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Digital Marketing

Shana Bull is a Santa Rosa-based marketing educator and digital storyteller, working with wine, food, hospitality businesses, teaching classes on marketing, and freelance writing. Reach her with your questions about digital marketing at shana@shanabull.com, @sharayray on Instagram or at shanabull.com.

Read past Digital Marketing columns here.

Every business owner knows that engaging with customers (and potential customers) is important to any business’s success. Without customers, businesses would just be talking to themselves. Communication and engagement skills are a must for any business, large or small.

And right now, social media is a big part of how everyone communicates.

Businesses can get a lot of mileage out of social media if they are savvy about how they connect with their audiences and if they look at social media as a customer service platform.

Social media isn’t a billboard; it’s a two-way interaction.

I would bet that I love billboards more than the average person (quick shout out to the three billboards in Rohnert Park that advertise for Exchange Bank, Clover, and the Spice Sensuality Boutique...those billboards always make me smile!).

But, social media isn’t just a place to plaster your promotion and walk away. It is a two-way connection with your target audience, clientele, and potential customers, which means that there should be some effort going into connecting with your audience online.

If you were working in the hospitality industry, you wouldn’t want to ignore a customer who walked in, and the same applies to social media. You don’t want to ignore a customer who asks a question or leaves feedback.

Here are some of the best places for you to engage with customers using social media channels:

1. Your own content

Always answer comments on your own page. The low-hanging fruit of engaging with your customers rests in your own content. Spend the first part of your day checking your Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin and Twitter posts to see if anyone has asked a question or left a comment. Make sure to answer people’s questions, and comment back to EVERY* comment.

Yes, even the comments that say, “Love this.” Sometimes a simple smiley face emoji works here. For local craft beer pubhouse HopMonk Tavern, they reply with an emoji of two beer mugs cheersing to comments on both Facebook and Instagram.

*Social media pages are also subject to trolling from those who simply don’t like your brand. You can delete those comments on your own pages, or simply ask them to connect with you via email or over the phone to talk further.

2. DMs

Check direct messages for questions and other messages. Direct messages within social media can sometimes be a longer conversation than replying with a simple emoji comment on a pretty picture of a glass of wine.

This is possibly where potential customers are asking questions about location, hours, or schedules, especially during the holidays. Customers are asking questions about possible allergy restrictions or making reservations for large groups.

Just as you would call someone back if they left you a message, make sure to check your direct messages across social media platforms and get back to people. If you’re finding that you are answering the same questions over and over again, create a frequently asked questions document on your computer or a note on your phone so you can copy and paste your answer and personalize it.

3. Location, location, location!

One section that is sometimes overlooked by brick and mortar businesses is the location tag section on Instagram. The social media platform allows brands to see which public profiles tag a location in their images. The trick is that you actually have to check (vs. getting a notification that someone tagged your location).

Digital Marketing

Shana Bull is a Santa Rosa-based marketing educator and digital storyteller, working with wine, food, hospitality businesses, teaching classes on marketing, and freelance writing. Reach her with your questions about digital marketing at shana@shanabull.com, @sharayray on Instagram or at shanabull.com.

Read past Digital Marketing columns here.

After you go through your comments and direct message sections on social media, click over to your location within Instagram. Many times you will see posts from people who don’t tag you. Comment back on their content, thanking them for coming by.

4. Your customers’ content

Leave a comment about the caption. Your customers share an image or a post about your brand because they are excited about something you have done (for the most part). A simple acknowledgment that you like their post can make a customer’s day! I say this both as a brand marketer and as a customer who was so excited when the actress Reese Witherspoon liked one of my posts that I tagged her in.

It’s a simple action as a marketer, but it can make your customers feel more connected.

5. Other people’s content

Anytime you are tagged in a post in the comments section, you can leave a comment in return. Handline restaurant in Sebastopol did just that when tagged by a customer on an Instagram post of mine.

6. Website reviews

For many hospitality businesses, review websites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google and Zagat are some of those necessary evils that they would rather not deal with. By answering people’s negative statements, business marketers have a way to change the narrative of a negative review. Don’t forget to leave a comment on the positive ones as well. Connecting with people that already love your business is good for strengthening that relationship.

The key to creating meaningful customer engagement through social media is simply dedicating time to do these tasks. Engaging is something that should be done every day. It’s like a chicken and egg kind of thing – the longer you engage through the years, the more time you find you need for it. When I first started doing the Instagram account for Iron Horse, it was mostly sharing pictures and fun captions. Now I’m finding that the majority of my time is taken up by connecting with people.

If you’re really bad at remembering to connect, create a reminder in your phone or set a dedicated time in your calendar every day, find a quiet spot or put headphones in, and spend 15 minutes being purposeful in engagement on social media. You can plan out a few minutes in the AM, PM, or right before lunch…whatever works for you! Because, while there may be an ideal time to post, IMO the ideal time is whenever it makes sense for you.