Building customer interest and loyalty online isn't just about Twitter and Facebook anymore.
You've got hundreds of Facebook fans and even more active Twitter followers. You shoot out interesting tidbits about your company, and start discussions about your products. But is it all starting to feel a little stagnant?
Maybe it's time to reboot your social media strategy. From broadening your definition of "social media" to dealing proactively with unsavory comments online, we've compiled tips and advice from recent Inc. reporting
1. Branch Out.
With increasing options for online networking, the very definition of social media is shifting. There's social bookmarking, social reviews, and social news, not to mention social-network aggregation. Certain location-aware iPhone applications can even qualify as "social," and your company can almost certainly benefit from interacting with your customers and audience through them. Consider Foursquare. It's an app that has the potential to draw customers to local businesses, and to create a new system entrepreneurs can use to reward repeat visitors with bragging rights. Booming New York bakery Butter Lane offers a free cupcake to the first 10 people to check in on Foursquare every day. Now, that's more than $20 of sales given away – but the offer is opening up potential sales to all those latecomers, and building up a potentially priceless presence on Foursquare as the site's full marketing potential develops. Read more.
2. Get Gaming.
All it took was one tweet to boost sales at Gaia Essentials, a small boutique in Moss Beach, California, that sells homemade organic soaps and all-natural skin care products. That's because Gaia was one of the small businesses in the Bay Area that participated in a game that asked Twitter users trivia questions about local companies. Participants just had to submit a correct answer for the chance to win prizes. Each morning for a month, a Web-based community portal tweeted a trivia question about a company. To find the answer (the third ingredient in Gaia's Cacao Tangerine Soap for a chance to win a $25 gift certificate), visitors flocked to the store's website, and many stuck around to do some shopping. Another business saw an increase in foot traffic for the month, and saw quarterly sales grow 7 percent. That's a win-win. Read more.
The companies that are most successful at converting followers into dollars are those who interact with their users the most and frequently post content related to their brand. Facebook's Fan Page is probably the best example of how you should be marketing your company through social networking sites. The page acts as an upgraded user profile for brands, companies, and organizations to be as involved as the users, and has plenty of tools to help you do so. As users become "fans" of your page, all of your activity appears in their News Feed each time they log on. There's also a useful feature called the Insights tool, which allows you to analyze page views, the demographics of your fans, and the number of people who view (or stop viewing) your News Feed posts. Read more.
Do you ever get frustrated when you return to a blog or website you think of as fairly dynamic and it hasn't been updated all day? It's important to update your blog regularly and predictably. Set a standard for posts-per-week for your blog, and link to them on your other social media presences. Make it a habit. "If people view it as a habit, they will visit," says social marketing guru Seth Godin. Read more.
5. Never Fake it.
You've heard a lot of social media experts stress the importance of having a genuine voice (as in sounding human rather than corporate) when posting links or information to your company's social media pages. With all the other tasks required within your company, it's tempting to outsource managing your social media or even to try automating the process. That can easily backfire, as Joe Pulizzi, founder of Cleveland marketing firm Junta42, learned when he tried sending automated welcome messages to new followers on Twitter. His online contacts quickly called him out for sending what they perceived to be spam. Thanks to IP address tracking, observers can also quickly tell when company figureheads adopt fake identities for the sake of fluffing up their reputation. Not only can the practice hurt your company's reputation, it could also land you in legal trouble. Lifestyle Lift had to pay $300,000 in settlement costs to the state of New York for having its employees post flattering reviews of the company without disclosing their affiliation. Read more.
Just saying "thanks" to your Facebook fans isn't enough. Remember, they're each giving you free exposure and vouching for you by having your icon on their profile. The same goes, in slightly different degrees, for all other social networks your company is part of. And if you want to get even more from your engaged online audience, give them a little something. Make the customer feel that they need to participate in the promotion. Is the product or feature available for a limited time? Are you offering it exclusively to your followers on a particular network? Include some discounts and savings. Offering discounts on products is usually a shoe-in to grab customers' attention. Read more.
Social review sites are a great resource to find out what people are saying about you. A quick search for mentions of your company on Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp can yield a goldmine of information concerning your reputation. Several users on Yelp, for instance, suggested that employees at Quimby's Bookstore in Chicago were less than welcoming. After reading the comments, owner Eric Kirsammer focused on improving customer service. Applications such as monitter and Trackur can help you keep track of the conversation across the Web. Also, see where your customers are: A growing number of social networks are designed specifically for users on the go, and some, such as Foursquare, offer tools specifically for businesses. Frozen dessert chain Tasti D-Lite, for instance, uses Foursquare to gather data on how many people visit its locations and send promotional offers to frequent customers. Read more.
