I recently overheard an interesting remark: social media is the greatest innovation in business relations since the Industrial Revolution. While that might seem like an over exaggeration, it isn’t so far from the truth that I didn’t take time to think about how social media has transformed the opportunities for a business, specifically in the retail space. Your online reputation is more important than ever, and as a business, you need to be on the same level as your core customers, engaging with them where they feel most comfortable.
As a retailer, your focus is most likely on your product or stores and the impression they make on your potential customers. But we live in an age of search engines and online reviews that makes your online reputation as important as your product or in-store experience. The most successful brands seek to bond with their customers and social media makes it easier than ever to do so.
User-generated content shapes how others see your product; e-commerce pros can no longer control the conversation, but they can participate in it. Social media for retailers means that you can now be a part of the conversation your core customers are having with others like themselves.
Brands that live in the social space have an opportunity to engage with their customer and, through them, create a relationship with that customer’s network. The goal now is to engage your core customers with such depth that they become your advertising. Your customers are now part of your media mix.
Engagement is key in providing the customer service that keeps your reputation positive. Monitor the social space and watch for @mentions, as well as #hashtag trends. Pay attention to certain keywords (such as a product, business name, etc.) and keep tabs by utilizing a service such as Social Mention (socialmention.com) or Openbook (youropenbook.org).
It’s important to recognize how vital social media tools are in driving revenue. When you Google a business, chances are that their Facebook account and latest tweet hover above any results pointing to their website. Though it’s not always the case with every retailer or business, it is likely to happen to you.
Because of this, social media sites oftentimes have a bigger impact on your product than your own website. The reasoning makes sense: people trust other people. A “share” on Facebook means someone’s approval, and it’s obviously someone you trust enough to have as a “friend.” A retweet on Twitter means more visibility on yet another powerful network.
So how can brands join the virtual conversation? There are many tools you can use, but the best way is to be authentic and personable. Once a customer feels that connection to a person, a human voice, your relationship grows stronger. Also, meaningful engagement can lead to creative and helpful solutions by customers. Brands need to be sincere in their approach when engaging with consumers. Even though the consumers are online, they are still expecting humanistic traits, that comfort level that Facebook shares and Twitter retweets give them. Empower those people assigned to engage with your customers. Make it easy for them to make decisions and take action right there in real time.
AT&T engages their customers without giving them robot-style responses. Rather than send feedback or concerns to @ATT, customers have options that seem more human. @ATTSusan and @ATTMike are available, along with many others, to field your @ATT questions and concerns almost instantly. It’s the approach many customers who don’t have time to go visit the retail location prefer. AT&T is investing in these Tweeters so that the customer service comes to the consumers in a convenient way, truly bringing the service to the customers at their uttermost convenience.
Some say that very little can be done to manage your online reputation, but I have to disagree. Consumers are engaged in a wide range of portals giving you the power to respond to criticism and to steer the conversation. For most retailers, just the act of engaging with a disgruntled customer will diffuse the ill will that person is harboring. Social media stumbles can cause a brand to crumble, while, positive approaches to social networking platforms can grow your brand beyond expectations.
If you’re thinking about how to incorporate social media into your company or are challenged with deepening your engagement with customers, consider these things:
- Connect social media strategies to business objectives
- Identify, quantify and establish the value of your core customer
- Commit internal resources (people, time and money)
- Find a social media champion within your company: Train and engage your associates
- Invest daily in participating in conversations and customer service issues
- Co-creation with customers. Allow for your customer to help co-create a business model or product. Though this practice has been around before social media, it’s now easier than ever to do so.
This information can be used to drive social media efforts within your organization. Social media is a powerful tool here to help you get to know your consumer, with a huge upside and very low barriers to entry.
– Tim McMullen / Eric Savitz, forbes.com