This Is What Happened When I Tried to Increase Social Media Engagement

Thea van Diepen is an author, poet, and long-standing member of the Change Catalyst community. I noted that her social feeds contained many of the same elements of the feeds of the most social-media- adept writers such as Neil Gaiman and Maggie Stiefvater. After a discussion of how to take her feed and make it even better, I invited her to measure her results and share them as a case study for everyone to learn from.

I have left notes throughout, in grey boxes. -SM

Thea“How do I get people engaged with my stuff on social media?” is the question on the minds of everyone trying to make a living online.

Including me.

So, back in December, I booked a call with Shanna to talk about how I could ramp up my social media activity. She suggested things I could do, I laughed at all her jokes (note to self: keep doing this), and the call ended with me feeling invigorated and ready to Do the Things.

At which point I have to tell you that I didn’t do most of what she said to try out.

But I did make changes.

It’s been interesting to see how they worked out.

Not doing most of what I suggest is pretty common, mainly because I do a LOT of suggesting, and leave it to the client to decide what they’re most excited by. Don’t forget there are lots of ways that CAN work, so do what seems the most promising and fun– there’s less burnout that way.

This Is What Happened When I Tried to Increase Social Media Engagement

What I Wanted and What I Had

Engagement is a big word. We throw it around a lot, without knowing what we’re really talking about. All we know is we want it, because people tell us it’s good for our brand. Since I’ve been trained to come up with definitions of words so I measure the results of experiments (psychology degree ftw!), I came up with one for engagement:

For me, engagement was interaction. Commenting with people, tweeting with people. ‘With’ being the operative word: they were involved in this, too.

Even more specifically, I wanted more of this engagement on Facebook and Twitter (and originally my blog, but I’ll explain why I tossed that partway through the experiment).

‘More’ being the OTHER operative word because it was happening. And I wanted to encourage it more because, let’s face it, social media is a lot more fun when we’re talking with people.

So far, I had a Facebook feed that I knew people liked. My entire strategy for it went like this: when the share button became a thing, I shared everything I liked, and watched my notifications like a hawk to learn what people liked. And then I shared more of that.

It has resulted in a feed that others love- more than one person has told me I’m the only reason they’re on Facebook anymore. And, incidentally, it’s resulted in a feed I love (the more you share of what you like, the more of that you see on Facebook, thanks to their algorithm).

Look at this strategy: Simple. Elegant. Engaging. What’s stopping everyone from doing this?

We’re encouraged to take our social media Very Seriously and Be Professional. But have you noticed that the most engaging feeds you follow don’t take themselves too seriously, and are often silly and fun?

By the by, this also solves that dreaded Facebook Algorithm problem. Yes, it’s annoying that people won’t ‘Like’ your self-promotion-y posts. Take a page out of Thea’s book and figure out what they WILL like and engage with, so you’ve got some social capital the next time you really want to sell something.

My strategy for Twitter was… well… sort of adapted from Facebook, but still not its own thing yet. I have phases with social media:

  1. New shiny thing! Do the things! Copy the people!
  2. Information received, do (almost) nothing there for an indeterminate period of time while processing.
  3. Do the things again, now knowing how I want to do it and ready to work out the details of that.

At this point, I was still at the beginning of stage 3, after being in stage 2 for a couple years. Yeah. Years. Somehow, I’ll never know how, I still had followers when I got back into it.

The Strategy

Since Facebook and Twitter are two different animals, I went at them from separate angles. But first, my website.

…for my website

I wanted to a) give readers a solid reason to go to my blog and b) encourage them to comment there. Commenting would ideally be accomplished by a solid call to action at the bottom of each post, after a post full of interesting and thoughtful information.

Hypothetically, the interesting and thoughtful information would be why people went to my blog. I didn’t get any farther than this when poetry stole my heart away.

…for Facebook

I kept up my original strategy, this time focusing on notifications about comments.

On top of this, I continued my policy of reading each and every comment people make on my posts (there’ll probably be a point at which this becomes too much for one person, but today is not that day). And, on top of that, I made sure to comment as much as I could and as thoroughly as I could. I also like mostly everyone’s comments because, gosh darn it, I have cool friends who keep saying cool things.

When I shared things, I tried to say something about what I was sharing as often as I could. I’d noticed that people engage more when I do this, but not all the time. It depends on what kind of commentary I give, and I still haven’t figured out what that is yet enough to explain it.

