We’ve all heard it—in today’s uber-competitive marketplace it’s imperative for small businesses to form relationships with their customers. But it’s one thing to know it, and another to actually do it. What are the best ways to engage with your customers?
For answers, I turned to one of the most successful business owners I know. When I first met Gail Goodman, the Chairman and CEO of Constant Contact, years ago, the company itself was still a small business. Today, with more than 500,000 customers Constant Contact is no longer small. In her new book, Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins in a Socially Connected World, Goodman talks about how small businesses can not only form lasting relationships with their customers, but how those customers can actually help drive more sales.
OF: With so many small businesses reliant on word-of-mouth referrals as a source of new customers, it seems the time is right to learn more about “engagement marketing.” Is this what led you to write the book?
GG: “Engagement marketing” is a new idea that’s based on an old idea. Small businesses have always relied on word-of-mouth referrals, but now those conversations are happening online in social media. When that happens, a customer’s social network gets to eavesdrop on the conversation, which ultimately makes them aware of the business, and that their friend is a fan. Rather than just hope for this social word-of-mouth, small businesses can actively drive it.
OF: Can you define what engagement marketing is? Does it go beyond asking for referrals, and getting customers to say nice things about you?
GG: Engagement marketing is about getting customers to engage with you in socially visible ways. It begins when a customer first comes to your business. The first step in the cycle is to provide what I call a “WOW! Experience,” which doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. It is all about rising above the ordinary in little ways that make a connection to your new prospect or customer.
The second step is to entice customers to keep in touch with you through social media or your e-newsletter. If you don’t ask, they won’t connect. And if they don’t connect, they’ll forget about you. Keeping in touch [keeps] you top of mind. To entice people to connect, give them something of value in return: a report, discounts, or information all work well.
The final step is to develop content that encourages participation and sharing. That “content” in the world of social media doesn’t have to be “big.” You can post new products or tips, share links to articles, share photos or videos. Your goal is to create content that engages people through likes, comments and shares.
OF: You write that a small business owner can “engage” spending only 15-20 minutes a day. How can you accomplish so much in so little time?
GG: Start small. Small business owners get overwhelmed thinking they have to be on every social media platform, and that they need hundreds or thousands of followers. It’s okay to start off with one platform and build traction there. We typically see that Facebook works best for businesses selling to consumers, while LinkedIn and Twitter work best for those selling to other businesses. That said, go where your customers are. Once you have one platform mastered, add another to the mix.
I also tell small businesses to get comfortable with mobile technology. With today’s smartphones, it’s very easy to post a quick Facebook reply while you are waiting for the train, in line at the bank, or at home from your couch.
And, don't forget to celebrate your small engagements. An engagement doesn’t have to be “big” to work. If you post something and you get a couple of comments or likes; that’s fantastic. The average Facebook user has more than 200 friends, which means that even two comments or likes gets your business in front of 400 additional people. Engagement builds over time—and the more you work to engage with your customers, the more people will be attracted to your business.
OF: What is the biggest benefit a small business gets from using social media?
GG: Implied endorsement. When a customer or fan shares your content, this content appears in the newsfeeds of their networks. When I share an e-mail from Kitchen Outfitters, a store where I purchased my kitchen knives, that share comes with an endorsement. I’m saying, “I like this business.” This endorsement builds trust—trust you can’t buy with marketing. According to Nielson, 81 percent of consumers trust recommendations from friends and online opinions.
OF: I hear from a lot of business owners who provide a service (rather than sell a product) asking how they can best utilize social media. What do you suggest?
GG: Social media works just as well for service-based business. One small business featured in the book uses Facebook to hold Question and Answer sessions every other Friday. She asks fans to post questions for these sessions in advance.
If you’re a business that sells to other businesses, you can use Twitter or LinkedIn to alert your networks when you have new reports, tips or other content. You can also curate really great content from other sources.
OF: How do businesses avoid overloading their good customers? Can you engage too much?
GG: First, make sure you keep your content relevant and interesting. Second, think about what is a good frequency based upon your customers’ purchase frequency. Then, keep tabs on your followers. If you’re losing people, it could be because you’re posting too much (and clogging up their feeds) or you’re posting content that’s not relevant. Keep content simple, fun and engaging. Think about what shows up in your own newsfeed and what you read and respond to—your customers are just like you.
Which of these engagement tips are you most likely to try?
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