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Social Media Chat: Grow Your Social Media Following Without Paying a Dime




Ashley: Hello, hello everybody, thank you so much for joining the second episode of the SEMrush social chat where we talk about anything and everything social media. What we're going to talk about today is branding and all of the businesses pockets. We're trying to figure out how we can actually grow our social media following without having to pay for it, without having to download a bunch of this, or go through a bunch of little sketchy apps or pay for a bunch of ads

I've got four amazing women who really know their stuff that are going to be on. We have Lisa, Michelle, Rebecca, and Serena. Lisa, if you don't mind starting us off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in social media?

Lisa: My name is Lisa Raehsler and I do social media but specialize more in PPC, so I come at it from a way of using social media to enhance the ads that we're doing and kind of vice versa. My company is called Big Click Co and I've been doing this for 10 years.

Michelle: I've been doing this for about 10 years as well. I actually started as a social media user, I started out with Myspace way back when Myspace was the thing, and I started very early on.

Over the course of the 10-year career, I have spoken at Pubcon, SMX, SES, ClickZ. I am now a regular speaker with Digital Summit, and I am the managing director of marketing operations for Apogee resorts.

Ashley: Awesome. Serena, you're based in Australia, thank you for joining us so much. What is your story?

Serena: I came into it from being a user and then also working in a large digital agency and it wasn't until I became a mom...I decided to step out of the corporate world and that meant I stepped into having to use it for myself and I found that I really had no budget at the time so I really focused on how I could build my growth organically. I created my own company, Serena Dot Ryan, and I've primarily focused on digital marketing education for about four years.

The last 18 months I've focused on being able to work with people who have got good organic presence to then optimize what we've paid and I'm really passionate about people not wasting their money so that they should not step into the paid arena until they've got their organic right first.

Rebekah: I have been an entrepreneur for 20 years and so when social media came around, I owned my own company and I started to dabble in it for my own business and really saw what a great opportunity it was to connect with people around the world in a way that I would've never been able to do otherwise.

As I started to see the benefit, I really shifted into training other people. And so today that's exactly what I do from entrepreneurs to the enterprise.

Optimizing Social Media Profiles For Engagement

Ashley: Wow, that's amazing. So how would you say we can actually optimize social media profiles like we optimize our website to increase engagement organically? Do you have any tips on how you've done that in the past?

Rebekah: I don't think enough people understand the huge opportunity of those optimization pieces, everything from your keywords in your terms like you just mentioned, so what is it that you want to be known for? What is it that when people are googling or when people are asking Siri, what do you come up for? What is it that you do? What is it that you want people to talk about when they mention you? And starting to use those in a very organic way in your bios and keeping that consistent. So making sure that as they go from Facebook over to Twitter over to Instagram, that everything is congruent, that they don't have to question, "Hmm, I wonder if that's the same person.”

Because maybe your picture is a little bit different or the bio itself is a little bit different and you're talking about how you help people one way on Twitter and then another way over on Facebook. So just making sure that you know exactly who you help, how you help and what it is that you do that is unique to you and your business and you are sharing that across all of your social profiles.

Then, of course, where you're guiding and directing people is incredibly important too. So what is that URL, where is that landing page or that conversion opportunity that you are directing people over to?

Ashley: Serena, have you kind of established the same guidelines when it comes to optimizing your clients' profiles where the brand message needs to be aligned first or do you do anything a little bit differently?

Serena: Yeah, I do follow that process. The way I approach it is that you get clear on what you want to be known for and that's where you have to get the fundamentals of your SEO on your website and then make sure it's consistent across social media.

You'll also find when you get into social media, if you're not using the same language that's congruent with what you're wanting to put on your website, you're missing that opportunity of connecting the two. Everywhere, it should be something you immerse yourself in.

The Language of Social Media

Rebekah: I love the idea  of language like you're talking about it because I think too often, we see that you're not even speaking the same language of your audience and I know you're talking about it in the context of messaging, but it's also important that we use the terms that our audience actually uses, that or not using these big flowery words that we think make us look super smart that just don't connect with our audience.

