Tag Archive for 'online technology'

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.

Small Business Advocate Poll: How do you consume online media?

Which Internet-connecting device do you use most often for surfing, social media, podcasts, and video?

94% - Personal computer (desktop or notebook)

6% - Smartphone (iPhone, Android, etc.)

0% - Tablet (iPad, etc.)

My Commentary:

For most of the last 16 years, the device we used to consume online content - text, graphic and streaming media - was the personal computer - desktops and laptops. But simultaneous with improvements to content delivery software, innovators were also busy creating new hardware and broadband capability that expanded our device and mobility horizons: laptops, small-form computers, tablets and the increasingly ubiquitous Smart Phone, all with connections to the Internet by WiFi and mobile 3G and 4G networks.

With all of these choices, we wanted to know what our small business audience was using, so recently, we asked this question: “Which Internet-connecting device do you use most often for surfing, social media, podcasts and video?”

It was no surprise that the personal computer came in first, but we were surprised to see that it was still so dominant, with 94% of our respondents using PCs as their primary device. The Smart Phone (iPhone, Android, etc.) came in second, with a surprisingly low 6% of our respondents.

The biggest surprise was that none of our sample chose the Tablet (iPad, etc.) as their primary device. But that will change.

When we take this poll again a year from now, Smart Phones and Tablets will have taken a much bigger bite out of PC usage.

Take this week’s poll HERE!

Check out other great SBA content HERE!

Don’t make a business wardrobe faux pas

The late comedian, George Gobel, once joked that he felt like the whole world was a tuxedo and he was a pair of brown shoes. Some small businesses may be starting to relate due to their uncompetitive Internet capability.

 

Not too long ago, a national survey indicated that half of small businesses don’t have a website. This number is difficult to believe, but it’s probably pretty accurate. Some business owners still don’t understand that a website is not just for selling things online, the way Amazon does. More often than not, customers just want to find out who you are, what you sell, why they should care and how to contact you.

 

Recently, when we asked our audience about their websites in an online poll, six of 10 of our respondents said their website is a critical part of their business. And a little more than a third said they have a website, but it was just an online brochure. Even the five percent who don’t have a website said they intend to get one.

 

So why do our findings differ so much from the research mentioned first? Clearly, members of my audience, by definition, are smarter and higher adopters of technology than the average small business owner. After all, how could you hang around with me for very long without succumbing to the pressure, guilt and shame I lay on anyone who is not taking advantage of the Internet? To paraphrase Erich Segal, tough love means never having to say you’re sorry.

But while it’s difficult to believe that 50% of small businesses do not have a website, our 95% adoption number likely indicates that those who don’t have a website won’t admit it, even anonymously.  It might seem like twisted logic, but it’s a good thing to be self-conscience, if not embarrassed, about not having something so essential to 21st century business success.

 

Your world of customers and competitors is proceeding to dress itself up with the online capability equivalent of a tuxedo. If you’re inadequate Internet capability has you feeling uncomfortable about being uncompetitive or, worse, irrelevant, congratulations; not because you showed up at a formal event in a pair of brown shoes, but because being aware of the deficiency is the first step of many toward getting your business properly dressed for success.

Here are three of several places where you can get a website produced and hosted quickly and for low or no cost.  Yola.com, Homestead.com and Webs.com.

 

If you have a Web presence, keep improving and upgrading it. If you don’t, get one.

Recently on The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about the importance of having a web presence with Anita Rosen, author of several books, including E-Commerce a Question and Answer Book, and e-Learning 2.0. Anita is also president of ReadyGo.com and a valued member of my Brain Trust. Click on one of the links below to listen to our conversation, and, as always, leave your comments.

 

How difficult is it for prospects to find your business online? with Anita Rosen 

How does your website serve prospects and customers? with Anita Rosen

Small business, “the cloud” and a love story

When I started my business career a few decades ago, a cloud was a fluffy mass of moisture meandering along overhead. Sometimes benign, sometimes menacing, but as the apex player in planet Earth’s hydrologic cycle, a cloud is very important.

Here in the Digital Age when someone uses the word “cloud” in a conversation, you have to check the context, because they might not be talking about the weather.  In the past few years, “cloud” has become the metaphor used to describe computing power and applications hosted on and delivered from off-site servers to your desktop or handset, instead of residing on your device.

