One of the biggest small business marketing assets is a friendly human face. That personal touch is pure gold. Think about your own experiences: when you use a Web contact form or send an email to a business, do you expect a prompt, helpful response? Or is your default expectation somewhat lower?
I expect most of us have experienced lousy customer service: unhelpful canned responses, slow responses, un-grammatical and incomprehensible responses, and no response at all. Phone contacts are often just as unrewarding as we get lost in phone robot hell, or have to wade through tiers of representatives until we get someone who actually has a clue.
So it's very powerful to reach out and respond to your customers in whatever way they contact you or talk about your business, and it could be the differentiator that sets you apart from your competitors. Let's look at some proven ways to interact with your customers that don't cost you anything but time, and that pay big dividends.
Everyone is on Facebook
People love stories and personal connections. Facebook is the big social media gorilla right now, claiming 800 million users. A good Facebook page can be a real asset to your small business. For one example, my favorite local Mexican food eatery, Papa Rod's Burritos, makes great food from scratch, full of flavor and color, and shows off some old family recipes. Papa Rod (real name Walt Rodriguez) makes good use of Facebook by posting updates, new menu items, specials, and photos of happy customers (figure 1).
Figure 1: A photo of the drool-inducing food at Papa Rod's.
Another small business that makes great use of Facebook is Earth Song Tiles. It maintains a continual flow of new posts showing off its beautiful hand-carved tiles and how they are made. The images on the tiles come from mythology, and the company uses Facebook to tell the stories behind the images. People love stories, and kids are irresistible (Figure 2).
Ambassadors in Enthusiast Forums
A site called FredMiranda.com is the premier site for professional photographers and enthusiasts. It has tens of thousands of members, from raw noobs picking up cameras for the first time, to wizened old professionals who've been in the business forever. Members share their photographs, offer critiques and professional advice, buy and sell cameras and equipment, and review camera gear and retailers. When you want to know who the best camera retailers are, and how camera gear performs in real life, this is the place to find out.
Figure 2: Young Alanda painting a Claddagh tile.
One of the popular camera stores is Adorama. Adorama is known for good prices, selection, and service. Adorama has assigned an ambassador, Helen Oster, to visit the Fred Miranda forums. Helen answers questions, resolves problems, and she has built such a positive reputation that "ask Helen" is a common piece of advice.
You can do something like this, too. Somewhere there is bound to be an online forum where people are talking about your type of business; make it your business to find these places and then decide which ones are worth investing the time and talents of your own ambassador.
Enthusiast sites are the best because they attract knowledgeable users, and if you win over the enthusiasts then they will be powerful influencers. Here are a few examples of enthusiast sites for various topics:
Now keep in mind you can't just barge in and start advertising your business, because that will turn people against you. Your ambassador needs to be a patient, friendly, knowledgeable member of the community who is an active and helpful participant. Some online communities don't want anything with the remotest whiff of commercialism, and you must respect that.