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What Makes an Online Marketplace Disruptive?

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On December 10, 2020, the rental housing marketplace Airbnb completed its initial public offering at a $47 billion valuation — one of the largest IPOs of the year. No less than 24 hours later, the company’s market cap shot north of $100 billion. Both were incredible milestones for a platform that, by design, predominantly just facilitates transactions — it owns virtually none of the services it helps its suppliers provide.

The success of Airbnb is not without precedent. Over the past 20 years, industries have been redefined by marketplace giants like eBay, Amazon, Uber, and Udemy that have upended the way we shop, travel, eat, work, and learn. But at the same time, even the most successful marketplace businesses don’t reach transformative scale. The question is: What are industry-changing marketplaces doing that others aren’t — and can those practices be replicated?

Clay Christensen’s seminal theory of disruptive innovation offers guidance. While many marketplace businesses simply organize and facilitate transactions among current market participants, disruptive marketplaces create new types of transactions that draw in buyers or sellers (or both) who weren’t already participating in the market.

For managers, entrepreneurs, and investors who are looking for the next disruptive marketplace opportunity, it’s essential to understand how these novel transactions can be identified and created. In this article, we provide a guide.

Disruption Meets Marketplaces

Many markets don’t work well. The costs of accessing the market and/or identifying and communicating with potential transaction partners can limit who participates or make it hard for participants to transact with each other. Asymmetric information about sellers’ offerings or buyers’ needs, meanwhile, can make parties less willing to transact, lest they end up being taken advantage of. Under such market failures, there are opportunities for beneficial exchange that are inevitably overlooked. Marketplaces address these problems by providing rules and infrastructure that facilitate and improve transactions, and mitigate market failures — creating value in the process.

But when is a marketplace disruptive?

A disruptive innovation underperforms on traditional measures that current market participants value, but is “good enough” for a different set of prospective consumers who value affordability, accessibility, and convenience. Disruptive innovations thus target those who were previously left out of existing markets — people Christensen referred to as nonconsumers.

In the marketplace context, we have found it useful to separate nonconsumers from what we call nonproducers, i.e., individuals or businesses that are constrained in their ability to offer supply in the market. For a marketplace to be disruptive, it must identify either new supply, new demand, or both — targeting individuals or businesses who were unable to profitably produce or consume goods and services in incumbent channels. And the most powerful disruptive marketplaces are often those that simultaneously connect nonconsumers with nonproducers.

For an example of a marketplace that is not disruptive, consider Angie’s List (as of recently, called Angi). Founded in 1995, it was built in response to the painstaking process homeowners endure to find, compare, and vet home service providers. Angie’s List cut through the time and effort this process required with a simple platform built on efficiency, trust, and simplicity. Existing providers list their services on Angie’s List in order to find new clients at a price point they are accustomed to, complementing the incumbent home services supplier network. The platform makes the market much more efficient.

Yet while incredibly valuable, Angie’s List does not change the structure of the home services market. It also does not make home services more affordable or accessible and does not find a way to turn nonconsumers into consumers.

By contrast, consider Outschool. It’s a marketplace of online courses for children that allows parents, educators, and others to create their own courses. Though certainly used by families who would otherwise be able to afford and access enrichment programs, Outschool’s business model also enables an entirely new population of families to take advantage of these opportunities. It not only enables new families to consume educational content, but enables a whole new population of educators to monetize their passions and expertise in algebra, ballet, or Pokémon arts and crafts through the platform.

Put another way, disruptive marketplaces make good on famed Silicon Valley investor Bill Gurley’s observation that internet marketplaces “literally create ‘money out of nowhere’” because “in connecting economic traders that would otherwise not be connected, they unlock economic wealth that otherwise would not exist.” When nonproducers and nonconsumers come together, tremendous opportunity awaits.

Bundles, Trust Wrappers, and New Ways of Transacting

Many marketplaces target existing supply and demand in a more efficient or trusted way — they improve existing transactions. Disruptive marketplaces, however, expand market participation by creating new types of transaction altogether. After examining what venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz identified as the top 100 marketplace startups in 2020 (plus a number of our own favorite marketplaces), we have identified four novel transaction types that can unlock disruptive potential.

