Small Businesses: Show Customer Appreciation by Recognizing Your Customers Online

Showing appreciation for clients and customers comes in many forms.  Some industries have it figured out, and instead of getting creative, they just follow trends. 

For example, large retail outlets have, “Customer Appreciation Days” that give customers up to 20 percent or 30 percent off their purchases.  Restaurants have customer loyalty cards that give you a free sandwich (after you have already bought say 10).  To most people, these seem like great deals, and in many cases, they are.  If you are a regular at a certain restaurant, then the free sandwich is fun to work towards.  Or if you have had your eye on a specific product that you can now purchase thanks to a double-digit discount, then it is truly helpful.

But what about small to mid-size companies that don’t have the funds to give away free product, or are working on such small margins that a reasonable percentage discount would leave them with almost no profit at all? 

These are the companies that need to take advantage of the network they have built online.

What it means to recognize your customers online.

You can recognize your customers any number of ways online.  These methods include the Twitter “shout out“, an interview that you post on your blog, or even a link on your Facebook Fan Page.  If you are in the B-to-B world, you can write a short note or post about what the client does and link to their site.

They will appreciate it.

Being acknowledged online is an important part of any social media strategy.  The more mentions you get, the more links that go to your blog, Facebook page, or Twitter account, the more followers you will get and the bigger your network becomes.

Give and thou shall receive.

Ever heard of #FollowFriday or #FF?  If not, then check out the top-trending topics on Twitter any Friday, and those will be right near the top.  It’s a lot of people giving shout outs to others that they think are interesting or to repay them because they got a shout out first.  Acknowledging your clients will have a similar result.  They will appreciate that you recognized them, and they will let their network know where to look and find their name.

Recognize your customers online regularly- not just when you are trying to push a product or launch a new campaign.  Build relationships with your customers and your fans online, watch how much your engagement increases, and you will begin to realize how beneficial social media really is.

The Hidden Benefits of Building Your Brand Through Social Media: (Passive) Recruiting

Over the last year the big discussions were around company layoffs. The layoffs were obviously newsworthy and mirrored the state of the economy, and the recession we are in.  During this same time period however, an issue that was not as given as much attention was the implementation of hiring freezes. Though it was most prevalent in the school systems, hiring freezes were occurring across the board, and many companies (even ones that I worked with) had a hiring freeze in place.

It is a frustrating thing, not only for the potential employee, but also for the company. When you stop hiring, you stop aggressively recruiting, and in doing so, you can tarnish your brand’s image.  That is where social media comes into place and can be extremely beneficial to your brand and your recruiting efforts. 

This is a great time for companies to revert back to their social media strategy and goals in order to identify where they need to gain awareness and encourage engagement.  If your main goal was to increase traffic to a landing page that offered promotions and sold a product, you should consider sending people to a landing page that talks about the benefits of working for your company. 

I am not saying you should get people’s hopes up, and claim that you have many open positions, instead I am saying that you should point out the reasons your company is a great place to work.  Talking to people honestly, discussing the fact that you are not hiring right now but in the (near) future you will be, will build confidence in your brand and your company’s image.  While doing this you should ask people to submit a resume and their contact information so that you may contact them when you are hiring again.

Instead of losing the traction your recruiting strategy had gained, you are continuing to build a list of potential candidates that you have connected with on a personal level, and you can reach out to when the hiring freeze is over.

The Trade Show Lesson: Using Traditional Marketing to Learn About Social Media

I attended a great presentation yesterday that was put on by The Essex Group at the GNHCC.  The topic of the presentation was Secrets to Trade Show Success.  To most in my age group, this topic may not spark much interest, and I would be lying if I said I couldn’t sleep the previous night in anticipation of attending the meeting.

However, thanks in part to the presenter, I became very interested in the business of trade shows, and the planning and effort that goes in to a few hours or a few days of promotion.  The lessons that were covered ranged from body language and tone to set up and booth location.  When the meeting was over I was able to go through some of the information that was provided and relate it to my line of work, social media.

There were some keywords that I took out of the presentation, and I am going to explain how they are significant to online networking (social media strategy) and offline networking (trade shows in this case).

Goals

Before you decide to enter the new media world you need to make sure that you have goals set, and you are not just jumping in with no idea what you want to gain from the work you put in.  In trade shows it is a similar situation.  You need to decide why you are there, do you want new customers, do you need market research, or are you there to introduce a  new product or service.

The key here is to set your goals and determine your message based on those goals.

Preparation

The main difference between trade shows and social media is the amount of time you should take to plan for the event.  The Essex Group recommended that planning takes between 6 and 9 months, and can take even longer for some shows.  If the preparation time to implement social media take that long you will start way behind the current trends.

There were some strong similarities in the preparation however.  These included the importance of budgeting, staff selection, and training.   From a budgeting perspective, though most tools in social media are inexpensive, there are costs involved if you want to do a good job, and do it right.  Staff selection and training are both an important part of branding online and offline.  Your company’s brand is tied directly to whomever is representing you, so making sure you have the right people and they have the skills necessary is worth the time or cost you put into it.

Engagement

The engagement at a trade show is literally shaking hands, smiling, and making eye contact.  Online engagement however, is a little different.  Online, companies need to make an effort to build conversations around topics important to their brand.  Companies also need to be prepared to respond to discussions about them that are going on everywhere online.

