It’s a trap that many of us have probably slipped into at least once. You’re behind schedule, with lots of work to do this week, and so you just dash out a few tweets, and consider your ‘customer engagement’ box ticked for the week. And then next week is difficult too, and the same thing happens. Before you know it, you’ve spent a month or several doing that. Your customers may well be feeling quite unimpressed by someone who just talks at them, without bothering to listen to what they’re saying in reply. But you still think you’ve ticked all the right boxes. It’s time to think again.

The broadcasting trap

We all know ‘broadcasters’: people who only engage you in conversation in order to tell you about their lives. They don’t want to listen to you at all. When you do speak, you can see them glazing over as they decide what they’re going to say next. It’s unpleasant, and you soon find yourself avoiding them.

Well, here’s the bad news.

Your emergency-response time-poor Twitter strategy just turned you into an online version of one of these people. Next, your customers are going to start avoiding you like you do your broadcaster acquaintance.

You’re not alone, though. A report from Brandwatch on how brands used Twitter  found that a quarter of them only used Twitter for broadcasting. That’s 25% of brands who aren’t listening to their customers, but just pushing out information regardless of the response. They are also pushing out a lot of information: the top 10 most followed brands on Twitter tweet every six to ten minutes, although none of them were among the most engaged brands.

However, it’s almost as important not to fall into the opposite trap: only engaging and never providing any information. Think of this as the person who is so careful about releasing any personal information that all they ever do is make small talk. You never find out anything about them at any deeper level, not even where their expertise lies. B2B marketers have to find a balance between these two extremes. You have to generate trust by building a relationship before your useful content will be valued by your customers.

Some practical ideas

If you’re worrying about how you’ll be able to do this, then relax. Just try joining in with some conversations. Daniel Tay from ReferralCandy has some ideas for how you can make sure that you’re engaging customers. The overall message is very simple: ‘stop plugging and start having conversations’. Five tips to get you going on engaging your customers.

  1. Make small talk – Just like in a real conversation, comment on people’s pictures, ask questions, show curiosity, and above all, be natural.
  2. Be aware of the context, especially the time of day – It’s not very engaging to tweet ‘Good morning everyone, what a lovely day’ if most of your followers are just going to bed. Instead, be aware of your followers’ locations, and the times when most of them are active, and tweet appropriately. A tool like Tweriod can help with this.
  3. Offer an opinion – Many are afraid to offer an opinion in case it gets embarrassing for the company. But people have opinions. Human to human contact is what makes social media interesting, and also what engages customers. Share your opinions carefully, of course, and with forethought.
  4. Join in with the right conversations – You don’t always have to start conversations. You can join in with other people’s, especially when they’re discussing issues on which you have an opinion. The rule, though, is that you only join in when you can add value. Otherwise, stay quiet. That way, your contributions will be valued and sought.
  5. Stop talking about yourself all the time – Nobody wants to talk to someone who is self-obsessed. The same applies to social media. Talk about others, and interesting topics. Your expertise will shine through without you having to self-promote.

Two ears and one mouth

Of course there will be times when you need to provide information: you may want to share content, or publicise a link to a blog. The crucial issue is to find the right balance between broadcasting and engaging, and that’s something that only you can work out, based on your customers’ responses to your content and contributions. But you have two ears and one mouth, and so should spend twice as long listening as talking. The same rule applies on social media.

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