These novel transaction types are not mutually exclusive. In fact, because nonconsumption often derives from many distinct sources, marketplace disruption often entails creating new transactions along several dimensions at once.

Smaller supply units.

Before the advent of marketplaces such as Airbnb and Getaround, most people’s homes, apartments, and cars were nonproductive assets: spare couches and bedrooms earned no rents and cars were parked most of the time. The new platforms, however, allowed those assets to be monetized. They made it possible to carve homes up into smaller rental units and enabled vehicles to be rented over short time horizons, selling a bite-sized unit of supply.

These “smaller supply unit” transactions are often disruptive because they come at a lower price, which makes the product affordable to a new group of people. This also produces a transaction type that incumbents are unable to copy because their business model is optimized for larger-unit (and therefore higher value) transactions.

Bundles.

Other marketplaces have created new transactions by aggregating rather than carving up supply — and in some cases, aggregating demand. Classpass bundles excess supply of exercise class slots into a “membership” that customers could buy to access classes across multiple fitness studios. Individuals could sign up for classes flexibly and frictionlessly according to their interests, whereas previously they would have had to buy classes or memberships at individual studios.

As a corollary to the smaller supply unit transaction type, bundles are generally inconsistent with incumbent business models. Though gyms, for example, offered individual classes before the advent of Classpass, the prices were so high that prospective customers were effectively forced into monthly memberships. Thus, for someone who previously couldn’t afford a monthly membership, a bundle of class units across gyms can offer a “good enough” whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, creating demand for a new transaction entirely.

New suppliers.

One of the simplest ways marketplaces can create new transactions is by building infrastructure that enables new suppliers to enter the market. Countless would-be online sellers, for example, have been held back by the sheer complexity of the web design, fulfillment, and inventory management skills required to run an ecommerce business. Amazon Marketplace lowers each of those barriers significantly, enabling millions to operate their own online stores. Similarly, Substack (an online platform for writers), Patreon (a membership platform for creatives), and other platforms have made it substantially easier for writers, artists, and others to market and monetize their expertise and skills, unlocking a new talent pool.

Reducing supply barriers presents disruptive opportunities in two ways: First, building a platform that turns nonproducers into producers creates competition, which ultimately lowers the price relative to existing market offerings. Second, matching new supply and new demand enables a degree of personalization that incumbents simply cannot match at a comparable price point.

Trust wrappers.

Certain transactions don’t exist (or are highly constrained) because a trust barrier prevents demand from engaging with supply. Health care data, for example, is highly sensitive and thus difficult to share in a trusted way — much less exchange or sell. But blockchain solutions make it possible for health providers to share data in a trusted fashion without need for intermediaries. The “wrapper” in this case is cryptographic technology that enables a publicly verifiable transaction ledger that records where data has been sent. Such trust wrappers create opportunities for disruption by facilitating transactions among parties who would otherwise be unable to access the market.

Applying the Framework: Residential Real Estate

Our taxonomy of new transaction types offers a powerful set of lenses for any investor, entrepreneur, or manager looking to identify truly disruptive marketplace opportunities. To see how this can work, consider the residential real estate industry.

Smaller supply units.

Many prospective home buyers are unable to purchase because they face a chicken-and-egg problem: they do not have the resources (i.e., a down payment and/or sufficient credit opportunities) to buy a house outright, yet without the appreciation of home equity, they may never be able to. This suggests a potential smaller supply unit marketplace strategy: Rather than buy homes outright, could an entrepreneur make it possible for residential buyers or investors to instead buy smaller home equity units?

Real estate startups Unison, Noah, and Point already enable homeowners to sell portions of their home equity, and it’s not hard to imagine these sorts of transactions being made available to prospective home buyers as well. For example, a would-be homebuyer could invest a small amount of money into the equity of one or more homes which they are confident will appreciate. When the home is sold (or when the homeowner pays back the equity financing), the prospective buyer gains from the appreciation, which improves their ability to afford a larger down payment in the future. This type of marketplace would directly target nonconsumption, and potentially tap into nonproduction, by allowing homeowners capitalize on their home’s equity without having to sell the entire home. This offering would also be completely orthogonal to traditional lending and real estate brokerages, who profit on the sale of entire home units.

Bundles.

