“Social Media Engagement – The ability to adapt”

17 Rebecca D'Cunha


Here at Gravytrain we often take part in interviews and discussions in order to help develop the digital marketing knowledge of others in the industry. Recently, Digital Marketing Director Helene Hall took part in a discussion with PhD student Barry Connolly in order to further progress his research. Below is a summary of his findings from his interview with Helene.

“As part of my PhD research I’m investigating the ‘Key Informant’ perspective of how small online retailers (e-SMEs) can use social media engagement to create and sustain consumer trust in their brand. In this instance, Key Informants are industry professionals who have a vast amount of experience and expertise in digital marketing and can provide insight and strategic recommendations for the issues which face e-SMEs when using social media. Helene Hall, Digital Marketing Director at Gravytrain, acted as a Key Informant for my research where we discussed social media engagement strategy.

The starter for my ten questions was one that I have asked all my Key Informants and that provides a variety of answers (as definition questions usually do), which was “How would you define social media engagement?” Helene remarked:

“Organisations need to understand what their target market is and the reason that they’re actually doing social media. Engagement could be that you are communicating with potential customers or with a specific demographic, but in order to justify doing social media engagement you need to set out clear and concise goals as well as have an understanding of what you ultimately want to achieve.”

Understanding your objectives is crucial before you undertake any social media activity as e-SMEs are then able to set out clear Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for their social media strategies. The focus of my research is how to build trust through engagement, which is of paramount importance to small businesses as it will lead to repeat custom. Helene highlighted this issue when discussing the importance of trust.

“If an objective is to build trust, then you have to make sure you actually plan how to achieve this. I think strategy is really important for anything you do on social media, as well as the ability to measure your campaign and then adapt it accordingly. The only way of finding out whether any of your strategies are actually working is to have a plan, monitor how you’re doing, and then to adapt as you go forward.”

The Darwinian and Hollywood blockbuster tagline approach of ‘adapt or die’ can be quite a scary proposition for small organisations, who may not have the experience, resource or even confidence to begin engaging with consumers through social media. Indeed, in such big budget action films the hero (e-SME) is often forced to head into a hostile environment (social media) in order to save the day (assure customers that they are making safe purchases). However, social media need not be such a scary, exploding, evil-henchmen-everywhere environment if organisations stick to a few key principles. The type of social media posts (as Helene points out) that reduce negative word of mouth, create consumer trust, and enhance the e-SME brand reputation involve “honest transparent communication that is frequent and really relevant to the consumer.”

If an e-SME is pretending to offer something or be something that that they are not, consumers are going to either not buy it, not participate in it, or actually participate in a negative fashion, such as posting negative comments on their social media platforms. Transparency in communications, such as providing links to expert guidance and advice even if they are provided by an external organisation, can also build e-SME industry authority, which creates an emotional loyal connection to the brand.

Frequency of posting is also crucial in order to sustain the interaction that e-SMEs have developed with consumers. Nevertheless, as Helene stated “It’s really important that the content of the posting is relevant for your target consumer and the channel that it’s on. There’s no point in having the same approach for LinkedIn that you do for Twitter or Facebook. It’s all about adapting it.” With social media capability in a constant state of flux, ‘adaptation’ is the key word for any strategy. Ensuring that social media content is honest, transparent, frequent, and relevant, as Helene recommends, should aid e-SMEs when determining their objectives and adapting their social media strategy.”


Image of Barry Connolly

Hi, my name is Barry Connolly and I am Communications Manager for Registers of Scotland and a part time PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University. My research focusses on social media engagement and how it can be used by e-SME brands to develop online trust and build brand reputation with potential and current customers. I also currently part run an arts and promotional products online business www.drp-promotions.co.uk and I am a member of the CIM, have an upper second undergraduate honours degree in Business, an MA in International Marketing, and an MRes in Internet Marketing Research Methods.

Follow me at: @DrpBarry