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by Jennifer Lumba | November 21, 2016
Like with anything else, the more often you engage with friends and followers on social media, the more engagement you'll get in return. But that's also easier said than done. How do you keep engaging without exhausting your audience with the same old content or ideas? How can you mix it up without being gimmicky? Here are seven creative ideas to keep the conversations lively and flowing:

1. Host a weekly chat. Twitter makes this particularly easy to set up. Just create a hashtag that describes the nature of your chat, set a time, and invite as many of your followers as you'd like. For maximum reach, encourage those attending to invite their friends or others they think might be interested. And be sure you stick with it. Engagement is the byproduct of predictably serving the interests of an audience that's willing to give you their attention.

2. Run a contest. Sometimes mixing it up and getting the best from your audience means offering something in return. Say you've had a tough time finding out how customers use a competitor's software. Run a contest asking your followers and others to post their most creative implementation of the product. Give away something of value to the winner -- a $500 gift card, for example -- and offer everyone else a trial to your alternative product. If executed well, you'll not only come away with a bigger audience but also some leads you'd have missed otherwise.

3. Coin a hashtag. Marking a conversation on social media is as easy as starting a chat. Again, create a hashtag and use it every time you've got something to say that advances the discussion you have in mind. Here at Rideau, we'll use often use the "#recognition" hashtag to mark ideas we think are relevant for HR professionals on the lookout for ways to better engage their teams.

4. Take the conversation across networks. Why limit your engagement to a single platform? Yes, Facebook is vast and connects to over 1.6 billion people. Yet posting there doesn't guarantee any more engagement than you'd get anywhere else. Try announcing a contest at your Facebook page and ask participants to send entries to you via Twitter (or Pinterest, or Instagram, or some other network). Or start a discussion on one network and take it to another. The more integrated your networks become, the more deeply your biggest fans will engage with you -- irrespective of the platforms you're using.

5. Go live. Sometimes, staying in the moment is the best way to engage. Try going live even when there isn't urgent news to comment on. You can either notify your friends and closest followers right before broadcast or during. Either way, the goal here is for spontaneity to fuel engagement. Don't  over-program or cut yourself off when no one shows. Instead, wait it out and see who shows up. Then try again, again, and again. Just as with chats, live broadcasts need time to find their audience.

6. Revisit an old topic. Could you add new life or perspective to an old topic? Try co-opting an old hashtag and reigniting the discussion, especially if there's been recent news that would affect the topic in question. And don't be afraid to be controversial. So long as you bring a healthy, non-confrontational demeanor to the discussion, you win just by being willing to engage in an area that leaves others queasy.

7. Challenge common wisdom. A similar idea in that you'll want to engage in an area that makes some in your audience uncomfortable. Only in this case, you aren't necessarily reopening old wounds. Instead, you're commenting on current events and challenging the status quo thinking. Engagement goes up in these instances because you'll attract people who think you're wrong and will say so. That's fine; stick to your ideas so long as they're credible and supportable with data.

Have other ideas for improving social media engagement? Please leave a comment below or get in touch. I'd love to hear from you!

Jennifer Lumba is the chief marketing officer of Rideau Recognition Solutions. Built on state-of-the-art technology, Rideau's employee recognition and customer loyalty programs change the way companies recognize employee service and achievement, reward individual and team performance, strengthen customer relationships, and create brand loyalty. Lumba can be reached at jenniferlumba@rideau.com.