Tag Archive for 'Twitter'

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.

The new class of small business influencers

In The Age of the Seller, three groups mattered to a business for sales growth: suspects, prospects and customers. Let’s talk about these in order of appearance.

A suspect is anybody and everybody; think of the names in the local phone book. Initially, a business has no relationship with a suspect until contact is made in some way. Then, if the qualifying criteria turns them into a prospect, the relationship develops further until they’re converted into a customer, or not. For 10,000 years, of these three, only prospects and customers were influencers of a business.

In the Age of the Customer, which was born of the Internet, businesses have to learn how to operate where influencers are not only evaluating their traditional activity, but their online presence as well. And in the new Age, there are now three influencers: the original two, plus a new one.

The new influencer is users, and their impact is only online.

Like suspects in the original Age, users are people you probably have not yet developed a business relationship with. Unlike suspects, users become influencers of your business in at least five ways, but only if you have an Internet presence:

  1. Users find you online and appraise your offerings, information, and behavior before you know they exist.
  2. Users can influence others by posting their appraisal – good or not so much – on any of the commenting (Yelp) or social media platforms (Facebook). And even if the appraisal is not good, you still get the next three.
  3. The very act of users finding you, especially if they leave a commenting trail, reveals themselves to you.
  4. Some form of contact information (email, handle, cookie, etc.) is left behind.
  5. You can assume that the user has at least a tacit interest in what you do and sell.

Users are suspects on steroids. I have identified them as a new class of prospect, because as they wield their influence, they actually self-qualify themselves without any direct cost or involvement by you. How much could that impact your prospect development plan?

If you’re still unimpressed with the potential of this new group of influencers to your business, remember this: The drivers of value for the big social media platforms are not customers, but hundreds of millions of users. And every small business has the ability to convert a user into a paying customer in a way that makes Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn green with envy.

Develop a strategy to turn users into your new class of prospects.

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I have written and talked extensively on the new influencers and other facets of The Age of the Customer. Click here to listen, read or watch.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Watch Jim’s videos HERE!

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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.

EVERYTHING your small business sells is a commodity!

Webster says a commodity is an item in demand in the marketplace but which is supplied without differentiation across a market. For example, a soybean in Shanghai is pretty much the same as the one you could buy in Sheboygan.

Here is some 21st century tough love: EVERYTHING your small business sells is a commodity, not just soybeans. Any questions?

That includes every product your customers can hold, carry, break, drive, wear, eat – you get the picture. It also includes things you can’t see, like service. That’s correct: From this day forward, even service is a commodity. The ONLY thing about the relationship between your business and its customers is the way they feel and think about the experience they have with you. That’s it! EVERYTHING else is a commodity.

Instead of spending the next week detailing why the last sentence is true, I’ll show mercy and merely ask you to look around at your own experiences in the marketplace. How many sources do you have for whatever you may need or want to buy? The answer is anywhere from many, in terms of your physical marketplace on Main Street, to practically infinite, in terms of the virtual marketplace on the Internet. And I’m sure you’ll agree that if the search is refined down to a handful, at least two will be in a virtual tie on price vs value, product array and quality service.

So, when your small business makes it to a customer’s final two, what makes them choose the winner? Here are some classic reasons. The winner’s employees remember the customer’s name, or remember what the customer likes, or smile more, or act like they appreciate the customer’s business and actually say so.

Now let’s look at some 21st century reasons: The small business winner has a website where prospects and customers can shop, or has a blog and/or email newsletter from which useful information is delivered, or allows customers to follow them on Twitter, or notifies customers electronically when new products and supplies are available, or allows customers to comment on a website or online community about their experiences, or anything that recognizes that customers are busy and helps them stay connected, even when – perhaps especially when – the customer isn’t buying.

It’s not easy for small business owners to think of their wonderful offerings as just another soybean. But get over yourself and start thinking about the only thing that will differentiate you from all the other competitors: the classic things customers have always wanted and those 21st century elements that are brand new, but no less compelling.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about the commodity thing. Take a few minutes to listen, and be sure to leave your comments.




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