Monday, August 15, 2011

Give Your Customers A Place To Be Negative

In many blog posts and presentations on social media, I've reiterated the fact that if you have a business, no matter how big or small, you must have a presence in social media.  You can't ignore social media or claim that you don't have time to participate.

Recently, as I was preparing a social media presentation for a small business group, a thought about the need for participation in social media suddenly occurred to me:

You need to give your customers a place to be negative.

That's not a mistake.  You read it correctly.  You need to give your customers a place to complain about you.  That may seem to be contrary to why your business should have a presence in social media, but it should be a motivating force to be participating in the social realm.

The typical reasoning behind participating in the social mediasphere is to promote your company, allow your customers to follow you, and create new fans and customers.  Ideally, this would happen through positive responses to your business and products by satisfied and happy customers.  We would all love to have happy customers, positive comments, and recommendations from everyone who did business with us.

But, we all know that we can't satisfy everyone all the time.  There will be times that customers complain.  Whether it's a faulty product, poor customer service, or just the perception that the customer did not receive the expected value, you will have negative comments leveled at your business.

If you don't have, for example, a Facebook page, where is the customer going to go to make their complaint?  They may call you or even send an email.  But, more often than not, in this socially connected world, they will take their complaints to the internet.  They can tell hundreds, even thousands of people how much they dislike your business or customer service.  They can make those complaints nearly anywhere.

You might be able to discover those complaints through internet searches, focusing on keywords about your company, and by constantly monitoring lots of difference sites.  They might make complaints where you would be unable to respond, such as a personal Facebook page or blog which doesn't allow comments.

Why not give them a place to make those complaints?

Most people who make complaints about a business not only want to tell other people about their experience, they want the company to know as well.  Social media is taking the place of 800 numbers and customer service email addresses because the complaint can be made public.  If you have a blog or Facebook page where your customers are able to voice a problem with your business, there is a good chance that they will make a complaint on that site.

To quote Field of Dreams:  "If you build it, they will come."

This gives you the opportunity to immediately see the complaint rather than search the internet for it.  It gives you the chance to respond to the complaint and attempt to rectify the problem.  It allows you to do this publicly so that your other fans and customers can see that you care about your customers.  When you respond and publicly correct any problems, real or perceived, you have the chance to make a fan out of the disgruntled customer and potentially create even more fans.

Give them a place to be negative and I think that you'll find it will be positive for your business.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Follow Me! Follow Me! Please, Follow Me...

We all want followers.  After all, the value of our social currency is often based on the "likes," fans, or followers we have.  The perception is, the more we have, the more we're worth.  I believe that's a false perception and I've already written about the concept that influence is far more than the raw number of followers that you have.

What is the point of having 50,000 followers on Twitter or Facebook when your business may actually rely on 10,000 unique customers, or fewer, during a year's time that keep you operating?

I've watched as businesses launched social media campaigns by attempting to build large followings right from the start.  They woo followers by offering to enter them into drawings for iPads, Visa gift cards, and other high value prizes if they will just follow them.  I've seen these businesses go from 0 to 3,000, 5,000, or 10,000 followers in a matter of days or weeks by offering these kinds of enticements.

But, I've also watched these businesses lose hundreds or even thousands of followers shortly thereafter.

Why?

An iPad is a hot commodity.  People want one.  Doing nothing more than clicking a "like" or "follow" button for a chance to win one is a minimal commitment with a low investment for the possibility of a high payoff. A business can gain a lot of fans by taking this approach.

But, who are those followers?  Are they customers of the business?  If they aren't already a customer, will they become a customer?  Do they want, need or use your product or service?

Odds are, many of these new followers don't care about the business, your product or your services.  Which means, they have no compelling reason to continue following you once the iPad has been given away.  Many will "unlike" or "unfollow" you.  Others may not bother to take the time to do that- they'll just ignore your updates.  You may have given that iPad to someone who took it and ran and will never return.  And, how many followers will they have gained that are interested in their business beyond the giveaway?

Having 500 dedicated, engaged followers is far more valuable than having 5,000 followers who are only there for the prizes.

So, how can you build a dedicated engaged following?

First, you can jumpstart the process with prizes for following, but realize that building a truly dedicated following, true fans, takes time and effort and more than just gimmicks and giveaways.  Be reasonable.  Prizes don't have to be expensive.  Give away a product or service you sell.  If you sell clothing, have a drawing for a t-shirt, or if you operate a heating and cooling service, give away a free duct cleaning.  A $10 gift card to your store will not attract 10,000 followers, but it will attract people more likely to be your customers than a $500 Visa gift card.  Focus on things that would be of interest to customers and potential customers.

