Online communities like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tangle allow members to join groups, post content, and respond to other’s activity. While some marketers have tried to exploit the media, there are positive ways for online merchants to participate in linking networks and build stronger relationships with customers.
Social linking networks represent a fast growing Internet phenomenon that has been unmatched in the web’s short history. Born from the massive blogging movement, sites like Facebook take the idea of a blogroll to a new height, connecting friends and business associates one a single website. This sort of linking is so popular that 41 percent of Americans participated in some form of social media in 2008, according to eMarketer. While in Europe, 74.6 percent of active Internet users are involved in some form of social networking.
Recently, in “eCommerce Know-How,” I described how to use a blog and social media news sites to improve brand and business. In this edition, I’ll discuss engaging with customers, potential customers, and groups directly to (1) build relationships, (2) manage your store’s reputation, and (3) encourage general traffic flow to your store.
Do not read this article and believe that I am suggesting that you spam Facebook, Tangle, MySpace, or any other linking sites. I am not suggesting superficial “connections” with customers or posting product announcements in LinkedIn groups. Rather, I am encouraging online shopkeepers to actually engage with their customers, similar to the way that shopkeepers of old personally knew their customers.
Allow me an explanation. My dad grew up in South Philadelphia in the 1920s and 30s. He lived in a mostly Italian neighborhood and suffered through the depression. About two blocks from my father’s row home was a small general store. My dad doesn’t recall the name of that store, but he remembers the proprietor, Charlie. Charlie knew my dad (and his seven brothers) by their first names. And each of them can recount stories (some funny) about Charlie. He was a part of their lives.
To some extent, I am suggesting that some online merchants should try to reach out to customers in a manner similar to how Charlie connected with his customers. What we are describing is authentic communications, and it must be at the heart of any social marketing (really word-of-mouth) campaign.
Be a Spokesperson for Your Store
The first step to opening authentic communications with your customers is to become your store’s spokesman. Put real biographical information on your stores about section or in the contact section.
- Let the customers know what you do at the store.
- Provide history about the store’s origins, purpose, and goal.
- Include links to your profile at Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Tangle, or other networks.
Participate in the Community
Start by joining groups and then participating in those groups. Add comments, respond to questions and be upfront about your store affiliation.
Invite Customers to be Friends
When you send customers order confirmation emails or even follow up after the sale, include a link to your profile pages and encourage customers to “friend” you. You’ll get the most extraverted of your clientele, but you will make friends from customers.
Begin to Post Store Content As Part Your Activity
Most linking networks offer members the opportunity to post short statements about what they are doing at the moment. And this function offers an excellent opportunity for storeowners to promote their businesses in a genuine way.
Just post things like, “working on new product images for http://www.mystore.com” or “just created new merchandising video for the super widget http://www.mystore.com/linktothevideo.”
Also post news in LinkedIn groups, or add relevant information to boards.