Increase Social Media Engagement with This “A-E-I-O-U” Formula

Learn how to engage your audience on social media with the AEIOU formula: Ask, Express, Incentivize, Offer, and Provide Utility.

By Barry Feldman ・8 min read
Best Practices
Campaign & Contest Ideas
Social Media

The War of marketing is raging. The battleground is social media. If you want a fighting chance at surviving, you’re going to need weapons of mass engagement.In social media marketing, every brand seeks “engagement,” but only some achieve it.

According to the definition of “engage,” snagged from an online dictionary, to engage is to occupy, attract, or involve someone’s interest or attention. Definition 2 says to engage is to participate in. Brands may pursue the low-effort game of tweeting, ‘gramming, feeding Facebook, and linked-inning updates about products, services, and educational content, but see little engagement.See, whatever your niche may be, the mainstay “dig my page” approach probably isn’t going to be all that effective. To produce engagement, your communications must be engaging. I’m going to offer a variety of ways to produce engaging social media content. I’m calling it my AEIOU formula…

A is for Ask

The best way to engage someone is to ask a question. “How are you?” and “How’s it going?” are popular options in conversion, but too dull for social media warfare.“What’s your name?” probably won’t work and “What’s your email?” may come off as a bit too forceful. How about…“What do you think?” Yesss! That’s a winner.People like to think things through. They like to hear from other thinkers. Certainly, they want other people to know what they think. The following “What do you think?” approaches are effective because they involve asking people to go forth and think.

  • Probe their personality.

It’s easy to create quizzes—like the Jarlsberg example above—to promote your brand, using a template like ShortStack's View and Create Your Own Personality quizzes have been red-hot engagement magnets for years.

  • Play the “test your knowledge” game. It’s irresistible.

ShortStack offers an easy-to use Knowledge Quiz template View and Create Your Own Holiday Parks New Zealand created a fun “Where Can I Camp?” quiz to engage its audience and collect leads.

  • Post a poll. It’s easy to create polls on Twitter and Facebook. In addition to engaging your followers, you stand to learn meaningful things about them too.

It's also easy to make polling (or voting) an entre to your promotion.

Voting Poll Template

You can create a similar poll using ShortStack's Voting templateA simple “poll” — such as “Who’ll win the Super Bowl?” — encourages viewers to not only opt in, but also to cast a vote and share it.

  • Respond to my email. Emails normally prompt you to click through to read, watch, and to try or buy something. It’s rare they ask you to write back. Try it. It’s an enormously engaging strategy.
  • Just ask. Interactivity 101: simply post a question. Whether in a social stream, blog post, online group or community, or on a Q&A site such as Quora, I’ve witnessed asking followers relevant, provocative, and timely questions creates some of the most engaging and thought-provoking social media activity of all.

E is for Expression

Thanks to how social media and mobile have collided, the smartphone is now a personal expression machine.The camera might be front or rear facing. Audio might be on or off. Filters, emojis, stickers and so forth may be applied or not. Posts may be permanent or self destructing. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Smartphone apps enable people to express themselves every which way.Let’s look at examples.

  • Hash it out. The hashtag has become the click-to-connect ticket for bonding with like-minded peeps. When you put something of interest out there, do a little hashtag research, or hash out a phrase that reflects your brand, hit that # key, and invite people to hashtag the posts they make as a way to express themselves.

Quickly build your own photo vote contest using a template from ShortStack View and Create Your Own Many brands that create promotions with ShortStack wisely use one or more hashtags to increase social media engagement.

  • Conduct media-upload contests. Many social media fans are especially engaged by contests that involve shooting and sharing original photos and videos.
Video Contest

Collect and display videos using the Video Contest template from ShortStack View and Create Your Own Read the contest instructions above and you’ll see how employs a hashtag, video uploads, and a variety of other tactics to increase engagement.

Keystone Meats Recipe Contest

Contests may call for other forms of self-expression as well, such as recordings, illustrations, poems, and essays. The contest above, by Keystone Meats, invites contestants to submit a recipe for a chance to be included in their cookbook

  • Rally reviewers. Thanks to pioneers such as Amazon and Yelp, reviews, ratings, and testimonials have been baked into the fabric of ecommerce selling spaces and beyond.

The quote above is an excerpt from ShortStack’s 11 Hot Instagram Marketing Tips infographic. ShortStack’s massive template library includes one that makes it easy for you to set up a page to collect valuable user-generated content such as testimonials and reviews.

ShortStack's Testimonials template View and Create Your Own

  • Showcase customers, partners and employees. Companies that want to seize an advantage in the Engagement War of 2018 aim to expand their army. Provided you’re doing something people like, consider creating advocacy programs featuring customers, partners and employees to catalyze your community, amplify your voice, and engage newcomers by enabling them to express themselves.

#KajabiHero is an impressive example of customer advocacy at work on the web. Satisfied customers happily endorse the “knowledge commerce platform,” express themselves, and wear their t-shirts proudly. They're rewarded with special features, links to their websites, and social media support.

I is for Incentive

Marketers have embraced the idea of “gamification’ because people like to play games, compete, keep score, and most of all, win.Satisfy your audience’s competitive spirit by featuring compelling incentives in your promotions. As incentives go, valuable prizes loom largest, but you may be surprised how even small rewards prove to deliver a sizable lure. Our post 37 Facebook contest ideas to inspire fans to bond with your brand offers numerous ideas you can use to motivate people to get involved.

