Before he started to dole out social-media advice for entrepreneurs like you at Inc.'s recent GrowCo conference in New Orleans, Dave Kerpen, chairman of Likeable Media and now founder of offshoot Likeable Local, had a few things he wanted to get out of the way.
First, he said, social media is not free. Second, it won't bring you immediate results. And, third, it can't make up for a bad product or service.
If you can cope with all that, you're ready to learn how--and why--Kerpen still recommends you get involved:
1. Listen, Then Talk
A couple of years ago, when Kerpen went to Vegas, the check-in line at the Aria hotel where he was staying "took forever," he said.
So Kerpen did what he does best--took to Twitter, and quickly posted: Waiting on line for 45 minutes at the Aria. Not worth it. #fail
Did he hear anything from the Aria? No. But he did hear from the Rio, a hotel down the street. Within two minutes, the Rio Tweeted back to Kerpen: Sorry you're having a bad experience, Dave. Hope the rest of your time in Vegas goes well.
Kerpen didn't switch hotels on that trip, but where do you think he stayed the next time he went to Vegas? The Rio. And he "liked" the Rio on Facebook. And sometime later, a friend going to Vegas saw that Kerpen had "liked" the Rio, so asked if Kerpen would recommend the hotel. His response? "I don't think it's the fanciest, but I know that they listen," Kerpen recalls telling that Facebook friend.
Kerpen pointed out that all the Rio did was pay attention to Twitter, and respond with empathy.
Kerpen recommends you do the same thing, regardless of the business you're in. "If you're an accountant, go to Twitter and search 'need an accountant'," he said. "Your customers are asking for you."
2. Respond (to Everyone!)
Kerpen said 60 percent of brands--mostly big ones--currently do not answer customers or prospects on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media. As a result "you have a huge competitive advantage if you respond to your customers--and theirs," he said. (Case in point: the Rio hotel in Vegas.)
If a customer complains, don't delete. Instead, you have an opportunity to respond publicly that you're working to solve the problem, and will send a private message to the individual so it can be fixed.
"We all know that companies are going to make mistakes," said Kerpen. "The problem isn't when companies make mistakes, it's when companies don't say, 'I'm sorry.'"
Instead, if you delete a complaint, you're sending a message that the person who wrote it doesn't matter, and you're, in essence, "inviting him to go tell someone else, to start a petition," warned Kerpen.
The only types of posts you should consider deleting? Those that are obscene, or bigoted.
When you respond, do it in your brand voice, whatever that is: serious, funny, full of puns, scientific, whatever. As long as it's true to the brand.
3. Tell, Don't Sell
Social media is most powerful when you use it to tell personal stories, not to sell your products, Kerpen said.
Kerpen likes to tell the story of how, when he and his then fiancé couldn't afford a lavish wedding, they raised $100,000 from sponsors and got married at Brooklyn Cyclones park. That personal story, he says, helped propel Likeable into a $7 million business.
Didn't get married at Shea? Consider your humble beginnings, your personal leadership characteristics, customers who have overcome obstacles, employee challenges, community or charity partnerships. Look at your employees, products, or customers, and identify a story people will want to talk about, and disseminate it across social media.
If yours is a business-to-business company, tell a story on social media using webinars, e-books, and white papers.
"The only thing better than telling your story on social media is to inspire your customers to tell your story," said Kerpen.
4. Just Be You
On this, Kerpen quoted Oprah Winfrey, who said: "I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I've become. If I had I'd have done it a lot earlier."
As Kerpen puts it: "When I am authentic, when I am vulnerable, when I am me, customers want to do business with me."
Who does a lot of this on Twitter, according to Kerpen? Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley, who has even posted about where he lives.
5. Advertise (Better)
Social media is not just touchy-feely, said Kerpen. It can drive leads, and sales.
On Facebook, rather than just get your ad in front of huge a swath of people, you can target the right people--based on job title, interest, age, location. "Every single piece of data that Facebook's got on people you can target based on that," Kerpen said. "What's cooler than reaching a billion people on Facebook? Reaching the right 1,000, the right 100, the right 10, or the right one."
Another perk of advertising on Facebook? Word-of-mouth endorsements. You can target ads against just the friends of people who have "liked" your brand on Facebook, and when those people see your ad, they will see listed the names of their friends who like your brand, too.
6. Give Stuff Away
If you take 10 percent off, you're marketing, 50 percent off, you're giving away value, 100 percent off, you have loyal customers for life, Kerpen quipped.
Give away good content, webinars, articles, and white papers. "I've had two people come up to me and say, 'Thank you for all that valuable information you gave away, I'm starting my own social media agency,' but I also got dozens and dozens of inbound leads because of all the value we put out there," said Kerpen.
Recently, a new client told Kerpen she had $250,000 to spend on social media marketing she'd move to Likeable because of all the free, yet useful information the company has made available.
7. Be Grateful
In your social media posts, regularly thank your customers, and partners.
According to the non-profit organization DonorsChoose.org, Kerpen said, of those people who received a thank you note, 38 percent were more likely to donate again.
He writes three thank you notes every day.
"It puts me in a great mood every single time," he said.