The financial barrier to developing an entire multi-family home or condominium complex is typically quite high; this results in nonproduction among individuals who can’t deploy sufficient capital to take on real estate development projects. But if we bundled the financing, several entities would be able to co-finance a building investment project in an attractive market. This bundle of supply may be well matched in a marketplace which bundles demand, becoming like a version of Kickstarter for real estate development. A group of investors could propose property types and locations, with prospective buyers or renters agreeing to move into the new units once they are completed.

This marketplace has the potential to expand access for both supply and demand that are constrained by capital and lending requirements. New developers, as well as those with ideas for properties in up-and-coming areas, could lower the cost of development by aggregating demand upfront, resulting in more affordable offerings.

New suppliers.

For decades, the residential real estate market in many countries has been fully intermediated by real estate agents who extract a significant share of the transaction price from sellers. Agents’ market power has come in large part from controlling access to the information and resources needed to buy and sell a home — property listings are often proprietary and can only be created or viewed by agents. But Redfin, Zillow, and other platforms are directly addressing this pain point, making listings publicly accessible and creating technology prospective sellers can use to list their homes directly. As a result, sellers are starting to cut out the intermediaries; in Zillow’s case, homes are now being purchased outright on the platform, a transaction which immediately taps into potential nonproducers (home sellers).

As supply barriers continue to come down, nonconsumers will participate in real estate markets that were previously inaccessible due to the sheer cost of brokers fees. Although 3% on an expensive home purchase may not make a significant difference to most prospective buyers, a one-to-two month broker’s fee on a rental property is prohibitive for many. Platforms that remove these expensive intermediaries will thus create opportunities for suppliers to transact with nonconsumers.

Trust wrappers.

Many prospective home buyers are constrained by a point-in-time debt-to-income analysis from their bank, which limits the available pool of homes that can be purchased. However, many individuals’ short and long-term income potential is significantly higher than what they earn today. Many universities recognize such an opportunity in their faculty members and provide home loan certifications that help banks see less risk than what a junior faculty salary may indicate. Imagine a platform that creates similar trust wrappers for homebuyers. By analyzing industry growth, firm market value, and an individual’s professional track record over the prior seven years, a platform could generate a stamp of approval that offers increased credit access to those seeking to purchase a home — particularly in markets where home prices continue to rise.

The impact of such a system on nonconsumers is straightforward: more individuals would have access to mortgages than previously possible. On the supply side, the trust wrapper might enable smaller banks and other entities to compete in a mortgage market that is currently dominated by large banks. While larger, more established financial institutions will be happy to continue serving their usual customer base, smaller, industry-focused, or regional banks can begin a disruptive march among customers traditional banks may be inclined to ignore.

These real estate examples illustrate how our framework can be used as a high-level roadmap for identifying marketplace opportunities in any given industry. And though of course none of the ideas suggested here are guaranteed successes, they serve as a starting point for entrepreneurs looking for ways to create disruptive growth.

And while marketplace businesses are complex to execute and manage, disrupting through marketplaces is paradoxically less daunting than it may seem. This is, in part, because marketplace disruption can take advantage of existing market forces.

Every market is already at work trying to achieve efficient outcomes among participants — who already have some desire to transact. Marketplace builders simply need to identify transactions the market would like to complete, but that are blocked because of some inherent friction. Once an entrepreneur figures out how to eliminate that barrier through marketplace design, the market quickly takes care of itself. And unlike in other innovation categories, a disruptive marketplace can often move up-market directly, because whatever transaction efficiencies it finds can be applied directly to improve transactions among pre-existing consumers and producers.

Moreover, disruptive marketplace transactions occur at a different level of abstraction from most incumbents, which leads to greater flexibility. For example, Marriot may think of itself as in the “hotel business” — as a result spending countless resources improving their properties and services. But for most Marriott guests, the high-level transaction is not “hotel services” but simply “travel housing.” Airbnb focused on that higher-level transaction unit and reduced barriers to participating in those transactions as much as it could — creating and capturing tremendous value along the way.

The past two decades have seen the rise of many valuable marketplace businesses, but the most iconic, category-creating ones have disrupted traditional value networks with the novel transaction types described here. Understanding such disruption helps us understand how those marketplaces succeeded — and provides a framework for innovators looking to identify the next big marketplace opportunities.

