Are your social media ads miss­ing the mark? Con­trib­u­tor Peter Min­ni­um out­lines eight tips and tricks to help you con­nect with your audi­ence and build a com­mu­ni­ty of loy­al fol­low­ers.

A friend recent­ly com­plained to me that the tar­get­ed ads that per­sis­tent­ly stud her social media feeds are not only dis­rup­tive but also fre­quent­ly irrel­e­vant. She uses social media pri­mar­i­ly to keep track of friends and to fol­low artists and crafters that could offer her inspi­ra­tion or tech­ni­cal knowl­edge.

As she vent­ed her frus­tra­tion, I won­dered why the ads she saw were still so con­sis­tent­ly miss­ing the mark despite the great leaps in ad tar­get­ing tech­nol­o­gy. Sure­ly there must be a bet­ter way for brands to reach audi­ences through social media.

Sur­pris­ing­ly, though almost two-thirds of social media users are irri­tat­ed by the num­ber of pro­mo­tions that clut­ter their feeds, and 26 per­cent active­ly ignore mar­ket­ing con­tent, a whop­ping 62 per­cent fol­low at least one brand on social media.

Accord­ing to the Glob­al­We­bIndex, 42 per­cent of social media users are there to “stay in touch” with their friends, while over a third are also inter­est­ed in fol­low­ing cur­rent events, find­ing enter­tain­ing con­tent or killing time. Though 27 per­cent of users find or research prod­ucts on social media, most usage is skewed toward build­ing rela­tion­ships. As such, it’s clear why many social media users are annoyed by ads they find intru­sive, irrel­e­vant or bor­ing.

While this data helps us under­stand why users may find ads abra­sive, it also gives us a glimpse into why they are so open to fol­low­ing brands on social media. Today’s hyper­com­pet­i­tive ethos is not lim­it­ed to brands or ads. Con­sumers want to know about the lat­est trends in fash­ion and tech­nol­o­gy, and they want to know first. By fol­low­ing brands, users can keep tabs on the lat­est and great­est.

Fol­low­ing also allows con­sumers to inter­act with brands more direct­ly and to voice their dis­sat­is­fac­tion when brands mis­step. A full 46 per­cent of users have “called out” brands on social media, and four out of five believe that this has had a pos­i­tive impact on brand account­abil­i­ty. The good news for brands is that when they respond well, 45 per­cent of users will post about the inter­ac­tion, and over a third will share the expe­ri­ence with their friends.

Brands should note that 60 per­cent of call­outs are in response to per­ceived dis­hon­esty, which should lend some con­text to the fact that 30 per­cent will unfol­low a brand that uses slang or jar­gon incon­sis­tent with the brand’s image. This can be a cost­ly mis­take, as 76 per­cent of users aged 13 to 25 stopped buy­ing from brands after unfol­low­ing.

The news may seem bleak, but the truth is that these facts draw a clear path for brands that want to tap into the unprece­dent­ed con­sumer access offered by the social media rev­o­lu­tion. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Be authentic

Above all, brands need to strive for authen­tic­i­ty. Con­sumers have shown that they are not only open to brand­ed social media con­tent, they wel­come it, pro­vid­ed the con­tent is use­ful and rel­e­vant rather than dis­rup­tive to their expe­ri­ence.

From social media usage sta­tis­tics, we see that users are most inter­est­ed in stay­ing con­nect­ed and enter­tained. Brands that share news of upcom­ing trends or offer con­tent that stands on its own mer­it can add val­ue to users’ social media expe­ri­ence while reach­ing out to a more recep­tive audi­ence.

2. Be useful

Under­stand­ing how indi­vid­u­als uti­lize their social media pres­ence can help brands lever­age their mar­ket­ing dol­lars. Users may not want to see a soft-drink ad while scrolling through pic­tures of a friend’s trip, but an air­line ad might hit home.

