"Social media is a two-way street." You hear this statement a lot from social media gurus.

But what does it mean? How should you reply to the grand cacophony of social media users, and how can interacting with people on social media help you find people who love products and services like yours, and connect with them?

Here are the two essential ways you should be making audience interaction a part of your daily routine. 

20 minutes a day 

If you can set aside 20 minutes a day for this, you can do it. I find these 20 minutes by looking at my own personal (non-business) social media channels for 20 fewer minutes each day than I used to. 

It's been worth it. 

Now that you've found the time, here's what to do with that time. 

First, you should definitely reply to comments on the posts that you create on your own social media profiles. If someone asks a question in the comments of one of your posts, you should definitely be responding promptly. 

If that took you 20 minutes, then you can stop here for the day. But if you still have a few minutes left: 

How to "join the conversation" 

You hear people talk about this a lot. A big online conversation is happening! Online! It has something to do with hashtags! You should join it! 

Here's how I think you actually can join into online conversations that matter to your potential audience, and help grow an audience of people who are actually interested in the content you produce. 

Use Hootsuite. Here's how to set it up. 

  1. Look at the Twitter and Instagram accounts of some of your favorite current and potential audience members. What are they sharing? What hashtags are they using?
  2. Make a list of those keywords and hashtags. 
  3. Sign in to Hootsuite.com with your Twitter account.
  4. Once you've signed in, you'll be taken to your Dashboard. It may already be populated with several columns. At the top of the Dashboard, click +Add Stream.

5. On the left side of the box that pops up, choose whether you want to look for posts on Twitter or on Instagram. In this example, I'm going to choose Instagram. At the top of the box I choose Hashtag.

If you choose Twitter instead of Instagram, you would choose "Keyword" from the top menu instead of "Hashtag." Otherwise, the instructions are the same. 

If you choose Twitter instead of Instagram, you would choose "Keyword" from the top menu instead of "Hashtag." Otherwise, the instructions are the same. 

6. You can add any hashtag here. Let's say you're a craft brewer (a good example here in San Diego, where there are over 100 craft breweries). Let's say you decided after researching that you wanted to create a stream to follow #SDBeer on Instagram. 

7. The stream is added. Now, every time someone posts to Instagram using the hashtag, this column will update.

How does this help my business? 

There are two really good reasons to use Hootsuite streams instead of just searching hashtags on Instagram or Twitter itself. 

1. You set this up one time in Hootsuite, and it'll be there every time you log in to Hootsuite until you delete it. 

2. You can monitor multiple hashtags at once on both Hootsuite and Twitter. If you see a profile come up in multiple streams, you know that that person has a lot of the same interests as your ideal client. That's definitely someone to follow, double-tap on Instagram, and @-target on Twitter. 

In my craft beer example, let's say that I noticed that user er_in regularly shares photos of craft beers that she's tried on Instagram, but she hasn't talked about my brewery. Yet. 

I could follow her on Instagram and double-tap some of her photos so that she sees my profile in her Instagram notifications. I may comment on one of her photos with an honest comment about how much I enjoyed a particular beer that she's posted.

I wouldn't try to sell her anything in this space. These interactions are strictly one craft beer lover to another.  Maybe she notices; maybe she doesn't. But as Austen Allred points out in his incredibly helpful article Instagram marketing, "Commenting 'Hey, check out my products at @username' is among the worst ways one could initiate a conversation with anyone."

Seriously, go read Austen's article on this. 

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