Archive for the 'Online technologies' Category

The power of building customer communities

Incredibly, in 2017, here’s a question many small business owners ask: “We have a website, do we need a social media strategy, too?”

The answer is the same as for why you have an email address even though you have a phone.  It’s not either/or, but rather both/and. Because as outstanding and handy as your website may be, there’s one increasingly important capability you need that most websites aren’t good at: community building.

Once customers find you, returning to that beautiful website of yours will be of decreasing interest to them. It’s not that your new stuff - products, how-to information, order status, special offerings, etc. - is no longer of interest to customers. It’s just that they don’t want to have to come back to your website to get it. More and more, customers are saying to businesses, “I like what you offer, but I won’t be returning to your website much, because I’m very busy. Why don’t you follow me home with the new stuff?”

This is what customers and prospects mean when they join your community by giving you permission to connect with them and send them offers and helpful information by email, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. They just want the new stuff, including updates to your website. Even when they return to buy something on your e-commerce platform, they expect to enter your website through the offer page you sent them, not from your homepage.

Building online customer communities - and getting permission to follow customers home - is how a small business transcends being competitive and achieves the pinnacle position: relevance. As you may know, I define a business social media strategy as building customer communities. But by my definition, social media is much older and more comprehensive than the online platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your customer community strategy includes everything you do to build, connect with and serve those communities, including: email marketing, customer loyalty programs, the new social media activity, and, of course, the original social media: face-to-face.

In the old days - way back in 2003 - your customer list was just names on an accounts receivable report or sales forecast. Today, those customers are part of your business’s community, which also includes prospects who’re just becoming interested in you. But unlike the passive customer list of old - and visitors to your website - this community is functioning and dynamic, with fast-evolving expectations you have to meet or they’ll defect to another community.

Another important component of building customer communities is allowing prospects and customers to see your corporate values. Increasingly, prospects will turn into customers, and customers will become loyal, because they’re attracted to what your company stands for, which is evident in the values you demonstrate, including online. For example:

1. Are your brand elements - brand promise and image - all about you and your stuff, or do they sound like something that would benefit your customer community?

2. When delivering information, is it all about you, or does it contribute to the community?

3. What’s the tone of your marketing message? “Tone” is how brand messages are incorporated as you serve the community, from crassly commercial to almost subliminal. You should strike a tone balance between serving the community and making a sale.

Notice all of these demonstrate values that favor relationships more and transactions less.

In a world where everything you sell is a commodity, value - product, price, service - is the threshold of a customer community, but values are the foundation. Value is easy to find these days. But when community members are attracted to your values, they keep coming back and bring their friends.

Write this on a rock … Build and serve customer communities with a website and social media strategy that demonstrates your values.

How to prevent your small business from being the next named disaster

Ever since World War II the U.S. government’s weather service has given official human names to tropical cyclones (hurricanes and typhoons). Everybody knows that. But am I the only one who didn’t know we were anthropomorphizing winter storms?

It turns out the Weather Channel has unofficially been naming winter storms since 2012. “Jonas” was the most recent winter wallop by Mother Nature, and it earned a moniker due to the magnitude of forecasted disruption. We now know the forecasts were pretty darn accurate: record snows, hurricane force winds and up to 60 million people impacted. Sadly, there was loss of life, and the yet-to-be-determined economic impact will surely be great.

But we knew that storm was coming. Almost 13 years ago a single outage in the electric grid cascaded across eight northeastern states, putting 55 million people and thousands of businesses in the dark for days. The Great Blackout of ‘03, was a catastrophic reminder that we’re all one nosy squirrel in a transformer away from an instantaneous, put-you-out-of-business event.

As business owners we can be forgiven if we aren’t hip to how storms are named. But shame on us if we don’t prepare for disasters like Jonas and the ‘03 Blackout. Sadly, surveys reveal most small business owners believe they will have a business interruption event in any given year, but way fewer say they’re prepared for one. If the latter group sounds like you, use these tips as a starting place. Start now.

Operational: What would you do if your building became unavailable to you or your customers?

  1. Instead of desktop computers, purchase laptops with docking stations that allow key employees to work and connect remotely, both internally and with customers. Make sure the laptops have Wi-Fi and a mobile modems in case your broadband connection goes down. This costs a little more, but it’s good connectivity insurance.
  2. Adopt applications in the cloud as alternatives for any installed programs that may become unavailable.

Financial: Most small business working capital is tied up in operating cash flow. What would happen if your cash flow was interrupted?

