There’s been a lot of flutter about social media over the last few years. Whether you were running quickly, or watching your competitors make a dash for the web, it’s felt like a virtual gold rush to stake a claim for your business on the cybersphere.
Now that the dust has settled a bit, what can you do to rise above the fray and market smartly?
It’s more than just choosing the right Twitter handle or collecting some Facebook likes. Here are 6 tips to help you successfully market your small business online in 2012.
1. Be where your customers are online.
We’re sorry to state the obvious, but amidst all the hype of social media marketing – not to mention the low cost of entry – a lot of businesses have forgotten to think strategically before jumping online. But, since you can’t be everywhere – there just isn’t enough time in the day – spend a little time figuring out where your customers are spending the most time online and then invest your time there.
You may need to do a little due diligence to find where your customers are:
Are there active LinkedIn groups for your market?
Do any of your competitors – or, better yet, partners – have large followings on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook?
When you search online for “blog+NYC+[insert your industry here]” what comes up?
Are there social media sites where info on your business is already posted (e.g., menupages.com, Angie’s List, and Yelp)?
When you find groups of your customers actively engaging – leaving comments, asking questions, sharing content with their own social network – you’ve found a good place to invest your time online!
2. Consciously invest time in your online marketing.
Social media seems casual – the messages communicated online are often written in a conversational tone; it doesn’t cost money to join most social media sites; and, you can do it from your cell phone while walking your dog. But, to do social media marketing well, you need to do it right – which means that it takes time (your time or a team member’s time). Depending on what sites you’ve decided to focus on as part of Tip #1 above, set aside time each week or each day to be interacting online. In addition, set aside time to create content and plan any special online promotions. Those seemingly casual tweets that successful marketers send out are usually not so casual. Successful marketers dedicate time to thinking about what they want to say and how to say.
3. Measure your “free” online marketing.
As we’ve just discussed, marketing takes an investment of time, if not money. As a small business person, we know you don’t have time or money to waste. So, determine what you are trying to achieve with your marketing investment. Are you looking to build brand awareness? Are you looking to identify leads? Once you’ve set your goals, continuously test different ways of getting the results you want. Depending on your business and your goals, your measurement will be different but there are tools that can help you quantify your online presence. For example, Klout attempts to measure your “influence” and American Express launched YourBuzz a few months ago to give you a consolidated look at what people are saying about your company on Yelp, CitySearch, Facebook and other sites.
4. JOIN the online conversation.
If you went to an in-person networking event, you would never barge in and start proclaiming the wonders of your company. Treat an online community the same. Start by listening to the conversation. Join the conversation where you can answer a question, provide a resource, or help someone network.
The act of listening first and then adding value to the existing conversation will pay off two-fold. First, it will enhance your own influence. People will start to see you as someone to go to when they have a question. Second, this respectful, “I-want-to-help” entry into social media will also endear you to partners and other online influencers. The people that already hold sway online will appreciate that you aren’t barging into their party and shouting about your amazing company.
Once you’ve established some credibility as a helpful resource online, you can certainly do some “shouting” about how great your company is. And, at that point, your readers will listen more carefully to the “shouting” because they will trust you and respect you.
5. Respond to comments – both negative and positive.
You have to join the conversation when people are talking about you. People who are already talking about you are great prospects for another sale – and a great opportunity to “shout” about the great care you take of your customers.
So, when someone praises your company, say “thank you.” Offer additional help or membership in any loyalty programs, if appropriate. And, if you are looking for testimonials, ask if the happy customer is willing to be used in other marketing.
Now, for the negative comments: when (not if) someone makes a negative comment about your company, try to see it for the marketing opportunity it is. While a negative comment to YOUR business can be hurtful, it gives you have the opportunity to show prospective customers your caring customer service and to thoughtfully explain why another customer won’t have a similar problem.
So, here’s what to do when you get a negative comment or review:
1. Respond IMMEDIATELY. Don’t let that negative comment sit out in cyberspace untended.
2. Acknowledge the customers complaint and apologize. You don’t have to admit to wrong-doing if you don’t believe you did wrong. But, you should apologize that the customer feels frustrated/angry/etc.
3. Offer a solution. A solution is particularly good if it shows a prospective customer that they aren’t likely to have a similar problem. Can you replace or fix the product/service for free or at a discount? Can you offer them an alternative product/service for free or at a discount? Can you explain (with enough detail to show you actually thought about it and aren’t just giving lip service) how you are fixing the product/service so it won’t be a problem in the future?
Remember, your response is for all the prospective customers who are reading the reviews. Well over half of all consumers rely on user reviews before making a purchase. So, use this opportunity to show that your company cares about its customers, learns from its mistakes, and is fixing any problems.
6. Optimize your website for mobile devices.
The statistics on this are staggering – 67% of consumers use their smartphones to find store locations, 45% to shop online, and, even when a customer is in your store, they still use their mobile device to make a decision – 52% of adult cell phone owners use their phones when they are in a store to make a decision. So, make sure that your website – and blog, if you have one – are optimized for your mobile device customers! Talk to your web designer to make sure that your website is loading quickly and functioning properly on mobile devices.
For more marketing tips, check out a marketing course at one of our NYC Business Solutions Centers. And, you can always ask your business questions on our “Ask the Expert” page.
Check out The NYC Business Solutions Blog on the first of every month for our latest feature story - like today’s article on top marketing tips for 2012. And, if you found this helpful, please share it with your friends and colleagues on Twitter and Facebook.