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5 tips to successfully engage people on social media

Successfully using social media isn't just about getting the tools and technology or crafting a clever marketing message. It's understanding social behavior in a virtual environment.
Written Feb 27, 2011, read 5731 times since then.


Social media is a social virtual forum where people interact with each other through technology in order to network, research information, learn more about each other, and otherwise stay connected to each other. The key to understanding social media is to first accept that the medium is not the actual message. In other words, technology is just the medium by which we communicate when using social media. For many people, this realization is hard, in part because there is such a steep learning associated with learning the technology for them. But learning the technology shouldn't automatically be associated with understanding social media. It's true that learning the technology can help you use social media, but understanding what social media really is involves more than knowing how to write a status update and push a button to post it. The following tips are ones that you can use to not only help you use social media successfully, but also begin to understand the medium and how it can be used to develop real connections, for business and life in general.


Tip 1: You are always communicating with someone on social media, even if you don't think you are. This probably seems like an obvious statement to make, but I'm offer surprised at how few people really seem to get it. From my observations, people tend to use social media as an advertising platform first and foremost, and they don't make an effort to connect with other people in a meaningful manner. What is a meaningful manner? It involves getting to know people, having conversations with them and building rapport. Business doesn't happen without social context being established for why it should happen and this applies as much to social media as it does in any other kind of medium. When we don't consider that point in our social media interactions, what we are telling our audience is that all we really want is their money. We are always communicating with someone on social media and the goal of our communication is as important as the content produced to convey our message. Recognizing that you have an audience is the first step to really getting social media and using it effectively.


Tip 2: How you communicate matters, especially if you want people to do something. When I get generic invitations from people on sites such as Linkedin or Biznik, it tells me that those people haven't really considered what they want connect with me about or how they plan to actually get to know me. Not surprisingly many of them don't follow up with me in a meaningful way, when I ask them why they want to connect. I don't want to be a number on someone's Linkedin or Twitter account and I doubt most people want to just be numbers either, but I suspect that most people don't really think about how they will actually try to build a relationship with someone they connect to. This is important, because if you want to do business with someone, building a relationship is essential for that to occur. Just connecting to someone on a social network doesn't do much, if you don't do anything to try and build the relationship.


Tip 3: People want to be important and so do you. Alyssa Milano gets social media. She's a celebrity, but she knows how to make everyone who follows her Twitter account feel like they know her and are important to her. She replies to people who comment on her announcements. And so should you. On Facebook, the businesses that do a business page well are interacting with their commenters frequently. They make an effort to establish a relationship and reciprocate when people comment on an update. That's what you need to do, in order to really make social media work for you. People want to be important...what are you doing to make sure they feel important to you.


Tip 4: What you say has consequences. This probably seems like an obvious tip, but I see news stories that talk about so and so saying something on Facebook or Twitter that upsets somebody else. What you write or say on social media will always have potential consequences and while you can delete what you've written it doesn't negate the archived versions of what was written. I believe you should never post something on any social media site that you wouldn't be comfortable sharing with someone you met off the street. That's my standard for determining what I'll post in a public forum. Your standard might vary, and that's fine, as long as you can handle the consequences and responsibility that can occur if people decide to make a stink about what you said or wrote.


Tip 5: Stay consistent in posting to your social networks, if you don't want to drop off the grid. With social media, it's all about being consistent and appearing enough that people recognize your name and what you do. On the other hand, you don't want to post so often that take up lots of bandwidth. I've noticed some social media experts who spend all day posting on Twitter, or have someone do it for them. It's their choice, but I'll admit I don't follow them because it takes up too much bandwidth and I'd rather read tweets from a diversity of people than just read the same person again and again. Also when posting, make sure you have more content then just words and a link. Make an effort to write without directing a person to a website. Show people you actually want to interact on the different social media sites and then make an effort to do so.


Social media is more than technology or a marketing platform. It's a social environment, with its own etiquette and rules. If people don't recognize that, they will eventually fail at social media, because it's not enough to just be on social media if you won't actually engage and interact with people on it.

Learn more about the author, Taylor Ellwood.

Comment on this article

  • Marketing Assistant/Social Media Coordinator 
Gastonia, North Carolina 
Annastacia Tooke
    Posted by Annastacia Tooke, Gastonia, North Carolina | Feb 27, 2011

    Excellent article. I see businesses using Facebook in the totally wrong context all the time. It is why I started my business. I love interacting with people online in a way that engages them and they want to come back to see what is new. Plus the more interactions you have on Facebook, at least, the higher ranking you are. Which can only lead to more business.

