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"With all the talk about engagement in social networking, it's unfortunate to see many SMBs and entrepreneurs ignoring many of their loyal followers. Is this considered rude or is it acceptable to partake in selective engagement?"

I posed this question on Twitter after a few of my followers expressed disappointment that many people they had tried to engage had ignored them. They even shouted out to them while these people were actively tweeting, and yet still received no response in return. Among the tweeters whose silence was deafening were social media leaders who should have known better.

In social networking, it's important to remember this simple rule: Reciprocation is crucial. It shows that you're listening and that you care about your community.

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There are so many unwritten codes of conduct in the world of social networking, but this one is so important that, if you neglect it, you can ruin your credibility and damage your brand.

Take a page from a football player's playbook

When a football player is invited to visit a school, he is often accosted by hundreds of children begging for autographs or pictures. Realistically, he can't give time to every single child – but because he truly cares about his audience and is grateful for the support, he does his best to reach out to as many of them as possible. He'll pose for pictures, sign some autographs – and then hand out a number of high fives, winks, group hugs and smiles. All of the children appreciate being acknowledged in some way.

Entrepreneurs using social media can learn a lot about the art of engagement from that football player. When it comes to social networking, even the busiest people can use some quick tricks to show their community that they are listening and that they care. Among them:

Group hug:

When a large group of people try to engage with you, group them together and respond back at once. This is the group hug concept.

Say thanks

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When someone hands you a compliment, say "thank you." It's short, it's sweet but it shows that you care and are listening.

Say something, anything

Even if you don't have time to offer a lengthy response, send back a couple of words of acknowledgment. It doesn't have to be insightful or well thought out; it just has to be a reciprocation of engagement.


When you really don't have anything to say, offer a wink or a smile to show that you appreciate the time someone took to reach out to you.

Learn from the best

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When you think you're too busy to respond to those who reach out to you, think again about Gary Vaynerchuk.

Mr. Vaynerchuk is beyond busy running two companies, promoting two books, going on speaking tours and making time for his family.

Yet, one of the most well-known social media experts is never too busy to respond. In fact, he finds some way to reciprocate to nearly all of his 800,000 followers when they reach out to him.

Even if he doesn't have time to give thoughtful responses to everyone, he'll still offer a few short words or a wink, a smile, a thank you or a group hug. In other words, he reciprocates.

And they appreciate it. In the Twitter discussion that took place, many pointed out their gratitude for his timely responses. The payoff of his effort is reflected in the loyal community he has built up over time.

While some may say that a wink or a hug isn't really engaging because it doesn't involve a conversation, I disagree. A big part of engagement is listening and reciprocating.

The takeaway

When it comes to social networking, you cannot partake in selective engagement. You must respond in some way to all those who reach out, no matter how small or insignificant your response may seem. It shows you are listening. It shows you are engaged. And at the root of reciprocation is someone who cares.

If you choose not to communicate with your community, you put yourself at risk of being perceived as someone who doesn't care. And that can be very damaging to the brand you are trying to build.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Ryan Caligiuri is a Winnipeg-based marketing specialist who believes that many organizations are wasting their money on ineffective marketing tactics, that many professionals and students feel lost because their actions don't translate into positive results, and that all three groups are too comfortable following the status quo. He is driven by the desire to refocus their efforts to resurrect the impact of marketing.

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About the Author
Innovation and Growth Enabler

Ryan Caligiuri is a growth strategist who works with companies in hyper-competitive marketplaces that want to increase leads and demand to fill their pipeline, that need help breaking into or taking control of already established markets, when there's a need to create more revenue streams or a need to become more influential in the marketplace. More

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