Here’s a social media scenario that plays out all too often with organizations and campaigns: Two years and thousands of dollars of advertising have finally netted you a Facebook page with 100,000 likes. You stand back to admire your work, congratulate yourself and prepare to make your first post of the day.

You check back a couple hours later to see what kind of reaction you received and you’re met with a measly 70 likes and 13 shares. You’ve got the people. Why aren’t they interacting?

Countless organizations now have to look beyond the so-called “vanity metrics” and try to find ways to truly engage their audience. The number of likes your page gets on Facebook or the number of followers you can boast on Twitter isn’t the right measure of your social networking success. The true test is whether your social media channels can activate and engage your audience. Making it happen, however, isn’t an easy task.

The right philosophy

Think about a typical Facebook post. It might only be seen by 10 percent of those who already like your page. Throw into the mix the countless other posts your followers are being bombarded with and you’re faced with a huge barrier that minimizes interaction. If people aren’t seeing what you’re posting, you’ve cut of their ability to interact. And that only scratches the surface of the problem.

Your social media channels cannot engage in one way conversation, existing merely to push out information to large numbers of people. Social media pros dispense this advice all the time, but it still goes unheeded by far too many campaigns and organizations.

The richness of social media is found only when you engage in conversation that encourages interaction and interconnectivity. Asking for money, redirecting to your website, or simply posting articles should never be the extent of your campaign’s outreach on social media. It’s simply not the way to engage with people and might even irreparably harm your ability to communicate with your audience.

The Facebook newsfeed (where the majority of your followers will see your content) is designed around an algorithm that rewards pages that post consistent, meaningful content. If your audience is reacting to what you’re posting, Facebook is going to push it out to larger numbers of people. The inverse, however, is also true. If you consistently post things that get little to no interaction, Facebook will ensure that fewer and fewer people see your content, which will make it incredibly difficult to increase your visibility.

Why quality matters

Realize that Facebook has its own goals. It wants people to remain on the site as long as possible and if you aren’t contributing to keeping people on the site, you’ll be pushed aside. The best way to make the Facebook algorithm work to your advantage, and subsequently get your audience engaged, is to provide high quality and visually stimulating content every day. This will prompt people to engage in the conversation, both on your page and by sharing with others.

It could be as simple as asking people to like your status if they agree, or share it if they’re outraged. Instead of linking an article or posting a generic status update, why not pair a powerful image with a call to action? Tap into your audience’s issue passion on hot button issues. Your page can provide them with a way of expressing that passion.

Social media posts must be designed to catch people’s attention when they scan their newsfeed. The image is vital. Images are the best way to get an idea to spread virally through Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.

Take the now famous “four more years” picture that President Obama circulated on Twitter and Facebook. It easily and quickly broke the all-time record for the most shares and retweets. It was the perfect combination of everything you want in a post. It captured an emotional moment and had accompanying text that was simple, to the point and added real meaning to the photo.

Using images to convey ideas has been proven highly effective by a number of Facebook personalities. George Takei (famous for his role as Sulu in “Star Trek”) is the undisputed king of Facebook and has amassed several million followers by posting humorous images or memes and adding witty commentary to each photo. Political users have been slower to engage in the use of humor, but use of the tactic among even more stoic lawmakers has exploded more recently. Perhaps no one has used this strategy more effectively than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R).

McConnell posted a gun control meme a few months ago —poking fun at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D). It was met with such an incredible response that he started posting humorous images more often. Almost overnight the interactivity for his page more than doubled and suddenly people were paying more attention to his messaging.

The Future

Social media is still a relatively new phenomenon. The two largest social media platforms—Facebook and Twitter—are less than 10 years old. The playbook on how to interact with your followers is being rewritten every day.

So what can you do to stay ahead of the curve? The answer is pretty simple: research. Spend time on Facebook and Twitter discovering what goes viral and what happened to get it there. You won’t always be able to pinpoint why something did as well as it did but you’ll likely start to notice certain tactics and trends.

Make progress in that area and you’ll be well on your way to a bustling social media network that will help spread your message far and wide.

Aaron Windeknecht is the New Media Manager for Campaign Headquarters and creator of “The Comical Conservative” Facebook page.