The biggest companies always seem to have the upper hand in advertising and marketing, with their substantial budgets and progressive research-and-development. However, in light of on-going economic woes, small businesses can develop the No. 1 skill to give them a knock-down competitive advantage. Namely, social media.
"Competition? What competition?" says Jim Lupkin, founder of Summa Social. "With a powerful social media plan in place, any small business owner can level the competitive playing field."
Lupkin had been using social media marketing tactics long before the genesis of the term "social media." For 15 years, he has aggressively used social media to capture market share in his respected industries; whether it was capturing 20,000 customers on a consumable product, providing Web services to 1,200 small business owners, or crafting a social network. In addition, Jim has helped thousands of small business owners around the world—including the likes of Dr. Mikel Harry, co-creator of world-renowned Six Sigma—simplify and demystify their social media processes.
To this end, Lupkin and his partners at Summa Social have launched the first-of-its-kind "Virtual Social Media Agency" service, which allows a small business to have direct access to a full-service social media agency for $50 a month. Summa Social must be doing something right, because nationally recognized companies, like ForRent.com, Homes.com, and Social Outbreak have enthusiastically engaged their system.
Lupkin shared his top-five tactics his agency uses to help clients outmaneuver competitors. With these strategies in place, your competition's resources don't dictate the outcome of the game.
"If you have a product that people want and it is priced correctly, then you have no competition—except yourself," Lupkin says.
1. Engage the "know-like-trust" factor.
How can you persuade people to buy from you when they can easily buy from your competition at a lower price? Jim's answer is what he calls the "know-like-trust" factor. Simply put, help your customer see you as a friend, not just a business. One way to do that is to respond to every comment and "Like" with a meaningful response within 24 hours.
Takeaway: A strong, interactive presence in social media allows you to magnify this factor and the result is engagement, conversions, and referrals!
2. Large ad budgets no longer dictate a company's credibility.
When a customer is comparing your product to another, he or she will look to see how many social-media fans you have, and how fans interact on your Facebook Business page. One of Lupkin's clients, Humble Seed, acquired 10 new wholesale accounts due to the sheer size of their Facebook fan base. This start-up company is only two years old and it is already successfully competing with larger brands.
Takeaway: First, ask all of your existing customers to 'like' your Facebook business page. Because they already enjoy your product, they will interact more and their friends will end up liking your page as well. That's word-of-mouth marketing at its best!
3. Use social media to become an influencer in your industry.
A customer is fantastic. A new partnership that sends you ten new customers is even better! Partnerships are no longer earned simply because you have been in business for a long time. Another of Lupkin's clients, Systematic Intelligence, developed a partnership that drove 400 customers their way over a period of 18 months. This company was in business for only six months when the partnership developed.
Takeaway: Define companies that have a similar customer base and contact them on Facebook. Give them a win-win proposal and you could develop a lasting partnership.
4. Ask for customer feedback.
How does your competition continue to develop the coolest products? They spend a lot of money on think tanks and testers. But with a strong social media presence, all you have to do is ask! One of Lupkin's colleagues had an idea for a company-branded iPhone cover. He asked his customers for input and a few weeks later he had orders flowing in for his new product. His cost for research? Nothing; it's free.
Takeaway: If you build a successful social media presence, you will have thousands of people willing to tell you exactly what they want and why they will buy it from you.
5. Customers offer raving referrals.
The quality of your customer service can make or break your business. But it's too expensive for most businesses to hire customer service reps right away. When someone posts a complaint on your page, quickly answer and keep it public for everyone else to see. Also, search your company as a keyword search in Facebook and comment when others are talking about your company with their friends.
Takeaway: When you build a presence in social media, customers will talk to you directly, allowing you to take care of problems before they explode. It also shows potential customers how you handle problems. The result? You will naturally attract new customers because of your great customer service!
The small business Davids of the world have a key advantage to social media success over their Goliath competitors: they're big on enduring relationships. Yet, small business owners have marginal "extra" time to devote to something extra. But starting with these five super-effective ways to dominate social media, small business owners can outmaneuver their competitors. And remember, while you might not be able to put an immediate dollar value on Facebook marketing, it's your consistent, authentic, and relevant engagement that could be the deciding factor for new customers who are weighing if you're the brand for them. Industry stats show that 58% of fans are more likely to buy from the brands they "Like." So, what do you have to lose?
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