Social media is here to stay. Not only do we use social media to communicate in our personal lives, but it has become a successful lead generation, customer engagement and sales conversion tool for many small businesses. In fact, 50 percent of small businesses said they gained new customers from social media (Mediabistro, 2012). That’s a big deal for small business.
Where should small businesses start when it comes to getting referrals from social media? Small businesses can’t experiment with every channel, tool or tactic the market is excited about this week. With limited time and resources, small business owners have to invest in activities that produce real results for the business and aren’t a huge time suck. Here are a few pointers to help small businesses drive leads, engagement and sales from their social media activities.
Listen, care and serve
Encourage your customers to communicate with you via social networks about their experience or concerns. This creates an avenue where your customers can get real-time feedback and solutions to problems. It’s also a place where they can celebrate their love for your brand. By the end of June 2012, over 30 million local reviews had been posted on Yelp, making it the leading online hub for real word-of-mouth marketing.
It’s not always about you
Creating great content isn’t easy. Reason being is that the content you create is not about you, it’s about your customers. When you think about the forms of content you want to create and the message you want it to deliver, you have to focus on answering practical questions that are on the minds of your prospects and customers. What are their pain points with your product or service? How can you create a blog post or a video that will help address their issues? What are the questions you here the most from prospects about your product or service? You have to craft your content so that it serves their needs. To get some data around what kind of content your prospects want, ask them! When people sign up to receive content from you, ask them what they are looking for; give them the option to opt-in to certain types of content. If someone only wants videos, only send them videos. Always promote your content using social media, but keep in mind, social media is not just a platform for you to push things out. Make sure you engage in conversations about your content.
Don’t sell, sell, sell
Consider a 1:10 ratio of self-promotion to great content. For example, for every tweet you send that promotes a product or service you offer, send 10 tweets that promote educational content that helps your prospects and customers educate themselves about the product, versus just telling them it is something you sell. Also, if you have a blog, you can generate leads at the top and bottom of blog posts. Always make it easy for people to opt-in to receiving your content.
Be part of the discussion
TweetChats and discussion on #hashtags are a great way to generate referrals and create awareness. Participate on a regular basis and establish yourself as a leader in your industry. Remember, you want to passively self-promote when participating in industry discussions on Twitter. Your contributions to the conversation are what really matter. Also, monitor and respond to meaningful #hashtags in your industry. Creating great content, using that content to generate leads and participating in industry discussions on Twitter can help you get more customers.
Make it shareable
No one will share your content if you don’t give them a way to do it! When you create landing pages, always make sure they are interactive. This means that you need to place social elements on the page so that people can engage through social media. Consider using Facebook comments to drive activity and awareness to landing pages. Plus, you can solve questions that prospects have! It’s pretty easy to set up the Facebook comments function on the landing page and it’s free to use. Also, you can split-test to measure performance between an interactive landing page and a static one.
Keep it real
Most people trust the comments made by another person about a brand or a specific product or service that brand offers, so you want to let your best customers sell your product or service for you. Try to always keep any customer comments that you present on social media platforms raw and unedited because you want people to know that they are real. Also, think about using customer comments on landing pages to help boost social proof.
Say please and thank you
Customer referrals are very valuable – invest in them. Reward customers with discounts if their friends purchase your products or services. Host a monthly raffle on Facebook for the highest number of customer referrals. However, you want to make sure that you promote the referral rewards experience as a perk, not a bribe.
Connect online at events
Most networking events will have a hashtag—use it! Tweet out or share memorable moments from the event from speaker quotes to photos from the kick-off party. Run a search on the hashtag on Twitter to see who else at the event is active in the discussion. One time at an Inc. magazine event our team was able to drive a prospect to our booth because we responded to a Tweet she had sent out about the challenges of being a small business.
Share social proof
Use case studies not only to outline your product or service, but to focus your community’s attention on very happy customers. You want people who are interested in your company to know who your satisfied customers are. Make sure your case studies have a personal element to them so that readers can relate – see themselves in the position of those that are already benefiting from what your business has to offer. Feature your successful customers on all of your social networks and make sure you create and keep a positive reputation on review sites like Yelp.
Engage customers with contests
You can use customer contests to drive more referrals and testimonials. Make sure that you always connect the contest with your brand’s message and your company’s key objectives. Make sure that the prizes you give away are relevant to the products and services that your business offers. Ask yourself: Why am I giving this iPad away? Is it relevant to my business? Also, make sure you make it super easy for your customers to participate. Use social networks to announce the contests and communicate with participants throughout the duration of the contest. Also, use social media to announce your winners. With the flurry of web-based tools available today, it’s easy for small businesses to create social media contests that rival that of the big businesses they watch for ideas.
The truth is that the traditional way of generating referrals can only go so far for a small business living in this ever changing digital marketing world. Simply put: customers are going online to discover, qualify and purchase products so small businesses need to be there too. As I said earlier, small businesses can’t try everything. Figure out where your customers and prospects are going online for information and start by building a professional presence there first.