James E. Laero marketing / communications / business development

ARTICLE: The New-Old Standard: Communicate Socially

No matter what the latest tool might be, you still need to use it properly.

My marketing discussions with small business owners and corporate executives alike reveal a consistent trepidation to the point of avoidance over dealing with today's social marketing. But in reality the rules have not really changed that much. They have just become less forgiving.

Prior to the Internet revolution, nearly all business marketing was accomplished using face-to-face social interaction. Even when using TV ads and direct mailers, most final sales and customer services were done in person or via the phone to a live person. Customers were gained and retained through person-to-person social interactions. With the global introduction of the Internet this process has been dramatically affected, but the underlying principles have not.

For example, last week I went shopping for a new computer hard drive, online. I shopped online because it is nearly 30 miles from my office to the nearest computer supply store with no guarantee they will have the item I need in stock. So I typed, “2 terabyte external hard drive,” into a web search engine and got back 1.5 million results. From the top five on the list I immediately noticed a company I had used previously to purchase computer parts. After checking prices, shipping costs and warranties at their website and several of the other top five sellers, I went back to their site. I read ten customer reviews of the hard at the site, placed my order, and had the hard drive hooked up to my computer two days later. Before the hard drive was shipped I had a note in my e-mail thanking me for shopping at their online store, offering me several ways to contact them if I had any questions or concerns, and, a tracking number so I could know exactly where my package was at various points during shipment. A few days after I had the hard drive I received a second e-mail asking me if I was happy, followed up by a personal phone call to check on my satisfaction. Their price on the hard drive was not cheaper than the other online companies I initially checked. But I made the purchase with a comfort level that assured me that I would get the item when I needed it, with the services I expected. I made that decision based on my social interaction experience during previous purchases from that company. It is the same process I use to purchase automotive repairs, groceries and toys for my children at local stores. I know my local auto mechanic. I have shaken his hand. He has treated me right. He gets my business. If he stops treating me right, he loses my business. It’s that simple.

Modern media-based business and marketing succeeds, or fails, for the same reasons. No matter what the latest tool might be, you still need to use it properly. If you create a poor website that is hard to navigate and which does not communicate the sincerity of your core message, you should not expect a good social reaction from customers. If you build the perfect brochure and add your website address sending them to that same poorly done website then you should not expect the brochure to deliver much value. The rules are still the same but because of the speed and prevalence of the Internet customers are just much less forgiving nowadays.

If you are in business you need a professionally developed Internet social presence. Not just a one page website. Your Internet social presence MUST communicate credibility, security, and sincere interaction to your customers. Ten years ago businesses could get away with a website slapped together by the company president’s nephew. Such a website today only communicates a blatant disregard towards customers at best, and at worse a complete naivety of contemporary communications. Customers, retail and B2B, get nervous when they land on a cold, poorly designed, out-of-date or hard to navigate website. Statistics show that most Internet users depart from such sites after just 1 second. And never return.

Building an Internet presence is best accomplished by collaboration between your company, a Communications Designer (MARCOM professional) and an experienced, technologically up-to-date web developer. The cost of such a process can range from a couple thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars depending on the size of your company and the volume of information you need to present.

The parts of a modern social presence are:
1. A public company website. (A private client access site may also be a necessity for your business)
2. Social media pages: FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
3. A company Blog.
4. Internet Marketing, SEO (Search Engine Optimization), E-mail Marketing, etc.
5. Web presence security. (Protecting your reputation online)

Each piece of this social presence pie is critical to your business’ ability to communicate in today’s market. Ignore it and eventually your competition will use it to take you out by using it to socially slip between you and your customers. Skeptical?

Here is a true story. There are three medium size grocery stores within two miles of my home. Prices at two of them are very reasonable. Prices at the third are often outrageously high. But the more costly one consistently gets more customers. Why? Because they very tactfully get e-mail addresses from their customers and send out very attractive graphically enhanced social e-mails about specials they are running that week, recipes and cooking tips. So, while local shoppers are waiting for the once-a-week newspaper flyer from the other two grocery competitors, company number three delivers their sale notices, complete with printable coupons, right onto the computer screens of potential customers - two days before competitor paper flyers hit the streets. They have very skillfully leveraged the power of new social media standards to steal away customers. They are interacting socially with today’s customer.

A small percentage of customers will always use price as the bottom line. But giving buyers the ability to trust you by using sincere social interaction is key to long-term success in today's business climate whether you are a corner grocer or a professional services firm.
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