means continuing the conversation that you may have started through social media or your website. Here, you’re able to deliver the tangible benefits that consumers get to enjoy when they choose a relationship with you, such as personalized birthday coupons, deals and news. To do this successfully, you’ll need an airtight strategy that includes

  • Knowing when and how to ask for information
  • Optimizing your content and design
  • Using segmentation to personalize emails for customers

With an email strategy, it’s important to start slow and work up to a segmented, personalized process. As mentioned earlier, one of the reasons consumers choose not to engage is when they’re asked for personal information far too early, when they aren’t ready yet. Think of a friend inviting themselves over all the time when you’ve only just met them. It’s pretty annoying, and it feels similar to a business that thinks it can bombard your inbox right off the bat. Start by only asking for the information you need. For new subscribers, this could mean providing a simple list with the types of emails you offer and allowing them to check which ones they want to receive. Now you know exactly what information they’re looking for, and they know they can trust you to send what you’ve agreed on. The boundaries have been set for a successful relationship. As you continue sending emails, you can include new questions or calls to action, although you shouldn’t ever include more than one or two. When people are faced with too many choices, they’re more likely to make no choice at all.

When it comes to content, your emails should be helpful, valuable or informative. Always remember that it’s a privilege to be let inside someone’s inbox, and you shouldn’t abuse that opportunity. Here’s where you can also test different types of content, and see what your audience likes to receive. In general, videos and GIFs tend to skyrocket customer engagement, but it’s also nice to switch it up every now and then so your audience doesn’t get bored with what you’re sending.

Email design is equally as important as the content. About 80% of people only scan their emails, and they’re not reading them all the way through. This means your important information needs to stand out, and a very text-heavy email isn’t going to be useful for many people. Keep in mind that more people than every are reading emails and conducting daily business through their phones, and 75% of people are likely to delete an email if it’s hard to read on mobile. This means you need to ensure all of your emails are designed for mobile as well as desktop.

Once you have a big enough audience subscribed to your emails, personalization is key. All of the data you’ve collected through forms or calls to action can lead to different campaigns segmented by location, interests and experiences. A perfect opportunity for businesses with ecommerce sites is the “Abandoned Shopping Cart” email. These users have already given you all the information you need: their name and email and what they’re interested in purchasing from you. Perhaps they didn’t complete a purchase because of a last-minute decision about the price. This is your opportunity to entice them back to the sale by emailing a coupon or similar item with a better deal. You can also personalize further through images, copy and type of content. When you treat every subscriber the same, consumers don’t feel like they’re understood or cared for, and engagement plummets.

 

Tie It All Together

Understanding today’s interconnectivity and strengthening your strategies for consumers’ most-used touch-points is a good place to start boosting your online engagement. However, don’t forget how fast-paced the marketing world is and how quickly you’ll need to innovate in order to meet consumer demand through your marketing campaigns.

As you continue to develop your digital marketing strategy, be sure you’re always providing a consistent customer experience across all channels and using technology to its full potential. Learn how to anticipate your consumers’ next moves and deliver to them through a thoughtful, personable relationship.

Above all, marketers should learn their tools well, strategize accordingly, and always listen to their consumers.

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