Lisa: I think that's a great point too. I've seen so many companies not understand how their customers are searching and what they're using, what their thought processes in the searching and discovery process so those are great tips.

Michelle: You also have to realize that very often social media comes into play long before search does. People discover things on social when they're passively scrolling through Facebook or scrolling through Twitter and they're not even really thinking about you, but oh, something caught their attention because we're either using language similar to what they're using or we're teaching people to use certain terms, so one of the interesting things that I've found is over time we can actually train our communities to use terms.

For instance, I used to work with a hair-care brand that used some very, very unique terms that ladies just had never heard of. I mean, do any of you know what a microbiome is and how it pertains to hair care? No, of course not, but it was something really important with this particular brand that I was working with, so we use social media as a way to teach the community that, oh, this is a term associated with good health, good health, hair care, et cetera, until we trained them to search for those terms so social can work that way as well.

Rebekah: The thing I love about that is you're training them to really speak your language and understand your value, your benefit, what it is that you do that is a little bit different and where it goes a little astray, and you've probably seen this too, is where brands try to get a little too clever in the terms or the phrases that they're using and you could almost out-clever yourself, don't you think so with your language?

Michelle: You can, but here's the interesting thing that I find. This is social media, how do you think we learn language in the first place as human beings? We learn language in social settings. So, no you don't want to be so clever that you just completely lose people, but if there is a term that is just mission-critical that nobody in the general public uses, but is one of those things that makes you as a business stand out, then yes, use it semantically, use it naturally. Help people to build context around that term and yes, you can teach that language in a social setting via social media.

Rebekah: And adjust accordingly and then you'll end up with more engagement and that's magic because then that's the organic engagement. That's the organic visibility you'll get because more people are engaging with your content not just to sit and forget. You don't just put content out.

Michelle: And that's kind of the big trick for organic social media, in general, is that you can't just push content out, people don't click on links. Especially like in Twitter and in Instagram, it really is a lot more about the conversation and how you engage with people, so you have to remember that just posting your links to whatever landing page you're using is not going to work in organic social.

That's because you're not going to get enough visibility for it unless there are conversations built around it, so yes, you have to pay attention to how the general public talks about your type of business, your type of industry, and then you have to engage in that conversation. You can't just drop a link in the middle of a Hashtag threaded conversation and expect for people to click on it.

Rebekah: And people really do pay attention. I saw a Tweet yesterday where somebody was asking a question of the person that had tweeted that this content out and somebody actually came in; another user, and said, “Hey, this person doesn't actually engage on Twitter, so don't bother.” And I thought this person has a million followers and they have a reputation for not engaging. So such a huge takeaway I think from that of if you're not going to take the time to engage, build relationships and get involved, why bother because people really do pay attention.

Ashley: Well, when it comes to paying attention, do you think even for that person who has a million followers or someone who has 10 followers, do you think what's in their social media bios is making a big difference for these businesses on when people decide whether or not to follow them or do you think it's just their brand name? What is it about their bio that could help them actually increased followers?

Rebekah: Oh yeah, definitely. Your bio is one of the first things that people are going to look at no matter what social profile they're going to. That is the first thing they're looking at to get a feel for who you are, what you do, your company, what exactly your solution looks like, maybe they're out there and they're comparison shopping or maybe they're in that switching moment where they're deciding to leave one company and come over to yours. So you've got to be prepared to really express what it is that you do and who you help.

I think we all started out very social, we were all in the same place when we first hopped on social media, we were testing out the waters and we were having conversations and then automation took over and now I think we've come back full circle where we're really craving that interaction and those relationships.

URLs in Social Media Posts

Ashley: Does it matter, Lisa; having the URL shown or should we only be having bit.lys to whatever the website or landing page is going to be?

Lisa: I think it's more about intent because I think you'll see that there's a group of followers that are already familiar with you and it's about making them aware that you're on social media and getting them to engage with you in that channel. Then there are all of the new followers that are in that discovery phase and they're looking for something there, I think those are the followers that you want to communicate more with the messaging. Let them see the URL. I feel like that's important for those new types of followers. What do you all think?

