Stanley’s Chargrill diner, centrally located downtown beside the Wal-mart across from the courthouse, makes one of the most fantastic burgers on the planet. Their fries are crispy, their wait staff is impeccable. The decor of the restaurant is pleasing to the eye. It’s literally one of the best meals you could have in your city. They have no website, no Facebook page, no Twitter account. The owners don’t even have internet at home.
Across town, though, Fred’s Funeral Parlor has a website, Facebook page with obits as status updates, a Twitter account, and a blog where Funeral Home Director / Owner Fred Jenkins posts informative articles relevant to the funeral service industry. His business is dying. I dodge your incoming tomato in response to that pun.
What’s going on here? Stanley’s business is booming with no technology boost. Fred’s is at a stand still while doing all the right things, according to the social media marketing gurus. He took business courses, developed a business plan, a charter, contracts, and provides valuable information to the trade industry. What the hell is he doing wrong?
The Social Media Guru Plight
Two years ago, I would have told you Social Media Marketing is the next wave of advertising genius. And you would have looked at me puzzled, because you weren’t even sure what the hell “Social Media” is, much less someone who was a guru at it. As soon as Facebook became popular, and shortly after that when Twitter and others followed, companies were salivating. They didn’t understand that folks spent time on sites like Facebook rather than visiting a plethora of websites. It’s the same phenomena really that shopping malls and strip malls capitalize on – one-stop shopping. Folks are already going to the mall to shop, so businesses want to setup shop at the mall too in order to take advantage of folks that have to walk by their stores to get where they’re headed. (This is also why I avoid the mall.) So companies setup Facebook profiles and offered contests and incentives to get folks to “like” their pages – how many of you reading this are guilty?
Companies with older management saw that younger, fresher companies were hiring “Social Media Marketing Directors” – essentially interns to run their social media campaigns, and hired their own. In a very short time, enterprising folks were able to leverage social media to market themselves and find employment. And their payoff? They got to spend all day on Facebook and Twitter representing their brand. Some folks developed Powerpoints, eBooks, conferences and seminars on brand identity and leveraging social media.
It’s not all snake oil, but consider this proposition: in just a few short years, “Social Media Marketing Guru” has become the new “Used Car Salesman.” Social Media Gurus offer you advice that you need services that they just happen to provide. They make assumptions about you and your business without actually asking you or your customers what they need. They sell you a solution they think you want to a problem they’re not even sure you have. All they know is, if you buy into it, you’ll need their help for a long, long time.
Every Business Is Different
Not just every type of business. Every. Single. Business. The chargrill burger joint from earlier may be totally successful in this location in this town at this point in history due to a lot of different factors. But it’s certainly different than Fred’s Funeral Home across town. Fred listened to the Social Media Guru he hired to help him prop up his business. That guru did what gurus do: apply a hammer to everything, whether it looks like a nail or not. The real solution to Fred’s business’ problems lies deeper than how he uses Twitter effectively.
The Pieces Have to Fit Together
Running a successful business could be explained in volumes by the world’s experts, but the most successful of those experts wouldn’t waste volumes telling you those secrets. The secret is that you have to be involved and dedicated in every piece of your business. You can’t be passionate about your advertising and provide lackluster service. You can’t make amazing food and never post the sporadic hours you’re open anywhere. You can’t create the most beautiful art and then use text-only advertising in the newspaper. The pieces have to fit with one another, or nothing will work at all. It’s no different with social media, it’s just another piece of your business that must flow with the other pieces.
It’s Not Just What You Do, It’s Who You Know, and Who Knows You
I’m not talking about name-dropping that you served a delicious burger to the mayor and he said it’s his favorite. I’m talking about Stanley being an icon in the community because he gets to know his customers. He lets the Girl Scouts sell cookies outside on the sidewalk. He’s known for being open from 11am – 11pm, seven days a week except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The smell of delicious food wafts through the air as patrons leave nearby stores, and their mouths water and that turns into sales. He’s been open since 1987 and the food quality and service haven’t changed, and that’s made it easy for repeat customers to tell their friends who are new in town about their favorite burger joint. You already want to eat there, just based on what I’ve told you about Stanley’s.
So What Are You Doing Wrong?
Getting customers is about getting attention. Keeping customers is about relationships. It’s not a gimmick, and it’s not a lazy person’s job. What Stanley is doing can easily translate to businesses that need customers from the internet to survive. Social Media is not a waste of time, as long as you aren’t wasting the time you invest using it.
People use social media to:
- Keep up with family and friends
- Follow entertainment and news updates
- Find relevant or amusing links
- Look for helpful tips / ask questions / crowd-source information
Businesses use social media to:
- Get their business in front of customers
- Spread the word about promotions / contests / campaigns
- Desperately increase their followers / “likes” in a misguided thought that number of followers equals cash.
SMART businesses use social media to:
- Interact directly with their clients.
- Make themselves more approachable.
- Update clients with important information / outages / sudden closures / changes that affect customer service experience.
- Obtain valuable feedback from their customer base.
- Build relationships by using down-to-earth, approachable language and honesty. Communities form when you act like you’re part of a community, not running an artificial one.
Word of mouth advertising works as organically on the internet as it does face-to-face. You cannot induce this phenomenon artificially, as much as companies seem to think making a really goofy video and then putting it up on YouTube will automatically make it go “viral.” (I’m looking at you, Old Spice.) Years and years ago, when a little company with a plain old search engine with no extra cruft on the homepage was barely known, its users championed it to their friends until one day we were all using “Google” as a verb.
You can’t train on building relationships. You can’t run a seminar to teach your hired Social Media Guru how to make friends with people on Twitter. If you want to be heard above the squalor of the crowded stage of the Internet, you have to speak truthfully and be ready to listen. Keep your promises. Be reliable and consistent. Over time, you will become relevant and when you speak people will listen. When your competition slings mud your way, the folks you built relationships with will stick up for you as long as you’re in the right and your response, if any, is humble and kind.
A few items, a checklist if you will, on practical issues:
- Stay connected – if you don’t update, eventually no one will be looking for your updates, and your relationships will fade – like that awkward conversation you have with your 10-years-ago best friend that you fell out of touch with but run into unexpectedly. Don’t expect to have a genuine conversation again until you’ve caught up and established regular contact again.
- Keep your listings accurate – if your hours change, make sure your Facebook profile says so. If you move, you damn well better update your address. This information is what connects customers to your physical location.
- Be friendly, but professional – every contact on the internet is a potential customer, not necessarily just some kid out to waste your time and bug you or prank you (though they’re out there).
- Be genuine – contests and promotions are fine, but make sure you don’t become one of those businesses where every genuine-looking post is actually a hard-sell trojan horse in a rush bid to convert clicks to cash.
- Don’t get caught up in followers / likes / reach. Measure the value of your social media time investment in terms of relationship building. You aren’t Coke or Pepsi or Microsoft. You’re Fred Jenkins.
Finally, social media can’t help you if your business already sucks. It’s not a magical steroid that will improve your conversion rate and boost profits while shrinking your overhead to a tiny size. Take a good luck at all the areas of your business and if something is severely lacking, fix that first. Social media can make a good business better and a bad business more well-known for being bad.