Trying to get your brand noticed in social media can be intimidating. Even if you know where your audience hangs out online, you may feel unsure quite when to jump in. And once you take the leap, how do you get people to care about what you’re saying, let alone about your brand?

Enter conversation marketing—a tactical approach that cuts through the industry jargon and sterility to capture an audience’s emotions, and ultimately their business.

Conversation marketing is about having a conversation between your brand and your customer. (Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.)

You become relevant to your audience by first listening to their needs, and only then presenting possible solutions. This means putting down the megaphone and engaging with your potential customers—speaking with them, not to them—without mentioning your products and services. In other words, speaking human.

Social media audiences want to be heard, and they are suspicious of messages that come with a catch. By using conversation marketing, however, you can create a presence that appeals to this modern audience, and that eventually draws them to you over the long haul.

Why? Because you’ve spent the time to develop trust and build rapport with them through human conversation, like going to the local coffee shop or hairdresser every week and getting to know the people the proprietors.

By taking the following three steps, your brand will be seen as both relevant and trustworthy, and ultimately grow your business.

Be Relevant on a Molecular Level

Have you ever tweeted your discouragement in real time while standing in a long line at the bank? Imagine getting a tweet right back from the bank, directly to you, apologizing and explaining which times of day or branches might have shorter lines.

This is “molecular” customer service. When you reach your audience on a molecular level, you’re coming to individuals with the right information (relevant content) at the right time.

This could take place on a live, public forum like Twitter, or as curated content that’s most relevant to a particular person based on their tastes and purchase history, or just by using smart SEO practices that allow your audience to find your content more easily.

Relevancy begins with your “handshake moment,” or how you choose to put yourself out into the world with your content. In your own life, handshake moments might be when you greet the barista at your local coffee house or your Uber driver when they pick you up—a friendly, warm exchange. Whenever you post to a blog, tweet or send an email, you may think you’re writing for an audience.

But remember, it’s one person at a time reading it. As far as they’re concerned, the conversation you’re having with that person is one-to-one.

Relevancy in conversation marketing is about addressing your audience’s pain points by diving deep into their struggles and offering solutions and ideas (again, without specifically mentioning your products and services).

Don’t underestimate the branding power this has for you, even if the person you talk to has no immediate intention of becoming a customer. They may not use your services now, but the incremental knowledge you give them plants a seed in their mind about your brand, and they’re more likely to share your content with others.

The next time they need your products and services, they might bookmark your blog or channel, then come back time and time again.

Open Up and Listen

How many times did you hear the command, “Don’t interrupt me!” growing up? Knowing your audience’s pain points and what they’re talking about requires doing something that might not come naturally to entrepreneurs.

To be a good conversationalist, you have to be a good listener. If you’re only focused on the sale, you’ll never figure out what the audience needs, and you won’t help them. A purchase at this point is like a sugar rush. It may feel great in the moment, but it offers no long-term benefit. And you’ll always be hustling.

Your audience is already engaged in multiple conversations, many of them online. You (hopefully) have the advantage of being an expert on your subject. But only by paying close attention and listening can you find out what they need from you.

Remember: Your audience isn’t just a group of statistics. It’s made up of individuals with varied thoughts, beliefs, passions, and ideologies. The goal is to connect, not to just blow your own horn. Today’s audience isn’t interested in that.

A conversation involves listening to the other person. Businesses can listen to their audience and zero in on what they need and are saying by using listening tools like Google’s free Keyword Planner and Google Trends.

More powerful social media listening tools like HootSuite, BuzzSumo, and Moz are great as well.

Once you’re there, you can find out what people are talking about and decide if there are any gaps you might be able to address. By hanging out with your audience and listening, you can also find out who’s talking about your products and services. If there’s negative feedback, don’t feel hurt. See it as an opportunity to improve.

Just Start Talking

Finally, you have to start putting content out there and see what works. What do you want to say?

Before you answer, first think about what you don’t want to say. Don’t be like everyone else. Be a thought leader and dig to uncover what’s not obvious to everyone already.

Yet another “Five Reasons to Do This or That” blog post may sound trite and you’ll get overlooked. Figure out the right angle—one that hasn’t been talked about before—and don’t be afraid to go there. Your audience will appreciate that you can address their concerns and give them something new to ponder.

Remember, the conversation comes first, sometimes long before the sale. If you learn who your audience is, find their pain points and converse with them in a human voice that makes them think about you just a little differently, in a way that gets you noticed, you’ll be well on your way to building a trusting relationship that eventually helps build your business.

About the Author: Kevin Lund, award-winning, content-marketing pioneer, is the CEO of T3 Custom. He is the author of CONVERSATION MARKETING: How to Be Relevant and Engage Your Customer by Speaking Human (Career Press an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, October 2018).