  • Grand prizes include valuable things such as scholarships, gift cards, flights, vacations, events tickets, electronics, and gadgets.
  • For obvious reasons, many companies offer the products and services they sell as prizes.
Earn Extra Points Contest

Build a simple giveaway using ShortStack View and Create Your Own

  • An interesting twist on “our product is the prize” is to deliver the prize perpetually for an extended period of time. The sweepstakes promotion above offers “Rosina meatballs for a year.”
  • Your incentive could be win a series of prizes for one, or multiple winners. Some promotions offer prizes over an extended period of time, such as every day for a month, or the 12 days of Christmas.
Pet Valu's Facebook page featuring their Wishlist Contest
  • An interesting approach: invite participants and winners to select their prizes. A “win your wishlist” promotion is an ideal way to showcase your products.
  • A tactic used often is to give participants the ability to increase their chances of winning by interacting more. Examples: enter daily, follow, share, refer-a-friend, and cast votes. Obviously each action is a form of engagement.
  • Another exciting variation is to offer one-of-a-kind, custom-made, or exclusive prizes (limited time, limited quantity).
Friendship Circle Enter-to-Vote Contest

The entry form on this promotion by Michigan’s Friendship Circle explains, each person who casts a vote for their favorite pair of hand-drawn Converse All Stars will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win a free pair of the winner. The winning shoe was subsequently reproduced and sold as a fundraiser.

  • Commonly, brands conducting promotions provide all contestants a prize or small incentive of some sort, such as a coupon.
  • Sometimes recognition alone is strong enough to invoke engagement. In other words, no tangible items are offered as prizes. People may simply be drawn in by the “fun factor,” a worthy cause, or the chance to be recognized. With a little imagination, you can devise a variety of ways to reward participants with a less tangible prize.

O is for Offer

Your engagement strategy doesn’t always need to be interactive or gamified. Your brand can engage customers and prospects the old-fashioned way, with attractive offers such as:

  • Instant coupons and discounts
  • Membership clubs (see below)
  • Pick your discount
  • Free shipping

The link in Pura Vida Bracelet’s Instagram bio invites you to “join the Pura Vida Club.” BTW, the brand’s Instagram feed (1-million followers) bubbles over with joyous photos, mostly from customers, engaging questions, challenges, posts about charitable causes, and conversations.Experiment with offers to discover what your customers best respond to.

Built with ShortStack's Coupon template View and Create Your Own No games here. Safehouse Chicago simply set up a ShortStack campaign to deliver “kids eat free” coupons to anyone willing to submit their email address.

Facebook makes it easy to promote offers. A flavor of the Facebook ad portfolio is the “offer ad.” Offer ads can be redeemed online and/or saved to be redeemed in-store.A help page from Facebook offers the following best practices:

  • Make discounts substantial. Offers with free items or with discounts of at least 20% off will reach more people.
  • Use an engaging image. Photos of people using a product often perform better than photos of a product by itself, and both generally perform better than logos.
  • Set an expiration date. Give people a few days to discover and claim an offer and allow time for your offer to be shared among friends. The ideal length of an offer is 7 days.
  • Promote your offer: After creating an ad for your offer, pin it to the top of your Page to help it get noticed.

U is for Utility

Engagement and utility are close friends on the web today.

Data from a research report about interactive contact from Content Marketing Institute and Ion Interactive reveals the top two reasons for using interactive content are (1) educating the audience and (2) engagement. As you see, many other marketing benefits also scored big in the results.A major majority of savvy B2B marketers put utility at the forefront of their content marketing programs. Useful content created to engage prospective customers includes blog posts, video, infographics, downloadable guides, mini-courses, helpful email sequences, webinars, and much more.

Above is a LinkedIn ad from ConnectWise Automate that offers what appears to be a highly useful guide to help vendors price their IT services.The ad is the pitcher… and here’s the catcher: a highly engaging and smartly designed landing page. I love the question style headline, the directional cues, the 1/2/3 infographic vignette, the cool bonus offer (a calculator), and the nicely designed form (though you could say its eight fields are a bit greedy).Utilitarian marketing ideas work offline too—and for any size company or individual.

I love the story from Jay Baer’s book Youtility about Taxi Mike. Jay calls the enterprising taxi driver in Banff, Alberta a “one man Trip Advisor.” He creates the Taxi Mike Dining Guide and updates it regularly to handout to his fares.How will you AEIOU engagement with your brand?Let’s do a quick review.The following five approaches will give your brand some effective ammo in the Engagement War of 2018:(A) Asking Questions(E) Invoking Expression(I) Providing Incentives(O) Making Offers(U) Delivering Utility Five vowels… five essential ideas…Infinite possibilities.


Get Started Today It’s free and we don’t need your credit card.Note: Barry originally wrote a version of this article for the HubSpot blog.

About the author

By Barry Feldman ・8 min read

Barry Feldman is a content consultant for ShortStack. He is the author of several books and contributes to many of the web’s top marketing sites. Barry was named one of 25 Social Media Marketing Experts You Need to Know by LinkedIn.

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