I started my role as a Community Editor at Sift Media at the beginning of 2015; up until then the majority of my experience of social media had been in my spare time to promote my blog and any events I was organising.

It was going to be a steep learning curve, but if there's one thing I've learnt from being in hundreds of marketing meetings and chatting incessantly on Twitter, it's that most of us are in the same boat when it comes to trying to figure out the best way to make use of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram et al.

It was with this in mind that I set up The Rules of Engagement – a monthly meet up for social media, digital marketing & community management professionals, where we could all share tips and talk about our current challenges. In order to entice as many people as possible, I decided to host the event at a pub (see Rule 3: Know Your Audience).

We're now 8 months in and have a great core group who attend the meet ups, from a range of exciting local businesses such as Wriggle, Watershed, Digirank, TechSpark, Bigg and even Bristol Cathedral!

We've covered a broad scope of topics including dealing with customer feedback on social media, brand identity, blogger outreach, and recommendations for social measuring tools & image editing tools. Here are just a few of the really handy resources & websites we've shared with each other:

  • Image editing: Pablo by Buffer, Canva, Pixlr
  • Free stock photos: Unsplash, Picjumbo, Pexels, Albumarium
  • Infographics, reports & presentations: Piktochart, Slideshare
  • Free reporting tools: Buffer, SharedCount, Buzzsumo, Twitter Analytics
  • Best blogs: Hootsuite, ShortStack, Buffer, Hubspot, Sprout Social, Moz (especially their Whiteboard Friday series)

In addition to the tools & blogs I've found out about, here are some other key things I've learned in the past few months:

1. Experiment, experiment, experiment
All of our audiences and communities are different – so what works for one of us won't necessarily work for someone else. Whether it's sending out 3 slightly reworded versions of the same tweet, or working out which channels perform best for you, the key is to keep experimenting. Make sure you review & reflect on the things you're doing, and tell others what you're finding out so everyone can know what a clever sausage you are.

2. Ask around
Not sure of how to measure something, or why a post isn't performing as well as you think it should? Make sure you're communicating with your colleagues – even if they're not directly involved in the social/community side of things they'll often have some interesting insights on what the latest trends are, or the key influencers you should be targeting. It's also worth getting involved with a knowledge share meet up like ours – usually someone else has encountered the same problem and has a fix or work-around, or you can team up to experiment with solutions together!

3. Know your audience
Sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised by how little most brands and companies know about their customers & readers – don't rely on assumptions and old data! You can use surveys or reporting tools to give you some handy stats on who is visiting your site, but ultimately a lot of the best information comes from directly interacting with your followers & readers – post a blog asking for feedback, host a webinar or Hangout to chat with people directly, and make sure you're responding to comments on articles & social posts. We've also found Twitter chats a great way to keep our finger on the pulse of our communities & current issues.

4. Pictures!
The stats speak for themselves – pictures (nice ones, no shoddy stock images please, especially now I've given you a list of places to find good ones!) increase engagement both onsite and across social by a crazy amount, so make sure you're not only taking the time to use nice imagery in your posts, but also think of other ways you can share content, whether it be via slide decks, infographics, gifs or video (have a play about on Pinterest, Instagram, Periscope and Vine).

5. Keep it fun
It's all well and good strategising your social media and community activity, but the bottom line is that it's about entertaining and engaging your audience – so try not to spend too much time analysing the best hashtags or times of day to post, spend just as much time chinwagging as you do promoting your content or products. Not only is it nicer for your followers, it's more fun for you too! 

Pro tip: Talk about cake or cats – always a guaranteed hit on social media!

If you're based in or around Bristol and would like to attend one of our events, join our Facebook group to stay up to date with our latest plans!