General

Social Media and Business – 41

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Your point of contact with your customers can be very valuable for your future. If possible, it is sensible to make full value of each contact point. This is your chance to interact with your customer and when these opportunities are lost you are reliant, in large part, on chance as to whether or not your customer comes into contact with you again. You should therefore use your social media interactions in order to try and maximize the value of your contact points.

In this respect your audience needs to be chosen quite carefully. The way in which you should use your contact point in order to try and lure customers to the social platforms depends largely on the type of customers that you are dealing with.

Not everybody is familiar with the modalities available online and, in fact, many of them may be frightened by the prospect. Many of the older generation, for example, would fit in awkwardly with some of the offerings of social media for the younger generation. Their needs and values would be different and this should be reflected in what you offer them as a company.

How do you measure?

There is no point engaging in any social media interaction if you are unable to measure the outcome. This is not a game, this is business.

You are going to be investing a good deal of time, effort and money if you are serious about developing a worthwhile and productive social media campaign. Without measurement you may as well demote your interaction to the level of idle chit chat and speculation. And isn’t this what you thought social media was all about and the first place?

Measuring your investment in time, effort and money is vital. Not only do you wish to know if you are making a reasonable return on your investment but you also wish to know which parts of your interaction are the most valuable. You can ditch the parts that give you the least return and develop the parts that give you the best value.

I have already said that people are talking about you on the social web. I hope that many of these people will be evangelists who are keen to promote your product or service without solicitation. These people should be nurtured and encouraged where possible.

Unfortunately there are also people who will not like your product or service or who will try, where possible, to circumvent the normal legal pathways for gaining them. These people must be reeled in and controlled. You can only do this if you are there to witness it.

Consider customer satisfaction surveys for a moment. It is unusual to find that 100% of your customers are happy with your services for 100% of the time. We normally don’t fret too much about these figures and often pay lip service to some of the results.

It makes us feel better that we are taking the time simply to engage in some survey in the first place. Often the results may be up for some discussion and possibly some change. But often, likewise, we remain stagnant.

Consider the social web as a form of permanent and continuous customer survey of your products or services. The main difference here is that you do not have to ask your customers for their opinion. Instead, whether you like it or not, they are happy to give it themselves without any prompting.

Now, if data shows that 90% of your customers are happy with the service that you provide, that is naturally a good thing. We would all be pleased with that sort of level of satisfaction. In fact, I would applaud you if you reached those dizzy heights.

Unfortunately, even with a 90 per cent level of satisfaction, there are still 10% that are not satisfied. These people are likely to be using the social web along with the 90% of satisfied customers. If they were asked their opinion they are hardly going to hold back. Unnervingly they are likely to voice their opinion to their friends and acquaintances online. In this way, the word of mouth, that we so often long for, turns bad.

The social interaction that we are talking about actually extends further than you might imagine. The traditional or popular platforms represent only a small percentage of the total number of social media platforms on the internet.

Many of your customers or potential customers will be present on the usual platforms but lots of them will be present elsewhere. Some of them will be on forums and social media platforms within the almost limitless internet space. They may frequent or own blogs and websites themselves.

Sadly, although your point of contact with them in the social world may be on one or two platforms, you cannot control, nor do you know, where they go next and who they mix with.

Social Media and Business – 40

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One of the main features of the social web is that it is a “happening” thing. There is no preparation or planning for it. People indulge in it at all hours of the day – talking, chatting and conversing.

We may step in and step out again but the conversations are going on with us or without us. It is immediate and ever present. And the people that are using it are being exposed to the opinions and conversations of others.

The process, despite what it might seem, is not overwhelming. We have a natural ability to filter out things that we don’t wish to be involved with. Yet, perversely, we have an innate ability to seek out information when we require it.

And there are plenty of people that are happy to share this information with us. There is a certain kudos in all of us that makes us wish to be seen to be doing good. We like to help.

Whilst all of this is going on, there is another aspect of social media which is just as important. That is, the persistent exposure that users find in the social media environment tends to lead to the discovery of new and exciting activities.

Something that a person may not have thought about until the point of having a conversation in the social landscape, suddenly becomes an issue for them to look further into. In this way, somebody that is interested in cars may very well take up an interest in scuba diving.