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The Benefits of LinkedIn Ads

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LinkedIn wouldn’t necessarily be the first platform that comes to mind when considering social media advertising. However, if you are a B2B organisation, the platform can allow you to reach professionals across the globe. LinkedIn allows you to generate brand awareness across targeted professional sectors and reach out to decision makers directly.

Advertising is all about targeting the right people. Users of LinkedIn tend to be older, professional and have a higher income than the average user of other social media platforms. So if that is your target market, LinkedIn offers a great opportunity to reach them. Professionals use LinkedIn for business networking purposes so users are generally in work mode so engaging with them should be easier than on other platforms.

Here we outline the six main advantages that LinkedIn Ads have over other social media platforms.

1. Variety of ad formats

LinkedIn offers a number of options for advertising:

  • Sponsored content – this type of ad appears in people’s feeds, it is the least personal form but good for promoting content from your business page and encouraging people onto it.
  • Text ads – these are only viewable by people using a desktop. With these you can choose the audience you want to target and you only pay per click.
  • Message ads – these appear in users’ inboxes and are proven to be good for conversion.
  • Video ads – great for storytelling, you can also retarget users who have watched the video, aiding conversion rates.
  • Dynamic ads – these allow you to fully personalise your ad by showing user’s photo, name and title within the advert.

2. Generate high quality leads

The ability to target professionals and gain good quality leads is the primary benefit of LinkedIn ads. Users are looking at work-related content so will be more open to solutions for their business needs.

With more than 800 million users in over 220 countries and territories, LinkedIn is the biggest social network for professionals and businesses alike. 4 out of 5 LinkedIn members drive business decisions and the platform has been rated the best for lead generation by marketers.

By using LinkedIn advertising, you can access their Lead Accelerator feature. This feature allows businesses to follow their best prospects and offer more targeted ads directly to them. This includes remarketing to website visitors, which helps nurture leads, making them more likely to become customers.

3. Targeting

LinkedIn allows you to target specific demographics, enabling you to create much more personal advertising campaigns. Facebook lets you target interest and behaviour based factors however LinkedIn is the right medium to use if you want to target individuals based on their industry and job. You can filter your audience by:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Company name
  • Company size
  • Degree subject
  • Job title
  • Seniority
  • Industry
  • Member skills

These variables make the platform the ideal choice for B2B organisations wanting to target decision-makers.

Entrepreneurs executing on a business idea
photo credit: LinkedIn Sales Navigator / Unsplash

4. Remarketing

LinkedIn allows you to specifically target people who have shown an interest in your products. Matched audiences show you which users have visited your website and the pages that they went on. This allows you to target them with specific ads in the hope that they will return to your website and convert to a customer.

Matched audiences can be created with:

  • Account Targeting – Uploading a CSV of company names to LinkedIn allows you to target decision-makers.
  • Website Retargeting – Target the users who have visited your website and re-engage them to aid conversions.
  • Contact Targeting – Uploading a CSV of email addresses of your contacts to LinkedIn enables you to nurture your leads and prospects even further.

5. Increased conversion rates

The ability to target specific groups, nurture them and remarket to them will increase your conversion rates.

A year-long study by HubSpot found that on average, LinkedIn ads convert users to leads at a 6.1 per cent conversion rate. This compares to 2.58 per cent for Google search ads.

MD of exhibition stand contractor Black Robin Exhibits, Alan Jenkins, managed to achieve a conversion rate of 8.2% with a LinkedIn campaign earlier this year, he said “We were delighted with the results, it wasn’t a huge investment, we could set the budget and the conversion rate was fantastic”.

6. High control

A big benefit of LinkedIn advertising is the high degree of control that you can have. You can set a specific start time for your advert and specify when it will end. As well as this, you can set daily budgets to ensure your advertising costs are kept at the right level for your business.

Businessman using LinkedIn app

Conclusion

Setting up a LinkedIn campaign is not straight-forward due to the variety of advert types and different ways of targeting. But the platform has a number of advantages over other social media sites if your target market is professional businesspeople.

B2B organisations will be able to target specific demographics with personal ads, nurture and remarket to them. All this will increase conversion rates, making LinkedIn a valuable marketing tool.

