“Social media is the ultimate equalizer. It gives a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage.” ~ Amy Jo Martin

The key to successful social media marketing is building connections and engaging your followers with captivating content. Consider these simple, low-cost social media tips to increase engagement with your followers:

Call to Action

One-directional broadcast social media posts are not always effective at fostering interaction with your followers. Every post you include on social media should have a specific purpose and provide a call to action. Be direct and tell your users exactly what you want them to do: watch a video, click on a link, answer a question, share a post or like a page. Research indicates that social media posts that contain a call to action have higher engagement rates than posts that merely inform.

Participate in Daily Trends

On any given day, there are  number of designated internet trends. For example, #ThrowBackThursdays encourages social media users to post old photos of life events on Thursdays. You can creatively engage your audience by posting content that corresponds with these daily themes. For content ideas, visit Digital Trends, which provides a list of popular hashtags for every day of the week. You can also post social media content focused around designated holidays. Visit Holiday Insights, where you can browse a list of all the various holidays that occur during the year, including notable dates in history, holidays around the world and unusual observances for content ideas.

Get Personal

Market research indicates that social media users engage more frequently with content that is visual. Why not create a video to help promote your product or reinforce your message? Twitter has a video app (for both Apple® and Android™) that allows you to tweet a video message using its platform. You can also create a Twitter link for an existing video. For example, if you work for a non-profit and your organization is launching a fundraising campaign, a personal, well-crafted video appeal from the Executive Director may be more persuasive than an impersonal email blast soliciting donations. Videos allow you to humanize your messages and appeal directly to the emotions of your followers more effectively than text alone.

Host a Twitter Chat

Twitter chats are events that take place on Twitter in real time.  These events are generally initiated by a moderator, who poses a specific question to participants in a live online session. Participants respond to the question by posting a comment and using the designated hashtag assigned for the chat. Inviting your followers and even your competitors to join a Twitter chat on a relevant topic is a great way to stimulate conversation and engagement on social media.

Pose a Question

One of the easiest ways to generate dialogue with your social media followers is to ask them a question. For example, a publisher may ask followers to help them determine which book cover to use for an upcoming release by asking followers to select their favorites. This strategy provides an opportunity for high engagement because users enjoy giving their opinions and commenting on the opinions of others. Note that placement of your question is important. Research shows that including your question at the end of a post, as opposed to the beginning, has a 15% higher engagement rate with users.

Sponsor a Contest

People love competitions. Contests are easy ways to generate product excitement, reward royal followers and drive traffic to your website. Trivia games, sweepstakes (drawings for prizes) and competitions among followers are all promotional gimmicks that foster engagement among followers. For example, you can ask your followers to submit a caption for a product photo and then offer a prize for the best submission. Get creative. HootSuite, the social media management company, offers some ideas and case studies of successful social media contests in one of their blog posts: 5 Awesome Social Media Contests (Plus How to Create Your Own).

Tweet Live from Your Event

Create buzz around your event by live tweeting from the venue as it is happening in real time. People respond to immediacy and the feeling of living vicariously through others. You’ll want to use a corresponding hashtag for the event in all of your tweets. Don’t forget to make your live tweet more appealing by including photos and videos with your posts. A recent study suggests that social media posts containing photos with special effects and filters have higher engagement rates.

Create a Google+ Circle

Google+ is Google’s social platform with a feature called, “Circles,” which allows users to categorize different people into specific groupings or lists. This feature allows you to share targeted content to specific audiences so that you can customize your messages. You can also join new circles and view content posted by users that you find interesting. Create a circle for your brand/product/organization and create dialogues with your members. You can join new circles and include those members in your conversation. Another bonus is that everything you post on Google + is immediately indexed by Google, increasing your search ranking.

Social media for small business owners can be easy!

A thumbs up with social media icons that represents Social Media for Small Business Source: Social media for small business owners can seem daunting if you don’t know where to start. But think about the impact it can have on your potential customer base. Say you’re visiting another town and you’d like to find a local coffee shop or deli. How often do you search for a business, only to be turned off by their (lack of) website or social media presence? These days, small businesses thrive better when their information is kept up to date, and relevant to the customer. Websites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook have become the utmost authority on verifying businesses, via user reviews, and are more likely to influence which business the customer will ultimately end up choosing. That’s why it’s important for small businesses to have a grasp on social media and how it can keep them relevant. Social media and the internet can be daunting, however here are three simple tips for staying relevant in the digital world. 1) Stay Current! Google is the #1 search engine, and likely the first place your customer will find you once they’ve typed in a search for your product. Google Business Solutions is a free service that allows a Google user to claim a Business listing and manage that content. Once you’re verified, you can change your business hours, contact information, and even reply to reviews. Google+ is quickly becoming the next social media hotspot, and it’s important for small businesses to jump in on the ground floor. 2) Stay Connected! Facebook is the world’s biggest social media platform. With almost 900 million users on a daily basis, it’s crucial that even the smallest of businesses connect to their customers. Facebook for Business is another free service that allows companies to claim their web presence. By building and managing a page on Facebook, a small business is able to post and share content, highlight promotions, and give customers an opportunity to connect and give feedback. Users can leave reviews and share your content to their friends, thus expanding your customer base. 3) Stay Calm! Yelp is another crucial social media website. By uploading photos and leaving reviews on a 1-5 star rating system, users gain trust and leverage that influence other customers. Unfortunately though, that means customers can leave negative reviews. Yelp for Business Owners is free and gives business owners the opportunity to keep their information current, upload photos of their products, and respond to customers. It’s important when replying to reviews that your tone and attitude stay professional and courteous. Always take a little constructive criticism with a grain of salt! Never let a negative review make you look even worse by replying rudely and trying to defend yourself. Stay upbeat and respond to positive reviews in a timely manner and you’ll begin to build trust on your very own. Social media for small business owners on a minimal budget can be quite challenging and difficult at times. These three free services make it just a little easier for companies to reach out and connect with their audience and customers, which ultimately can keep a small business afloat in the digital age.