Today’s guest post comes from Gina Smith, explaining how small businesses can use social media to better understand their customers and grow their bottom line.
Understanding your customer’s needs and wants is imperative for any business. Consumer preferences can change rapidly. Trends, economy and even the season are among the many variables that can influence customer behavior. Selling what you want to sell, rather than what your customers are demanding, can quickly destroy your bottom line. Keeping tabs on the ever-changing market can help ensure you are offering products and/or services that keep your customers coming back. Many companies face limited manpower and budget, making this a time-consuming and daunting task. How do you better understand your customers, especially when your resources are limited? One of the more simple strategies is found in a tool most of us use every day – Social Media.
Many people think Social Media is just for making connections and interacting with friends and business associates. While this may be true, it can also be a powerful tool for companies. Let’s examine some ways your business can use Social Media to better understand your customers:
Posting tips, sales and special offers is great. However, mix your posts up a bit by asking specific questions. For instance, perhaps you just launched a new product. Don’t be afraid to ask the question: “Has anyone tried our new gadget? If so, what do you think?” Or, perhaps consider something like, “We are thinking about adding pumpkin cheesecake to our fall desert menu. Does this sound yummy to you?” You can even ask your customers to offer their ideas such as, “Pink petunias are ‘in’ this season. What other plants/flowers would you like to see us add to our inventory?”
You would be surprised how much useful information you can gather about your customers just by asking a few specific questions!
Read and Respond Promptly to Customer Comments
There are those who are ready and willing to post feedback about your products and/or services. It is important to monitor your Social Media sites on a regular basis and respond to comments or requests in a timely manner. Not only does this give you an opportunity to really know what some of your customers are thinking, but also it provides an excellent platform for you to interact and engage with them. Monitoring comments and posts is generally a task assigned to public relations and/or marketing departments. If you are a smaller company, consider assigning an employee to handle Social Media. Some businesses even choose to outsource their Social Media to an independent consultant or a company, such as Global Response, who specialized in Social Media monitoring. Regardless of how you choose to handle Social Media, monitoring and responding promptly is a must. Don’t forget to keep a chart of specific comments, suggestion and input. The information gathered should be shared with your entire staff.
Be Prepared For Both Praise and Criticism
One obstacle businesses face when considering Social Media is their fear of criticism. In all likelihood, you will receive criticism at some point, especially if you are asking your customers to respond to questions. Remember, criticism is not necessarily bad; it’s how you respond to it that will make the biggest difference. If you try to view critical posts or comments as an opportunity, they can prove to be quite beneficial. Let’s say you own a small nursery and you “project” that pink petunias will be the “in” thing next season. So, you post something like, “Getting ready to prep some pink petunias for the spring. Do you think these will brighten up your yard?” If you receive negative feedback, that is valuable information to know before you spend time, money and resources cultivating pink petunias. Or, let’s say someone says they had a bad experience with one of your employees. You can turn this negative into a positive by reaching out to the person who posted the negative comment and investigating the complaint. Perhaps this same employee has treated other customers poorly and is scaring away business. So, don’t be afraid of criticism. Handled properly, it can provide valuable input.
One of the biggest mistakes business owners tend to make is not truly “listening” to their customers. Implemented properly, Social Media outlets can be excellent tools to gather feedback from your customers, gauge interest in new products or services, and better understand changing consumer trends. Give it a try, you may just be surprised to find out how useful this strategy can be to help you better understand your customers. Good luck!
Gina Smith writes freelance articles for magazines, online outlets and publications. Smith covers the latest topics in the business, golf, tourism, technology and entertainment industries.
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