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As a social media purist the term “social media marketing” has always rubbed me the wrong way. My journey with social media started in the non-profit sector with an emphasis on using social media for social change, so I’m one of those idealistic young people that thinks social media can help to change the world. With that disclaimer out of the way, when I tell businesses about how they can use social media to improve their bottom line, I still prefer the term “social media engagement” over “social media marketing.” Even from a business perspective I think that social media has the power to influence the shape of the future through engagement.

Social media marketing seems to imply, well, marketing! To me this means one-way communication with the intention of getting someone to change their behavior, i.e. purchase a product or service. Though I recognize the importance of marketing within social media I believe that the goals of marketing – improving your company’s bottom line – can be accomplished on social media through engagement strategies, as opposed to marketing strategies. The authors of Groundswell lay out five ways that organizations can interact with their target audience on social media and only one of these forms of communication includes marketing, the others shout out engagement:

  1. Listening – enter social media spaces and listen to what your target audience (your customers) are saying, this allows you to better understand your audience and what their wants and needs are
  2. Talking – communicate with your audience by sharing content and spreading messages
  3. Energizing – empower influential and enthusiastic members of your target audience to spread messages about your company
  4. Supporting – set up spaces and tools to allow members of your target audience to support each other on social media (rather than just receiving support and customer service from your organization)
  5. Embracing – use social media to identify champions in your target audience and bring them into the work your company does

What I love about these five ways of communicating on social media is that they capture social media’s ability to empower our customers to improve our business by engaging in conversations. Of course, we don’t have to use just one of the strategies listed about at any given time, in fact, ideally we are using all of them at various times on our established social media presence. Together these five strategies create transparency, successfully disseminate information by empowering others to spread the word about our company, and establish a collaborative relationship with our customer base. Though it’s a bit scary at times, I love the transparency that social media can create as well as the opportunity to bring the true experts – our customers – into the process of improving and streamlining the products and services we offer. This transparency, as well as a collaborative relationship with customers in turn helps to improve our bottom line. I encourage you to think about how you’re interacting with your customers on social media, and which of the five communication strategies listed above you might be able to implement.