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When you work with social media, you find that you rarely use your personal social channels as often as you did before it was part of your job description, and when you do, your expectations are higher and your efforts are lower. A couple of months ago, I tweeted about plans to go to Benihana for dinner with a friend. Benihana found my tweet – I hadn’t tagged them – and responded to me. I was impressed. Excited? A little. Appreciative? Definitely. I took this as personal confirmation and proof of a very important concept I’d already been living by.

Engagement builds audience. But why? Let me explain it to you. (See what I did there?)

Do you remember middle school? And how important it was to be popular and wear butterfly clips in your hair or Adidas Superstar basketball shoes or backwards baseball caps to fit in and, more importantly, to be acknowledged by the cool kids? In a way, being recognized and responded to by a brand (or anyone with a verified account, for that matter) is a lot like that. Those brands are the cool kids. And you just got noticed. EGO. BOOST.

But why does that acknowledgment build your audience? You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: Audience members want to see that your brand is run by people rather than machines. We all like a little personality now and then, and if you demonstrate that your brand has personality and that your brand cares about what people think or have to say, people are impressed.

Think about it. Would you be more likely to follow a brand just because they followed you on Twitter, or would you be more likely to follow them if they personally acknowledged you or something you said? Exactly. That little bit of extra effort goes a long way to prove that your brand’s agenda is less about building your audience and more about interacting with the “little people.” (Although, psst, you’ll be building audience along the way. Sneaky.)

So how should you engage with your audience on Twitter? You have options.

1. The simple retweet. Just go ahead and hit that retweet button. Show someone you care enough about their content to share it. This works great for B2C companies and companies that like to share news or content similar to their own. (For example, one of our healthcare clients retweets health news from reputable sources. Another one of our clients uses this method to share interior design tips from design resources.)

2. The manual RT or MT. Copy the tweet (and modify it if necessary), add a little RT or MT and @tag mention to the front of that original tweet. Then, add your thoughts and say a little something extra before all of that. This is a great way to establish your brand as an authority and to prove that you know what you’re talking about. This is also a great way to get involved in (or start) a conversation with the person who originally tweeted and anyone else who sees your tweet. You’re casting out a line to open communication by doing this. This method will work for just about any brand.

3. The general reply. Find what people are talking about and join the conversation. You can do this by searching for general terms in the Twitter search field, searching your brand name or surfing through #hashtags related to your brand. Then, reply. This method might take more time than the other methods and will work better for brands who are reaching out to a clearly defined audience or an audience that uses clearly defined hashtags. (For example, one of our clients sells tickets to sporting events, including tickets to Colts games. Every week, we reach out to Colts fans who have tweeted about upcoming games, their love for the team or team news while using Colts #hashtags. As a result, people reply to us, retweet, favorite our reply and often follow us in return.)

4. Following potential fans. This is the most basic method we can give you, and in some ways the most important. Get the ball rolling and do the leg work for your potential fans. Be proactive and find them before they have to find you. If you notice them, they’re more inclined to notice you and return the follow favor. (Don’t worry, I’ve got tips aplenty on Twitter following here.)

Just remember, you’ve gotta give a little to get a little – especially if you’re a smaller or lesser-known brand. If you attempt any (or all) of these engagement methods, you’ll remind all those former middle schoolers out there that they, too, are cool. And as a result, you’ll start to build your audience. Not everyone will follow you in return for your engagement efforts, but quite a few will. Several of our clients have benefited from these techniques, so there’s no reason your brand shouldn’t benefit as well.

If your brand needs help engaging with (and building) its audience, all you have to do is ask. We’d be happy to help.

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