From the moment Oreo went viral with their well timed Super Bowl blackout tweet, there have been countless articles touting the benefits of ‘real-time marketing’ – and even more brands attempting to recreate that success (typically soaked with desperation or haste). The allure of heightened impressions and virality is understandable, given the industry’s fixation on vanity metrics and ROI, but it seems that real-time marketing and promotions still take precedence over real engagement and conversations.As the number of messages requiring a response (such as customer questions) continues to rise, few brands are actually meeting the increased demands. In fact, 4 out of 5 messages go unanswered by businesses.Yet when companies do engage and respond to customer inquiries over social media, those customers end up spending 20% to 40% more with the company. So if the ROI of social media is such a concern for brands, why aren’t they investing more into conversations with customers rather than real-time marketing stunts?In this post, we’ll explore the following:Why brands need to invest in conversations and relationships with customersHow to show brand personality through engagementPicking the right metrics to track your brand’s progressFocus on the ConversationAs Jay Baer posed in Youtility, “What if instead of trying to be amazing, you just focused on being useful?” Focusing on being useful and helping your customers when they reach out on social is more sustainable and easier to scale as the business and customer base continue to grow.Additionally, a number of recent surveys suggest that customers want help from a business via social media (43% say that a direct response to their questions on social media is the most important thing) and tune out brand promotions. 1 in 3 social media users report that they prefer to reach out to a brand for customer service through a social channel compared to the phone.Using a social media management tool that allows you to focus on customer engagement, put relationships at the forefront, and gain insight into your response rates is key to ensuring your business is staying on top of the demand. The right social media tool will also allow you to keep your ear to the ground and join conversations that are happening around your brand, but may not be mentioning you directly.Add Personality and Flavor to Your ResponsesThe power of social media is in the personal connections and one-on-one conversations. Yet most brands still either completely ignore mentions from their audience or reply with canned, robotic-sounding comments.Engaging in conversations with your customers on social is an easy, scalable way to illustrate your brand’s personality. Don’t be afraid to color outside the 140-character box by using GIFs, personalized videos, memes or photosations when responding to your community. That said, know your customer and tailor the reply that will help you connect with them best.At Sprout Social, we want to take advantage of every opportunity to talk with our customers – whether it’s to help an upset user or show appreciation to brand advocates. Using visual aids allows our social team to engage with people more dynamically than if we solely used text (though if you’re not already responding to customers on social, text is a perfectly good place to start).In the example below, you can see how the use of GIF showed (a helluva lot) more personality than a simple thank you would have, resulting in both customers retweeting the comment and adding more positive vibes.If you’re not sure where to find the perfect GIF or image, Giphy and Google Images are both great places to start. Simply type in the emotion you’re hoping to illustrate in the search box and choose the most fitting image.Metrics to TrackTracking your brand’s social media analytics is an important way to benchmark your progress and understand where you could improve. While a lot of brands are still keenly focused on reach and impressions, social media managers who care about the conversation over the campaign will put weight on more meaningful metrics. A few to watch:Response Rate: Your social media team will be able to see the number of incoming messages to which they’re responding.Response Time: This is a great indicator for how quickly you’re replying to incoming inquiries. With 42% of consumers saying they expect a response within an hour from brands on social, time is of the essence. It can also give your team insight into peak times for incoming messages so you can staff appropriately.Positive vs. Negative Messages: There’s bound to some customers who aren’t happy with your product or service and choose to vent their frustrations on social. While this is normal, be aware of the number of complaints your brand receives in comparison to positive messages. Be open to the possibility that something in your business needs to change if you’re getting an overwhelming amount of complaints.This is just the tip of the iceberg for brands, but hopefully this overview provides some inspiration into how you’re acknowledging and engaging with customers on social!