When we talk about social media as a marketing tool for the business owner, almost all of the focus is on content creation strategies. There’s a lot of conversations around figuring out what types of material will have the most resonance with your target market, as well as efficient methods for creating and sharing it. These are important topics, but they’re not the only important topics. To make full use of social media as a marketing tool, you need to listen as much (or even more!) than you speak. You must, in other words, learn the fine art of the follow.
Following is not a sexy word. In our culture, as it’s currently structured, we don’t want to be seen as followers. We want to lead – to be out in front of the crowd, illuminating and inspiring, being looked up to. But here’s the thing: when you look at the individuals who are undoubtedly in that leadership role – the people who have changed their industry or in some cases, started their own industries – you’ll find that they are unabashed followers, continually seeking out new voices to listen to and delving deeply into the content shared by people they know and admire.
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Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin family of companies, said it very well. “I see life almost like one long university education that I never had–every day I’m learning something new.” Following people on social media is an easy, efficient way to increase your knowledge of your industry, your customers, and existing and emerging opportunities.
Step One: Figuring Out Who to Follow
There are three categories of people to follow: influential people in your industry, media accounts – both for your industry and your customers, and strategically selected customers. You may already know who some of these people are, but if you’re not sure, do searches using relevant keywords. For example, if you’re in fashion retail, it’s a good idea to know what the top design houses and style magazines have to say, as well as fashion industry insiders who have up to date information on trends, current top performing sales techniques and more. Follow people who post regularly.
When it comes to following your customers, be strategic: not everyone is going to be posting content that’s relevant to your business on a regular basis – but those individuals who are, who have a significant following of their own, are well worth engaging with.
Step Two: Lurk and Learn
Once you’ve identified the people you want to follow -and it’s a good best practice to organize them into lists, using your social media platform’s settings – devote some time to reading what they have to say. You can do this on a daily or weekly basis. If you’re strapped for time, commit to reading only until you’ve learned something about your industry or customers that you didn’t know before. If you have more time, follow the links shared by the sources you respect the most and read the content they’ve found valuable.
Everyone has a different learning style. Some people will absorb the knowledge they’ve gained following others on social media just by reading or engaging with the content. Other people may prefer to have the resources available to them on a long term basis. Use an app like Evernote or OneNote to save links and keep track of your own notes and insights.
Step Three: Share the Smart Stuff
Sharing is definitely caring on social media. When you find content of value posted by another person, share it. Shares, retweets, and the like are all a form of social currency. You’re demonstrating your respect for the person who originally shared the material while passing along the value you’ve found to anyone who follows you, thereby enriching the entire community. Your actual engagement is pretty minimal – it only takes a single click of a button to share content on most platforms, with space provided to add your commentary should you desire.
Step Four: Join in Conversations
Contributing to conversations on social media accomplishes several purposes at once. First, you can raise your personal or brand’s profile, simply by engaging in the conversation. If your contributions are worthwhile, other people may wind up following you in turn! Additionally, you’re strengthening your relationship with people who are influential in your industry. It’s hard to predict what connections will ever have a direct impact on your business, but it’s a true thing in this world that you can never have too many friends – and many great friendships have started with a simple follow.