When’s the right time to start really talking to and engaging with your target audience? To borrow an old Chinese proverb: The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago, or today.

What you’re going to want to do is plant the seeds of social media promotion that will eventually blossom into full-on social media engagement.

That being said, this isn’t something that you can do on the fly, at least not well.

The brands and companies with the best social media engagement strategies all have a definite plan, and guidelines to follow, when reaching out to their customers.

In this article we’ll cover some of the basics, think of this as your foundation, something every sprouting tree needs:

1. Know Your Brand’s Persona and Stick To It

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Us greeting our guests. #taptoshop @leiasfez

A post shared by freepeople (@freepeople) on Jan 8, 2019 at 3:55pm PST

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Welcome to our crib. #taptoshop #linkinbio

A post shared by freepeople (@freepeople) on Jan 7, 2019 at 3:39pm PST

@freepeople has an incredibly consistent brand voice, just look at their Instagram captions - generally short and pithy, using casual language similar to how their target demographics speak.

Stay true to your brand’s image when speaking to your audience naturally. Identify your goal: is it to sell something? To inform your customers? Work backward from that and with your brands image in mind, find the kind of voice you need to use.

You have to resist the urge to try to be something that you’re not. People have an innate ability to sniff out fakeness and will almost automatically become closed off to whatever you want to communicate. Social media engagement will only happen if your audience is ready and willing to listen.

It’s important that you think before you speak — be clear about your communication guidelines. When your social media team is small it’s easy to follow one person’s lead, but as your brand grows you won’t be able to rely on someone vetting every single tweet or comment. You’re going to have to trust your team to respond in the moment.

Another great tip that goes along with this is to put a name and face to your social media specialists. Simply appending the name of the person who’s writing each post can make a world of difference. Being able to see that, yes, this post was written by a real life human being can make your audience connect on a level you’ll have never seen before.

2. Don’t Just Respond to Criticism, Embrace It

Your audience wants to talk about their experience. People love to give their two cents on just about anything, so being open to their opinions is going to have a positive effect on the whole. As for the subject of negative criticism or feedback —perhaps you’ve heard of the Streisand effect, a phenomenon where attempting to censor or hide information has the consequence of publicizing that information more widely. Welcoming in all that negative feedback and taking it in stride will speak volumes about your team’s willingness to not just respond to praise, but become even more worthy of it in the future. This is one of the building blocks of an incredible customer experience and a huge driver of social media engagement.

Of course, this can be challenging for your social media team, but point 1 above can help smooth over any friction by giving a name and a face to the people behind your social media accounts.

Keep in mind that offering rewards for or soliciting positive reviews from your audience is an absolute no-no and isn’t just poor form online, it’s also forbidden on many social media platforms and possibly even illegal depending on where you are. It’s better to gently remind people that you are open to any and all feedback, simple as that.

3. Utilize the Power of Visual Content

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Purple rain🍇

A post shared by 𝕴𝖌𝖌𝖞 𝕾𝖎𝖒𝖔𝖓𝖆 𝕳𝖊𝖑𝖉𝖔𝖔𝖗𝖓. (@iggyheldoorn) on Apr 20, 2019 at 5:11am PDT

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I love you❤️

A post shared by 𝕴𝖌𝖌𝖞 𝕾𝖎𝖒𝖔𝖓𝖆 𝕳𝖊𝖑𝖉𝖔𝖔𝖗𝖓. (@iggyheldoorn) on Dec 30, 2018 at 8:15am PST

Nano-Influencer @iggyheldoorn does a great job establishing consistent visuals for her brand, maintaining cohesive use of sharpness, highlights & shadows, filters and more.

According to Facebook, the average text post on their platform gets 120% less social media engagement than posts that include an image. Simply from that fact alone we can already say that you need to start posting more images if you want to maximize your social media engagement.

What that statistic doesn’t include, however, is that the right kind of visual content is just as important! You’re going to need to use different kinds of content for different audiences. Do your customers tend to be young and internet-savvy? By all means, post your memes and GIFs. However, older demographics may not appreciate or understand the jokes.

Even the choice of platform you’re posting on needs to be taken into account. Instagram is fine with big, high-detail images that look great against a whole bunch of your other pictures, but you probably won’t get the same kind of traction with the same posting style on Twitter since the conversations on there are so much faster. A small teaser with more text that leads to an external site might work best.

Just like with your text communication, what’s important here is that you’re consistent and your content is in-line with your brand image and audience. Create clear guidelines for your content and have your image filters, color palettes, and even font styles picked out and ready to go so that every post feels cohesive.

