Digital marketing channels might be changing our perception of the marketplace; however, no matter how sophisticated social media platforms get, people still buy from people.

Social media has changed significantly over the last few years, and particularly during the pandemic, the noise got louder and the virtual space more competitive. At the end of last year Instagram has reached 1 billion active users, continuously introducing new business features for brands looking for extra exposure, as organic engagement continues to drop.

But whilst we are exposed to successful profiles, with impressive follower counts, we often forget that it’s not just as simple as posting a perfect post once in a while. Successful companies have spent years building their brands through a variety of online and offline channels to get in front of their target audience and are keeping their interest through engaging content that is educating and nurturing – because followers are easier to lose than they are to gain.

However, many businesses get so hooked on social media metrics that they often lose focus on the bigger picture – and the fact that growing social media influence and growing revenue are not the same thing. Social media marketing can be an effective route to the market for brands, but it’s only as good as their products and services, because whilst social media has the power to get a brand in front of their target audience, the buying decision is still on the customer and how they feel about the brand itself.

Brands that turn their social media platforms into communities have an opportunity to create and nurture long-lasting customer relationships, adapt to their needs and wants by implementing real-time feedback, and grow together with their follower base. To turn social media into a competitive advantage, attention should be on the following aspects:

Focus on engagement over self-promotion

One-sided conversations have a short lifespan. Paying attention to your target audience, on the other hand, can lead to forming and maintaining long-lasting digital relationships with followers. In addition, the more you interact with others on social media, the more visible your own profile and activities will become.

By following and interacting with other accounts, brands also have the opportunity to show the human voice behind the brand who cares about feedback and customer care and wants to be in touch with their audience. Instagram also rewards interaction efforts and following a recent algorithm update, replying to comments left on posts within 60 minutes generates increased exposure for the post.

Take a walk in your customers’ shoes

How many businesses do you follow and how often do you buy from them? Think of reasons why you follow brands and why you stay connected with them. Exposure doesn’t equal sales – instead it is about educating and inspiring your potential and existing customers, to make a purchase when they are ready.

If you are selling something they already have or use, they will have bought it somewhere else previously and it’s your job to provide them with reasons to switch brands. If your products and service is new to them, you will need to educate them to see the value in the purchase. People don’t care about businesses and brands – they care about their own wants and needs and how they can fulfil them, and they are likely to turn to brands that they can trust.

Understand that there is no return without investment

Results require investment – of your focus, time, and energy, and in many cases a decent budget. People don’t necessarily buy the best products and services – they buy products and services that they can understand and like, from brands they can find online. With social distancing measures in place, customers make more decisions now before contacting a business, than ever before.

They expect your website and social channels to educate them fully. If they can’t find the information they’re looking for on your digital channels, they might just head to your competitor’s channels instead.

Use social listening to learn about your customers

 Despite its potential, social listening remains underleveraged, and businesses look at social media conversations as something that needs to be managed instead of listened to. Insights from social listening, however, can drive business growth and innovation.

Whilst social monitoring will tell you what people are saying, social listening provides you with insight on the context of the conversations. Social listening is about understanding the bigger picture – it helps you understand how and why these conversations are happening and what people are saying, not just when they are mentioning your brand.

This insight can help you to create future campaigns, improve your content marketing strategy and form impactful brand partnerships.

Avoid shortcuts to the top

Quick solutions don’t lead to long-term success. For brands who are keen to appear bigger than they are, without doing the legwork, buying new followers and artificial engagement is a common approach. But many are surprised about how quickly after they appear, they start to disappear again.

The reason is that followers purchased in bulk packages are either bots or inactive accounts and Instagram continuously works on removing any follows, likes or comments from third-party apps that are designed to artificially grow audiences and engagement. It is estimated that approximately one in ten Instagram accounts are fake, adding up to 95 million fake accounts and as buying followers violates Instagram’s community guidelines, it might hurt profiles in the long term.


By Petra Smith, founder of Squirrels&Bears