by John Eberhard

In past articles I’ve talked about the necessity of getting lots of friends, followers and connections on social media sites, if you want to use them effectively for marketing purposes.

But there is another important point that is vital in effectively using social media sites to market. That is your amount of engagement with others on social media sites. By engagement in this case I mean “interacting back and forth with people on the social media sites.”

The idea is that you are not just outflowing information or messages to your friends, followers or connections on sites like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. You should be viewing what other people are doing or saying and interacting with them about it.

I was talking to a friend about this recently and I could tell he thought it would be a daunting task, i.e. that it would take him too much time. But I think it is important if you want to get much benefit from social media sites, and I don’t think it has to take a lot of time. Here are some examples:

1. On Facebook, click on “Home.” This brings up a feed of things that your Facebook friends have posted, including short blurbs about what they are doing, comments on things, links to articles elsewhere on the web, pictures they have uploaded, or links to videos on YouTube. Quickly scroll through this feed to look for things that interest you. If someone has posted a blurb or comment that you agree with, click the “Like” button underneath that post. Or post a short comment on it yourself. Similarly if someone has posted a link to an article or video that you like or agree with, click the “Like” button or post your own comment. It is easy to spend excessive time on this but you should discipline yourself and make it take no more than 5 minutes a day. When you click the “Like” button or post a comment on someone else’s content, they receive an email. It shows them that you give a hoot about them and it’s not all about you.

2. On Facebook, in the upper right area of the page you can click to seea list of your Facebook friends for whom today is their birthday. Review this list and for anyone who is a real life friend, write a quick “Happy birthday Joe” message.

3. On Facebook there are groups or fan pages you can find about areas of interest or about your industry. Click “like” on some of these groups and follow or join in the discussions that appear on their fan pages.

4. Facebook has its own email system. Read any Facebook email you get and reply to it.

5. On Twitter, you can spend a few minutes following the posts of other people that you are following, then “re-tweet” the ones you like (that means to send that particular post again out to all of your followers). Or you can send them a direct message via Twitter.

6. Set up folders in your email program and set up mail rules that will dump all Facebook emails into a folder for Facebook and all Twitter emails into a folder for Twitter. That way they do not clutter up your main inbox and you can handle those emails when you have time.

7. On Twitter, you will receive emails that say “Direct message from Joe Jones.” Unfortunately a lot of these will be automatically generated messages that others send out whenever someone follows them, most saying “Thanks for following me. Look forward to reading your messages.” Some will include a link to something they are pitching. I think whoever invented the auto direct messages on Twitter should have a special seat reserved for them in a very hot place, next to that guy who invented that sticky tape along the top of a CD jewel case. The auto direct message is an unfortunate thing you have to put up with. But be on the lookout for any direct messages from others who are actually communicating to you. Reply to them.

8. One thing you can do on Twitter is do a search for your company name or brand, and see what people are saying about you. Then respond to them or re-tweet their stuff if it is positive. If it’s negative, it gives you a chance to monitor any problems and respond to them.

The web, and especially social media sites, are all about interaction, a conversation, back and forth. In the days before the web and social media, most companies were used to putting out communications that their public or consumers would receive. The public could write them a letter but most people never did that.

Today with social media it is much easier for people to write back to a company, or to comment about it. It’s vital, especially as your company expands, to be aware of what people are saying and to respond and be engaged in conversation.

But even beyond managing your public relations, it is best to engage with others on social media sites. By showing interest in your online friends and what they are saying and in responding to their communications, it ensures they will show more interest in you.