The exposure tickles us, it tempts us, it inspires us. We grow by taking the experiences of others and deciding whether or not to indulge in them for ourselves. What we never had previously, was this rich mixture of skills, opinions and talent that we can so boldly tap into and parasitise.

Where to make contact with your customers

One of the things any business or company needs to consider is exactly how their customers get to know about them and how they begin the interaction with them. Of course, for some companies, this is quite straightforward.

Using the hairdressing example, people simply need, and know they need to get their hair styled, cut and colored. The specific choice of which hairdresser to use tends to be via a mixture of convenience and referral.

People may have seen an advert in the local newspaper, a shop window or have been exposed to a leaflet drop or have seen another glossy brochure.

But your particular company or concern may have different immediate points of contact for your customers. How is it, do you think, your customers get to know about your services and products? How would you drill down with your customers to your more specific products? Where would you spend most money in attracting your customers and is it worth it for you?

Don’t forget your customers can interact with you at a number of levels. Offline adverts, that we have alluded to before, give us some reference to brand and products. There is no doubting that this can be important if used in the right context. But where else, do you think, do customers come into contact with your branding?

A restaurant, store or hairdressers may have a number of points where their customers may experience their branding other than the traditional methods so far used. For example, do you not give your customers a receipt or invoice when you provide them with a service? Is this invoice being used to its full extent? What about discount vouchers and coupons?

This issue deserves some discussion simply because it is underused and can be a very valuable way to incorporate your customers into your social media funnel. The receipt is more than just your company brand together with some legal documentation of the transaction. It can be turned into a living document that has value for both you and the customer.

For example you could point out to your customers that special offers are available on your website, blog or other social media platform. By using your offline methods you can create an online link. Your receipt or invoice, which traditionally marks the end point of the relationship between you and your customer, can now actually be the starting point of a new relationship leading to future purchases by the customer or one of their social media friends.

There are places that your customers come into contact with you other than at the time of purchase. A good example would be that of customer services.

Most customer services are inundated with queries and questions as well as complaints about your products or services. Is it not a good place to point out to customers that other facilities exist for them to benefit from?

The actual journey you can take from this point is beyond the scope of these articles but it is not beyond the wit of man to devise a system whereby a disgruntled customer, or other customer services contact, can be directed into a social media funnel which not only provides them with some benefit (for example in the form of a downloadable “thank you” or other gift option) but also gives the company further leverage with that particular person for some considerable time to come.

The importance of maintaining customer contact and long-term relationships cannot be underestimated and is probably the most important part of your social media interaction.

Social Media and Business – 39

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We must remind ourselves of the difference between the old way of doing things and the new social way. In the old, traditional way, people were stimulated to become aware of a product or service. After this they would consider whether or not to make a purchase based on the information that you were likely to give them together with any snippets of information they typically gained from elsewhere.

Personal recommendation was often limited to close friends or acquaintances or maybe to some specialised forums, message boards, offline media providers or other groups.

After a purchase was made, further discussion may have ensued depending on how satisfied or dissatisfied the customers were with their purchase. Their interactions may have influenced future purchases but more often than not, the conversation could have simply died.

The new way has similarities but major differences. Now awareness, consideration and purchase still continue but the subsequent chat, after purchase, is often reflected back to those that are developing their own awareness. The integration of the post-purchase discussion with the social media environment brings the whole flow of the purchase process around on itself

The social media environment has created a huge moving dynamic that affects purchasers and those that are considering a purchase. A huge conversation is taking place which incorporates certain elements of the specific purchase but which is also intertwined with the normal daily conversation of life.

The conversation is normalised as it would be at a party. No longer is there a polarity in any discussion. People dip in and out of the conversation. They arrive and leave as if they were at a gigantic 24 hour open door policy assembly.

Along the way they bring with them and take away with them ideas, concerns and expectations about many parts of their life, some of which may be directly related to the interaction with yourself, your business, your products and your services.

Just like at a party, we tend to group ourselves with people with likeminded interests. Although social media is made up of a huge gathering of people from around the globe it is not unreasonable to expect such populations to gather in groups.

There are many groups. Examples would include technology groups, entertainment groups, news and current affairs groups, religious groups, sports groups and so it goes on. These particular groups will have specific, well defined and transferable interests.

As an example, people that are interested in music will have their own ideas about instruments, CDs, audio playback, stand alone music players, portable gadgets, ticketing. It doesn’t take the mind of a genius to realise that a lot of these people will have overlapping needs and desires.

