Let’s Get Engaged!

14 Jul

No, silly, I don’t want to marry you. I want to talk to you about engaging your customers and prospects through social media. Social media has changed the paradigm from companies standing on a stage (be it broadcast TV, radio, newspapers or magazines) and talking at large numbers of people, hoping that some of them care just enough to take some kind of action.

Today, our marketing more closely resembles a ladies’ luncheon, where we have the opportunity to mingle among our customers and prospects, and perhaps even more importantly, our prospects get to mingle with each other to (gasp!) discuss what they think of us. Depending on how successful we are in engaging with our audience and how good/bad our product/service/delivery times/attitude is will determine if our guests are praising our good taste or making catty comments to everyone who will listen.

The vast majority of businesses trying to create online communities fail because they are stuck in the old thinking, where they are thinking, “OK, if I build this community and I have all these people, that will help me and my company in these ways.” Yes, it is true that having a vibrant online community should benefit the company or individual running it, but that is hardly the point. No one wants to feel used. The successful consciousness to go into social media with is, “How can I offer value to this group of people in a meaningful and ongoing basis?”

Part of this is providing valuable and interesting content, but another key is engaging the audience in an exchange of some sort, and it doesn’t have to be an exchange of their money for your product (especially at first). Some of the most successful social media sites regularly solicit user opinions and contributions. They spark discussion and interaction between the company and the members and among their audience (a kind of “talk among yourselves” kind of prompt). Hold a contest where users can make a contribution by uploading an article or video about how they used your product, have a contest to name your newest ice cream flavor or mascot, put up an area for people to talk about what they really think of you. You will likely get some great comments you can use as testimonials, and you will find out all the areas that you need to fix.

Make sure that you are not censoring any negative feedback or complaints (unless they are really vulgar), but instead use the platform to promptly respond to customer problems, complaints and concerns. That will go a long way towards mollifying those customers who have the same problem but were too polite to speak up about it. It shows a transparency in the process that says, “Hey, we’re not perfect but when we see a problem, we fix it. We have nothing to hide.”

Use the technology to really connect with customers and prospects. It is the best and cheapest market research available.

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