Like many business owners, I've worked hard over the years to leverage social media to build my network and attract potential clients and customers.

I managed to do some things well. In just a few years, I attracted more than 100,000 followers, leading to some great benefits.

But as that following grew, I fell into a trap. 

I was using social media as a broadcasting tool. Mostly it was: "Here, check out something I wrote." Or "Here's what I think about topic x."

The problem with this type of communication is it's completely one way. But the true value in social media lies in a single ability:

The ability to facilitate conversations.

You know how conversations work in the real world. We hate talking to people who love the sound of their own voice. The ones who never ask questions ... or, when they do, don't pay attention to the answers.

In time, I learned the best way to use social media is to focus on answering two questions:

  • How can I start a conversation?
  • What can I learn from that conversation?

Then, I focused on the following:

Asking more questions

Nowadays, instead of simply sharing my thoughts on a topic and hoping others will share it, I try to ask thoughtful questions. Then, when people respond, I try to keep the conversation going.

In doing so, I've had more thought-provoking conversations than I can count. After hearing how a topic applies to different cultures and workplaces, and viewing alternate perspectives, I often have a much broader understanding of said topic. People share real-life, practical examples that bring my work to life.

Many times, those conversations spark new relationships that I continue to learn from. They've even created new business opportunities--with some of those conversation partners turning into clients.

Using polls

Polls allow you to gain insights from your audience, but with added benefits that other tools don't provide.

For example, after a long hiatus, I recently restarted my weekly newsletter. I was excited, as the newsletter had become my number one priority, with the goal to provide valuable, original content that would allow me to make a deeper connection with my audience.

The problem was I knew many of my subscribers wouldn't remember me since I hadn't written in so long. So, I asked my LinkedIn audience to choose among four email subject lines, to see which one they'd be most likely to open. I also asked them to share thoughts in the comments section, regarding why they chose that specific subject line.

This resulted in some great insights, as the majority of the audience chose a different subject line than I was originally leaning toward. Using that subject line led to one of my best open rates ever.

As an added benefit, I gained more LinkedIn followers through the process, and many who viewed the poll ended up signing up for the newsletter, too--a benefit I wouldn't have received if I simply used an A/B headline testing tool.

Learning from criticism

One of the greatest benefits of social media is also one of its dangers: the fact that anyone can reach out and criticize your work. 

But looking beyond the trolls, I've found sincere criticism from my audience to be very helpful. Sometimes, those conversations prove that my message was cloudy and not easily understood, leading me to clarify. Other times, they help me to refine my thoughts--or even to change my mind.

By changing the way I use social media, my engagement skyrocketed. As a natural byproduct, my followers grew, too. 

But even more important, grew.

So, if you want to get the most out of your social media, remember to focus on answering two questions:

  • How can I start a conversation?
  • What can I learn from that conversation?

Do this right, and you'll transform your social media into something more than an instrument to grow your business. It will be a tool for personal growth, too.