Marketing has changed beyond recognition during the past decade or so. The difference? Social media. Since Facebook exploded in the mid-2000s, the ability to speak directly to customers – rather than indirectly, through advertising or PR – has revolutionised how we do business.
It’s easy to see why social media has so much sway. It has the storytelling value of PR, the directness of email marketing and the power of advertising. Even so, it still needs to be tactically – and never at the expense of other marketing channels that continue to deliver proven results. At the end of the day, social media is an additional way of communicating, rather than a replacement.
Understanding how social media can open up fresh opportunities and it helps to reinforce your brand values.
For a customer-focussed business such as a builders’ merchant, social media provides plenty of ways to interact with your customers and potential customers.
This might be letting people know about new products, or how to make the most out of an old one. Blogs are great for sharing hints and tips, and really easy to link to in a tweet or Facebook post.
Videos are even better, as they deliver practical, real-time advice. Include members of your in-branch team, and it’ll help to position them as experts so that customers know they’ll deal with a familiar face next time they come in.
One of the common arguments against businesses using social media is that it gives unhappy customers a place to complain. True – but is that really a bad thing?
Those customers would be unhappy with or without social media. By allowing them to communicate directly with you, it means you’re aware of the issues and gives you a chance to address them, rather than risk losing that customer’s business without ever finding out why.
If you get complaints, a well-run Facebook or Twitter account can actively help you. Make sure you reply publically that you’ll look into their issues. Then you can take the conversation ‘off-line’ and deal with their query as appropriate. Once completed, thank them publically for bringing the issue to your attention and confirm it’s been dealt with. To anybody looking at the account, they’ll see how responsive and friendly you’ve been and adds to your branding as a customer-focussed business.
For builders’ merchants and other trade counter businesses, social media is a great tool for driving business through your doors.
It can be as simple as posting your opening hours, especially during holiday periods when it’s important to give customers an idea of when they can pop in.
Beyond that, the use of offers and promotions can encourage customers to pay an extra visit – or, indeed, their very first visit. Facebook’s paid advertising options, especially ‘boosted posts,’ enable you to target messages to specific demographics such as builders or plumbers to raise awareness and encourage them to give you a try.
Speak the language
Social media has its own language of likes, hashtags, retweets and mentions.
Take advantage of the tools that Facebook and Twitter offer. They’ll help you to link to suppliers and partners to build online relationships – and hopefully encourage them to share your content to their own audiences. Likewise, when you share others’ messages, it shows that you’re an outward-looking brand with a sense of community. Hashtags, meanwhile, enable you to target messages to audiences who are searching for specific term.
Social media platforms also allow you to add website links and photos. Links will help drive traffic to your website and enhance your chances of making a sale. Photos will standout in a crowded social feed – they catch the eye and make it more likely for a user to stop and read your messages.
The clue’s in the name. ‘Social’ media allows you to speak to customers in a far more relaxed and informal way than adverts or press releases allow. That makes it a powerful tool for appealing to customers by using the same friendly conversation you’d hear over the trade counter.
The trick is to be sparing in the use of sales messages. Some of the best engagement on social media comes from posts about what staff members are up to, such as charity fundraising or sharing hobbies and activities.
Perhaps your team has a more unusual passion – at Balls2 Marketing, it’s all about cheese and we get great engagement for our #FridayCheeseClub. Aim for a nice blend of barter and banter – by reinforcing that personal connection, you’re actually likely to make that customer feel they want to do business with you in future without having to use the ‘hard sell.’
Simon Kinnear is director of communications at Balls2 Marketing.