Next, focus on current customers.  Do you send out a physical or email newsletter?  Postcards?  Coupons?  Do you have a website?  Attach social media links and logos to all these marketing efforts.   Can you program your cash register to print the social media info on your receipts?  If you have a retail store, inform your current customers throughout the store you are on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Build with what you have, not what you wish you had.

Finally, offer value in your social media output.  Give information, share knowledge, and be a resource.  Be a place where your customers can find valuable, unique, or entertaining information that relates directly or indirectly to the products or services you sell.  Being a resource, rather than constantly advertise will draw people into your conversations and raise their awareness of your business when they need what you provide.  Social media is high tech word of mouth and your current customers can be your best asset in gaining new customers.

Followers are vital to your social media engagement efforts, but the right followers are critical to turning that effort into return on investment.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Make Time for Social Media Engagement- Even If You Don't Have Time

Recently, I was giving a presentation on social media engagement to a business association in Albuquerque, New Mexico when, during the question and answer portion of the session, someone asked the question:

"I'm a small store with just two or three employees, including myself.  We have a lot to do.  How do I find the time to make a social media strategy work for my store?"

I first gave her the short, simple answer:  "You make time."

Then came the more detailed explanation of how to make something that sounds so simple, yet in reality appears so difficult, work for any business, regardless of size and demands on time.

Regardless of whether your business is comprised of one person or one thousand, finding additional time, money, and people to carry out new plans and initiatives is difficult.  But, what if adding a social media engagement component to your business plan could yield new customers and increased sales to established fans?  You would make the time!  But how?

First, social media should be seen as a component of, not a substitute for, a replacement of, or an addition to your marketing and business plans.  Whenever you, your marketing director or group sits down to consider the marketing plans for the next quarter, six months or year, you should be asking yourself, "What should we be doing to incorporate our social media strategy into this sale, event, or promotion."  If you are leaving social media out of these discussions, you are creating more work for yourself or your team later on.  Even worse, your social media engagement strategy looks to be an afterthought to those who follow you.  That haphazard approach will cause you to lose followers and fans.

Second, once you have incorporated social media into your marketing plan, create a schedule to track how and where you are going to engage your followers and fans.  How many times a day are you going to post or tweet?  What are you going to say?  How often are you going to repeat important information?  Does this promotion require a blog post to be written?  When will you post it?  Create a calendar that schedules each tweet and post and follow it religiously.  If you plan in advance, you will save time that would otherwise be spent trying to come up with something on the fly.  Plus, being consistent will keep your followers and fans engaged.

Remember, social media engagement encourages a conversation with followers and fans, not just advertisements and sales pitches.  These conversation starters should be a part of this schedule, with the idea that you need to be sharing information and knowledge as well as asking your customers for feedback on how your product or services can improve.

Third, keep on top of questions, comments and complaints that come via your social media sites.  This can be relatively easy, without having to sit in front of your computer, monitoring each site 24 hours a day.  Facebook and blogs can be set up to notify you via an email when someone posts on your wall responds to a post you made.  You can receive a text message when when someone "mentions" you on Twitter.  Use the notification tools that are provided by social media sites to save yourself time.

Fourth, don't feel obligated to engage in every conversation, answer every question, or respond to every comment.  Often, the same question may be asked by several different people- you only need answer once.  Schedule 5 minutes or so a few times during the day to respond to comments and group your response to several comments into one post.  These can be the same times of the day you have scheduled to make posts based on your social media engagement schedule.

Fifth, always respond to complaints as quickly as you possibly can.  Don't let complaints hang out there prompting ongoing conversations and more complaints.  When a complaint comes through, act on it just like you would with a customer who is there in front of you- immediately.

By considering social media a part of your normal operating and marketing procedures and inserting engagement into your plans and daily routine, scheduling ahead of time, you'll find that you will have time to both engage with followers and fans and carry out daily tasks while appearing to your online audience as being consistently and constantly engaged.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I Hate "Social Media Marketing" and You Should Too

I have come to hate the term,"social media marketing."  It has become a loaded term that implies an improper usage that can be detrimental to businesses who attempt to use social media to advertise any and every thing to their customers.  While social media can be a powerful part of a business' outreach and marketing effort to its customers, thinking of it as simply another advertising outlet leads many businesses to establish accounts with Facebook, Twitter and other sites and use them no differently than email, newspapers, radio or television advertising.  If the only thing a business does is post ads in their social media streams, they have failed to realize the true power of the medium and are destined to fail in their social media efforts, and will eventually come to see it as a waste of time, money and resources.