It won’t be long before they start talking about these things and, once a relationship is building then trust often follows. The opinions of each of them become respected amongst their peers.

The pattern we witness is even more extensive. If we accept that within certain groups there will be interests that are transferable and overlapping we can also expect a degree of overlapping between different groups. After all, we have basic needs, interests and desires.

A person that lives their life idolising a pop group will have many characteristics that would be alien to a train spotter. Likewise a car enthusiast would have little, it would seem, in common with a scuba diver.

But, if we look a little deeper, we can see that there is indeed a great deal of commonality. Don’t we all, for example, eat and drink? Don’t we all wear clothes, buy houses, purchase furniture, have lovers, travel and do a whole host of other things that share a common theme?

Thus we can see that there are overlaps between diverse and disparate groups. The overlap, however slight, means that these groups can still communicate between each other and share experiences. A number of these experiences may be about you or the services that you offer.

Social Median and Business – 38

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Action for now

By now, I expect, you are pretty confused about the whole landscape of social media. It is understandable, because, not only is it a little alien to you, but there is a lot of information to take in within a relatively short space of time.

What you need now, is to take a little time out and do a bit of research to see exactly what types of social media are out there for you to consider.

Here are a few types of social media that you might want to delve into to see what people are doing and where they are promoting their brand, product or service.

The first place to go is searching for blogs.

Go to blogsearch.google.com. Google has provided a handy index of all the blogs that it finds of use. Generally it will not index blogs that are obscene or spammy.

When you arrive at the homepage you will see a box for searching. Put in one single term that you think might be relevant to your product or service. For example, you could put in “hairdressing”. You will then see a list of blogs that are relevant to the hairdressing environment.

Click each one and have a look around. What makes the blog special? What makes it unique? How are they promoting their products or services? How are they interacting with their visitors?

Another place for you to visit to look for blogs is www.blogpulse.com. This is another service to help you search for blogs. However, in contrast to Google, it lists, conveniently, items and statistics that might be of value to you.

For example, you can find the top blog posts that are news stories and sources. You can find the top people, the top keywords, the top videos and the top links.

It gives you a different perspective on the blog environment (commonly termed the blogosphere) and might help you determine the ways in which blogs are used as promotional tools.

Another useful place to go is www.planetfeedback.com. Beware, this can be a scary place if you have never been before! Planetfeedback gives the consumer the power to make a complaint or to question the activities of companies. There is also a section for compliments but, as a consumer, the most likely thing you are going to do is complain.

If your company is listed in Planetfeedback and a complaint is made about you then you ought to take this seriously. No longer is it just between you and the customer. Everything is freely viewable to the public. It brings new meaning to the phrase “consumer power”.

Of course the brighter people amongst us will realise that any complaint is an opportunity for improving services. Not only can the complaint be dealt with directly with the consumers but it can lead to further evaluation of the services that you provide or the way in which you deal with them.

In this sense, Planetfeedback should be your friend but, from now on, it is worth simply having a look around and objectively evaluating the place it plays in the relationship between consumers and businesses.

The next place to go is to a video posting site. Of course, as you probably know, YouTube (www.youtube.com) is the most popular of these. Every single day many thousands of videos are uploaded and watched on YouTube. Now owned by Google, YouTube provides a platform of interaction which is centered around video. However the interaction itself can be performed either via video or via comments and feedback.

When you visit YouTube you will see a familiar looking homepage which lists the most popular videos as well as the latest ones. Again, you will see a search and dialogue box where you can enter any phrase you wish.

As a test, put in “how to” and click “search”. You will be rewarded by an endless list of videos showing people how to do something or other. Imagine if this was about one of your products or services.

Using the hairdressing analogy once again, the video might be about how to wash your hair or how to condition it. It could be demonstrating how to cut your hair, comb your hair, curl your hair, straighten your hair… the list is endless.

Before your mind wanders sideways again, be sure in your mind and know for certain that people are making these videos every day of the week. Many of them are doing it just for laughs. Others are doing it to show that something is either good or bad. There are many instances of products that are being criticised via videos such as these.

These “how to” videos are not the only videos that are uploaded. There is a myriad of other video types being uploaded every single second.