The Essex Group made a great point about engagement, and one that I could relate to.  They explained the importance of the Killer question.  The Killer question is that one question that will draw people in and encourage them to speak with you.  This works online as well, and the power of it online can create successful viral campaigns.

Follow Up

The follow up at trade shows is comprised of qualifying leads and sending out information that you may have promised them, or that they may have requested.  Online it is similar, but there are more opportunities here.  Qualifying candidates can be done in advance by finding them first, and then placing your brand and your information in front of them on a regular basis.  This can also lead to relationship building, and engagement.  The follow up is the most important part of the networking, and doing this online using CRM tools can make that process easier and more organized.

These are just a few connections I found between trade shows and social media strategies.  There is a much longer list that includes; contests, incentives, and measurement.

As someone that has little experience working the set up and execution of a trade show booth, I believe there is a lot to learn from the traditional ways of marketing, and there are many common themes with new media marketing today.

Press Release: New Haven-Based Social Media Team Takes Integration to the Next Level

New Haven-Based Social Media Team Takes Integration to the Next Level

Connecticut agency embraces the direct channels of social media

NEW HAVEN, Conn., (Nov. 4, 2009) – The public relations industry is changing the way businesses connect with people. More than ever, it is imperative for business leaders to recognize that conversations about their brands, products and services are occurring with or without their participation. In the digital age, social media is an essential part of a complete, integrated brand marketing strategy.

From public relations to traditional advertising, Mason provides social media strategy and services before, during and after the start of the program. Mason’s social media team includes Dan Healy, Derek Beere and Neil Johnson.

Dan Healy, Manager, New Media, works with clients to first conduct a social media analysis by identifying where conversations in their industries are occurring, who the influencers of those conversations are and how visible any competitors may be.

Derek Beere, Brand Supervisor, successfully integrates social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in social media conversations as a means of further targeting his clients’ campaigns. Beere seizes opportunities that social media offers through his research.

Neil Johnson, Manager, Interactive & New Media Design, designs e-marketing programs to support to online activity developing original and functional design solutions for a wide range of applications.

“Mason provides a closed-loop program, and we take integration to the next level,” said Francis Onofrio, APR, executive vice president, Mason, Inc. “With our social media expertise, we help clients build better relationships with their constituents and make it easy for them to participate in conversations where they previously did not have a voice or understand the rules of engagement.”

Onofrio added that as a full-service agency with a specialty in brand development, integrating social media into a public relations, new media and traditional advertising campaign is essential. “Social media is a critical channel to connect your brand with people, and it provides you with an opportunity to create a community among your brand. Its direct communication value goes beyond traditional marketing campaigns.”

New Haven, Conn.-based Mason, Inc. provides clients with strategic communication programs including marketing communication planning, public relations, advertising, interactive services, and promotions. Mason clients include Acadia Insurance Co., the Connecticut Sun, Yale-New Haven Hospital, The United Illuminating Co., Hospital for Special Care, Kardea Nutrition, Odyssey Logistics & Technology and Enthone, Inc. Please visit http://www.mason23.com or http://www.masononofrio.com/blog.

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The Key to a Successful Facebook Fan Page: Goals and Strategy

Here at Mason, Inc. we are getting our Facebook Fan Page started and beginning to promote it.

Because we believe in practicing what you preach, and an effective social media strategy is something we preach often, we knew that we needed to go into this with goals and of course, a strategy. We want to point out a few initial goals we set, and outline our process of getting there.

(Basic) Goals:

– Get 100 fans in the first week
– Update the page at minimum 3 times daily
– Provide useful content
– Make the page a point of contact
– Represent the Mason, Inc. brand appropriately

You will see that these are just the basic goals that were put into place while starting our fan page.

We will look at the page in about two weeks, review its progress, and identify any changes and/or improvements we should make. At that point, we will also reassess our goals and put more realistic long-term goals in place.

Our strategy for the initial page launch addressed a few key points that would lead to its success. I want to share what two of them were and how they were put into action.

Content is King:

First, and most importantly, we wanted to make sure that we had content. We did this using two methods. First, we started to actively blog. We are blogging about many topics, everything from traditional PR to New Media and current trends. Blogging not only put this content out there for the world to see, but it also got everyone talking internally and began many brainstorming conversations.

The next thing we did was gather a list of links that we get information from about our industry. This list, right now, is on an excel sheet. However, we are in the process of finding all of the sources on Twitter and creating a list there so that we can easily bring news and links from one network to the other.

Build a Fan Base:

Inviting fans started internally. We began reaching out to people at our company, and then a few of us began to suggest the page to our friends. Identifying close friends and inviting them first improved the chance that they would accept the suggestion and become a fan. To begin, it is a numbers game, it is important to create a base of fans that are influential either in the industry, or within your network online. As the fan base grows, and we provide useful and interesting content, we will see our fans reaching out to their friends and suggesting they should become a fan.

We have done a good job of managing our goals and tasks. We are approaching the point that we will review our page, and make sure we are providing value to our friends. We want to continue to add fans, and now will begin to focus on the next goal… User Generated content.

In a few weeks, I will write a post on User Generated content and its value in the social media world. It goes back to the importance of engagement online and offline.  Feel free to comment here if you want to help me prove a point!