Five secrets to engaging with customers using social media
By Oliver Milman
Slowly but surely, Australian businesses are beginning to take social media seriously. But is it a genuine communication channel with customers or just another box to tick?
Research out last week suggests that many businesses see it as the latter. A survey of 100 top-tier retail and service firms found that just 25% of those with a Twitter profile responded to a query.
So how can start-ups avoid the same mistake and engage with customers to boost market presence and sales?
Here are five essential tips to getting the most out of social media:
1. Do your homework
Around two-thirds of Australian small businesses don’t have their own website. But those that do have an online presence often throw themselves into the digital world with gusto.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, Google+ - the platform doesn’t matter, the newly online entrepreneur wants to be on it. Make sure you pause before doing this.
“Don’t go and create a profile on each social media site just for the sake of it,” warns James Griffin, partner at SR7. “Before you launch, you really need to find out where your target customers spend their time online.”
“Have a search around different platforms for keywords that relate to your business. Find out if there’s a blog that your customers like to read. Concentrate your efforts on where your customers are.”
“Also, make sure you set out what social media success is for you. Success may not be fans and followers – it could be getting three extra leads or customer calls a month. Set your goals early on so that you can measure them.”
2. Put in the time
If you are committing your business to driving awareness and sales via social media, you will need to put in the time.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean two hurried minutes at the end of the day. It means diverting precious time throughout the day to build a channel that will benefit your business in the long run.
“There is a misconception among some people we speak to that you can just spend a few minutes a day on social media – you need to spend 45 minutes to an hour, three times a week, to start with,” says Griffin.
“This can be a burden if you are running your own business, but the benefit outweighs this. Put in the time, effort and money, if needed.”
“A basic thing is to get a graphic designer to do your Twitter background, to include your opening hours, logo and contact details. Lots of people overlook that, but $100 on getting that design right will go a long way.”
3. Be systematic
Once you are engaging with customers on Twitter or Facebook, you need to be aware of the return of the time you’re spending on social media.
Granted, it is hard to track the exact monetary benefit from having a successful social media strategy, but there are ways that you can measure whether you are on track or not.
“The biggest thing that businesses, both large and small, overlook is understanding cause and effect,” says Griffin.
“If you go out and get good traction on social media, how do you measure and then sustain that?”
“Well, make sure you address complaints in a systematic way, rather than being ad hoc. Social media increases the accountability and transparency of businesses, so you need to be aware that people will post things on your Facebook wall that you’re uncomfortable with.”
“Make sure you are proactive, get onto it quickly and deal with it. Note down where you’ve got leads from and identify if they’ve come from social media. You need to know what parts of your business are working or not, including your social media efforts.”
4. Don’t stick solely to the sales pitch
Competitions, offers and giveaways on social media can work well for small businesses, but make sure that you are always offering your customers something of value, rather than spam.
While you ultimately want to use social media to boost your sales, don’t view this medium as a direct marketing medium in which to bombard customers with your sales pitch. They will quickly desert you.
“I see so many businesses give Twitter a go and then give it up because they don’t get any benefit,” says social media and advertising consultant Ian Lyons.
“Everyone is looking for a silver bullet and I think Twitter has been misrepresented as free marketing.”
“Developing a relationship isn’t easy, it takes effort and empathy. You need to show you care more about your followers than your revenue stream.”
“Long-term, it’s about sales, but it takes a lot of steps to get there. You need to move people from awareness to consideration and then to sale.”
“Don’t use it just to flog stuff. I’m often asked how many marketers understand Twitter. I answer ‘every one – when they are the consumer.’ The rules go out of the window when they are marketing.”
Try to keep a ratio of two-to-one in favour of interesting, non-sales related content. It’s also worth identifying your biggest social media fans, such as those that re-Tweet your links or regularly comment on your Facebook page, and offering them first crack at any discounts or other offers.
5. Pick out something interesting
Finding the right tone to use on social media can be tricky – too formal and you’re dismissed as stuffy and dull, too casual and you can be seen as unprofessional and careless.
If in doubt, err towards caution. If a customer has a complaint or concern, they want to know that you will deal with it swiftly, efficiently and politely. Flippancy, or simply ignoring complaints, will cost you business.
If you find it too much of a struggle to reflect your business’ brand online while retaining people’s interest, consider having more than one social media persona.
Melbourne retailer Haul has its official Twitter account, but also one for Gus, its resident dog. Gus’ irreverent Tweets have gained him a sizeable following and proved an enticing drawcard for Haul.
“Gus sometimes references Haul, but it’s a loose tie to the business,” Scott Kilmartin, founder of Haul explains. “I didn’t want it to be all about selling, I wanted it to have its own personality.”
“Can I say that Gus has affected the bottom line? No, not as a percentage: But can I say that we’ve had sales because people have come in due to Gus? Yes, I can.”
“People who tweet that they are coming to Haul say that they are coming to see Gus – you wouldn’t get that kind of connection by going to Diesel, for example.”
“Gus was part of the business anyway, so it’s a nice extension of the brand. Everyone has got to know him.”
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