A recent survey by American Express OPEN found that 82% of small businesses in the United States are relying on word of mouth to acquire loyal customers and 44% of those surveyed currently use social media to help attract loyal customers. These findings leave little room to doubt that social media has come of age. The question for small businesses is no longer if or when to get active, but how to best leverage time and resources to get the most of their efforts.
Step One: Establish Goals and Create a Plan
Don’t get fooled, even the most shining and seemingly natural examples of social media execution are meticulously designed. Unless the brand happens to already be well known, nothing will happen by accident or chance. Sit down and establish goals as early on as possible. Have an open discussion with everyone involved to find out what you’re trying to accomplish. Is social media a means of customer service? Do you want to drive traffic to a website? Is PR important? Define what success looks like. Once there is a clear picture of the end goal, the team can move on to creating an action plan. The plan may include setting up new social networking accounts, re-establishing stale channels, and defining responsibilities amongst employees.
Step Two: Get Active and Start Experimenting
It’s a big mistake to assume that social media is a “build it and they will come” type of endeavor. Yes consumers want to have a relationship with the places (both on and offline) that they do business with, but even the most loyal of customers need some guidance. It’s a shame when business owners get excited about social media and enthusiastically create branded Facebook , YouTube, and Twitter channels, only to fail in taking the extra step need to promote all the work that has been done.
Some ideas to get the ball rolling:
•Optimize a website to encourage social sharing amongst visitors
•Integrate social media into an email marketing campaign
•Take advantage of in-store display advertising
•Place social icons EVERYWHERE (online and offline )
•Consider investing in Facebook and YouTube ads
Step Three: Drive Loyalty
Once a foundation for success has been built, it’s time to get creative and get in the trenches of the social web. This is where most of the heavy lifting is done.
Let’s focus on a couple of specific areas:
Every brand, regardless of size or industry, has a community around it. In simple terms, these are the potential customers who fit a businesses targeted demographic. It’s imperative to find out where these people congregate online and what type of discussions they’re having. The ultimate goal is to become a part of the community and build up brand advocates.
Here are some good starting places:
•Google Blog Search and Technorati
•Icrerocket and Socialmention
•Search.twitter and YouTube
•Reddit, StumbleUpon, and Digg
When reaching out it’s crucial to remember that social media isn’t at all like traditional advertising. The goal isn’t to pound potential customers with an advertising message or a sales pitch. It happens all too often and it simply doesn’t work. Conversations that aren’t authentic are easy to pick out and can instantly hurt a brand’s reputation. It’s surprising to see that many businesses, both large and small, end up failing in this department. Stay helpful, stay sincere, and think twice about doing anything that might be considered spam.
Customers are motivated by incentives. Give customers a reason to connect online and they will. Facebook deals, Foursquare specials, Tweet incentives, and online coupons fall into this category. One example would be setting up a contest where customers take part by taking photos (somehow related to the business) and then posting them on the businesses Facebook page.
A surefire way to turn short term customers into lifelong customers is to deliver outstanding customer service. Use social media to take advantage by monitoring conversations and jumping in when an opportunity to help or say thank you arises.
Step Four: Track Progress and Adopt Best Practices
Without tracking activity it’s difficult/near impossible to know if the business is moving towards the goals that it originally established. This can be as simple as keeping a record of metrics such as fans, followers, subscribers, traffic, direct sales, etc… to determine if progress is being made. After a period of several months it becomes easier to determine what works best and the business can begin to adopt best practices. It’s an ongoing process, but by following a predetermined plan over a span of time it becomes progressively easier to win over and keep loyal customers.