How to drive online participation with your brand

Azadeh Williams

Get your social tribe on side, and your business idea could become a global winner. Yet – many businesses still fear being too ‘exposed’ on social media and as a result, lose a valuable opportunity to drive engagement and boost brand reputation.

A recent report by Sensis revealed 52 per cent of consumers are more likely to trust a brand if it interacts on social media in a positive way, and 51 per cent of Australians are more likely to trust a brand if they regularly update their content.

While it seems as though many businesses are taking notice, with the report showing an upsurge in the number of businesses with a social media presence (48 per cent for SMBs, and 79 per cent for large businesses), the report found there is still a gap in how frequently consumers are using and engaging with social media compared to businesses.

So there is a great opportunity for Australian businesses to boost their online participation and get an edge on their competitors.

“For most consumer driven businesses and many B2B’s it’s absolutely essential to encourage online participation from customers,” says executive director of online talent competition platform, Megastar Millionaire, Sophie McGill. “If you manage to extract an emotion from them, online engagement can encourage consumers to evoke a feeling toward your brand, promoting brand recall and brand loyalty.”

“For most consumer driven businesses and many B2B’s it’s absolutely essential to encourage online participation from customers.”

Keeping your audience informed

McGill believes socially savvy businesses think outside the box, and know consumers are not looking at websites as much anymore, but are visiting the likes of Facebook and Twitter to gain the most up-to-date information. But to really drive online participation, McGill stresses you need to develop an understanding of your audience and also be aware of how you want them to feel about your brand.

“Know yourself and know them before you have a proper conversation with them,” she says. “Have a defined point of difference to what already exists in the marketplace. The audience experience needs to be engaging as well as consistent. So always state what you will deliver and deliver what you promise.”

If you have the funds, McGill also suggests finding an influencer who is already trusted by your audience to help communicate the message.

“This will not only help with articulating your message but also distribution,” she says. “Allow them to convey your message in an authentic manner. This can be hard for brands as it often means giving up some control – but an authentic message is the only way to communicate in the digital age.”

Reaching out to new customers

According to CEO of growth agency PENSO, Con Frantzeskos, online participation is about reaching out to new customers more so than just preaching to the converted.

“I think the only type of online participation that is of any business value is ensuring people who have never heard of your business or might have forgotten your business be reminded you exist, with marketing that is distinctive and memorable,” he explains. “Don’t preach to the converted - it’s a horrendous waste of time and money.”

He suggests to reach as many new customers as you can and pretend that every day is “launch day” for your business.

“Always assume that people have never heard of you,” he adds. “Also make it as easy as possible for people to understand, remember and buy from you via excellent communications and online channels such as eCommerce, mobile optimised websites and third party channels such as booking sites, affiliate sites, and aggregator sites.

“Don’t preach to the converted - it’s a horrendous waste of time and money.”

The power of authenticity

Rhian Allen, CEO and founder of professional health and fitness site, The Healthy  Mummy, says if you don’t have online participation, you simply don’t have a relationship with the customer.

“And if you don’t have a relationship, you can’t sell products to a customer on a long term basis,” she adds. “Without having that online engagement, you can’t really build a business.”

A trained lawyer and former media executive she began the Healthy Mummy, concept six years ago, which now makes $7 million turnover and has multiple social communities of 450,000 dedicated followers who love the brand and all that it offers. She says with everyone being bombarded with messages, you need to have a focused online dialogue with your audience and create a community.

“You need to create some kind of place to actually talk to your customers,” she explains. “Otherwise, how do you know if what you’re doing is right or where to go to sell your products?”

She suggests you just have to be authentic and honest, even though for some businesses that idea can seem hard.

“I think that if you can be authentic and also be consistent with that, that will stand a test of time,” she says. “Especially when there’s so much out there that isn’t authentic, so much trickery online, that authenticity will shine through. People distrust everything nowadays, so having that authenticity is the thing that will differentiate you from your competitors.

At Healthy Mummy, for example, Allen claims everything the brand does is authentic.

“All the content is from us and we have real mums doing everything we do, such as posting on our social communities,” she says. “We do it in the office, not somewhere overseas. We have real mums sharing their food, their cooking, their weight loss results, sharing their feedback, their highs and lows. It can be very raw but real and honest that people really relate to. We don’t just show all the good, we show all of it. We don’t put out anything that isn’t tried and tested, and people know that from us.”

Azadeh Williams

Azadeh Williams is a former business and finance news editor at Thomson Reuters, Azadeh Williams has written over 3,000 articles in her 15-year international career on business, technology, marketing and innovation for the likes of The Times, CMO Magazine and Fast Business. She has also lectured in business journalism and media law at Macleay College.