I also tried to post statuses a little more often, rather than composing them in my head and then telling myself that no one wants to hear that. xD The way I did this was, when I found myself shutting my words down (or preparing to), I listened to what I was saying instead. I listened for the good in it, enjoyed it, and imagined how much fun it would be to post it.

[Tweet “…when I found myself shutting my words down, I *listened* to what I was saying instead.”]

Which sounds like a big long procedure, but you don’t have to get too crazy about it. It was just a couple seconds, like choosing to flip a light switch back on when habit switched it off. And, in case you’re wondering: yes. It’s fun to post these random little thoughts. Muy fun.

…for Twitter

Since a lot of my habits from Facebook had transferred over to Twitter, I made it a point to keep tabs on how well those habits served me on a different platform and adjusted accordingly. If I could be more specific, I would. This part was all done by feel.

I made it a point to say things to people, to respond to their tweets when I had a thought, or to tell them something I like about them rather than keeping it to myself out of awkwardness. In that vein, I made it a point to join in on interesting conversations, rather than just read them and think thoughts to myself and say “Oh, well, they probably wouldn’t find that interesting.”

Those particular changes have a specific reason: when the people I follow complain about people messing with Twitter and/or say what they like about Twitter, they always say that they like chatting with people and random encounters. Thus, I wanted to do more chatting with people and saying yes to the possibilities of random encounters.

And, like Facebook, but with even more motivation, I made a point to tweet my own thoughts. Serious, silly, inspirational, mundane. If I had something to say, I’d say it. Unless it was 2am and I was in the middle of falling asleep, because then I’d never go to bed, and I do love my sleep.

Notice Thea’s main strategy; What do people complain about, and want more of? She paid attention to that, and adjusted her efforts accordingly. No formula, no grand strategy.

Additionally, she did what most people would feel was risky or self-centered — she conversed.

The Results

The total amount of time I spend on social media each day varies, with the bulk of it being reading my Twitter feed (I am a crazy person who reads her entire Twitter feed every day- only do this if you’re absolutely sure you want to). At minimum, it’s an hour an a half, but it’s more like 2-2.5 hours on average. Again, this is with me reading my entire Twitter feed, which accounts for about an hour of the total time. More if I find really interesting articles and read them right then and there. I also post a lot on Facebook, so ymmv there, too.

In other words: 1 hour per day is totally doable.

Although Thea’s time investment is substantial, notice that she’s using it for consumption purposes, too. This immersive strategy helped her gain traction and ‘get’ social media, but I have been testing these tactics myself and am finding that even 30 minutes a few times a week is a worthy investment. By far the hardest part is finding the time to share in a ‘spur of the moment’ way– and not get sucked into checking for likes every five minutes!

…on my website

At the beginning of February, I wrote a poem instead of a prose blog post. And, a few days after, I posted the first in my The Art of Goofing Off feature, where I talk about cool movies, books, music, etc that I found the previous month.

It was like something clicked. After blogging for five years, I finally stumbled on the thing I’d wanted to be doing the whole time. I mean, The Art of Goofing Off might pass away. But the poetry thing. That felt right.

And it wasn’t about getting more engagement anymore. I love what I do with my blog now in a way I never have before. I have no idea what’s going to happen next with it, but my old goals for it with this experiment were no longer applicable. So I happily dropped it from the results.

Result: No change, since my priorities shifted. I have no regrets. 😀

Don’t be afraid to drop things like this. Thea made a good call here.

…on Facebook

Turns out, people are really into talking about the importance of handwriting over printing. New Year’s resolutions are also an interesting topic. Those quick things like “Think of the latest TV show you watched. You’ve been kidnapped and they’re going to rescue you. How screwed are you?” or “You’re a dragon and you hoard whatever the object to your left is. What is it?”

(Mine were The IT Crowd and floormats.)

I prefer the conversationy things to the quick things because they have more substance… but I’ve got to admit, it’s cool to see what people’s answers are. Not to mention fun.

I also got into a pun war on a picture of a Christmas decoration involving a fake beaver cutting down a Christmas tree.

The best conversation hands down, though, was the one about handwriting vs printing. I posted something about handwriting and said I was thinking of doing more of it. My expectation was a few likes, maybe a comment or two. What ended up happening was a whole bunch of people weighing in with their thoughts – like, actual thoughts and opinions, including a retired English teacher who cited studies along with his own classroom observations – and we all had a great conversation. That’s the kind of conversation I would love to see more of on my feed, and I’m still trying to figure out how to nurture more of it.