Individuals are bombarded daily with ads- on television, radio, the internet, newspapers, magazines, billboards, etc..  It is far easier to opt out of ads within social media streams than anywhere else.  They can stop following you if they see you as an "advertiser."  Once they stop following your business, it is nearly impossible to get them to follow you again.

There is only one place and time that I know of where people want to see advertisements- the Super Bowl.  Those ads are creative, exciting and fun.  I've watched as people will sit through the ads and then go get food or take bathroom breaks during the game.  Some of the most creative Super Bowl ads are beer ads.  Who can forget the Budweiser frogs?

Well, social media is not the Super Bowl and you are not Budweiser.  People don't anticipate seeing your ad in their social media streams.  They don't want marketing.  They want conversations.

As I have given social media presentations to businesses and business associations around the country, then subsequently watched what they do online, I have come to the conclusion that we need to rebrand the term "social media marketing."  I prefer the phrase "social media engagement."  This more clearly defines the way in which businesses should be using social media- as a way to reach out to, and engage with, customers and potential customers.

This doesn't mean that social media can't be used to advertise a sale, feature a product, or offer a service.  It means that a business should first be listening to what their customers are saying, sharing information and knowledge with them, and engaging their customers in a conversation.  This kind of interaction naturally leads to conversations about products and services.  As customers are more engaged with a business through conversation, they will be more receptive to advertising and marketing messages.

The most important word in social media is "social."  Be social.  Be engaging.  You will find more interested followers and fans, and ultimately, a greater payoff in your marketing efforts.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Commitment- Turning Followers Into Fans

The last three posts I wrote all had to do with influence- what it is, why it's important, and how to achieve it.  These posts were very focused on the functional and interactive aspects of influence through the use of social media sites for marketing campaigns.  There is another aspect of social media marketing that you should not forget about, one tied to influence- the psychology of marketing.

I am currently reading Influence: Science and Practice, 5th edition, by Robert B. Cialdini which talks about how compliance tactics are used to get us to say "yes" and how we can use these methods to persuade others.

I've been reading this while keeping myself focused on how psychology can be used in social media to help increase influence.  One idea that struck me, mainly because I've been seeing extremely poor use of this tactic by many businesses who are delving into social media marketing, is that of commitment.

In the last year, I have seen a lot of businesses try to build their social media followings by offering a potential reward, the most popular being a free iPad, for doing nothing more than clicking the "like" button, becoming a follower or fan, or by subscribing to a blog or email list.  What this tends to generate is an increase in the number of followers, most of whom see the action as a way to win an iPad, rather than increasing the number of fans who are following the business because they have real interest in what the business provides.  You've gained numbers, but, little to no influence.

Cialdini states:
Social scientists have determined that we accept inner responsibility for a behavior when we think we have chosen to perform it in the absence of strong outside pressures.  A large reward is one such external pressure.  It may get us to perform a certain action, but it won't get us to accept inner responsibility for the act.  Consequently, we won't feel committed to it.  The same is true of a strong threat; it may motivate immediate compliance, but it is unlikely to produce long-term commitment.
In other words, if your new follower only has to click on the "like" button in order to be entered into a drawing for the iPad, there is no inner responsibility for the act.  They haven't had to show any commitment to you or your business in order to be entered to win.  They are now free to move on and never pay attention to you again, unless they win the iPad.  Then the reciprocity rule may take hold, but that is a different blog post for a different day- or you can read what Cialdini has to say about it.

Cialdini then goes on to point out that by making people work for something creates a larger sense of commitment.  It is internalized.  What was even more interesting was the fact that the reward for the commitment doesn't need to be very big, it just needs to be there.

