Best Practices for Social Media: An Engagement-first Approach

Best practices for social media by Stacey Trock

This content was initially produced as a webinar with Stacey Trock, who does email and social media marketing for our clients. You watch a recording of the full webinar and download the presentation slides (pdf). Keep reading for the best hits from the presentation, followed by a summary of questions and answers from the recording.


An Engagement-First Approach to Social Media

As a business owner, it’s typical to obsess over your numbers of social media followers. The more followers, the better your account is doing, right? Not necessarily.

Identify your business’s social media goals. If you’re like many business owners, your goals are something like:

  • Have the largest possible reach for your posts
  • Grow a passionate customer base who are excited about your products
  • Have great conversion rates (=make lots of sales)

Those goals are all about engagement, not follower numbers.

Engagement matters above all else. Of course, this philosophy has knock-on effects: will your audience shower their love on blurry photos or captions that they aren’t interested in? No. But don’t mistake the prerequisite of quality photos with the end-goal of having quality photos.

Algorithm 101

While the exact inner-workings of the algorithms determining which posts appear in our newsfeeds are top-secret, the basic principle isn’t. Sponsored posts aside, social media algorithms are designed to show a user the content best suited for them. How does the algorithm judge which content a user will like best? Engagement. Clicks, time spent viewing an image, comments and shares are the only insight into a user’s preference the social media networks have.

Here’s how it works: when you publish a post, the algorithm initially shows it to the most engaged members of your audience, your hard-core fans. If that small, usually very engaged, group doesn’t connect with the post (no comments and not many likes, for example), the algorithm logically assumes that the content must not be very interesting and it will not be shown to any more users. If the hard-core group does appear to like the content, then the algorithm shows the content to a larger sub-section of your audience. And this process repeats. If each subsequently larger audience segment gives the post likes, shares and comments, the post continues to be shown more broadly, eventually being featured in recommendations and possibly ‘going viral’.

See how important audience engagement is? It’s why a smaller, engaging account can regularly reach a much larger audience than a stale account with significantly more followers. It doesn’t matter how amazing your content is or how clever your captions. No engagement = no growth.

Modern Tally social media template design for handbag and accessories designer

Social media templates by Jess Levitz for Modern Tally


Best Practices for Managing an Account with Engagement at its Core

Picture a lovely brick and mortar shop that sells carefully-curated, finely-crafted goods. Perhaps it’s your own business. What happens when a customer walks in? In a typical exchange, a staff member would extend a warm welcome, ask if the customer’s in need of assistance, and would happily answer any questions with authority and sincerity.

As a business owner with an online presence, your goal is to make your digital customers feel as welcome shopping with you as they would if they entered your physical shop. This necessitates you telling the story of products that they can’t feel, answering questions in a timely fashion, and publishing content that crafts trust in your brand.

Let’s cover some best practices.

Tell your story

You are immersed in your business day in and out and have been for years. You know the benefits of your products and perhaps you even wrote a blog post about it a few years ago. But would a new follower see this messaging?

Few businesses have the problem of not having enough content. Instead, the issue is either that they don’t think their content is worth sharing or the owner is so entrenched in the business that they take all of those interesting distinguishing characteristics about the business for granted.

It is crucial that you share juicy, informative content with your audience. There is a list of content questions to get you started in the presentation. Think about that customer who is new to your shop. What would you like to tell them about what makes your product special? What can you share that helps them be more informed? What stories can you tell that helps a potential customer get to know what your company is about?

Engagement begins with interesting content that sparks a connection with your audience.

Provide personal customer service

If a person walked into your shop and asked for information about a product, you’d answer them. The idea of ignoring someone directly in front of you is nearly unthinkable. It’s basic customer service.

Why then, do so many businesses leave a question in the comment of a social media post unanswered? Or let a direct message languish for a week? It leaves the same rejected taste in a prospective customer’s mouth.

