In my view of the social media landscape, a majority of businesses that engage in social media marketing look this gift horse in the mouth and fail to fully exploit its inherent opportunities. They use social media venues like Facebook and Twitter merely as broadcast channels--billboards on the information superhighway. As a result, they attract primarily customers who want to post praise or complaints. Some businesses go a bit further by actually providing services via social media--for example, on Jimmy John's Facebook page, you can place an order via the OrderOnline tab.
According to Charles Nicholls, founder and chief strategy officer of SeeWhy, most social media marketers overlook the most powerful tool social media has to offer--a way to attract customers, reward loyalty, and encourage brand advocacy by providing special offers and promotions. As Nicholls points out on SeeWhy's corporate blog, the largest reason consumers "friend" or follow a brand on Facebook or Twitter, by far, is to receive special offers and promotions.
For better or worse, savvy prospects and customers expect special treatment, and social media provides avenues for you to deliver it in a way that transforms loyalists into influential brand advocates.
Thinking of your social fans as potentially loyal brand advocates, Nicholls says, opens up a whole range of interesting possibilities:
- creating membership tiers that recognize different levels of customer value and reward customers accordingly
- encouraging advocacy programs with member-get-member-style initiatives
- rewarding advocates who share your brand with their social networks
- nurturing engagement, purchasing and advocacy through direct communications
Establishing a presence on a variety of social media venues, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, is certainly important, but it's not nearly enough. To optimize engagement, you must look for ways to incentivize your fans into becoming loyal customers who purchase more product and enthusiastically market your brand through their social observations, ideally right from your own website and product/service pages.
One company that might be able to help your business attract and retain social media-like dialogue is Bazaarvoice, an Austin, TX-based startup that enables businesses to capture, display, share and analyze customer conversations right on their own websites. For an example of what Bazaarvoice can do, check out any product page on UrbanOutfitters.com, where you'll see how Urban Outfitters is leveraging social media-like dialogue via product reviews, interactive FAQs, sharing and much more. Another leading provider of customer reviews and social commerce solutions is PowerReviews, a San Francisco-based startup that, like Bazaarvoice, helps businesses collect, organize, structure and analyze user-generated content right on their own websites.