Rebekah: From a trust base? I have tested and just the amount of engagement or interaction based off of a bitly or using your domain as a shortened URL or just using the full URL and quite frankly, it doesn't seem to matter from a data perspective.

Ashley: It doesn't matter.

Rebekah: I think you can feel rather safe these days that if you're wanting to use a bitly or some type of shortened URL, do it.

I don't see any difference in how people are clicking on those because what it is, is they know you, they're coming to know you, they're getting to know you, and certainly it could be as you were talking about that it's the difference between do they have a relationship with you, are they just getting to know you, but it's really going to be in the research they do too I believe.

If I'm looking at your content and I'm just getting to know you and I see that you're sharing valuable content, I'm automatically going to feel comfortable and clicking on your content, so I think there's a psychology behind that too. And how comfortable are you making people feel with the type of content, the value that you're bringing in all of your social profiles?

Ashley: Trust and authenticity.

Michelle: This is completely anecdotal and this is me as a user, but I have discovered a whole lot more people to follow based on hashtags and Twitter and Instagram. Instagram hashtags are amazing for discovering really interesting people and really interesting content and I find overall in both of those channels, that I tend to engage with, have conversations with, get my attention grabbed by people who are sharing interesting content without worrying about whether or not I'm going to click through.

Obviously in Instagram I can't click through on organic, the only place I can click as is in that one little bio link so it's kind of a different monster over there on Instagram, but even in Twitter, I'm much more interested in the conversation and I have developed that trust and they have demonstrated authenticity through the course of these conversations.

Networking Through Social Media

Ashley: Michelle, how do you respectfully network and engage with related companies, not direct competitors but just related companies, some who have great established audiences but don't want to fail at social media etiquette?

Michelle: I'll give the same advice that my grandmother gave me, you make a friend by being a friend. This is kind of how I handle influencer marketing as well, if there's an influencer out there that I want to engage, that I eventually want to have a relationship around our brand and how their audience relates to my audience, very likely the first thing I will do on behalf of the brand is go like, go comment, go share, basically validate the hard work that that influencer, that other company, whatever is doing on social media. Give them some validation first and do something for them before you ask anything of them, I think that's the same thing that we would do face to face in say a cocktail party situation.

I'm not going to walk up to somebody and immediately hand them my business card, I'm actually going to engage in conversation and see if we even have anything interesting to talk about first. You do the same things on digital social media.

Michelle: Can we talk about the organic reach. On Facebook, the algorithm does dictate what your organic reach is. The nice thing is that there are certain types of content that because they're new, they're given an algorithmic preference and so when you do Facebook live and when you have Facebook organically posted video, your organic reach is going to get better because Facebook wants brands and businesses and pages to use video. So they give us a little bit of an extra boost shall we say, in using those types of content that have an algorithmic preference. And then when you get a lot of engagement, you get a lot of social validation for using that type of content.

Michelle: You continue to game the algorithm if I can say it that way, we're not gaming it, we're actually just doing what you're supposed to do on social, we're being social, but the more engagement you get, obviously the more reach you get.

Serena: It's interesting you say it that way as well because you're sort of cringing, I feel it's how we say “game” the algorithm.

Michelle: Yeah, and this is a mobile environment too. Guys, I wear glasses to see things up close, I don't want to read a huge article on my mobile device. If I can get that same information via video, oh yes, please, thank you very much. On mobile, I would much rather watch a video, no doubt about that.

Rebekah: I think all of these points come back to what we've been discussing here, which is really pay attention to your audience. Pay attention to where they're hanging out, where they're spending their time, what kind of content they want to consume.

Then creating that content and consistently showing up in that place is going to be so much easier because you're going to let go of the myth that you have to be everywhere and everything to everybody and instead you just get laser-focused on who your exact market is, what it is they want, and then you just show up, every single day and you have those conversations.