Treat digital customers as you would physical ones. Check your social media accounts daily, the same as you would email or phone messages. Reply to direct messages. Leave a like or a kind reply on a post in which you’re tagged. Reply to questions that are left in comments. In an increasingly digital environment, it’s basic customer service.

Engage with your digital community

Are you in the habit of using your account as a product catalog? Posting regularly, but taking little action to engage with your digital community. Social media is designed to be… social. So get out there and start interacting!

On a regular basis, you should be liking/commenting on accounts in your feed, searching for new accounts to follow, and leaving comments on posts that connect with you. Social Media folklore says that you’ll gain one new follower for every 3 comments you leave on other accounts or for every 5 likes you hand out. Get out there and start engaging.

Introduce yourself

Seek out accounts that you aspire to connect with. Magazines you’d love to feature your shop. Influencers you’d be delighted to work with. Designers you’d be over the moon to collaborate with. Follow them. Get to know them. Like their posts, comment when you feel inspired.

It’s the digital equivalent of a cocktail hour. Make the first move and get to know a few people.

Soaring Suds custom social media template for a handcrafted soap brand

Social media graphic templates by Ann Parker for Soaring Suds Soap Co


Use hashtags to your advantage

Hashtags are the card catalog of the social media world. With nothing but a sea of images and links, a hashtag allows you to quickly identify and access similar content.

Using relevant hashtags on your posts allows users to find your post. Aim to use hashtags that are informative, used by your audience (not just other businesses), and are representative of the content and vibe you put out. Ideal hashtags don’t have too many posts or too few so that your post will be visible and also have a chance of becoming a top post.

If you haven’t guessed by now, a crucial component of success is using hashtags as a consumer of content, as well. Browse the hashtags that you are using. Follow new accounts. Like posts that are in your business’s sphere. Comment, like a friendly neighbor saying ‘hi’.

Harness customer-generated content

If you have an engaged customer base, customer-generated content is a win-win. Not only can you repost customer content as content on your own feed, demonstrating social proof of a love for your products, you will also connect with your customer when you share, implicitly or explicitly acknowledging you’re delighted they’re a fan. Most customers love a personal connection to a favorite brand.

You should be regularly browsing posts in which you are tagged, posts that use the hashtag with your business name, and the location of your physical shop (if you have one). Ask permission, and then repost, giving full attribution to the original content. Apps like Repost make sharing a breeze, and Instagram natively has the ability to share another post to your stories.

Create a daily schedule

Each of the aforementioned best practices should be part of your daily schedule. Done well, social media isn’t a task left for ‘when you have time’, it’s a crucial pillar of your marketing strategy. Set the time aside to reply to questions, engage, search, and connect, the same way you set time aside to answer emails or take inventory.

Try it out, and see your reach and conversions increase as your engagement does! By implementing these best practices, you’ll find that strategic social media implementation doesn’t need to consume a lot of time, and yields results that produce dividends.


Hire Aeolidia For Social Media Help

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1302 instagram grid design for a leather watch company

Social media graphics templates by Mike Dornseif for 1302 Watch Co


Questions and Answers

Below are the (abbreviated) answers from our live webinar.

I traditionally make dog accessories and bedding. I’ve jumped into the fabric mask making world. What’s the best way to translate these new “mask customers”?

If, for example, making masks is a temporary tangent during the coronavirus epidemic, it’s perfectly fine to include your mask-making in your business’s social media channels, as it’s a logical step for a sewing-based-business to partake in the mask effort. You should feel free to include your social media handles for your business in your mask packages, and if some of those customers are dog-lovers, they will naturally follow your content.

If you plan to start a new long-term business making masks, this would be the time to create a new identity and social media channels. However, it doesn’t sound like this is your path.

Could you please speak to the best ways to avoid action bans when performing a lot of outreach/engagement?

An ‘action ban’ occurs when the social media network (often Instagram) believes you are participating in spammy behavior. It is a safeguard meant to protect users against spammers and bots, but sometimes mistakenly blocks legitimate activity.

