Tag Archive for 'Social Media'

Differentiating between users and customers

Social media platforms have rocked the online world in just a few frenzied years by introducing new community building possibilities for people, and customer connection opportunities for business.

These are heady times for social media visionaries who have created a wave of viral excitement. This is the realm of entrepreneurs who worship at the throne of possibilities, where mistakes successfully identify what doesn’t work and fun is a best practice.

Now, like Gates and Jobs before them, social media entrepreneurs are following the path of past high-growth enterprises by hitching their wagons to Wall Street’s star through an initial public offering (IPO) of stock. But in doing so, companies like Facebook enter the world of very sharp pencils.

This is the realm of fish-eyed bankers and fickle fund managers who worship at the throne of results. They demand fealty, and an audience every 90 days to explain why actual operating numbers from the real marketplace missed – by one cent – what green-eye-shade analysts had divined with their theoretical financial models. And faster than you can “Like” a photo on Facebook, it becomes clear that mistakes in this realm come at a high cost, possibilities are not possible and fun isn’t in the budget.

Unlike Microsoft and Apple, which actually create products customers pay for, social media patrons aren’t paying customers, but users. And the only thing more fickle than a fund manager is an Internet user, which is why so many jaundiced eyes are being cast on social media IPOs.

We wanted to know what our small business audience thought about Facebook’s impending IPO, so we asked: “As Facebook makes plans to go public, do you think its stock will be a good investment?” Here’s what you told us.

On one end, less than one-in-ten of respondents said, “Facebook stock will do well short and long-term,” while at the other end, 16% believe, “Like other social media stocks, Facebook stock will be a loser.” The big group in the middle, 75%, allowed that “Facebook stock may do well for a year or so, but not long-term.”

Such skepticism isn’t about social media activity itself. Because what individuals and businesses are really doing on these platforms is creating communities, and online communities are here to stay.

But small business owners, like Wall Street, know there’s a difference in projecting the value of a customer and that of a user. One pays you money and the other pays you a visit.

Monetizing a user is not the same as monetizing a customer.

Recently on my radio show, The Small Business Advocate, I talked more about whether Facebook would be a good investment with Gary Moore, former SVP of Investments at Paine Webber and founder of The Financial Seminary. Take a few minutes to listen or download and let us know what you think.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Build community with a website & social media

Here is a question many small business owners ask: “Do we need a social media strategy if we have a website?”

The answer is the same as for why you have an email address, even though you have a phone. It’s not an either/or decision; it’s both/and.

Clearly, your beautiful website is also very handy: cyber address, digital brochure, e-catalog, virtual store, etc. But as versatile as it is, there is one increasingly important capability you need that a website isn’t good at: community building. That’s what social media does.

By my definition, social media is much older and more comprehensive than the popular Johnny-come-latelies, Facebook and Twitter. Your social media strategy includes everything you do to build, connect with and serve customer communities, including: the new stuff, email marketing, customer loyalty programs and, the original social media, face-to-face.

What are these communities? Do you have one?

In the old days – like 1999 – your customer list was just names on an accounts payable report or sales forecast. Today, those customers are part of your business’s community; the rest are prospects who are becoming interested in you. But unlike the passive customer list of old, this community is functioning and has expectations you have to meet, or they will join another community.

At the risk of hurting your feelings, once customers find you, returning to that beautiful website of which you’re so proud will be of decreasing interest to them. But the good news is that anything you have that’s new – product and how-to information, order status, special offerings, etc. – is of increasing interest to customers. They just don’t want to have to come back to get it. More and more, customers are saying to businesses, “I’ve seen what you offer and like it, but I won’t be returning to your website much, because I’m very busy. Why don’t you follow me home?”

This is what customers and prospects mean when they join your community by giving you permission to connect with them and send them stuff by email, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. They just want the new stuff, including updates to your website.

Connect with and serve your customer communities by following them home with all social media resources. That’s how a small business transcends merely being competitive by being relevant.

It’s both/and: Build and serve customer communities with a website and social media.

I’ve talked a lot about building online communities on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. Click here to see all my interviews on social media, but first, let me know what you think about building customer communities.

Social Media Builds Customer Communities

Two things are sure with regard to social media and businesses: 1) as a way to connect with customers, social media is here to stay; 2) social media will evolve into an essential, customer community-building tool every successful business - large or small - will use.

“Social media” is the technology that makes online community building possible, not the community itself. It allows for the creation of, and service to, online communities, where dialogue and interaction among community founders and members are possible. While the term “social media” is handy, it would serve businesses well to think of it as “building online customer communities.”

There are two primary examples of these communities:

1.      A company’s profile and “fan page” on sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your company can build communities with these public platforms, which are free, but have limits.

2.      Communities founded and hosted by your company and oriented around relationships with customers and prospects. This type of community is established when customers subscribe to one or more of your channel offerings in order to receive information. There is now new technology emerging that helps you create a Facebook-like social media platform that you host, which I predict will become the next killer app.

A channel is a syndication tool or method of content delivery and service to a community. For example, real simple syndication (RSS), a blog, email marketing, including an email newsletter (ezine), a text (SMS), and Twitter are channel tools, through which businesses serve their customer communities.