Social Media For Local Businesses

Ashley: So then for local businesses, putting the sticker on the door that says, go follow me on Facebook or go review me on Yelp or go add me on Instagram, anything like that, that's clearly not working. But what is for local businesses, local businesses I feel like sometimes have it much more difficult when it comes to organically trying to grow their followers. Michelle, have you seen anything with the clients that you work with on the local aspect that's really helped them grow their followers organically?

Michelle: I think especially in Facebook, and yeah, I know I'm going to talk a lot about Facebook, but let's be honest Facebook has more tools and more to offer, especially local businesses than anything else out there. And especially if you combine Facebook and Instagram together as you very easily can, you've got a very powerful free tool for your local business.

In that respect, I think that ratings, reviews, and recommendations are key for local businesses. And so if you're doing the right things in your own shop, if your in-store experience is such that your customers are more than willing to talk about you without you asking them, then you're doing the right sorts of things and again, this is social behavior.

Frankly, this isn't marketing behavior, this is just good human behavior. Am I doing the right things in my local business that make my customers happy, are they overwhelmingly satisfied that they don't just hit me some money, but they go outside the door and they go, “Oh my gosh, that was the best experience I just had, that was the best crisp I just had. That was the best floral arrangement I've ever,” you know, whatever the case may be. If you're doing that right, then all of the other social things will happen for you. Of course, it doesn't hurt to say when that customer has a great big smile on their face, go, “Oh, by the way, don't forget to mention this on Facebook,” or whatever.

Lisa: Those ratings and reviews can work the opposite way too. Where is the first person that a disgruntled customer that has a bad experience going to go?

Serena: I have a client who last week, that last week got a bad review on their Facebook page and they were like, oh, how do we deal with this? But rather than shy away from it, to their credit every time they respond when there's someone negative Usually they only ever go to that step of posting a bad review if they feel they haven't been heard on other channels so use it as an opportunity to let them be known that they've been heard, then contact them like by private message to follow up, get more detail, and then you can turn it around.

Most of the time you can turn it around in by dealing with it and acknowledging it, and interestingly enough, when this person got a bad review last week, instantly their community, this is the value of an engaged community, went and posted good reviews because of the bad review.

Lisa: I was going to say that because they're not only showing that they're acknowledging that individual, but also showing anybody who happens to be reading their page or that's engaging with them, oh, this is how they deal with problems and it probably really raises their credibility and authenticity. Yeah, cool. Good example.

Ashley: We're having a ton of questions come in right now on the local topic, one of them being, in a B2B setting, who do we primarily want to attract as followers, is it the employees within prospect companies, the executives, is it customers, who should be our follower list?

Serena: I would say it depends on who you've identified as being your ideal customer because there's no right or wrong. I like to think you pick one that's the ideal that you want, and then the others would be secondary because the more you can talk to the exact person you want, the better outcome you'll have.

I see a fear often with people trying to narrow down into who that ideal customer is because they're afraid of excluding others but that is what happens. You actually end up attracting others by being specific to that customer is and I can speak from experience rather than just talking about clients.

Rebekah: This reminds me of what we used to talk so much about in marketing of casting a wider net and just connecting with as many people as possible and it really is the downfall for so many that spend so much time cultivating their social channels and what they come to find is that the people they've connected with are actually people that are interested in what they have to sell.

Engagement doesn't pay your bills, engagement doesn't bring people into your local store, so you've got to get very hyper-specific in who that person is, who that persona is, who that group of people are that are actively out there. They're looking for you, maybe they just don't know about you yet.

Michelle: B2B is inherently niche as well and that's one thing that I tell my B2B clients not to be afraid of. For example, I work with a medical malpractice insurance, that's B2B and highly niched. Not everybody wants to hear about medical malpractice insurance and frankly, the doctors themselves, don't really want to talk about medical malpractice insurance either, that's just the nature of the game.

But, when I embrace the fact that we are that niche and there's only a certain very small community of people that I want to talk to that I want to engage with, the beautiful thing about it is when I am talking to that customer, all of the influencers, and there's only going to be a very small number of them, they're going to wind up hearing about me because I'm consistently talking about the same thing over and over and over, and it happens to be the topic that they care about the most because they're in that niche right along with me, it's like we're all in the boat rowing together.