Translating this to a social media marketing campaign- it is okay to give something away, but make the potential follower do some work to get them to internalize the commitment to you.  For example, have them write a 100 word essay on what they would do with the iPad, as it relates to your business, and post it on your Facebook page.  Or, give away a sweatshirt with your company logo if they post a picture of themselves with one of your products in the most exotic location (e.g. standing on the Rock of Gibraltar).  Sure, they still have to "like" or follow you in order to participate, but they are being required to do some work, to internalize the commitment.  These are the followers that become fans, those who are more likely to follow you with purpose, to respond to your marketing efforts online.  The others?  Well, if they are only willing to click to win, you'll probably not convince most of them to buy anything from you anyway.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Increasing Your Online Influence

In previous posts, I've pointed out that influence within social media does not equal the raw number of followers that you have.  I've also shown why influence is more important to your online marketing strategy than simply trying to reach a huge number of people.  In this post on influence, I'll show you how you gain influence, which will help you increase the right kind of followers.
  1. Be Knowledgable-  In social media marketing, knowledge is key.  On Twitter, I posed the question, "Who influences you online?"  The best, most succinct answer I received was from @mikecane, when he said, "Those who know wtf they're talking about." No one will want to follow you for advice about cars if you are an expert on clothing and know very little about cars other than about the one you drive.  Know your topic, know your business, know what you are talking about.
  2. Be an expert-  This is an extension of being knowledgable.  Pick a niche within your knowledge area and know more about that area than anyone else.  Be THE person that people will want to go to about that particular subject.  Do you own an art supplies shop?  Talk about art supplies, but be an expert on watercolor supplies and techniques.  It doesn't mean that this is the only part of your business you should talk about, but, when people think of watercolor supplies, be sure that they think of you first.
  3. Be generous-  Knowledge and information are just as much a commodity these days as shoes or computers.  When you share knowledge with your followers, you are giving them something valuable, especially when it is something they need or want.  By giving knowledge generously, you create a relationship in which your followers want to reimburse you- with information you may find valuable (such as what your customers really want) or purchases from your business.
  4. Spread your knowledge- find other blogs that are talking about what you are talking about.  Read the posts and comment on them.  Leaving comments is a great way to get other readers to know who you are and to see your expertise.  Most blogs, when you leave a comment, create a link (usually by allowing people to click on your name) that can take them to your blog.  When readers find your comments to be thoughtful and incisive they may click through to your blog.
  5. Connect with people- This is the heart and soul of social media and is the part that many businesses forget about.  Building a list of followers and fans to just push links to take them to your website is the fastest way to lose them again.  Since you've spent the time to be an expert, share your knowledge, and leave comments elsewhere, take the time to talk with people.  Have conversations.  Answer questions.  It doesn't all have to be about your business or what you want to sell them.  Creating genuine connections, responding to those who make the effort to talk to you, being involved in ongoing conversations will humanize your business to your followers and will increase your influence.
It takes time to build an audience.  Don't expect to have a loyal following overnight or see an immediate impact on the bottom line.  The payoff will come.  Be patient, be real, and take the time to be influential. 

    Wednesday, December 22, 2010

    Who Is Following You?

    In the last post, Influence is More Than Numbers, I talked about the measures of influence within social media, and how influence should be evaluated with more than just a superficial look at the numbers of people who are following you.

    Why then, is influence more important than a large number of followers?

    While having a lot of followers may seem a good way to get your message out there, it only works if the people who follow you are paying attention to what you have to say.  For example, a recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that half of Twitter users aren't listening to what is being said.  Another study shows that only about 27% of Twitter users login on a daily basis.  On Facebook this increases to a 41% daily login.  This means that you are taking a shotgun approach, while firing blindfolded, if you are simply hoping that large numbers of followers will see, pay attention to, and help spread your message.

    A better approach is to have followers who 1) are interested in what you are saying, and 2) followers who help you spread your message.

    Knowledge of your business or product, innovative thinking, humor, and responsiveness helps you gather these types of followers around you and encourages them to spread your message to their friends and followers.  Since social media marketing is really a high tech form of word of mouth marketing, it is important that you are surrounded by people who are motivated by your message, whatever that message may be.

    If your business is selling books, surrounding yourself by people who are NASCAR enthusiasts doesn't do much for either them or you.  You may be extremely knowledgable in your field, but you will lack any kind of influence when you have the wrong kind of audience.  When you have yourself surrounded by followers who are interested in the message (in this case, books) you will find that it is much more likely they will respond to the message through interactions with you and spreading the information to those who follow them.

    Though you may not have tens of thousands of followers, your message can still potentially resonate with tens of thousand of people, getting many to respond.  Imagine what that kind of influence could do for your business.