Early in the development of the Internet, application service providers, or ASPs, were the first to deliver off-site processing power, but there was no umbrella term that described the concept. Today, we have several variations on the cloud theme: “in the cloud,” “cloud computing,” and of course, simply the “cloud.” And for small business, the digital cloud is becoming as important for success as its hydrologic namesake is to life.

So why do small businesses need to think of “cloud computing” as a big deal? Recently, on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked with one of our outstanding Brain Trust members about this.  Chip Reaves heads up the U.S. unit of Computer Troubleshooters which has over 230 CTS locations in North America, and he explained what he believes is the greatest 21st century tool for small business, cloud computing, including some of the key advantages and applications.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to Chip and me talk about cloud computing. Plus, you’ll hear how I used the ”cloud” to claim the title ”Love Doctor.”  Be sure to leave your own thoughts and ideas on how cloud computing has helped your small business. Listen Live! Download, Too!

Secure your digital assets in the clouds

One of the great benefits of the computer age is the ability to aggregate virtually all of your work and records on your computer’s hard drive so they can be easily accessed on-demand, virtually instantaneously.  It is not possible to estimate the productivity value of this kind of information aggregation and availability for people and businesses.

Simultaneously, one of the great aggravations of the computer age has been when that same hard drive self-destructs, taking all of your wonderful and genius work with it, perhaps years of records, because you didn’t have an effective and regular back-up system.  Now, let’s say it all together: Boy howdy! Been there, done that, bought the tee shirt.

Over the years, my organization has employed several different methods of back-up, but even the most effective were never as automatic and immediate as they needed to be. These systems ranged from manually copying files onto another form of media to a more-or-less automated electronic configuration that turned out to be more less than more.

Of course, sophisticated mechanical onsite data back-up solutions have been around for years, like tape drives, for example. But these are designed more for centralized server-based environments and less for peer-to-peer environments (multiple desktop PCs with limited network capability), which is what is found in most small businesses.

For the past few years, online data backup resources have been growing in effectiveness and acceptance. They are great for all computing environments, but especially for small business peer-to-peer configurations.  Online data backup is an example of “cloud computing,” or digital solutions and services powered from software that does not reside on a local computer.

As with other cloud offerings, you subscribe to an online back-up service and download their linking software to your desktop. Once you set up the back-up parameters - when and what - those files are sent over the Internet to a remote server automatically without you having to be there or think about it. The price for most of these services fits most small business budgets, especially when you consider the alternative of losing your stuff.

Full disclosure, I resisted this kind of system at first out of concern for proprietary information being stored somewhere else. But once I talked with several of the providers, I learned that all transferred files are encripted for privacy and security.  Since we started using an online back-up service, we’ve lost hard drives but not one file. And if you have files that are so confidential and proprietary that you just can’t abide the thought of them being stored anywhere out of your reach, just mark them as such and the online back-up system will pass right over them.

Recently on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I interviewed David Friend, a successful, serial technology entrepreneur who is CEO of Carbonite, one of the online data back-up companies I’ve been talking about. More full disclosure: We use Carbonite in my organization, but we don’t get a discount or commission for mentioning them. Consider them with the other companies that offer online data back-up.

But first, take a few minutes to listen to our conversation about online data back-up and, as always, leave your thoughts. Listen Live! Download, Too!

Small business, online customers and local search

One of the most troubling statistics I’ve seen lately revealed that approximately half of small businesses STILL don’t have a website.  If you’re one of those companies that have chosen to disregard the billions of prospects who are online around the world, I have two words to say to you that should get you motivated:  Local search.

Every second, zillions of people are typing, tapping, thumbing or, in the case of smart phones, saying into their computing devices (computers, cellphones, etc.) search words that are the objects of their immediate desire, plus one more thing: Where is the closest place I can find this?  Local search.

Pepperoni pizza in Peoria.  Model trains in Monroe. Wedding planners in Wausau. Local search.

Are the doors of your business open to the world of online customers? Recently, on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about finding success online with Stephen Pierce. Stephen is an Internet multi-millionaire who runs an empire of online businesses and three different coaching clubs. Take a few minutes to listen to what Stephen has to say, and be sure to leave your comments. Listen Live! Download, Too!




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