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Oh! Are we moving too fast? Let’s slow down then! Let’s get to know each other. Let’s have some good conversations first! The engagement will follow.

Before you get the wrong idea, this conversation is not about romance or online dating. It’s about building relationships in the arena of social media. It’s a conversation worth having particularly among nonprofits and organizations that work for the public good, but typically have lower advertising and social media resources compared to large companies and retail businesses who can can post visually stunning graphics and comedic one liners.

Entering into the social media domain can be daunting and intimidating. How does one stand up and get noticed? Amid the shortened urls, offers and enticements from experts, are real people eager to connect, share, teach and learn in a new way. The connections made can be authentic and enduring. Engaging with real people behind those social media accounts can offer your organization hidden benefits and exponential exposure.

Engagement, in social media terms, is the metric that matters! It is a big umbrella of a term. Broken down, engagement means having a potential audience to reach and impress, taking the time to read the content of others and offer a comment or reply, and passing along information via shares and retweets when it adds to the overall conversation.

In some social media circles the conversation is called push and pull. Pushing doesn’t mean pushy – it means talking about yourself, your organization, what you do, what’s coming up in your world, what is on sale, etc. For most of us, business or self-promotion is the reason we decide to jump into social media in the first place.The problem arises if that is all you do. If every communication is a sales pitch and every link is a promotion, you’ll soon wear out your welcome.

Balance your pushed content with “pulling” and you will see a greater overall engagement with your social media presence and brand.  I prefer the term “curiosity.” Be curious with those you encounter on social media.The best way to describe “pulling” is obtaining information by showing an interest in others. They talk, you listen. You respond. You start the conversation, but you don’t dominate it.

My father, a successful local contractor in the pre-Internet era, shared his secret for success. He didn’t just put ads in the Yellow Pages and letter his trucks. He learned to play golf. He donated to causes and attended social events. He was a natural at meeting new people. He shared with me, at the time, a shy, teenager beginning my own social life,  the importance of cultivating relationships outside of one’s particular sphere. Be curious about others he would tell me. Everyone likes to hear his or her name. Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Ask them questions, notice something different to comment about, be curious about them and the rest usually takes care of itself. He added, “You’ll walk away from a conversation, hardly having said a word, but they remember you favorably because you took an interest in them. You paid attention to them.”

He was right. And it works that way on social media. If you are slipping your toes into the social media seas for the first time, and don’t have a big budget or a lot of time to devote to it, you have to make what time you do have count. Here are some tips to enter the social conversations that will help gain your brand or organization respect and exposure.

  • Follow similar organizations. Follow partners, elected officials and reporters
  • Pay attention to the hashtags that are used for your industry and make note of any local hashtags. For instance, anyone who is an educator might follow #education or #educhat. In Delaware there is also #eduDE
  • Thank someone when they have shared good advice or an interesting story
  • Share or retweet that same interesting and helpful information
  • Recommend a page or social media account
  • Tag people, pages & accounts. Use their handles. Pay attention to how other accounts use this technique
  • Be authentic. Don’t gush if you don’t mean it. Be naturally responsive
  • Know the difference between .@handlename and @handlename when beginning a Tweet. Here’s an article explaining the difference.
  • Curate conversations. Think of yourself as a museum curator and all the posts and tweets are artists’ works. What works of art would you hang on your museum wall and share with others as being important, thoughtful and interesting? Use an aggregate platform like Storify, Tagboard or Rebel Mouse to present your choices to your audience.

Success on social media relies on many factors. Good content, deft social media managers, timing, understanding your audience and last but not least, being social on social media!