Mastering social media: the rules of engagement

Written by Keith Errington  |  8, December, 2014  |  0 Comments

Dance (1)Social media is a two way street – a platform for conversations. It is possible to post, blog, tweet and publish without engagement of course, but that kind of misses the point.

So how do you engage? When do you engage? When is it best not to engage? And how do you encourage engagement?

Encouraging engagement

Let’s deal with that last one first. Nobody seems to be engaging with your wonderful posts – how can we change that?

Sometimes fans and followers just need a little help.

Questions & Polls

People like showing off their knowledge and they also like to feel they make a difference, so serious market research style questions can not only encourage engagement but they may also provide valuable insights into what the market wants.

Likewise simple brief polls are very popular – they are dead easy to do and take almost no time for the user to complete.

But questions don’t have to be serious; some of the best interactions come from simple questions with a tenuous link to the product. You might ask what their favourite holiday destination is, who they think will win Strictly, or about some other topical, cultural phenomenon. As long as you can construct a link to your product/brand/organisation. A question completely out of the blue will seem odd and just a blatant attempt to be popular. Whereas even a slight connection will seem humorous and acceptable.


People love competitions. And if you can introduce an element of voting, or liking/sharing – that will add further reasons to engage. Make the competition easy and a no-brainer to enter.


Curiosity is a powerful driver in the human mind. Unsolved puzzles, conundrums or things that don’t make sense will play on the mind and so make ideal gambits for engagement.

Samsung did this brilliantly with a new camera phone, setting a puzzle for its fans.

Sometimes it’s good to deliberately leave out some information in a post to kick start questions. Don’t be afraid of errors and mistakes either – people will point them out and you have another means to engage.


You can pose questions with images too. A quirky picture that either doesn’t quite make sense or highlights something unusual can get viewers talking. And stunning images often create conversations.


A great infographic highlighting little-known or impressive facts can be a great way to start a conversation, and they don't have to be difficult to create.


There is nothing like controversy to stimulate conversation and debate. A healthy and well thought out challenge to prevailing thought on a subject can work very well. Expressing a slightly contentious point of view can rouse people to comment and initiate a discussion. Just make sure both the original post and subsequent discussion remains positive.

Calls to action

Straightforward, honest calls to action can trigger interaction too – and most, if not all, social media posts should have some goal – whether that be to click through to a blog post or landing page, enter a competition, or contact the company in some other way.


Answering questions

Always try and answer questions promptly – if you can catch the poster online, you can deal with follow-up questions quickly. But beware of carrying on a long conversation – if it’s not helpful for all, then it’s boring for other followers – resolve it quickly or take it offline.

Always check your facts and give as full and as clear an answer as possible. It’s okay to say you don’t know, or better, that you will find out and get back to them. If the answer is negative, try to find something positive to add, or suggest an alternative.

Avoid being patronising or too brief. Don’t point out where the questioner is wrong and never make them feel stupid.

Dealing with complaints

Depending on the nature of the complaint and how unhappy the poster seems, suggest that the resolution is taken offline. If that’s not possible or if it’s a minor complaint that can be easily addressed – provide an answer.

Always acknowledge their complaint, always listen, and always take account of what they have said.

Chipping in and adding to the knowledge

Sometimes when monitoring Twitter, Linked In or another social network, you may see a conversation that might be an opportunity to make contact.

Always imagine you are in a pub, overhearing the discussion – how would you chip in? Generally, you need to be able to add something of value to the conversation – don’t just join in for its own sake – that could be seen as annoying or even creepy. But if you can provide a benefit, a useful bit of information or help, then that is most likely to be welcomed.

Playing devil’s advocate

In comments and discussions playing ‘devil’s advocate’ – offering an alternative point of view – is a good way to encourage discussion, as long as it is done politely and avoiding an argument.

Sharing content

I’ve left the most obvious one till last; sharing good quality, interesting, but above all, useful content, is the foundation of engagement in social media.

When not to engage

Spotting the troll – avoiding the argument

Look out for people who just want to have an argument, especially when you're still new to mastering social media. They are not interested in resolving an issue or in you answering a question – they are just out for a fight. Sometimes they are easy to spot – being aggressive from their first comment, but sometimes they only reveal themselves after a perfectly reasonable question.

Look for the first opportunity to walk away from the conversation. But always be aware that most social conversations take place in public, where everyone can ‘overhear’ – you should be addressing that audience when replying to a troll. Most independent observers will recognise when someone is being unreasonable and side with you, as long as you handle it politely and reasonably.


When questions relate to particular work, accounts or other confidential matters, point this out and continue the conversation offline.

General rules

  • Be positive
  • Be useful
  • Don’t make people feel like idiots
  • Don’t start an argument
  • Don’t try and finish an argument – try and walk away
  • Be aware of the wider audience
  • Give people a reason to engage

Getting people to engage on social media can be difficult, but not necessarily impossible. Try some of these rules of engagement – and let me know how you get on, okay? (Right, now, did you see what I did there?).

Free tip sheet: how to set a social media policy