The limits depend on your account type and age of the account, but basically, you will receive a (temporary) ban if you attempt to do too many actions too quickly. This applies to liking, following, commenting, messaging, and any other kind of action you can take. If you like too many posts in an hour, you’ll trigger a ban. Also, if you post too many very similar comments, you’ll receive a ban as well. These bans resolve themselves when the time limit expires.

It’s not difficult to trigger a ban during normal use. Many of us sit down for 15 minutes a day and ‘do our Instagramming’, which can lead to too many likes/comments at once. The best strategy is to attempt to space out your Instagram usage across the day and vary your comments as much as possible.

How do you search a hashtag?

On Instagram, go to search (the magnifying glass) and type in the hashtag. You can select ‘tags’ from the menu to restrict your search, but if you include the ‘#’ in your hashtag, the search will naturally include primarily hashtags.

Is posting on Instagram more than once a day a no-no?

This totally depends on your audience! For most businesses, it wouldn’t be an optimum use of resources. That is to say, you’d be burning through great content (such as professionally-shot images and copywritten captions) without seeing significant increases in engagement. However, if you have the content and you’re seeing an increase in engagement, then it sounds like a great strategy!

Go ahead and run a little experiment, tracking your stats, and let the numbers tell you what works best for your account.

Is it better to choose hashtags with fewer followers?

In determining the best hashtags to use, aim for ones with neither too many posts (in the millions) or too few (in the hundreds). The number of posts is an easier metric than the number of followers (as the number of posts is a number that is shown as you’re typing).

Selecting a hashtag with millions of posts means that your post will be buried in seconds and has little chance to become a top post. Selecting ones with very few uses mean that very few people are engaging with the hashtag, and will likely not yield many views.

Having a personal connection to my customers is super important of course, however, I really struggle with having a level of private life. How much of “behind the scenes” or personal content do you need to show?

Behind the scenes, content needn’t mean private. You should feel under no obligation to share your breakfast on your business social media! Some great ideas for behind-the-scenes content are pictures of:

  • supplies/incoming shipments (be aware of shipping addresses on boxes showing up in photos!)
  • the workspace
  • product prototypes or experiments (nothing proprietary, of course!)
  • day-to-day images of the factory/studio
  • employees
  • outgoing packages (such as the volume of boxes, spools of printing labels…)
  • a peek into an amazing order

Do you recommend boosting posts to drive people to your website?

The answer is purely data-driven. Track your engagement rates and conversions without boosting your posts, and then give it a try. Track your subsequent engagement and conversions and compare whether the increase was worth the amount you spent boosting!

For the most part, our products are used by professionals but we have a product line that is ideal for art projects and homeschooling…how do we message this?

This is a great question that speaks to asking who the audience of your social media is. If you connect with your wholesale customers in trade shows, perhaps your social media accounts are only targeted at consumers.

If you have two very different lines of products, you might consider developing two different social media accounts.

You are correct to observe that if you have an account that mainly targets professionals, you will gain very little traction on the 10% of posts aimed at the home school/children’s market.

Can you speak to using different platforms together to get more engagement, for instance coordinating blog posts and social media posts? Is that useful?

Yes! Do it.

Social media is ephemeral. You’ll see traffic that day, and in the long-term, you’ll acquire followers, but the content of that post doesn’t stick around for long. A blog post on your website will show up in search engines for years to come.

If you have great ‘evergreen’ (that is, good all-year-’round) content, put it in a blog post for maximum results. Conversely, if you’re putting great content on your website, break it down into smaller chunks and get multiple social media posts out of it.

The exact timing isn’t particularly important, but as a matter of practicality, it’s easiest to put those messages out while they’re freshly published so it doesn’t fall off of your to-do list.

If you start paying for boosted posts then stop, does the algorithm punish you, by not showing your posts to as many people?

Oh, if only we could see into the algorithm black box. We just don’t know.