Saturday, April 3, 2010

Businesses and social media - a few tips from the customer

I have been noticing lately an increase in local Dunedin businesses starting to use social media, in particular Twitter and Facebook. I don't usually follow businesses on social media but I have been taking notice of what's going on because of the development work I am currently doing in the 'Facilitating Online' course which will be aimed at people in businesses and non-profit organizations as well as education later this year.

Selling me your business
I have been observing good and 'bad' practice over the last few weeks which has got me thinking about social media practice in business. There is heaps of information on the Internet about social media for businesses, including this short article from Sam Schuurman on how to use a Facebook fan page. The question is: does any of the advice work in terms of building a brand and increasing your customer base?

So if you are a business or 'personality' who wants to get into social media, here are a few tips from my point of view as a customer or potential customer.

1. Do your homework first
The other day I sent several messages to a business via Twitter. When I heard nothing back, I got on my high-horse and told them I didn't appreciate being ignored. The answer back to me was that the person at the other end didn't realise they had to reply to me. This did not really make sense to me because I assume that a business would not ignore a person in a face-to-face content...

Anyway, this was poor practice in my mind, and as the old adage goes...there's one thing worse than having no Twitter account...and that is having a poorly managed Twitter account.

2. Social media or social networking is all about being SOCIAL!!!

This means you talk to your customers and engage in conversations - you do not ignore them, and you do NOT use your Twitter account or Facebook page for doing nothing more than sending out adverts about your product or service. This will be perceived as spam and you will be completely ignored by customers.

3. Don't confuse social media with a website
This really relates back to the previous point. If all I want is information, I will go to your website. The reason I follow you on Facebook or Twitter is because I want a more personal connection, and two way conversation with you.

4. Put a personal 'face' to your online presence
I like to know a little about the person or people behind the brand. That doesn't mean I want to know the nitty gritty of everything you do. But a human touch means a lot to me, and helps me to feel I have a connection with you...which means I am more likely to buy your service or product.

5. Be inclusive
I have been following @durablegraphics on Twitter - this is Michael McQueen who is a strategic branding & signage company. Micheal has made me feel part of his network. He always talks to me, gives me personal replies and has gone out of his way to develop a online community around his product which I feel a part of. I don't think he's going to make his fortune out of me, but he is the first person I think of when I am recommending a service in his field.

6. Do you have the appropriate equipment to match the online communication tool?
I started following a New Zealand personality on Twitter a few weeks ago. I went to see his live show, and spoke to him face-to-face afterwards. I went home and sent quite a few messages praising his work - free publicity for him. He didn't reply...and I felt ignored...and unfollowed him. Eventually, he replied to say he lost track of what was happening on Twitter because he only had his phone so could only send out messages, not receive them.

You might say that this story is a poor reflection on me...that I am turning into a grumpy old cow...and you may well be right. My comment about this story is that if you want to use Twitter to build a following for professional or economic 'gain', you must make sure you have the right equipment to keep up with what's going on.

7. Are you using the relevant communication tool?
I tend to think of Twitter as being a synchronous tool and Facebook as more of an asynchronous communication channel. I do not think there is any point using Twitter if you cannot monitor your account at least once a day and reply to comments. If you can only get on the Internet once or twice a week, you may be better off having a Facebook account to communicate with customers. When I use Twitter, I expect an almost instant reaction (or reaction within 24 hours) to messages I send to people- when I don't get it, I 'unfollow' that person.

8. Integration with 'real life'
In my mind, another successful user of social media is James Hacon, the manager of the St Clair Resort in Dunedin. James always comments and replies to people on Twitter and Facebook. The other thing he does really well is integrates social media with real life - he uses social media to connect with people and then follows that up with real life, face-to-face interactions. He has done this with me, and now I am feeling loyal to his 'brand' - and in practice this means I always go to his restaurant for my morning coffee, instead of the cafe down the road.

9. Making the time and effort
All this interaction, connecting and community-development takes times and effort. If you do not have the commitment or ability to do this, then I suggest you find another way of building your customer base. I do not owe you anything...indeed, I can very easily go somewhere else for the product or service. But if you make that effort to connect with me, I will become loyal to about you...advertise your products/services...recommend you to my own networks and communities. It is up to you to decide what this is worth to you and your business.

What do you think about these tips? Am I being a grumpy old woman or is there some truth in what I say. What tips would you give about using social media for business purposes? If you are a business, what have you found works well?

Image: 'crawfordmarketcarrotman' Rigmarole


Sam said...

Hey Sarah great post, awesome insight and I really don't think you're a grumpy old cow....I've had the exact same experience and absolutely hated the non-responsive corporate attitude. I think ur spot on with the comment about "you wouldn't ignores in real life" -people seem to make thisistake all the time, just coz ur online doesn't mean you can stop being a good person.

Sarah Stewart said...

The key is the personal contact...this takes a little time and energy and I think you have to realise with social media that you only get out of it what you put into it.

Dot said...

Just in case you feel like a spot of purely personal blogging, I've tagged you for a meme.

Sam Schuurman said...

Hi again, sorry about the terrible typos in my last comment - still getting used to the keypad on my iPhone.

I've just written a post in response, Why numbers matter in social media promo...

Thinkbirth said...

Thanks for this awesome post Sarah. I have obviously been unconsciously incompetent with twitter! Now consciously incompetent, I have to learn how to do it better. Thanks again, warmly, Carolyn
PS I learn so much from you!

Sarah Stewart said...

@ThinkBirth Thanks...we all learn from each other...which is why social media is such fun & supportive of life-long learning.

@Sam I'm thinking of putting a social media strategy together for midwifery professional bodies such as the New Zealand College of you have any tips, thoughts or links to social media strategy documents.