If you’re like any of the businesses I work with, you’ve probably experienced and encountered inactive social media followers. You know who they are! They have egg icons as their Twitter photo or they liked your page years ago but you never see them post a comment or share a story. Should you give up on them? Or is it possible to win them back?
Let’s first take a look at the behaviors of online users. In 2007, Forrester Research created what they called the Ladder of Social Technographics and it classified consumers into seven overlapping levels of social technology participation. At the top you have your creators, critics and collectors — you’re most coveted types of audience members. They give feedback, leave testimonials, talk about you organically, they are very engaged.
At the bottom, you have your joiners, spectators and inactives. They are online and across social media, but they are very reluctant to engage in the same way the others do. It’s not that they don’t engage — they do — they read, they like, they favorite — but they really don’t socialize with brands — at least not in the ways you probably want them to.
Even the most engaged and connected brands have inactive fans. And if you don’t know who or where they are — there are a variety of tools you can use to find them.
In 2012 I started working with a client – a retail startup – they had existed in a previous state and were resurrecting its social media presence. Their Facebook page had more than 66,000 likes. Score! I thought. How great! But when I took a closer look at their audience, I realized that their fans were so outside the scope of who their target audience was. To get more information, I asked where those fans came from. While no one could ever tell me — it became clear that most of those 66,000 fans were acquired by unsavory means. Some of them were fake — Facebook estimates that between 5.5& and 11.2% of its 1.23 billion monthly active users are fake.
But some of them were just inactive — meaning their account belonged to a real person, but they had not logged in or engaged with the platform in the same way. We see this on Twitter a lot. Someone will sign up on a whim or because they need to register or enter a contest — and never really revisit it.
But not all inactives are the same. Some are definitely active online — just not in the way the collectors, critics and creators are. We call them spectators because they are just enjoying the view. They watch the action unfold. But they are definitely engaged — they click through to articles — or save them for later. They read your reviews, read others posts. They may even like your posts, photos or other shared media – but they don’t go any further. They’re not going to comment, or Retweet or share something.
Many spectators are also joiners. They will have more than one social media profile — but it’s usually to connect with others in their circles — friends and family. Some of these accounts may appear inactive from time to time.
Can You Re-Engage Inactive Users?
What can you do if you have inactive users? Is it worth it to find new ways to re-engage with them? Do they want anything to do with you? Of course, it depends, but if they’re already in your circle — whether it be on social or on your email list — most likely you have information about them that you can use to determine their viability.
Start with your email lists. If you’re using a email marketing platform like Mailchimp or Constant Contact it’s easy to export a spreadsheet of their email addresses and import them (securely) into a number of different applications that can see what social networks they may be a member of already — of course this only works if they’ve used the same email address for both.
Look at a sample (or the entire list, if you can) and determine what other networks they are active on — this may give you a sense about the topics they are interested and how they may engage across other platforms.
Of course, maybe your fans are so spread out that it’s hard to make sense of their motives for being a fan of your brand to begin with. It’s no secret that many fans like pages or follower handles to get stuff. Free stuff. Coupons. Promotional goods. Back in 2013, Burger King of Norway had become frustrated with their Facebook page. They were constantly being hassled by fans for coupons and offers for free food, that they decided (under the guidance of their PR firm) to see who their real fans were. They started a new Facebook page and to their old fans – offered them an ultimatum — Get a Free Big Mac or Become a Fan of our new page. But you couldn’t do both. By agreeing to get the free Big Mac — a competitor’s product, by the way — they’d agree to be banned from joining the new Facebook page.
It worked — sort of. Of the original 28,000 fans, only 8,000 became fans of the new page. But for Burger King Norway it was a success — because now they knew who their audience was and why they chose to be there. It’s so much easier to engage people who want to be there — than it is to engage a large unruly group of people.
So maybe you’re not Burger King and can’t give your fans an ultimatum. What can you do to re-engage fans? First, you have to do some digging — let’s start by identifying your spectators — as they’re usually the easiest group to spot. Who are the people on your page who will like everything you post?
Are they past customers? Are they on your email list? Once and if you’re able to identify them — you can understand their customer journey better. If they’re a customer — say they bought your product — maybe they want to stay connected to your brand, but you haven’t given them anything to do. Many companies forget about the post-customer experience. What happens after a customer purchases a product? Do you ask them for a testimonial? Do you call to check up on them? Do you send them promotional codes to give their friends and family? Do you even know they’re there?
So let’s talk best practices. Here are three ways I’ve found you can re-engage inactive fans.
First — leverage your influencers.
One of my clients’ targeted audience was the young, healthy mom. We wanted to get our product in their hands — but organic engagement wasn’t really working. So we worked with a PR company to partner with popular mom blogs who catered to the audience we wanted to reach. When we hosted a contested on our social networks, it was a bust. But when we partnered with Mom blogs who not only hosted a give away, but reviewed the products as well – it was a great success!
If contests and giveaways won’t work — try inviting influencers to add a new voice to your page. When you ask a question and hear nothing — arrange to have a well known influencer or trusted third party source comment on your post — to help get the conversation started. This can inject a new perspective and energy that can excite users.
When using paid social advertising — you can deliver compelling messages to your followers by targeting the people or brands they follow. This can help them get the message by leveraging the things that influence them.
Reward Any Engagement
If you think your social media users are just shy — you can deliver personalized messages to them — by email, snail mail or through a private message. Let them know you know they’re there. Sometimes it feels nice to be appreciated.
And you can reward them for doing basic things. You can randomly pick 10 people who liked a post on Facebook or favorited a Tweet or Pinned something from your website — and let them know you appreciate it. I am customer of Pet Plan — they offer pet insurance — they helped me save money when my dog needed surgery — so I tweeted out a message about them. They favorited and wrote back and that was that. It made me feel good. About a week later, I received a hand-written thank you note in the mail with a $5 gift card to PetSmart. They simply thanked me for being a fan. Short and sweet — but it made a difference.
Finally — engagement is what engagement does. Every brand is different and as a result some audiences will act differently than others. Ultimately it comes down to what you want users to do and the experiences that you’re creating for them. I can’t tell you what engagement is. Facebook insights can tell you what they consider to be engagement — but you know your audience better than anyone — or at least you should — if getting 10 people to like a post is a big deal — ask yourself why that matters? If you want them to comment on something — ask yourself why? What does that type of engagement mean to you as a company or brand. Then think about your customer — what does that same type of engagement mean to them?
Think about their life online. When do they want to watch a video (probably at night or on the weekend)? When are they most likely to refer a friend (when there’s an incentive to do so)? What do they want to get out of being your friend? (free stuff or a relationship?)
Like anything on social media — there isn’t a definitive formula. Instead you need to invest some time and energy (and some money) into learning more about what motivates your audience.