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Beginners’ guide to Instagram Reels

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Get ‘Reel’ results

If you haven’t already heard the news, according to Instagram, they’re no longer a photo-sharing app. Shocking, right? The company announced they want to start focusing more on video content, like that offered through Instagram Reels, as opposed to being the original square photo-sharing app they’re known for being.

“At Instagram, we’re always trying to build new features that help you get the most out of your experience. Right now we’re focused on four key areas: Creators, Video, Shopping and Messaging.” — Adam Mosseri, Instagram CEO

This makes total sense because short, engaging videos (shown to us by hyper-accurate algorithms) have proven to keep our attention more effectively than ever before. So effectively that 93% of marketers who use video say it’s an important part of their marketing strategy. Additionally, users are twice as likely to share video content with their friends and family than any other type of content, including social media posts, blog posts/articles and product pages.

So if you’ve been hesitant to start making Instagram Reels or just needed a little encouragement, we’ll cover the basics, give you some ideas on what content to create for your business or brand, and help you understand the data behind it all.

But, before we do, let’s talk about why Instagram Reels needs to be included in your marketing strategy.
What are Reels and why should you start using them?

Person recording elephants on smartphone

Instagram Reels rolled out in late 2020 and the feature has continued to increase in popularity. Reels provide creators with a way to produce and share short, engaging videos using a collection of mainstream music and user-generated audio.

With more advanced editing tools, such as speed controls, filters and transitions, you can effortlessly edit multi-clip Reels up to 30 seconds long, entirely within the Instagram app, which is amazing if you don’t want to use multiple apps and extra equipment to film, edit and post to social media.

Reels are definitely a useful feature of the platform as a whole that is worth exploring. When it comes to metrics, Reels receive 22% more engagement than videos posted directly to a feed. In addition to IGTV, Live and Stories, Instagram Reels are another great tool for you to use to get noticed on the platform and reach potential customers.

Nearly two-thirds of Instagram users are between 18 and 29, with 18- to 34-year-olds the most active age group. That means there’s a ton of opportunity for businesses to be discovered by your target audience on this platform. So, if your Instagram strategy needs a boost to stay top-of-mind and ahead of the competition, Reels could be your solution.

Related: How to plan an Instagram marketing strategy to attract business

Instagram Reels small business content ideas

If your business is active on Instagram but hasn’t posted a Reel just yet, don’t worry, it’s not too late to start. Accounts that don’t follow you can find your content while scrolling on the Explore page, which is why it’s so important for brands to be active where their target audience is.

Don’t let lack of inspiration hold you back, here are some simple and effective video ideas:

Educational content‍

The best way to increase your reach and engagement is to give your viewers value. If you can create something that is helpful, users are more likely to like it, share it with their friends and follow you for more. That ultimately, tells the algorithm your content is worth being promoted to others on the app.

For example, you can create shareable workout, cooking or crafting videos just by showing your step-by-step process.

Showcase your products‍ or services

Highlight what makes your business unique with Reels dedicated to each product or service you offer. This could be a tutorial on how to best use your products or a way to update customers on new offerings.

Create original content‍

Easier said than done, but I know that behind-the-scenes content, user-generated content and FAQs are always a big hit with loyal audiences.

You also have a few different ways to get trending and possibly even viral. You can use trending hashtags, popular audio clips or filters and get discovered among other videos with those elements.

Re-creating a popular trend while highlighting your brand is one of the quickest (but not the easiest) ways for business growth with Instagram Reels.

How to optimize your Instagram Reels

Improvised video recording setup

Improvised video recording setup

Like with any social media platform, there are always hidden steps you can take to increase the likelihood your content gets seen and please the almighty algorithm.

For example, many users who create content for TikTok have started uploading those same videos as Reels. Seems like a logical time saver, right? Well, Instagram has not only clearly advised against re-posting content that’s “visibly recycled from other apps,” it has also updated its algorithm to recognize and prevent it from performing well on their platform.

That being said, here are some tips on how to optimize your Reels for the best results:

  1. Try to record (vertically), edit and add effects to your reels from within the app, rather than uploading a video you’ve created elsewhere.
  2. It’s also important to use text overlays, hashtags, audio, and descriptive captions to let Instagram add you to an algorithm relevant to the content.
  3. @ other accounts, when appropriate. Just like hashtags, you’ll get more reach by including their name in your content.
  4. Use custom thumbnails. Doing so will make it easier for users to find videos they want to watch when scrolling on your account. It’s also a great way to incorporate your branding and help your feed look cohesive.
  5. Sharing your Reels to your Stories and even on your feed will get more people to see it. You can share it when you post it or, if you have posted enough that day, share on a day when you don’t have anything else to post.

