Use social media to make your company more likeable, trustworthy and attractive to new customers.
Many companies are busy adding social media to their marketing practices without fully understanding the magic that makes their efforts effective — the humanizing qualities that make a business more approachable. Many businesses are simply adding a social layer to their marketing, like a fresh coat of paint. But what they should be doing is baking the qualities of social media into every aspect of the business, from operations to sales, marketing and customer service.
This is especially true for small business, where effective social media use realistically requires owners and management to become directly involved. After all, they have decades of vital experience for capably processing and responding to the engagements social media technologies make possible. To delegate those interactions to lower-level employees risks compromising what social media does best: humanizing your business to make it more likeable, trustworthy and attractive to the new customers who have yet to learn about it.
Social creates expectations
What would you think if you visited your favorite restaurant and found it closed at a time when it’s normally open? Customers develop expectations, and one of them is that your business is open, ready and willing to serve.
You understand this if you operate a small business. You open and close on time, and follow a number of other standard business practices.
A new expectation, however, is that your business is friendly. This is a byproduct of our social media-influenced world. It’s just one of many new expectations social media has created.
Following are five more relevant expectations becoming part of the fabric of the business environment — one to which every business will have to adapt if it expects to enjoy continued relevance and growth.
1. Visibility. A business without an online presence is likely to be considered irrelevant by many consumers. Likewise, customers will perceive a company with an active social presence to be engaged with the community and openly prepared for more business.
2. Authenticity. Customers want to have a relationship with your company; they want to know what’s going on behind the scenes. They are curious, and you have to feed that curiosity for those relationships to flourish.
3. Accessibility. The Web gives everyone more access to people, companies and causes. This ease of attaining information has conditioned consumers to expect open access to your business and you, if you’re the owner or one of its leaders.
4. Community. It’s no longer possible to be successful without a meaningful relationship with the communities you serve because communities are the new markets. They serve the needs of businesses and the people within them, which is why locally engaged companies have distinct advantages when all other things are equal.
5. Relevance. Savvy businesses understand their communities care most about the little things that only an insider would know. When you speak your community’s language, you develop a bond that supports your business’ relevance. And that language often includes the keyword phrases that optimize your online content for search engines.
This is all going to become even more interesting as an increasing number of Facebook members find their way into the workforce. You can expect businesses to become profoundly social because younger employees expect it. Many students in high school and college have a distinctly different view of authority figures than their parents. While they respect the authority of these figures and their positions, they also expect full access to them. This means they’ll expect to have as much access to you as a business owner as your customers.
One way to grant this access is to become personally involved with social media implementation. As a result, you’ll learn more about your customers, while giving them the opportunity to learn more about you. This is what Tom Peters had in mind when he popularized the term management by walking around (MBWA) in 1982 as the co-author of the business book In Search of Excellence. Now you have social media to digitally facilitate “walking” around the communities your business serves. It’s something your competitors might already be doing.
Consumers have a voice
The collective voice of consumers will continue to grow and shape the world of commerce. The challenge for businesses is to leverage its power by engaging with it first, and then facilitating the conversation to help the community do more of what it wants to do.
People want to be heard and every business needs to provide a forum for that. Many companies are utilize Facebook pages to accomplish this. This is smart, but only if the company monitors and manages the conversation.
For example, I happen to be a fan of Southwest Airlines. When it redesigned its awards program, I went to its Facebook page to conduct research about whether to convert my old reward points or keep the free tickets from the previous program. There was a lengthy string of hundreds of negative comments — without a single response from Southwest. This was surprising because Southwest is a well-respected company that’s known for its friendliness and personal engagement with customers. Unfortunately, the lack of response only served to fan the flames of customers who were looking for answers but didn’t find them.
The worst thing a business or brand can do is fail to respond. If you open a Facebook page or accept comments on your blog, you have a responsibility to respond to your audience. That expectation doesn’t seem to make sense to the same companies that will always answer the telephone if it rings. Today, those calls might not be coming so much by telephone as they are from the social networks. Is your business answering the call? It’s an expectation you must build into your standard business practices.
Customer service is moving online
An increasing number of consumers are feeling more comfortable openly expressing their feelings online. While this scares most businesses, it’s something with which we are all going to have to come to grips. For that to happen, your business has to be willing to join the conversation and be prepared to make strong moves.
Business is no longer the monologue that it used to be when the message of a company was taken at face value. Now, it’s a dialogue with increasingly vocal consumers. According to most research studies throughout the past several decades, approximately 75 percent of all consumers don’t trust businesses in general, especially large corporations.
Your company can embrace this reality by using social networking to reach out to customers proactively. While taking this approach makes the company somewhat vulnerable, it’s much less risky than erecting perceived barriers where consumers expect transparency. Times are changing; generally accepted practices are being redefined. Social media is democratizing business in general by giving everyone equal access and supporting the expectation that every customer will receive first-class service.
You can wait for this trend to become more prevalent, or you can take action now to lead your industry. The collective voice of consumers is growing more powerful every day — something that forward-thinking businesses know they can no longer ignore. One innovative approach is to give up control of your brand to consumers. Instead of trying to completely manage your brand, focus on encouraging community conversations that speak favorably about it.
Jeff Korhan is a former landscape business owner who helps service businesses use social media and Internet marketing to create exceptional customer experiences. Learn more at JeffKorhan.com.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Built In Social: Essential Social Marketing Practices for Every Small Business by Jeff Korhan. Copyright 2013 by Jeff Korhan. This book is available at most bookstores and online booksellers.