A website is a very important part of your online presence, but it is not a very effective community-building tool. However, a website can become a platform from which you launch and serve customer communities. Think of your website as the living room where you entertain new friends and social media communities as the den you share with close friends.

There is one critically important thing for a founding company to understand about both of the online customer community types: The company cannot control community behavior.  Members - customers and prospects - control the conversation in the community. The founding company can only create and influence the community by establishing and demonstrating community values.

If value is the threshold of a community relationship, values are the foundation. Get started building online customer communities.

On The Small Business Advocate Show I’ve talked quite a bit about building customer communities and social media on my radio program. Click here to see and listen…

Your customers have connection preferences

One of the markers of the digital age is the proliferation of handy electronic connecting tools, like email, text messaging and social media platforms. And as with any element of our lives where there is an abundance of choices, over time we establish preferences.

These days there are actually two preference scenarios in play with regard to the digital connecting platforms:

  • How we prefer to connect with family, friends and business associates; and
  • How we prefer to be contacted by businesses for order follow-up, and with information and offers.

The preference rule of thumb for connecting with family, friends and associates typically depends upon the generation. If you prefer email, that probably means you’ve been in the marketplace for a few years - Baby Boomers and much of Gen X. If you prefer texting you’re probably under 30. And if you prefer social media, you’re definitely under 30.

In the second scenario, where customers give a business permission to connect with them electronically, preferences are still evolving. So recently, we asked this question of our radio and Internet audiences: “When you give a business permission to contact you, which digital method do you prefer?” The results were instructive.

The response we received from those preferring a business contact them by email was overwhelming at 95%. All the rest, 5%, preferred to be contacted by text messaging. That’s right, not one of our respondents preferred to be contacted by either of the two social media choices we offered, Facebook or Twitter.

It’s not surprising that email won the preference race; it’s been around the longest of the digital platforms. But even though texting came in a distant second, and social media didn’t even move the digital needle, believe this: These options will grow as preferences for how customers will want your business to contact them.

Your website is becoming less of a destination for customers and prospects, and more of a distribution center to them. The future success of your small business will depend heavily on asking for and getting permission from customers to “Follow me home” digitally.

And you shouldn’t care which digital method customers prefer you use to contact them. Your job is to make all the prominent digital connection options available wherever customers find you, and then do what your customers prefer.

I talked more about how your customers want you to connect with them on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. Take a few minutes to listen and leave your thoughts on how you like for businesses to connect with you.

How are moms finding your business?

How are moms finding your small business? Stacy DeBroff joins Jim Blasingame to talk about why more moms are looking for your business in the online communities they hang out in, not necessarily your website.

Stacy DeBroff is founder and CEO of Mom Central Consulting.

Listen to or download the interview here

Small Business Advocate Homepage

The customer is now in control - get over it!

As previously revealed in this space, the Age of the Seller is succumbing to the Age of the Customer. In the new Age, control of the relationship between Seller and Customer has shifted to the latter.

This paradigm shift is largely caused by online platforms that are: 1) increasing the access customers have to information about a Seller and its products; 2) allowing customers to express and share what they have learned about and experienced with a business.

To put two fine points on the first element of the shift, in the new Age: Customers have access to virtually all the information they need before you know they’re interested, and prospects are similarly informed before you even know they exist. Such access to information is changing - or disrupting - the way you market to and connect with customers, as well as how you train sales people. Plus it demonstrates why your greatest danger in the Age of the Customer isn’t being uncompetitive, it’s becoming irrelevant.

The second element is the new kid on the block, but corresponds to a centuries-old marketplace maxim, “If you make customers happy they will tell someone; if you make them unhappy they will tell 10 people,” which describes the ancient practice of word-of-mouth. The theory behind the 1:10 ratio is that all businesses, regardless of size, are motivated to perform, or risk a marketplace indictment by the judge and jury of word-of-mouth.

In the new Age, online platforms have caused word-of-mouth to transmogrify into a powerful dynamic called “user generated content,” aka UGC. This is when customers post online their experiences, questions, praise or condemnation about a seller’s products, services, and general behavior in the marketplace. In the vernacular, it’s word-of-mouth on steroids.

Indeed, if the word-of-mouth maxim were coined today it would sound like this: “Customers may post online their opinion – positive or otherwise – about your business, making it available potentially to millions.” To paraphrase Mark Twain, comparing word-of-mouth to UGC is like comparing a lightning bug to lightning.

In the new Age you have to do two new things: 1) anticipate that customers are already well informed; 2) track and respond to UGC about your business. And how well you do these two will influence whether the new customer control becomes a sales lever, or a disruptor that makes you irrelevant.

It’s the Age of the Customer - get over it.

Last week on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked with Alan Maites, President of Robinson & Maites, an unconventional marketing firm in Chicago, about the Age of the Customer and how it will change relationships with customers. Take a few minutes to click on one of the links below and listen to our conversation. And, as always, leave your thoughts on the Age of the Customer.

Marketing in the Age of the Customer featuring Alan Maites

Serve communities in the Age of the Customer featuring Alan Maites

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