4. Keep Your Finger on the Pulse of Trending Topics

Staying in touch with what everyone else is talking about will mean you’re in step with the rest of the community is thinking. Conversations — even about things that aren’t directly related to your brand — are always good. Keep tabs on your competitors and your customers to see what they’re interested in. Your social media promotion strategies can be much more effective if they’re topical and timely. You can also stay on top of the conversation with social listening tools like Awario - a tool that monitors the web for relevant keywords, provides up to date analytics, lead generation and more. 

One caveat is that by joining the conversation too late or too clumsily, you can appear to be “cashing in” on the trend. Being too controversial can also turn people off of listening to what you have to say, so tread carefully.

5. Be Strategic With Hashtag Usage

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lean into the wind 🌪 @the.stone.official #thestoneofficial

A post shared by ₉₅| B.A ★✰ (@brittaileen) on Apr 13, 2019 at 3:52am PDT

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monday lazy🌾 #mariejolingerie

A post shared by ₉₅| B.A ★✰ (@brittaileen) on Dec 17, 2018 at 4:17am PST

@brittaileen is very strategic in her hashtag use, normally targeting a single branded hashtag.

We’ve all seen the Instagram or Twitter posts where people spam dozens of hashtags, trying to fit into every category possible. It’s more important to use the right hashtags for the job, rather than the most possible. What you want us to use these to get your specific audience to make their way to your feed.

Social media engagement simply doesn’t happen by throwing things at a wall and seeing what sticks. Tailoring your Instagram hashtags to be relevant and specific is going to be how you reach out to the people ready to listen.

6. People Love Being Called Into Action

Let’s say you’ve already followed the rest of our tips and have people listening. Leveraging that attention into action is the final step towards social media engagement. How do you do that? Sometimes you just have to ask.

Simply put, asking people to get involved — to like, comment, or share — works almost astonishingly well.

Likes, comments, and shares are all the currency of social media and help build up social proof. Of course, it can seem gauche to ask for these things if the request is poorly worded or is overdone, but utilized the right way it can really drive engagement.

Just be ready to monitor your brand’s social media and be responsive — asking for comments and feedback then ghosting your customers is an engagement killer.

7. Make it a Point to Feature Your Customers

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WOW! We are obsessing over Instasize Creative + blogger @zahee22 and her beautiful page! 😍 We appreciate you and your love for Instasize 💕 #instasizecreatives • • • #instasize #instasizefilters #photogrid #phototips #photoeditor #photofilter #grid #gridplanning #igfeed #life_portraits #ig_photooftheday #photooftheday #photoofday #iger #igdaily #icreate #photoart #creatives #phototips #photoeditingapp #photoapp #cohesivefeed #iginspo #igfeed

A post shared by Instasize (@instasize.official) on Dec 20, 2018 at 12:39pm PST

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CREATOR SPOTLIGHT 🌟 Swipe 👉 to see this group of creative photos edited with Instasize 🤩 we’re only a LITTLE obsessed⚡️ PS...we’re going to be sharing some fun Thanksgiving Templates on our IG story today...be on the lookout 👀 • • • #instasize #instasizefilters #photogrid #phototips #photoeditor #photofilter #grid #gridplanning #igfeed #life_portraits #ig_photooftheday #photooftheday #photoofday #iger #igdaily #icreate #photoart #creatives #instasizecreatives #photoeditingapp #photoapp #cohesivefeed #personalize #igfeed #iginspo #blue #creativity #creativefeed #igcreatives

A post shared by Instasize (@instasize.official) on Nov 21, 2018 at 9:43am PST

Here at Instasize we reguluary feature our affiliates, or IG Users who tag their photos #instasizecreatives!

People also love having their 15 minutes of fame —give them that chance! Share your users’ content when appropriate. Featuring your followers when they actually use your product or engage with your brand is not only incredibly easy, but has the benefit of encouraging people to become brand ambassadors in their own right.

Winning that kind of loyalty with your followers is, in many ways, another level up from social media engagement. These people will go on to engage the rest of the community without you even having to lift a finger.

Social media engagement isn’t just an end goal, it’s something that every brand is constantly striving for – this list isn’t an exhaustive set of strategies, but a way for you to start. There are still tons of other ideas and strategies out there for you to try. Good luck!

RELATED: Check out these 25 social media tips you can use to increase your engagement from our friends over at FreeeUp.