A few years ago businesses were considered to be on the cutting edge if they embraced social media. Entrepreneurs, in particular, may not have seen the value up front. Why spend precious time on social media platforms when the best target customers weren’t using them and the focus needed to be on building a business? Well, all that’s changed.
Today, according to Pew Research Center, more than 75 percent of all U.S. adults are online and 61 percent of them use social networking, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. So, how can a small business use social media to their advantage?
Build a community
People tend to hold positive attitudes toward members of their own groups, a phenomenon known as in-group bias. The term originates from a social identity theory, which developed as the result of studies conducted by social psychologist Henri Tajfel. He discovered that people can form in-groups, as well as out-groups, within a matter of minutes. Think about motorcyclists. They wave or nod to one another as they pass on the street; perfect strangers with the one connection of cruising around town on two wheels, yet they acknowledge that they are all members of the same group.
Try thinking about your customers as a community and your company as the common connection they all share. A Facebook page for your business may be the perfect place to bring your community together. Make your customers feel important by posting announcements that pertain to them and induce online conversations among your community members. Then tear down barriers by introducing your employees to your community through live events, and then post pictures of the events on your Facebook page to showcase those who attended and entice others to come to your next event.
Listen to your customers
You know the expression ‘we all have two ears and one mouth for a reason’? People often forget this with social media. Consider Twitter. A big advantage of using Twitter for small businesses is that they can quickly and easily create free publicity and buzz for their business. But many Twitter users forget to listen and engage. They blindly send message after message promoting their business. Try using Twitter as a listening tool. Search your company name, products, and leadership team. You might be surprised at the mentions you’ll find. And because of the viral nature of Twitter (Re-tweets), each customer comment – positive or negative – can take on a life of its own. This can be great for a business.
By letting your customers know that you are listening, they may be encouraged to speak up more often. This word of mouth, spoken by actual customers, is the most valuable promotion you can get. You can talk up the benefits of your company all you want, but prospects will always give more weight to what your customers are saying about you, than what you are saying about you. Opening up the lines of communication can be very intimidating, especially in such a public forum. What if the Tweet is a customer complaint? Is any publicity good publicity? Your customers know that you are human and are capable of making mistakes. What matters most is how you handle these mistakes. The key is to be transparent and respond immediately to any problems. When customers see that you are willing to fix problems in a timely manner, they soon forget about the initial complaint. What they will remember is the resulting solution.
Network with other business owners
Collaboration is a key part of a successful business. LinkedIn can boost your professional and business exposure, to generate more customers by helping you connect with the right people. First and foremost, LinkedIn is a valuable connecting tool between business people and one of the best social networking sites to help increase your online visibility.
Once you have a LinkedIn profile, it is easy to find colleagues and former classmates and instructors. Business professionals can look at your past work experience and read referrals from others who know you. It is also a great way to recruit new talent to your business and gain referrals to others that may be able to help you professionally. Also, because of its popularity among millions of people, the site has gained a significant presence in Google page rankings. This means that when people search for your name, they can more easily find your LinkedIn profile in the search results.
Inform (and educate) your customers
Customers appreciate the opportunity to learn about updates or upgrades, special offers, or other valuable information. Keep them involved by creating and maintaining a blog as part of your company’s website. Post current information about your product or service, descriptions of upcoming events, or other material such as graphics or video. One of the challenges that many bloggers have is what to write about. Write what you know!
At one blog a week that would keep you busy for just about a year! Let your blogs establish credibility and trust, and provide insight into your company’s philosophy and personality. Don’t be the only author. Let your employees showcase their knowledge and expertise of the products or services your company offers. Customers notice the attitudes of employees toward the company they work for. Blogs show customers that the connection is not broken once a sale is made. If you can provide constant, current, relevant content to your customers through blogs, the bond will become stronger. Of course all of these social networking tools can serve multiple purposes. What’s important is that every business get to know their customers, including learning where those customers go to get information. Then participate and engage with them where they are already.