There are many times or reasons that a small business will receive an influx of new customers -- such as around the holidays for retail stores, during a new product or service launch, or after a local advertising campaign. While new customers are great, returning customers are even better. Social media offers a number of opportunities to turn your new and existing customers into repeat customers and fans.
Hook New Customers on Social Media
The first thing you should do is direct new customers to your social media accounts. A good way to do that is to incentivize that act of becoming your friend, fan, or follower. Offer those who have just made a purchase a discount on future business in the form of a coupon, but tie it to your social media presence. For example, retailers could let customers know at point of sale that if they become a fan of your business on Facebook, they'll receive exclusive offers for discounts on future purchases. Or customers could be given instructions to tweet out a special hashtag with a message about your store after they follow your Twitter account, and once that's done you could send them a direct message with a special offer.
This is not unlike the common practice of taking down email or mailing addresses for mailing lists, but social media puts the user more in control since, when properly used, it is a two-way medium. That's actually an advantage to small business owners because active, engaged customers will be more likely to give you their attention.
Concentrate on Building a Community
Once you have users signed up to follow you on social media sites, the trick to retaining them as customers is to keep them wanting to come back. That means constantly engaging them with new content, exclusive offers, and information they can't get elsewhere. The best way to grow your community is to consistently offer them quality content. That means forgoing the sales pitch most of the time.
Customers join communities because of the quality of information and because they want to be privy to news about sales, coupons, deals, new products, or changes to your business (e.g., new hours, changed location, or updated menu items). But that doesn't mean they want to receive constant sales come-ons. Delivering quality, helpful tips and information to your customers will make them more likely to want to do business with you and help build your online community.
Restaurants could share recipes or tips for properly reheating leftovers, for example, while plumbers could offer instructions for simple home fixes. Retailers could offer honest reviews of new products, and doctors could offer alerts about the latest medical research or health care policy updates. Get creative -- what sorts of information can you provide your customer community? This type of content will help to build your social media community and turn new buyers into return customers.
Social media is a great place to promote your general sales and events, but you should also consider offering your social media fans exclusive deals that cannot be had elsewhere. Online-only offers will keep fans returning for more and it will help to build a community around your store, service, or brand, which is what social media is all about.
It's certainly true that you should treat all of your customers well, but it doesn't mean you should treat them all the same. Those customers that have taken the time to sign up as your fan, friend, or follower have shown a heightened interest in your brand that should be recognized. By plying your social media followers with occasional exclusive deals or discounts, you can help turn customers into fans that will evangelize your business to others. That way, you can turn new customers, into return customers, who in turn attract more new customers for you. That's the type of cycle that social media, when put to work properly, can help you create.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, RBFried