By Amy Gilbert, VP of Social Innovation at The Social Element
One of the reasons I love social media is its community aspect—it’s a place where you can connect with others, learn new things and opinions, and ultimately have a fun time. When it comes to brands, we think of social engagement like being a party with two options to participate: as a host or a guest. Traditionally, when brands think of social engagement, they act as a host, managing their social channels and acknowledging their community, answering their questions, and solving their problems.
But brands can take a step further to maximize the potential of their community engagement, by also taking on the role of an all-star guest. This involves going wherever their community gathers—usually on someone else’s turf—and identifying the right conversational fits to establish meaningful connections. The “host approach” is more reactive, while the “guest approach” emphasizes proactive efforts. And when used in tandem, these strategies can drive significant brand growth—you just need to know how to best use each so they complement each other.
Reactive engagement and why it’s important
Reactive engagement, the first level of engagement, is what most brands focus on. Typically, they direct their efforts towards their owned properties and direct (or tagged) mentions. However, this approach only scratches the surface of what engagement truly encompasses. As social platforms evolve, it’s crucial for brands to look for and seize opportunities for engagement that extend beyond the obvious—that’s where photo tags, brand relevant hashtags, and even indirect (i.e. untagged) mentions come into play. Reactive engagement is essential for maintaining brand presence, deepening brand love, and increasing reach.
This reactive approach, while important, often falls short in meeting the expectations of today’s social media users.
Understanding proactive engagement
Brands that embrace proactive engagement understand that social media is not simply a broadcasting platform, but a dynamic space for dialogue and collaboration. Social platforms such as X, TikTok and even Threads offer ample opportunities for brands to proactively locate and engage with consumers—it’s just a matter of approaching each effectively.
Unlike reactive engagement, proactive engagement is about finding key moments where brands can seamlessly take part in ongoing conversations on off-branded channels. Rather than waiting for an invitation, brands actively seek out and participate in the spaces where discussions are already in progress. Brands that do it best find moments that connect with their brand persona and interact with creators in a meaningful way. The goal is to support and empower creators rather than making it solely about your brand or sales. You can also join relevant groups, forums, or platforms where your target audience congregates, and comment on trending content outside of your owned channels.
Breaking down the three levels of proactive engagement
We approach proactive engagement on three different levels. Brands don’t need to tackle all of them simultaneously. In fact, beginning with Level 1 is the easiest way to get started.
Level 1—Brand-adjacent engagement: At this level, brands actively participate in conversations related to their products or campaign subjects. You can build excitement around your brand.
Level 2—Community-adjacent engagement: Here, brands focus on connecting with their community outside of their owned channels, particularly when engaging with super fans in content that doesn’t directly mention the brand. It’s essential to identify your super fans and find suitable opportunities to appreciate and support them. For instance, a snack brand could increase brand loyalty by acknowledging a parent who shares a post about packing back-to-school lunches.
Level 3—Culture-adjacent engagement: At this level, brands engage with trending content and potentially unfamiliar users. The secret to doing this successfully is finding the right types of moments that make sense for your brand persona to engage in. You can join broader conversations, creating more exposure for your brand, attracting new followers, and reaching into previously untapped market segments.
I can tell you first-hand that proactive engagement has the potential to receive as much as six times more likes than mere tagged mentions. So, go forth, engage proactively—in an effective way—and watch your brand’s growth soar both on social media and elsewhere.