When they find that there's somebody in their space talking about things in a way that's natural in a way that is beneficial, again, we're doing all of the good human things, right? Then that niche is willing to pick up and row with us.

Social Media Audience Analysis

Ashley: We have a question from Stephanie Miller who goes perfectly onto this, she's asking if there are any quick tips on audience analysis. So what are the core things that we should actually know about our followers so when we're going into the back into Facebook or Pinterest what matters?

Rebekah: Facebook has a fantastic way to really get to the bottom of this with Facebook Audience Insights, which you can start to really drill down into what is it that they're interested in already. I think this is a great way for us to get past just those demographic questions and really take a look at what pages are they already interacting with.

I would encourage that you look beyond just those typical maybe the age like you mentioned and get a little bit more specific into what is it that they're already doing. I think there's a lot to learn, Facebook Audience Insights like I said, it's a great place to start, Twitter advanced search is another great place to start, I know we talked about Instagram hashtags, another great way to do some real research.

Ashley: We are opening up the stage for Q&A. We have one that just came in from Barbara, she's asking, “I'm wondering if using Facebook groups is a good way to communicate with subgroups of target audiences. Are people actually engaging with Facebook groups?”

Serena: Yeah. I think groups have become an integral part of the Facebook strategy. I have heard people talking about, oh we should only have a group not a page and it's not necessarily the case, it's looking at all the tools available would be my recommendation and groups should be part of it.

Social Media Tools

Ashley: We have Lisa Ferniyanas asking, what tools would you all recommend using for growing your social media audience organically? There's a lot of paid tools out there, but are there any that can actually help us when it comes to follower account?

Michelle: My personal preference honestly is not to use the tool. We don't want to try and be all things to all people so, in all likelihood, your core audience, the place where you're going to get the most love and engagement is probably on one or two channels. There's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't be engaging natively in one or two channels and then augmenting.

If you're really focusing on the channels that matter most to where that conversation is really hot, then I prefer to be native in channel and only use a tool for kind of nudging those somewhat dormant accounts every once in a while with something that's really good.

Ashley: We've got a really great question from Rachel, so she's trying to build momentum with the B2B business on social media. She's having trouble starting at the ground level on how to build an audience, so say we just opened up a Facebook page, how do you organically get everyone to start following you?

Rebekah: It's a great question because it's usually the chicken or the egg. Do you start following a whole lot of people and interacting with a whole lot of people, is it the content? Really, it is a combination of all of that. It's knowing exactly what your audience is looking for, posting that content, being very transparent, and also, helping them understand what's your message, what's your voice sound like, how can they connect to that? So starting to share that content and then being very strategic in who you are connecting with.

This is where tools come in and can be enormously helpful where you can start to do searches for those people that are very prominent or influencers, have a voice within your industry and just start to build those relationships. Start to do that outreach, start to comment on their content, start to share their content, get interactive. Those followers of theirs start to see that content within their newsfeed.

So it's all organically happening because you're taking the time to share great content, interact, show people who you are.

Lisa: I think this is a good place for them to do some cross-promotion, maybe with their email list or whatever type of traditional marketing they're doing to introduce the Facebook page and maybe draw people to the Facebook page with an offer or content or some type of a white paper. Those are always popular types of options for B2B.

Michelle: Make sure that your buttons on your website are working. That's kind of like mission-critical.

Rebekah: Oh my gosh. How many times have you clicked through to somebody's article or just anywhere on their website and I want to go find them somewhere else and none of their social buttons actually lead me to the right social profile, they all go to Twitter? Just so many ways that we can shore that up and tighten that up and make sure that people can actually find us and connect with us.

Ashley: We have to actually test our own user experiences and make sure we're giving people the right places to follow us. We have unfortunately come to a conclusion. You ladies were absolutely wonderful, thank you so much for sharing all of this information.

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