Instruc­tion­al videos can be a par­tic­u­lar­ly effec­tive way of reach­ing an audi­ence in a use­ful man­ner. Like many oth­ers, my friend would be far more wel­com­ing of how-to videos from a yarn sup­pli­er than of the seem­ing­ly arbi­trary cloth­ing ads that pep­per her craft­ing-heavy social media feeds.

3. Be contextual

As always, con­text is key. Not all social media inter­ac­tions are alike. Users may look to one branch of their net­work for enter­tain­ment or news and to anoth­er for tech­ni­cal knowl­edge or inspi­ra­tion.

While the cur­rent tar­get­ing approach esti­mates user pro­cliv­i­ties based on the activ­i­ty and inter­ests of their net­work as a whole, deter­min­ing how users relate to spe­cif­ic nodes in the net­work will enable brands to reach out to users when and where they will be most recep­tive to the mar­ket­ing con­tent in ques­tion.

4. Be credible

Dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion is also crit­i­cal in estab­lish­ing cred­i­bil­i­ty. An Amer­i­can Press Insti­tute study showed that users place greater weight on who shares con­tent than on where it came from orig­i­nal­ly. Social media users, espe­cial­ly those in the 13-to-24 age brack­et, will active­ly share and dis­cuss con­tent they find engag­ing.

Brands can make use of this phe­nom­e­non to pro­lif­er­ate their con­tent, but only if those who share it are per­ceived to be trust­wor­thy by mem­bers of their net­work. How con­nec­tions respond to a user’s posts or shares can be more impor­tant than how much the user shares.

5. Be accessible

Brands need to build an audi­ence of active and reli­able fol­low­ers who will help spread brand­ed con­tent to loy­al fol­low­ers of their own. Beyond pub­lish­ing con­tent that is engag­ing and true to their image, brands can accom­plish this by mak­ing them­selves more acces­si­ble to con­sumers.

Instant mes­sag­ing can be a pow­er­ful tool for answer­ing con­sumer ques­tions, respond­ing to com­plaints and build­ing more inti­mate rela­tion­ships with fol­low­ers. By respond­ing in a more imme­di­ate and per­son­al way to users, brands can empow­er users to take the ini­tia­tive in build­ing a stronger rela­tion­ship with them.

6. Be persistent

The most impor­tant fac­tor that deter­mines a brand’s suc­cess in the world of social media is per­se­ver­ance. In part, this means being respon­sive to user feed­back and active­ly work­ing to improve their social media pres­ence.

At the same time, brands need to stick to their guns. A major­i­ty (some 60 per­cent) of users need to inter­act with con­tent between two and four times before tak­ing action, accord­ing to a Sprout Social sur­vey. A steady pro­duc­tion of qual­i­ty con­tent will keep users tuned in, trans­lat­ing user engage­ment with con­tent into tan­gi­ble results.

7. Be testy

Brands too often fail to invest in test­ing to under­stand the effec­tive­ness of their social media adver­tis­ing. It’s easy to make excus­es for not doing so: “the per ad invest­ment is too small,” “I get met­rics from the plat­form,” or “we don’t have time” are the most fre­quent­ly heard.

This is a mis­take. With­out inde­pen­dent val­i­da­tion that the ads achieve their objec­tives (both atti­tu­di­nal and behav­ioral), a brand can’t be sure it’s made it through the gaunt­let of chal­lenges out­lined above.

8. Use your listening skills

Brands that lis­ten active­ly to social media users and respond earnest­ly to their needs and inter­ests stand to gain a foothold in the new mar­ket­ing fron­tier. Over 75 per­cent of users in the Sprout sur­vey report pur­chas­ing a prod­uct after inter­act­ing with mar­ket­ing con­tent on a social media plat­form. Fur­ther­more, just as many users dis­cov­ered a new brand through social media as in-store or via a con­ven­tion­al ad.

While many brands are strug­gling to reach con­sumers on social media (and not for lack of try­ing), they can over­come the resis­tance they are expe­ri­enc­ing by open­ing their ears — before their pock­et­books.