It’s official, the game has been changed. Social media has catapulted us into a new age—an age where customers are demanding more and more from the brands and businesses they interact with— and that’s not true just for the big behemoths like P&G or Nike, but for your small business as well. As the PR giant Edelman pointed out, “we’ve entered the era of mass personalization. People expect far greater participation in their favorite brands and companies. They also want news and information when they want it and how they want it…” While the Internet and social media can at first appear complicated, truthfully, they open doors for small businesses. The Internet has created a new interface on which to connect to customers, even without huge multi-million dollar traditional advertising budgets. The trick though is to use it right. As Professors Patrick Barwie and Seán Meehan wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “The companies that will succeed in this environment are exploiting the many opportunities presented by social media while keeping an unwavering eye on their brand promise.” While the game has changed, the fundamental rules are still there and more important than ever.
Let’s Get Digital: How the Internet Can Improve Your Small Business
1. Start a Conversation - Set up a Facebook page, Twitter account, or another social medium to give customers a channel in which to engage. Not only is this a great way to engage customers, but it is also a valuable means to bind them closer to your brand. Simply by using it as a customer service tool, you can yield great results. For instance by allowing customers to ask questions, pose comments or even complain about a problem right there in the open, you not only will be able to begin a conversation, but also demonstrate to everybody (both existing and potential customers) how great your customer service is. For instance, let’s say that one of your customers has a problem, a problem that he posts for the entire Facebook community to see. On the surface, this might seem like a bad idea and something that could consequently hurt your business, but hear me out. By doing it this way, it will give you a means to respond, to make it right and, most importantly, to demonstrate to the world how great your business treats its customers. This will help you win even more business in the long run. In addition, social accounts can also be a great way to post things about your business and share events. They are essentially a marketing, customer service and PR tool wrapped in one.
2. Get Your Business on the Map - So many things today are done on the web, especially finding products or services. For this reason, if you don’t have a website right now, you must look into creating one. People look to the search engines first and foremost to ask questions; you need to be the answer. Your website must be a genuine way for customers to gain information and insight into what your business does. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of creating a selling ground for your products or services, a battlefield where customers are constantly bombarded every 3 to 5 seconds with ads to buy this or purchase that. Rather, make it a place for information and, chances are, people will come back. As Nellie Akalp says, “Social isn’t about self promotion,” “[it’s] about building relationships and growing trust.”
3. Do It Right! - The most important rule of social media is to do it right, or not do it at all. The reason why social media initiatives fail so often is because they are neglected or not done properly—and if this is the case, they can actually cause more harm than good. As Akalp again writes, “a neglected social media presence will reflect poorly on your business.” We should then do as Alison Coleman does, and emulate those companies, who do in fact use social media right and reap the rewards. For instance, Anothy Lyold’s use of Twitter helped gain him £150,000 of new business for his small England based hotel, Fallowfields Hotel. What he did though, was not use Twitter as a chance to sell, but rather as a tool to engage. His tweets included new menu items, hotel news, blogposts, the head chef’s guest tweets and the popular “did you know” facts that allowed customers to connect with his small business in a new way. While yes, using social media takes some time, it doesn’t take as much as you might think. You just have to remember to be consistent and selective about it. It is always better to be really good on one interface, for instance Facebook or Twitter, than moderately ok on a ton of them. So choose the social site that best suits your company and invest your time in doing it right. After all, social should be a reflection of your entire business, a face that you want to portray to the public. As Coleman points out, “Be responsive. Establishing a presence on social media is an invitation for people to communicate with you. Ignore them and your efforts will be wasted.” So:
• Be selective
• Engage, not sell
• Form Relationships
• Don’t neglect
Following these simple rules will allow you to maximize the potential of the internet and witness the great results it can produce for your business.
This post was written by Arie Hefter.