The lesson is to listen

Lots of people have been asking me how to “sell” online using social media. I have pointed out some basic things not to do as well as some basics for getting started but I think I may have missed the biggest asset you have with social media. The ability to listen.

Yes content is important, really important, but even more important is the ability you have as a business or brand to interact with your customer. You can’t do that with any other medium. You don’t know a consumers reaction to your television ad (provided they didn’t fast forward through it) in real time but if you put on an post on social media you know immediately if you have hit a nerve. Good or Bad.

A lot of businesses I know just want to run traditional “call to action” ads on Facebook and that is fine but your missing the whole point of the medium. There is this fear to engage the consumer because businesses can’t control the message. Could you imagine dining in your favorite restaurant and overhearing at the next table someone talking bad about your business? What would you do? Would you simply walk away or would you try and find out what the problem is?

The thing to remember is social media is real life. That is hard for a lot of people to swallow. According to a Pew Research poll 68% of all adult Americans are on Facebook and 79% of all Americans on the internet use Facebook. That’s a very large chance that your customer is going to see you on Facebook before he or she does in that restaurant and that number is only going up. The cool thing is that by having a presence on social media it is very likely that your customer will come directly to you with complaints or questions.

A lot of my b2b friends (business to business sales) don’t see the benefit of taking so much time on social media. I tend to think that while businesses may not be watching your social media page the person that makes the decision for that business is. Take the case of Avaya Telephone systems. One day searching twitter an Avaya employee came across a tweet about a b2b customer looking for a new telephone system. The tweet mentioned Avaya and a competitor. That same day the employee tweeted back about the wonderful Avaya tech support that could help make the decision easier. The end result was a $250,000 sale all off of a 55 character tweet from Avaya.

On an early Sunday morning in September of 2015 I got up and searched Facebook for posts about my restaurant 1933. To my horror I found a post from an African American that said he had been turned away at the door because he was black. I was horrified. I knew in my heart that this was not true. Not only was my business still new and could not handle this type of bad press but I was in the middle of my campaign for Judge of Sunflower County. I immediately freinded the person on Facebook and sent him a private message. People were posting death threats and threatening to burn down my restaurant within minutes of the post.

I invited the man to come to my restaurant with him and his wife as my guest. As it turned out I knew the guy. We had a great meal at my best table. He took pictures and personally thanked me on Facebook. What could have been a disaster turned into one of the best things to ever happen to my restaurant. Our minority business is up and I won the election with 83.75% of the vote in a district that is majority African American. Had I not been listening it could have been disastrous.

I see a ton of my business friends paying someone to run your social media. Please do not do that. Yes, I will take your money and run it for you but it is much better to train your employees to do this. When you pay an ad agency or PR firm to handle social media it stops being social. It becomes cold and industrial. A small business would never need someone to do this for them. You may indeed need some direction but not a firm that does day to day marketing on your page. Trust me. You are much better for that than they are.

The thing you want is organic. Never let someone talk about your business good or bad on social media without you being part of the conversation. Always respond. Communicate. Interact. Just look at my 1933 page on Facebook. I personally spend at least two hours a day trying to start or engage in conversations about that one business.

This is not a sprint. This is a marathon. You won’t look up in six weeks and see that social media is driving your business. It’s about the long play. It has taken me two years to get to a point that I can regularly engage with my customers on Facebook.

So use that search feature in Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. See what is being said about your business and engage them. Be pro active. Let’s stop being in inch deep and a mile wide with our customers. This is a chance to have a deep relationship. In the end all business is about relationships.

Stafford Shurden is a marketing and business coach and has been in business for himself for 20 years. He also owns 1933 Restaurant, Shurden Farms, and Stafford Media. You can email Stafford at staffordshurden@gmail.com 

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