How to Build Loyalty with Social Media and Customer Service

by Carla Schroder

We've got five ways that you can employ the dynamic duo -- social media and customer service -- to build a loyal following for your small business. No cape or tights required.

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).

social media marketing on Facebook

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.

small business marketing on Facebook

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.

Host Your Own Forums

Can you name one of the biggest complaints for almost any product? Bad instructions for using it. It's one of the great mysteries of the ages why user manuals are so terrible. Consider emulating the example of Adafruit Industries.

Adafruit caters to electronics enthusiasts with a large line of products related to the Arduino electronics platform. Arduino is an open hardware platform that is very flexible for multitudes of uses, such as home automation, robots, 3D printing, programmable signs, wearable electronics, and a whole lot more.

Adafruit doesn't just dump this stuff on the market and call it a day; it also publishes extensive tutorials, and the company is very beginner-friendly. Another similar retailer that does this well is Sparkfun Electronics.

The possibilities for your own business are limited only by your imagination. Never assume your customers already know everything they need to know, because they don't. If you sell barbecue grills, then teach recipes and cooking techniques. If you sell sewing machines, then teach specific projects and cool fancy stitches. And so on...enthusiasm, creativity, and a genuine love of what you're doing are powerful and contagious.

The Power of YouTube

A picture is worth a thousand words, and a teaching video is invaluable. YouTube and Vimeo are the two top sites for free video sharing. EverythingAttachments.com sells skid steer, excavator, and tractor attachments, and its video how-to library demonstrates a brilliant use of YouTube to show people how to use their products.

You don't have to spend a lot of money to make great videos. Just make sure

  • They are well lit
  • They have lots of good close-ups
  • The audio is clear
  • They have a uniform volume throughout
  • that your speaker can talk clearly and to the point

Twitter Pulls it All Together

Twitter is a different kind of social media site. You're limited to 140 characters per message, and while hyperlinks are automatically shortened, they still count towards your total character limit. On Twitter you accumulate a list of followers who receive your tweets, and you should also build your own list of interesting, pertinent people to follow.

As with any forum or social site, you'll shoot yourself down if you're all give and no take, so budget time to participate and build relationships. You can have conversations on Twitter, as Figure 3 shows.

Small business marketing on Twitter.

Figure 3: Answering a reader's question about an article I wrote.

You get extra reach on Twitter, beyond collecting your own vast herd of followers (though that is important), with canny use of hashtags. Hashtags are how you reach people interested in a particular topic. For example, a lot of my articles are about Linux, so I use the #linux hashtag because this exposes my Tweets to a whole lot of people who are not my followers. It's easy to search for potential hashtags by clicking the #Discover link at the top of every Twitter page.

Twitter is a great general-purpose announcement medium that ties together everything in this article: you can tweet about new tutorials or videos, product releases, sales and updates on your Facebook page.

Carla Schroder is the author of The Book of Audacity, Linux Cookbook, Linux Networking Cookbook,and hundreds of Linux how-to articles. She's the former managing editor of Linux Planet and Linux Today.

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This article was originally published on Friday Aug 24th 2012
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