Try to look out for videos about products or services in your niche. What are they trying to show? Are they supportive or critical? How are the products or services described and shared? How could you, as the business owner, get involved with this particular format?

It should be said here that you can easily become involved directly with these sites. There is nothing at all to stop you uploading a video about how good or great your products or services are.

A better way, as we have seen before, would be simply to show how your product or service fulfils a need. How does it work well? What does it provide over and above those of your competitors? How will it solve a problem or difficulty for your potential customers?

Be sure that videos which scratch an itch for consumers will not only be watched by them but will be shared and discussed. Take note of the comments and feedback section on the video posting sites. How could this be of use to you and your business?

One more thing to say about videos. That is, the majority of videos are posted on video hosting sites. But they can be “embedded” on other websites, for example blogs. Whilst this does, of course, make the blogs look rather pretty and attractive it also exposes that particular video to the direct visitors of the blogs without them having to visit the video hosting sites themselves.

Social Media and Business – 37

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There are several broad ways in which you can dip your toe into the apparent melee. The first is to be bold and start a new conversation. This will, of course, relate to the product or service that you are providing but should not be an out and out sales pitch.

Let us say, by way of example, that you are a hairdresser. Perhaps you are promoting a new and improved hair conditioning technique. You may be using new products which have special or unique benefits. Well, one-way to promote this using social media would be just to say “buy this product” or “come to my salon and I will use this product for you”. This would be silly and be seen for what it is – straight sales talk.

The better way around this would be to talk about hair care. You might want to talk about the value of conditioning. You could talk about how hair is more manageable once has been washed, cut and conditioned appropriately. You might want to talk about the different components of conditioning and how new and improved products are coming onto the market.

There are 1001 ways in which you could talk around the products or services that you are promoting. Sooner or later somebody will bite. They may ask you questions about the product or about your experiences or expertise.

You might be able to give examples of ways in which you have used the product or the way in which your services can benefit other people. You are likely to get into some sort of discussion or exchange about hair care and, as this is your field of expertise, you are well underway to promoting yourself as an expert.

The other way of getting involved would simply be to immerse yourself in a conversation that is already happening. There are ways in which you can do this and we will get to that later on.

However, a conversation is likely to be going on somewhere around the world concerning your area of skill. Using a hairdressing example, people will be talking about how difficult their hair is to manage, how lank and greasy it is, how it never does what they want it to or how they are mystified by the products that are available.

You simply need to interject. You can do this by asking questions about their problem. You might want to talk about the range of products that are available or you could simply support and empathise with them in their predicament.

Relationships are being built even though you may not be selling a product or service at that that particular moment. You will be seen as somebody that listens and that wishes to be involved. This will spread to other people and your engagement and willingness to help will be remembered for future times.

A final way of getting involved would simply be to look for negative comments and have as much to do with them as possible. The negative comments might be about your personal service or product.

Of course, you would wish to address this in a positive way if indeed you could. You might want to point out not only the issues that might arise from the discussion but also ways in which you, as the business owner or product developer, will address the problems that the potential customer or consumer is having.

The conversation might be about a product or service that you are not actually providing for that particular person or group. However your knowledge of the product or service puts you in good stead to address the negative concerns about it.
Once again, using the hairdressing example, somebody might have mentioned that a particular product made their hair worse and they will never use it again. You might wish to question them as to how they used the product or how it might have affected them.

There could be genuine reasons why they are dissatisfied and you can address these. However the negative reactions might be due to misinformation and this is your perfect opportunity to provide support and encouragement for these people. Once again your expertise, your skills and your willingness to become involved will be acknowledged and spread.

The fundamental principle of all this it is, of course, putting yourself into the issues and conversations of the consumers. Whatever you may feel about the social media environment and the people that use it, when all is said and done these people are individuals and groups that buy the particular services and products that you are selling.

They are your present or potential clients. They are the people that buy your products and should be recognized and respected as such. But they may be looking at your products or services from a different viewpoint to you. They will have a different perspective as the user of the product or service rather than the seller. They may have experiences that you have not thought of or that you have been unwilling to address in the past.

How powerful it is for you to be in this position and to be able to experience the consumer’s viewpoint firsthand.

The traditional model stops the consumer relationship basically at the point of sale. Now you have the ability to engender relationships way past this point into the future and, furthermore, develop more points of sale as your reputation, expertise and unique selling position spreads.

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