Social media is ubiquitous and creating a post is relatively easy. Heck, if you're grandmother or great aunt can post a photo that goes viral on Facebook, anyone can, right?

One like should beget a another like and another like, and then the sharing kicks in. Suddenly, a whole new sphere outside your family's influence is showing the love to that whippersnapper with a computer.

And without even trying, that relative has achieved the ultimate goal of any social media marketer: Engagement. Ironically, your grandmother probably thinks about wedding wells when talking about the "e" word. She wouldn't know Instagram is where pretty photos go; Twitter is for short, real-time commentary; LinkedIn is where professional talk shop (trends, career moves, etc.); and Facebook is the catch-all with a little bit of everything.

A company's social media manager surely knows the difference. Just as he or she, along with their bosses, define engagement as an audience actively participating in social media messaging through coveted likes, shares and yes, retweets, too. With each post, there is the power for brands and companies to reach a vast audience, which is just one swipe or mouse click away. That engagement is the way to measure how invested followers are, which is another way of saying it is a primary indicator of a brand's true value. That's why it's so maddening when a tweet, Facebook Live video or Instagram story just stagnates.

Because everyone and their grandmother is now on at least Facebook to say nothing of Twitter, Instagram and LinkedInit seems only natural companies should be able to cash in through household platforms. But making that emotional connection can be infinitely harder because businesses are out to win an audiences' love. Everyone already loves ol' granny and would do anything she asks. It's called loyalty and that's the name of the game in today's virtual marketplace.

If that relative of yours can get a message across without really trying, why can't your company? "You're making the same mistakes everyone makes," says Alex Plaxen, a freelance social media strategist and former vice president of experience strategy at Nifty Method Marketing & Events.

It just goes to show that that it something seems too easy, it probably is.

As an award-winning event marketing specialist, Plaxen has seen most missteps more than he care to recall. Yet it doesn't surprise him anymore to see strategical miscuesmostly because social media is deceptively difficult.

While his preference for personal posts is Instagramit's less filled with spamPlaxen suggests businesses take a multi-pronged approach to reach a desired audience. But before implementing a campaign, organizations need to know what they are seeking for. A nonprofit seeking charitable donations is going to have different measurables than a corporation launching a new brand (link clicks vs. impressions).

Just as an organization nears clear-cut objectives, it needs to have a clear understanding of what to do on the various platforms. Consider these three tips to help put you in a position to engage your audience without it looking like you're breaking a sweat (just like your grandma).


Almost as common as Facebook in the American lexicon is "hashtag," which leads to the ever-popular "trending" sections that began on Twitter and now exist on most B2B and B2C sites. It is, in fact, easy to spot a hashtag on Facebook even though few users use that functionality on the platform (more on that later).

"The only way a hashtag works is if people are searching for it," says Plaxen.

It goes without saying that any organization struggling with engagement isn't sure how to connect with audiences. There is no follow-through past a strategy meeting. Nearly all brands have hashtags, and individual events promoting those brands have a unique hashtag as well. That's because, pound (sign) for pound (sign), it's the best way to unite an audience scatted across the country or globe.

Along the line, someone forgot to remind those companies creating the hashtag isn't the same as actually using it. The trouble can, and often does, begin far before an event. The hashtag may lay dormant except for the three days per year a tradeshow takes place. But even during shows, Plaxen says many companies are guilty of not monitoring the hashtag or, perhaps worse, not using it themselves. Typical culprits of this issue are that one person has not been assigned to monitor and use the hashtag or that there isn't staffing to run social media on-site.

"You should have an entire campaign around it," Plaxen says of hashtags. "You should have it in a 'know-before-you-go.'"

Silence begets silence. One way to break the cycle is to ensure event planners coordinate with marketing teams to cover bases even if they seem obvious. A marketing professional or agency may think their job is done once everyone is in the door. But a gentle reminder that an in-person or virtual exhibition is an extension of the brand may be all that's needed to monitor the situation.

Put the Right Message in the Right Place (The Medium is the Message)

If audience engagement is a key objective, then automating the same content across platforms is the cardinal sin of social media.

It's best to think of the Big FourFacebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedInas a suite at your disposal.

  • Instagram is perfect for clean photos of say keynote speakers you are announcing pre-event.
  • Facebook Live is the best video tool on the market for behind-the-scenes action before, during and after a conference on a tradeshow.
  • Twitter remains king for instant reactions and breaking news.
  • LinkedIn is tops for building connections.

Selecting a purpose for each of your platforms gives followers an initiative to see what's happening on each. For instance, a person may follow Instagram to learn the keynotes; follow a company on Facebook for the videos and engage on Twitter for the live conversation. This strategy turns one person's interest into a three-pointer for your social media campaign.

Plaxen says to consider this question when formulating your plan: "Why would anyone follow you on multiple platforms?"

If you don't have an answer, then you better cancel that Hootsuite account of yours or start individualizing each post.

Be Direct

Coy is cute when dating, but at some point, the subtlety gives way to actual words and actions. Likewise, it's all well and good to imply you'd like your audience to do something with your post. Nobody wants to be pushy. Yet changing a few words can make all the difference between a Tweet going unnoticed or ignored versus becoming a springboard for conversation.

There are a few tactics, Plaxen notes. There's the switch from "Here's a link to this week's newsletter" to "Click on the link to this week's newsletter." Changing the intro turns a statement into a call to action, which is what you're looking for.

To really up the ante, ask for reactions to a post. "What do you think is the future of the sustainability practices described in this link?" is an example of jumpstarting a discussion.

In the marketing world, this is the difference between organic engagement versus paid media. Yes, the option is always there to throw money at an inactive audience. Facebook, Instagram and the like are all too happy to take your greenbacks with the promise of a post gaining higher exposure.

The platforms control the algorithm that determines which items come up first in a person's feed. But just as you can take a horse to water but can't make it drink, you can get your photo or news item in front of eyeballs but you can get someone on their phone to click that "like" button you so desperately want them too.

Organic success, produced by genuine emotional reactions, has a far higher ceiling of engagement. It's also a lot harder to predict or maintain.

Remember that seeking organic engagement is like farming. You plant the seeds, but then you to water the plants, trim the weeks and allow the fruits of your labor to blossom.

We bet your grandparents made that look easy, too.