The Neon Trees said it best: everybody talks.

You can’t stop them. You can’t control what they say. All you can do is react, and it’s important that you do so the right way.

People have lots of different reasons for talking about a business on social media. They may include your company’s handle, but 31% of company mentions on Twitter don’t. And why is that? Again, lots of different reasons.

Your job goes way beyond finding these mentions. Once you’ve found someone talking about your brand, you need to understand them inside and out. Some questions you should be able to answer are:

  • Who is this person?
  • How & why do they know your company/product?
  • What makes them happy?
  • What are their life’s daily annoyances?
  • What do they want/need from you?

Understanding the people talking about your brand helps you determine how to respond. You don’t just want them talking about you. You want them talking with you.

There are six types of people talking about your brand online, and which category someone falls into determines how you should proceed in order to build up the relationship.

In this post, we’ll not only look at the different people spotted talking about your brand, but also the best ways to engage and talk back.

Who’s engaging with your brand on social media?

For more tips on engaging with your social media audience, check out our free ebook!

Journalists & publications: sharing your news

engage with a journalist on twitter

Journalists, and the publications they write for, probably don’t make up the largest chunk of people talking about you, but they definitely carry weight. Their words and opinions influence thousands or millions of readers.

In short, you want to stay on their good side.

A strong relationship with at least one reporter in your niche is something every business should have. It could mean exclusive opportunities for coverage or premium promotion of your next product launch.

How to find them

  • They’re responsible for the uptick in articles and blog posts in your brand’s alert stream after putting out a press release or launching a new product.
  • They talk about the other companies on their “beat,” so they also show up in your competitor alert streams.
  • If you take a look at their Twitter feed, it’s probably a lot of links. To their articles, to their coworkers’ pieces, and to things that were just too cool not to share.

How to engage

Your goal for relationships with journalists is to get on their radar for future coverage. The following tips will help:

  • Share/retweet their latest articles. Sharing their content and mentioning their handle helps you get noticed by them. More importantly, it shows that you’re familiar with their work and have done your research on them. That makes you a great source for them to work with in the future.
  • Talk about their work. Once you’ve read a journalist’s latest piece and added to your Buffer queue, write a comment or tweet your own thoughts on the topic. This is a great way to get a conversation going with the reporter.
  • Check in regularly. Ask what’s new, see what stories they’re working on, and provide updates of your own. See if there’s any way you can help them with their current projects – it’ll pay off in spades later.

For more help building relationships with journalists, you can check out some great advice here.

Your biggest fans: cheering you on

engage with a fan on twitter

These customers don’t just use your product, they live it. Even if one of your products isn’t for them, they believe in it enough to advocate for you anyway.

These customers are awesome because they’re so vocal about their loyalty. While they may not have the most followers or bring your business the most amount of money, they talk loud and have influence. That can get tremendous results if, for example, you decide to test an influencer marketing program.

Sometimes a customer starts to feel more like a friend, so that’s how you should talk to them.

How to find them

  • They’ll share almost every piece of content you publish. Almost as soon as it shows up in their inbox, RSS reader, or Twitter feed.
  • They’re the few people sharing your press release that aren’t involved in it’s release (the way that employees, partners, and journalists are).
  • They participate in every webinar, Twitter chat, and Google Hangout you host.

How to engage

  • Retweet and thank them, but not all the time. Thanking them for every tweet might  seem more generic than a personalized “Thanks for doing this, this, and that over the past week! Have a great weekend!” Lumping it all together shows that you realize how much they’ve done as a whole.
  • Add them to a “VIC” (Very Important Customer) Twitter list. This will make it easier to keep up with their updates so that you can get to know them on a more personal level.
  • Offer something special now and then. It doesn’t need to be anything big or expensive – it can be a gesture as small as a shout-out on social media or a personal email. For example, Buffer sends handwritten notes to their community.

The corporate heroes: reading your content & using your product

engage with a company on twitter

Unless you’re in your company’s marketing or social department, you probably don’t really think about the person behind corporate social accounts. You see their posts and talk to them, but do you know them?

You should try to get to know them. It’s good to have friends in your industry, especially one who also decides what messages get sent out to a company’s audience.

How to find them

  • They’re always tweeting and posting from their company’s accounts, but switching over to personal accounts for webinars and chats.
  • Shares your content pretty frequently, especially when it’s helpful to the industry as a whole.
  • Tweets from the same trade shows your company’s sales team is at right now.

How to engage

  • Share their content. Of course, this is assuming that they publish content, that it’s good, and that it’s related to your own.
  • Offer your help. If your businesses don’t already work together, see if that’s a possibility. If not, you can still offer a helping hand, lend an ear, or offer an opinion on something they’re working on.
  • Highlight their use case. If your corporate hero is also a customer, highlight their company in a case study, testimonial, or success story.

The lost & confused: looking for an answer

twitter customer support engagement

These are the “good kind” of customer support mention – people actually looking to get a solution to their problem. (We’ll talk about the not-so-good kind of support mention later)

How to find them

  • To ensure you see and can respond to their tweet, they’ll be sure to send a @reply, rather than just mentioning your handle or company name.
  • They might not follow your company’s main account (or just followed it). If your company has a dedicated support account, they definitely follow that.
  • They’ll directly ask for help in their tweet.

How to engage

  • Follow any customer support protocols your company has in place.
  • Show empathy and match their tone. If they’re being casual or making jokes, they’ll be cool with you doing it, too.
  • Reroute to a better support channel (help desk ticket, phone, etc.) if their problem is too complex to be resolved on a public social channel.

Constant complainers: wants to be heard

responding to a complaint on twitter

Time for some harsh truth: some people just like to complain. Every now and then, we all need to vent and just let our frustrations out. But some people like to do so on social, and sometimes their frustrations will be with your brand.

How to find them

  • They don’t tweet often. But when they do, it’s to complain about something with language that can get pretty colorful.
  • They may not mention your handle directly. They’re more focused on the cathartic release than contacting your support team and solving their problem.
  • They want to make sure their whole network knows about their problem with your company, so they’ll post about it more than once.

How to engage

  • Focus first on calming the customer. Once emotions are a little cooler, work on resolving their problem.
  • Follow regular support protocols, but proceed with caution. This customer is already angry and may not even be looking to solve their problem.

Your frenemies: supporting & stealthing

engage with a frenemy

Last but not least, we have your competition. But not really. Because a competitor for one section of your business may be a strong ally in another. So you support each other when you can, and co-exist when you can’t.

How to find them

  • They take up a lot of real estate in your alert feeds for industry keywords.
  • They’ll follow and be followed by a lot of the same people as you. Same goes with attending events, Twitter chats, and trade shows.
  • The journalists and publications that write about you, write about them.

How to engage

  • Share their content. It shouldn’t be that product-focused anyway, so it might be really helpful for your own customers.
  • Share company/product news that doesn’t present a clear conflict of interest. For example, tweet away if they won an award, but skip the share if they launch a new product that will be a direct competitor to yours.
  • Talk about collaborating. You two may not be a perfect fit for an official partnership, but there’s probably some way you can both help each other out.

Start talking back

A lot of the people listed above have their own goals for talking about/to you online. And of course, you always want your community to meet their goals. You can’t help them do that until you identify what type of talker they are, and then start the right kind of engagement with them.

So start talking.

What types of people do you see a lot of in your alert feed, and how do you engage with them? Let’s talk it out in the comments.

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Note: this post was originally published in May 2015 and has been updated with new information.

Brittany Berger is a content marketer helping B2B companies and entrepreneurs create unicorn content that shows personality and demands attention. Connect with her on Twitter at @thatbberg.

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