  1. Purchasing a business interruption rider on your property and casualty insurance policy that will pay you cash upon the acceptance of a claim. Be sure to read the fine print - all policies are not created equal.
  2. Maintain a close working relationship with your banker so you won’t have to introduce yourself to the person you’re asking for a disaster loan.

Data: More of your assets are now in digital form and less physical. Are you prepared to protect your data as comprehensively as your building, equipment and inventory?

  1. Assign one person to be in charge of keeping all computers enabled with proven digital security and keep it current on all units.
  2. Regularly copy critical data from your hard drives and store it offsite, plus protect your data with a cloud-based data backup and recovery firm.

Don’t become the next named business disaster.

Write this on a rock … The only people who never experience a business interruption event are those who don’t have a business.

Poll Results: Is the mainstream media biased and if so, does it impact how they report the news?

The Question:

Is the mainstream media biased and if so, does it impact how they report the news?

8% - The media are not biased and reporting is fair across the industry.


83% - The media are biased toward Democrats enough to influence their reporting.

6% - The media are biased toward Republicans enough to influence their reporting.
3% - The media seems to have a Democrat bias, but it does not impact reporting.

Jim’s Comments:

For many years, surveys of members of the media have revealed that the vast majority consider themselves liberals and, therefore, likely Democrats. Over the past thirty or forty years, these statistics, as our own polling seemed to indicate, have increasingly manifested as biased reporting.

And you don’t have to take my — or 83% of my audience’s — word for it. There have been a number of cases of high level bias so flagrant that sometimes jobs were lost and careers ended once exposed. In other cased jobs should have been lost but weren’t, like when CNN’s Candy Crowley became part of Team Obama in the 2012 debate she moderated against Romney.

More recently, the bias has been evident in the media’s failure to report on certain issues because it would have been negative toward one of their ideological causes or individuals. Like very little reporting on four dead Americans in Benghazi, while during the same period doing hundreds of reports on Gov. Christie’s Bridge-gate incident, which inconvenienced commuters.

More than a few observers have gone so far as to call the mainstream media corrupt. If this is true, and I wish I could argue with these people, America is the weaker for it. When you consider the state controlled media in Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea, it’s easy to see that an impartial media is essential to liberty and democracy.

RESULTS: Who should own the Internet?

The Question:

The Net Neutrality debate is about who controls the Internet: businesses through competition and contracts, or government by turning it into a utility. What do you think?

2% - The government should be in control of the Internet.
74% - The government should leave the Internet alone.
19% - There should be a way to balance control between these two.
5% - Undecided.
Jim’s Comments:

Should the Internet become a utility?

As you may remember, I’ve been reporting on the Net Neutrality issue for over a decade, including all the significant players in the debate.

Most reasonable people agree that one of the reasons the Internet has been such a phenomenal success is because it has been so lightly regulated. However, as I reported recently, President Obama has taken executive steps to make the Internet a public utility, subject to all sorts of government oversight.

When we asked our small business audience what they thought about this plan, almost three-fourths reject the president’s idea, with only 2% who think his plan is good.

One reason for this overwhelming response against the president is because small business owners have benefited on many levels, directly and indirectly, from an unencumbered Internet. And since over half of the U.S. economy is produced by small businesses, the president should pay attention to what this sector thinks.

In case you missed them, here are links to three articles I’ve written about the president’s  behavior regarding the Internet.

Why you should care about the net neutrality debate

If you like your Internet, you may not be able to keep it

Obama’s Internet words don’t match his actions

RESULTS: How much of your revenue comes from online sales?

The Question:

Small businesses are increasingly using e-business to grow. How much of your annual revenue do you estimate comes from online sales?

0% - 100%
6% - More than 50%
39% - Less than 50%
55% - None
Jim’s Comments:
As you can see, our respondents this week aren’t using the Internet much to drive sales. Over the years our responses have been consistent with several scientific surveys I report on my radio program, but I hope this isn’t the case this time.  Consider the research below:

  • According to an aggregation of sales research, the amount of global online sales reached almost $1.5 TRILLION in 2014 (all caps for emphasis), and is projected to be almost $2.5 TRILLION by 2018. And that’s just business-to-consumer (B2C).
  • But the big online bell ringer is business-to-business (B2B), projected to reach almost $7 TRILLION by 2020.

I’m going to have more to say about this in an upcoming Feature Article, but for now let me tell you that if you’re not providing at least some online capability for all kinds of customers to do business with you online, you’re becoming a dinosaur. And we all know what happened to dinosaurs.





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