Algorithms are constantly changing, and not always for the better. Doing just a little bit of research to stay on top of current trends and best practices will pay off in the long run.

Related: 3 ways to use Instagram Stories for digital storytelling

Understanding Instagram Reels Insights

Bodybuilder recording workout

Bodybuilder recording workout

Finally, you’ll need a way of knowing if your hard work is paying off.

Instagram has included a dedicated tab, which is similar to the Insights tab on your static posts and videos, that details the metrics relating to your Reels. With the Instagram Reels Insights, business owners can see important metrics like accounts reached, plays, likes, comments, saves and shares.

By knowing what type of accounts you’re reaching with your Reels and which content formats are most engaging with your audience, you’ll be able to adjust your content to better serve your target audience and grow your account.

Measuring these stats is the best way to make sure all the efforts you’re putting in to engage your fans is actually working.

Once you have a good idea of where your metrics are on average, try experimenting with the time of day, type of content and hashtags you use when posting your Reels. Start thinking of ways to get in front of new users with videos like tutorials, bloopers or more user-generated content. You could even share customer testimonials or success stories for added social proof.

Final thoughts on Instagram Reels

I know I personally struggled with the idea of including yet another item on my content creation checklist, but I’ve found that even just repurposing a few old clips from videos on my YouTube channel into Reels has proved effective in increasing my engagement and reach on Instagram.

Exploring a new feature of social media can be intimidating and overwhelming at times, but Reels seems to be a fun new way to expand your social media presence through the use of short videos. I recommend testing it out and seeing how well it works for you and your audience. You might find it to be your new favorite tool in your social media strategy.



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5 Strategies to Drive Customer Engagement

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Engaging with your customers is the key to driving sales and growing your company. However, some businesses are not sure how to do this effectively. It means that when they finally manage to engage with their customers, they are not entirely sure what worked. Knowing how to drive customer engagement is all about knowing your customers.

Here are 5 strategies that you can use to drive customer engagement.

Customer engagement
photo credit: Edmond Dantès / Pexels

Communication is the Key

Communication between your company and your customers is fundamental to engagement. If your customers are trying to talk to you about your products or services, then you should listen to them. Avoiding contact will simply drive them to another company.

Here are some tips you should follow.

1. Listen to Your Customers and Never Assume

If you have a customer that approaches you on social media or any other channel, it is vital that you engage them in a conversation. Their initial message might not be the complete story, so you need to work with them to find the right answer.

Once you have found out what the customer wants, go through your products with them and pinpoint what works for them. Your sales team must never assume that they know what their customers want, or they might find the customer goes elsewhere.

2. Seek Help with Engagement

Sometimes no matter what you try, you are unable to engage with your customers or retain them. It may be that there are strategies that you haven’t considered or lack the knowledge to implement.

This is where companies such as TCC Global can help. By helping you and your marketing team to engage with your customers and create brand loyalty, you can start to grow your business.

3. Respond Quickly to Questions

There is nothing more frustrating for customers than asking a question on social media and not getting a reply. Even a delay of a few hours can be enough to cause someone to look elsewhere.

If your business has a presence on social media, then it is vital that it is monitored at least during business hours.

Selling to existing customers

4. Chat to Your Customers

There is a temptation to use your means of communication to just sell products. While this is an important part, there should also be more customer engagement through conversation.

If you find something interesting, tell your customers on social media. Reply to them if they answer you and keep the conversation going.

5. Blog About the Popular Questions

If you are seeing a trend in questions your customers are asking, then it may be a good idea to write a blog post about it.

Blog posts will drive visitors and potential customers to your website and from there they may go to your products. Answering these popular questions will also save time for your customers and build loyalty.

Conclusion

So, there you have it – 5 strategies to drive customer engagement. These are just a few of the ways your company can build a relationship with its customers and build a loyal following.

It is important to remember to stay engaged with your customers even after they make a purchase.

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