Social media has become the buzz at business conferences across the country in 2009. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Blogs are the best known forms of social media today.
Although some of these tools have been around for several years, business owners now realize that they may be the best way to promote their business on a tight budget. Most business owners see social media as an inexpensive way to advertise but, it’s also an inexpensive way to build lasting relationships with your customers.
A strong client for life program is one of the most important pieces of any marketing strategy. Most companies spend most of their marketing budget on advertising to new customers, but finding new customers can be difficult and expensive. It’s always easier to farm than it is to hunt.
Traditional client for life programs include regular mailings, holiday cards and sometimes a calendar with your picture. These mailings are basically stay-in-touch tactics. The goal is to be the first person or company that customers or referral partners think of when they need your product or service.
In the last 10 years, companies have added e-mails to their client for life programs, which can be less expensive than mailings. All of these traditional techniques have been effective in the past, but social media has opened the door to new possibilities and higher customer expectations.
People don’t like being talked to and they dislike being marketed to even more. A good friend is a friend who listens. A good business is a business that listens.
Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter open the lines of communication between a business and its customers. The companies that have found early success in social media have learned to actively engage their customers and most importantly, listen.
The first step to a successful, social media-driven, client for life program is to listen. The more you know about your customers, the better you can serve them. Companies used to spend thousands of dollars for the market research social media can provide for free. If you want to learn more about your customers, look and listen as they give you access to their lives. They will share their likes and dislikes.
Most importantly, they will share their successes and challenges. Twitter offers tools for you to listen to when people are talking about your specific product or service.
The next step is to stay in touch. Facebook allows you to see pictures posted by your customers. These pictures could be of a newborn child, an anniversary celebration or a graduation. All of these are excellent opportunities for you to offer congratulations. Referral partners may also share their successes and challenges.
This is another great opportunity for you to offer your congratulations or support. The posting of helpful articles and links is easy to do with social media and can provide additional value. Every time you post something, your picture or logo accompanies your post.
Finally, the most important step in a successful, social media-driven, client for life program is to build relationships through communication. We prefer to visit a restaurant where the owner comes out to greet us personally and asks if everything was OK.
Two-way communication will be appreciated by your customers more than any other gesture. If they have questions or concerns, your response and interaction will help build strong personal relationships. We have often heard that customers will buy from people they “know, like, and trust.” While that is true to the sales process, it is even more important to the client for life process.
Customers remain loyal to companies that listen and address their personal concerns. They will always feel connected to a business owner that they feel they can talk to. If the success of your business is based on the relationship you have with your customers, then it is important to make building and maintaining these relationships a priority.
How do you know if you are using tools like Facebook and Twitter effectively? Look at your Facebook wall. Do you see comments on your posts? On Twitter, how often do people re-tweet your tweets? Are your updates one-way communications or are you actively engaging your followers?
This article originally appeared in the Chicago Business Ledger in July 2009.