Social media can no longer be considered a passing fad. In the U.S., 78 percent of the people online have a social media profile. Marketing via social media has become very important, and it is vital to put resources toward properly integrating it into your overall marketing plan. But there is a difference between being on social media and doing social media the right way as a small business.
Why it makes sense
Research by Time Warner Business Class found that for small businesses to be successful, they need an Internet presence with a website and they need to engage on social media. In fact, 66 percent of customers find business websites relevant. Another 80 percent of customers want to reach a business owner online. They say it is an important factor for keeping them as a customer.
What's the right way?
There are many ways to use social media for marketing. Some things work well for one-time and short-term promotions; for instance, anyone can try to make a sale on social media just by sending out a pitch.You may earn a quick sale only to be replaced when someone offers a lower price than you. Then you are stuck being busy with no profit margin. The goal, however, should be to focus on the long term. Businesses, especially small businesses, need to focus on building a customer base.
One of the most successful ways to create this base is through relationship marketing. The concept is very much what it sounds like: you start a relationship with a potential customer and nurture that into a long-term relationship with a client who continues to interact with your business.
As with any other type of relationship, it takes a short time to develop and grow, but once it is established, not only do you have a loyal customer, but likely a customer who will provide referral business for your brand. Happy people share information.
On social media, 58% of consumers share their positive experiences with a company, and ask family, colleagues, and friends for their opinions about brands. [SDL]
How does it work?
Relationship marketing is about establishing trust. To do this, you must create exposure and recognition. When you first begin marketing your brand, your aim should be to get the word out. Once that happens, focus on making potential customers feel comfortable with you.
At this time, it is important not to go for the sale right away. Relationship marketing will take many interactions before a potential customer is converted. Pushing him or her will put that relationship in jeopardy. Instead of trying to get them to buy, begin the relationships slowly with these practices:
Focus on customer needs: Do the research to understand your target audience, and you will understand their needs. Then, work to be their problem solver. Through social media, engage with polls, surveys, and other fact-gathering resources. Forget about driving home the message "This is what our company does." Instead, work on a message of "What do you need? This is how we may help you."
Listening is vital: While this concept may seem like common sense, the fact is that many businesses send out surveys or post polls and then ignore the information they gather. Pay attention to the information that is offered up, even if you believe it may take your businesses in a slightly different direction. If prospects are coming to you, engage with them, and you will then find ways you can work with them.
Offer resources: In being their problem solver, you want to have information and resources on hand. Consider blogging or sending a newsletter with helpful tips, hints, and other information. Demonstrate how you are willing to go the extra mile. Be sincere with these interactions. Customers quickly figure out how to spot a phony.
Be honest: You can easily stray off course if you forget your focus. During the long process of relationship building, you never want to stretch the truth about your business or your product. Never make promises that you cannot keep. Doing so is a surefire way to lose the trust you are working so hard to build. Even if your intentions are good, not only will you lose a potentially good customer, but can create bad reviews. Thus, it is important to be careful because bad reviews always carry more weight than good ones.
In every relationship, there must be a give as well as take. Social media offers a forum for businesses to get very personal with customers. Here are some ways to become successful in engaging with prospects and customers:
Ask questions: The best way to find out about your business and your product or service is to ask people for their opinions. They will deliver. By asking questions, you demonstrate to your target audience that you care about them and value their input.
Listen to criticism: Not everything said about your business will necessarily be a good thing. Instead of going on the defensive, consider these comments or reviews as a learning moment. It is also a wonderful opportunity to engage with users. Show empathy or, if possible, try to fix the problem. Doing so will help prospects and customers know you stand behind your words. It is another way to build trust and, according to Kissmetrics, "happy customers who get their issue resolved tell 4 to 6 people about their experience."
Be real. If what you are hoping for is to develop a relationship, remember that people like to engage with other people, not with canned responses or bots. In using social media, it is often easy to get information from profiles, including names and a person's location. Use an engaging tone, be personal and address someone by name. It is important to show that there are real people behind your brand.
While relationship marketing does take time and effort, the benefits can be far-reaching and longstanding for those businesses that make the investment.