Most brand promoters on the manufacturing side now have at least a basic understanding of the power of social. So, they’ve started Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and YouTube channels – and many have gathered tons of fans and followers. But what good are one million fans on Facebook if they aren’t interacting with your brand or each other?

Think of it this way – if you set out a bowl for business cards at an event and get 50 cards, but none of the leads will call you back, was the bowl really a success? Earning a like on Facebook or a new follower on Twitter is like getting a business card. If they don’t engage further, what have you really gained?

Sound familiar? Here’s a short list of practices to start engaging your following, to move past counting “likes” and cultivate real relationships.

1. Get ‘em talking!

To each other, and with your brand – it’s a conversation, not a monologue. Listen to what your fans have to say, and be sure to respond. Many brands realize their best customers are buried somewhere in the audience. To find them, you have to get them talking. Start by providing a place for people on your site and Facebook pages to:

  • Talk about your products. People want to talk about what they like, what they don’t like, what they’d like to see next, etc. In addition to putting the customer at the heart of your business, giving them a platform in which to engage will allow you to glean valuable insights, as well.
  • Share ideas. “Why didn’t we think of that?!” Engaged consumers can drive serious product innovation.
  • Ask questions. People want to buy your stuff. They just have questions! Answer them and watch sales increase and returns decrease. Answer them on participating retail sites where hundreds or even thousands with the same question will benefit from a single effort on your part, and watch margins increase even more!
  • Swap best practices, tell stories, share recipes, etc. Boost this type of engagement by creating interesting, fun, relevant, and valuable content for them to talk about. The key is to keep it focused on your target consumer’s interests. People love to talk about shared experiences, share their own personal stories, and connect with like-minded people in connection to the brands they love.

2. Recognize your brand advocates.

Once you’ve got engaged advocates singing your praises, acknowledge them and get to know them to deepen that relationship. Their words recruit new customers on your behalf.

  • Thank them for their patronage. Manufacturers are often very disconnected from their end users. It doesn’t have to be this way! Not anymore. Find ways to get their names in your database and make sure they know you appreciate their trust in your company and your brand. A simple, personal thank you will go a long way in creating a loyal customer who will influence the purchases of future customers.
  • Make them feel special (because they are!). Give them information not yet available to the larger audience, solicit their opinion on an upcoming product idea, or perhaps even have them test it before it goes to market. Make them an insider to show them how important they are.

3. Analyze the data and use it to improve your business.

Engaged consumer advocates provide a gold-mine of valuable information that can improve every aspect of business, from R&D to marketing and sales to customer service.

Invest in people and technology to uncover trends. Trends in what your social followers and people talking about you say reveal exactly where your brand excels, and where there are opportunities to improve. Emphasize the best parts of your brand in marketing. Spread opportunities for improvement across the company to improve every area of your business. There has never been an opportunity for manufacturers to get this close to their end users and learn so much from them.

In today’s ever-changing digital landscape, the social revolution is a game changer. Study after study shows that brand promoters who facilitate and participate in engaging end consumers glean more than just SEO benefits; they can now take a bigger part in creating loyal brand advocates who, through word of mouth, create more advocates.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Ian, it’s the tip of the iceberg to be honest. From contact with people connected to Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali to everyday artists. Last year I was helping with an exhibition in Naples where a family collecting artwork globally to sell to raise funds for research into a terminal disease that their young son has. I met them on facebook then in real life and so many other artists some of who knew a street artist from NYC who had become like a brother to me in the earlier 1990′s. Small world but not really as we have always had the opportunity to talk to each other.

    All i would suggest is using what’s relevant and effective and entwining that into everyday life. Not making it either or technology or real time. It’s just there and ready to be used sensibly and as a risk jumping in is better than standing watching.

    My greatest conection was with someone in NYC who became a second father to me and a grandfather to my children. A total inspiration, yet just doing what people do talk listen and talk and more of the same. Good luck with the book.

  • http://TheSocialSideDoor.com/ Ian Greenleigh

    That’s a really cool story, Mark. I’m actually writing about this kind of effect in my book about social media, influence and access. The chapter I’m working on is about the capacity of social to build meaningful, “real-world” relationships. So many great relationships started on the fringes of technology–IRC, newsgroups, etc. Early adopters have a special bond, but technology’s capacity to connect is powerful no matter one enters on the adoption curve.

  • Anonymous

    Something that will grow naturally as will the relationships involved, i knwo becasue I have been involved in exact similar networking since 1982. When involved in the creative network ‘mail art’ basically same thing just through the post not internet. I knew 1000′s of people but didn’t tak to them all, but did get information to them through other people. Met many, exhibited globally and wrote incessantly to a core. All the time sharing what we cared about and passing that on into wider networks. Some of those people i am still connected to and talking to and still to meet but elarned so much from teh relationships along the way.

  • http://TheSocialSideDoor.com/ Ian Greenleigh

    Yep! You’ll frequently hear us say that word of mouth has always existed (hence our name Bazaarvoice, “the voice of the marketplace”), but for the first time in history, it is being digitally archived and truly actionable. I think one change, however, is that people are sharing things (and trusting content) from total strangers with shared interests / use cases, too.

  • Anonymous

    Whether 1 or 1 million it’s the same as ever people talk and share things with their friends who they trust and respect. So in business be friendly as friends are the best thing to have for those reasons alone, and logically for all the reasons above they can be active on your behalf becasue they believe you.