... Or Why You Should Think of Twitter as a Telephone
You’re a small business. You’ve dutifully set up your Facebook business page, created a Twitter account, updated your Yelp profile, and told Foursquare where you are. You post special offers to your accounts, throw in a few “behind the scenes” tidbits to give your “fans” the inside scoop, and inject some personality with pictures of your kids helping paint the office walls. So now all you need do is sit back and watch the money roll in. Right?
The next big thing in social media is to stop "marketing" and start "communicating." Social media is not replacing traditional branding, but it is replacing the telephone. Social media is about connecting the customer directly to you, and that puts the emphasis squarely back on the oldest rule in business: superb customer service. And while you pride yourself on the quality of service a customer gets when they pick up the phone or walk through the door, can you say the same about your response to a customer's tweet or Facebook post?
Too many businesses walk into the social media party, sit down and fall asleep. Don't be a wallflower, stand up and be the belle of the ball. By opening social media avenues to your customers you have created the perfect tool for communication. Now you need to communicate. Remember, personal connections result in a more loyal and valued customer base.
“In 2013 smart businesses will emphasize using social media for personal interactions and connections with their customers," said Kelby Brick, Vice President at Purple Communications. "This is different from 2012 where macro blasts were the norm.”
What does this mean for small business? It means being ready to respond to a tweet faster than you pick up the phone; hopping onto a Facebook post quicker than a feed refreshes. If you are not doing this, put simply, you are letting money walk out the door. As soon as tomorrow customers will think nothing of sending a tweet to do everything from check your hours and ask what's in stock, to enquire about rates or actually contract your services. Many high-profile companies have already discovered that consumers are very comfortable sending complaints on Twitter; requesting goods and services is not far behind.
Be ready for your customers to talk to you on social media in the same way they do on the phone and in person. And be ready to respond, now. Don't make them search the web for your phone number, call you, wait on hold and eventually hang-up, destined for your competitor. Get on top of your social media, don't get buried underneath it.
Here are 5 steps for getting and staying on top of your social media:
1. Set up a google alert for your business name, your name, your product and any possible variations on the above. This way you'll be able to respond immediately to online mentions of your company.
2. Monitor your social media religiously. Download a social media monitoring tool such as Hootsuite to keep track and alert you when your username or company name are mentioned on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other popular social networks. This blog has some more great monitoring tips.
3. Be prepared to respond immediately to any online mentions of your company or product, and do it through the same medium you were approached. So if you're mentioned in a blog, reply in the comment section; if you're tagged in a Facebook post reply on Facebook. If it's negative, offer to take it offline, but do so online so that you are seen to be responding. If you can't effectively respond immediately, let them know you'll get right back to them, then do it.
4. Get a smartphone. Few business owners are tied to a desk, most are constantly on the move. All of the above products translate directly to a smartphone or tablet, and smartphones offer ways to set up specific push alerts, so you'll receive a message about a Facebook post in the same way you do a voicemail or text message.
5. Hire a social media manager. If you can't be constantly on top of your social media, hire someone to do it for you, and make sure that person is well-briefed on your business and has a direct line to you. You'll soon find out they're worth their weight in gold.
Social media is an essential not optional form of communicating with customers. Where traditional marketing involves branding by sending your message out to the audience and hoping it sticks in their minds, social media marketing is about engaging in a conversation with both customers and potential customer. “Customers are truly engaged when they feel known and that is what the best use of social media can achieve."
Jennifer Pattison Tuohy is a freelance journalist and social media maven in Charleston, S.C.. Following obtaining a degree in English from Exeter, a top 10 British University, she trained at London's prestigious Daily Telegraph newspaper, before spending a decade in the Wild West managing one of the top publishing companies in Idaho.