If we are to believe 21st century common knowledge, the entire world is on social media. And even if it's not the entire world, it seems pretty close. In this new era, social media is where you want to be.
Connecting with customers on social media, and using social networks to show your appreciation for customers, fosters word of mouth within a community, whether that community is as local as a 10-mile radius or as vast as the Internet enables.
Making the Connection
Through my career in retail marketing, I advised small businesses that thrived in competition with name brands. Working with businesses of every type, I observed which path to success each entrepreneur took. Small businesses had the ability to flourish due to their attention to detail and a personal connection with their customers. Early entrants into the social media world were small businesses who used their personal accounts to build their online personas. Similarly, businesses began to jump in and create connections online.
In 2009, I began testing the theory that social media could build connections and revenues for businesses, small and large. Even at that early stage in social networking, I found outstanding examples, which spurred me to write my book, The Ultimate Online Customer Service Guide: How to Connect with your Customers to Sell More. I knew from practice and study that a business’s bottom line could improve from connecting with customers on social media.
Social media outreach can be a slippery slope. New platforms seem to be emerging on a monthly basis. Double check the demographics of a site before jumping in by running a Google search on the specific demographics of each site. A search for Pinterest demographics 2014 will bring up a page of links to current information on the users of that site. If your target market is customers with an $80,000+ income, some sites may not serve that demographic base well. As I always say, “Fish where the fish are,” and put your efforts into the sites that hit your target audience.
If you’re primarily a B2B business, you might find platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and perhaps Google+ to be most advantageous for making the right connections and getting your brand out there. You can join LinkedIn communities and become part of the discussion. Or take articles you've written for your business blog, tweak them by rewriting a paragraph or two and post them on LinkedIn to expose your brand to a much wider audience.
A B2C business might do better on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Whereas Facebook shows posts by a preset algorithm that displays only what Facebook deems to be important to the viewer, tweets on Twitter are shown as they are posted and are searchable by users. This makes your message viewable to anyone following your account. Businesses that have a visual story to tell can also reach a wide swath of customers on Pinterest. Nothing sells like pictures!
Building a Community Online
Putting your business on to social media helps your customers connect with your brand on a more personal level. Commenting, responding and sharing are the building blocks to your online success. Building your community is where the challenge begins.
In the beginning, keep things simple: Establish and maintain outreach on a single platform before expanding to others. Use audience-targeted keyword searches to build your community within each platform. Twitter makes this easy. If your business sells luggage, you might search not only for mentions of the brand names you carry, but for users who mention travel, cruises and flying. If you are an accountant, search and respond to those who ask questions about taxes, bookkeeping programs and small business. Search the sites repeatedly for keywords that relate to your industry, your competition and even your customers by name. Certainly it is not a best practice to stalk, but special customers might appreciate an occasional “hello.” This is why it is called social media; it’s your chance to personalize your business and be sociable.
Just as you would in a brick-and-mortar shop, it's important to keep things personal and friendly. The generic "Follow us on Facebook" or similar call to action doesn’t give anyone a reason to connect with you. Personalize your outreach by using the word “join,” thus making your connections more inclusive. Share your comments and links with a promise of what your community can expect from you once they click the “like” or “follow” buttons.
While you're at it, keep self-promotion to a minimum. I know the point of all this is to sell and gain customers, but how often have you fast forwarded through commercials on TV? Social media is the same animal. Start a conversation with your community and share interesting information. If you are a public relations agency, for example, you might share tips on PR—yours or others from quality articles on the Web. Be sure these are relevant to your audience. People aren't interested in a constant stream of information about what you're selling; make this outreach more about building a relationship.
Odds are you don't plan to stake out social networks 24/7, but you do need to check in daily and respond to everyone who has commented on your posts. Word catches on in the online world, and if you are an outstanding community member, others will follow and trust you. People will then begin to share your message (which you’ve peppered into your social stream). Social engagement is a two-way street.
Choosing the Right Content
Generating leads from social media is triggered by piquing the interest of your community. Creating the type of content you would like to see and sharing the things you like may resound with people who have similar interests. Another way to relate to an audience you've never met is to consider what your personal reasons were for getting into your business, and use them as clues to the personality of your community. When creating content, play with different formats to see what your audience responds to.
Blog posts. Your company blog is your personal testing ground. The statistics on views and time spent are private and easy to retrieve. This is the place to find out the sort of topics that resound best. Keep the bulk of your posts fairly short until you have an important story to tell. Busy people don’t have a lot of time to read each and every post that attracts them. It’s best to let readers capture the essence of your ideas in several short, thought-provoking posts. The idea is to build your brand and bring them back for more, and create compelling content you can share.
Related news. Share relevant news stories on social media platforms. These can be articles that relate to your industry or even something that you personally find interesting. You’ll soon figure out which type of stories are most popular by the amount of Facebook likes, Twitter retweets and social approval you receive.
Videos. Short—and I mean short, two minutes maximum—videos about your company, products or services helps people to get to know you. (Remember, make it fun.) Consider creating how-to and instructional videos, posting them on YouTube, and sharing them on your blog as well as social platforms. Visuals can capture a customer quickly.
Pictures. If you are on one of the popular social platforms, you will no doubt see people sharing pictures—lots and lots of pictures. But sharing pictures that don't relate to your business can merely dilute your brand in the eyes of the community. (Kittens are cute, but I think I’ve only shared one kitten picture: He was wearing glasses and reading a book.) Whether you're sharing images of your own or from other websites, keep your brand focus front and center.
When it comes to building a community on social media, start slowly and be patient, all the time knowing that each person you connect with might be converted from stranger status to stakeholder and advocate.
Measure for Measure
Metrics are important, but can be tricky. Twitter engagement seems to be the easiest to measure. If your budget is small (or nonexistent), you can go to Twitter Analytics and see how your tweets perform on the platform. Your past 28 days’ worth of history will be shown by day in a bar graph.
You can also see the engagement rates of individual tweets, broken down into number of engagements (clicks, favorites, retweets and more). Scrolling down through 28 days of tweets can give you a good idea of which hashtags, topics and times of day result in the most engagement.
Another analytics platform can be found at Simply Measured. Its Twitter account reports dig deep into every facet of your engagements. You’re not only given numbers and metrics, but recommendations as to what is working best, based on analysis of the deep data. If its pricing is a bit rich for your small business, you can sign up for a free trial to get some on-the-spot guidance on your outreach.
Most importantly, keep in mind that chasing numbers of followers should not be your goal. Quantity is great, but not everyone on social media is your targeted customer. Use search to find those who are interested in your business and center your outreach on qualified customers.
Marsha Collier is listed as a top influencer in lists from Forbes and Huffington Post. She’s also an author who has sold more than 1 million books on the topics of e-commerce, social media and online customer service. You can find her current books at CooleBayTools.com and Amazon.com.
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