And, in general, people have commented more, and we’ve all enjoyed ourselves immensely. So, score!

Results: Facebook doesn’t give analytics for profiles, unfortunately, and I forgot to keep track of the actual numbers. What’s also complicated matters is that Facebook added reactions while I was in the middle of this experiment, so I’m not sure what to make of them yet. That said: my notifications feed has a higher proportion of comments to likes than I remember it being in December. Also, there’s been more interaction in the comments than I remember seeing and, if I could give you actual numbers for this, I would. (Sorry, Shanna)

It’s 2016 and there’s no native analytics for profiles? What is this world coming to! In general, I wouldn’t recommend bogging down your experiments with hand-recorded analytics. However, a quick scan over your timeline should give you an impression about whether engagement is rising or falling.

…on Twitter

Well, I have a container of Vegemite sitting on my desk now, which is a direct result of purposefully talking to people. Which is hilarious in hindsight, because I was actually thinking last year about how it was unlikely that I’d have friends in Australia before the end of this year.

I’m also going to be meeting an author from Australia (not the person who sent me Vegemite) when she comes here for a book launch. That and I’ll be driving her to the airport before she heads off to Alaska.

If I sound bewildered, that’s because I am. Facebook is so straightforward for me. Do the thing, see what happens, lather, rinse, repeat. Twitter, on the other hand, will give results you never could in a million years predict. And they’re so much cooler than what you thought would happen.

So, do I have more engagement on Twitter? Yes. My notifications say so. But those numbers seem almost irrelevant when compared to how much fun Twitter has become just by making a few changes.

Results: My follower count is up by 14% since January, and is steadily rising. Although Twitter analytics says my engagement rate is down, the raw number of notifications I’ve been getting has gone up by 8%. I am 100% okay with that for right now. It takes time to build relationships with people, after all.

Considering that Thea had basically ignored Twitter for the past couple of years, this level of engagement is reasonable, even good, I think, for a 3-month foray into a relatively new forum. As she continues to engage, I think it reasonable to assume that the consistency will pay off.

Thoughts on the Experiment

There were a lot of things Shanna suggested that I didn’t do, like set up a Facebook author page (for legitimacy, at the very least), sharing things that give a taste of my work, or automating some of my social media.

For the record: these are all great ideas that I do want to implement.

But what I just realized I ended up doing in this experiment wasn’t that I tried new things to see what would stick. Instead, I did things that I’d seen were what people said they were looking for. On Facebook, it was through likes, comments, and shares (and occasional complaints people made about all the politics and negativity choking up their feed). On Twitter, it was through listening to what people said about what they did and didn’t like about Twitter (and through favourites, mentions, and retweets).

[Tweet ” Instead, I did things that I’d seen were what people said they were looking for. “]

What I ended up testing wasn’t if I could get more engagement, but if I had the right feedback system in place to give more of what my followers wanted. From their response, I’d say I’ve finally got it worked out (it’s not a complicated system, either: pay attention to what people say and do. Get to know them, learn what they like and like to talk about. And respond accordingly. But the biggest part is to pay attention to what’s already in front of you and learn from it).

In other words, I didn’t do what I thought I needed to do. Instead, I did what I actually needed to do. And now I have a foundation, tested and ready for the next experiment.

Which is?

Building the house to go on top.

*squints at laptop*

So, what’s this Buffer thing all the kids keep telling me about?

How Do You Get More Engagement on Social Media?

It’s exactly what all the social media and marketing experts have been saying:

Give, listen, give better.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Thea has one of the best feeds around for interesting, entertaining, and engaging content. Is that what you want people saying about your social media feeds? If so, Thea’s method is ideal. Copy her.
Other people have different end-games for their Social Media. They want to say only the best stuff so that people trust that everything they share will be amazing. Or maybe they’re only sharing their stuff on social media as a courtesy, and much of the brand action takes place elsewhere. But, I think it’s worth really studying the brands and people YOU engage with and ask yourself WHY you do so. It’s probably at odds with the way you’re currently crafting your own feed! It’s not enough to fill your Buffer queue– if you want engagement, you have to engage and to do that, you need to figure out how to be engaging. Check out Thea on Twitter and Facebook to see these strategies in action.