You know building a fan base isn't easy. "Most people won't spontaneously want to become fans of your company," says Victoria Ransom, the CEO of Wildfire Interactive, a Palo Alto, California, company that specializes in helping businesses attract fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter. "You have to give customers a reason to engage with your brand." For anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, Ransom's company will build you a Facebook application designed to attract new fans to your company's page. The applications typically try to entice users with a contest -- say, a chance to win a $50 gift certificate -- or a coupon. Once a customer clicks on the link, she is directed to a page that asks her to input her Facebook account information. When the customer completes the form, a link to the promotion typically will be published on her Facebook page, which can attract more fans. Read more.
Andy Carlson, owner of an Ace Hardware store in Denver, once came across an angry Twitter update from a customer who had bought a tool that broke after one use. He resolved the issue in a matter of minutes by referring the customer to an area store and notified him of Ace's lifetime guarantee. Best of all, he was able to catch the complaint after store hours—and prevent negative word of mouth. Of course, there's always the temptation to lash out at a harsh rebuke of your business on sites like Yelp. Resist that temptation. It will save your reputation, and stop you from wasting time. Remember: don't feed the trolls. Read more.
FrontPoint Security, a home security provider in McLean, Virginia, began collecting video testimonials from its customers, who filmed themselves with Flip cameras. The videos are posted on FrontPoint's site and on YouTube, and even some customers' personal blogs. Video efforts have helped the company more than triple its sales leads. Sometimes, social media fans are willing to take the initiative to spread the word about your company. Crafts supplies manufacturer Fiskars reached out to scrapbookers by inviting four avid users to blog. Its crafts community, called Fiskateers, has since attracted 5,000 users who serve as brand evangelists. Read more.
11. Think Q&A.
Customers love to give input on products and services when asked. They also sometimes throw out questions about you – and you want to be among the first to answer them. Some important sites in this field to familiarize yourself with are Yelp, Yahoo! Answers, and Mahalo. Yelp has millions of reviews of local businesses around the United States. It's free to set up an account, and it allows you to answer questions about your business and see how many users are scoping out your business' page. Setting up a detailed profile with useful information, such as images and a link to your website, will give your company more visibility and clout. You might also offer special discounts or promotions to customers that give you a review. The upside of Yahoo! Answers is that it is immensely popular and largely dominates the Q & A market. However, the quality of the answers is typically low because absolutely anyone can ask or answer a question. On the bright side, that just gives your well-thought-out response more of a chance to shine. Mahalo is a human-powered search engine with a growing Q & A section. That section allows users to post a question and offer a monetary prize or tip for the best answer. A $50 or $100 tip can draw dozens of respondents who are incentivized to think hard about your question and your brand. It's like an instant, public focus group with marketing built in," says Jason Calacanis, Mahalo's CEO. Read more.
If you just want a bigger audience, getting more fans never hurts. In a ploy to boost holiday sales, Edible Arrangements, a Wallingford, Connecticut, franchiser that sells fruit baskets, announced in October that it would be giving away a coupon that could be redeemed for a $15 box of chocolate-dipped fruit to the first 100,000 people who became a fan of the company on Facebook. Within four days, Edible Arrangements had reached its goal. Many of the new fans went on to make a purchase. Sales were up more than 10 percent compared with the previous year. "The Facebook program exposed a lot of new customers to the company," says Stephen Thomas, the company's vice president of marketing. Edible Arrangements paid about $15,000 for the promotion, plus the cost of the free merchandise. If you can't afford to give stuff away, you can always just ask customers to give you some Facebook love for free. That was the approach taken by Powell's Books, a bookstore in Portland, Oregon. Beginning in 2008, the company placed small graphics at the bottom of every page on its website and e-mail newsletters. These little advertisements entreated customers to "Find us on Facebook" and "Follow us on Twitter." For a month, Powell's even used the marquee in front of its store to ask for Facebook fans, which was surprisingly effective, says Megan Zabel, who manages the company's social media efforts. Over the course of a year, the company went from roughly 3,000 fans on Facebook to 38,500 and from a few hundred followers on Twitter to more than 12,000. Read more.