  • Holistic Business Coach 
Portland, Oregon 
Taylor Ellwood
    Posted by Taylor Ellwood, Portland, Oregon | Feb 27, 2011

    Hi Annastacia,

    Thanks for commenting. I've noticed the same issues, which is why I focus on social media behavior and manners so much. I want businesses to understand that they aren't in a technology environment...they are just using it as the medium to communicate in a social environment.

  • Professional Voice Over Talent 
Smithtown, New York 
Susie Schwarz
    Posted by Susie Schwarz, Smithtown, New York | Feb 27, 2011


    First off, I really like your name. As a former English teacher, I always had, and still do, an interest in my students' names. And yours is one I haven't heard in a long time. Is there any family history to it?

    Okay, back to your piece. While I am not new to social media, I still appreciate an etiquette review and feel to a certain extent that is what you wrote about.

    Another case in point, as a voice over talent many of the casting sites that I host my profile on will "tag" other talents' voices. In other words, the voice over community takes the time to provide feedback on recordings and demos. I absolutely love that the voice over community is such a supportive group even though we are indirectly competing against each other.

    Thank you for sharing and reminding.

    Most sincerely, Susie Schwarz TalkonSusie

  • Holistic Business Coach 
Portland, Oregon 
Taylor Ellwood
    Posted by Taylor Ellwood, Portland, Oregon | Feb 27, 2011

    Hi Susie,

    Thanks for commenting. You are right about how virtual communities can be supportive environments. I think of Biznik in the same way.


  • Marketing Assistant/Social Media Coordinator 
Gastonia, North Carolina 
Annastacia Tooke
    Posted by Annastacia Tooke, Gastonia, North Carolina | Feb 27, 2011

    Thank You Susie. My name, really? My mom wanted to be able to use Staci (with an I). The name is from my great great grandmother, although her name was probably Anastasia as my family on that side is Italian. It is hard when your parents name you and you can't go back and fix the spelling of a name.

  • Owner/Social Media Marketing  
Nashville, Tennessee 
Scarlet  Paolicchi
    Posted by Scarlet Paolicchi, Nashville, Tennessee | Mar 03, 2011

    Good article. so many people think all they need to do is sign up for twitter and facebook and just await the flood of customers but you really have to be consistent as you mentioned, if you want to be a large base and create an interest in your biz.

  • Research, Marketing, Consulting 
Seattle, Washington 
Kim Yale, CPC
    Posted by Kim Yale, CPC, Seattle, Washington | Mar 03, 2011

    Great insights, Annastacia. Building relationships is so important, especially when there is less and less "face time." Creating and sustaining meaningful connections is a key part of fulfillment and success - in both our personal and business lives.

  • Time Liberation Agent 
Clackamas, Oregon 
Susan Lannis
    Posted by Susan Lannis, Clackamas, Oregon | Mar 03, 2011

    Nice info Taylor! I especially like the reminder that people are listening whether we know it or not. For me, it seems like an uphill batttle of posting with few or no responses that make me feel like I am just dumping into space rather than connecting. I guess the missing piece is that I may be connecting but not yet engaging.

  • Small Business Internet Marketing Consultant 
Nampa, Idaho 
Aaron Baldassare
    Posted by Aaron Baldassare, Nampa, Idaho | Mar 03, 2011

    "I want businesses to understand that they aren't in a technology environment...they are just using it as the medium to communicate in a social environment."

    You said exactly what I want to say to businesses so succinctly. Thank you for the clear thinking.

  • Holistic Business Coach 
Portland, Oregon 
Taylor Ellwood
    Posted by Taylor Ellwood, Portland, Oregon | Mar 04, 2011

    Hi Scarlet,

    It's about consistency and personality. People want to be important and respected if they make the effort to contact or comment. Businesses need to remember that.

    Hi Kim,

    It's all about building relationships. Businesses are built on relationships and the trust that results.

    Hi Susan,

    There's definitely a fine line between connecting and engaging. Successful engagement creates more conversation.

    Hi Aaron,

    Thank you! I've spent a lot of time thinking about these issues.

  • WordPress websites and Marketing 
Parker, Colorado 
Veronica Cannady
    Posted by Veronica Cannady, Parker, Colorado | Mar 09, 2011

    My favorite tip is #2, differentiating between a generic invite and one with a message and interest on how to cultivate a symbiotic relationship.

  • Holistic Business Coach 
Portland, Oregon 
Taylor Ellwood
    Posted by Taylor Ellwood, Portland, Oregon | Mar 10, 2011

    Hi Veronica,

    Glad you liked #2. It's actually one I think can't be said enough...we need social context to establish why people will connect.