Marketing Turnaround - 2017

Go Global, Stay Local

By Gail Z. Martin

Whether your company is purely local or has a global footprint, you need to be active and visible on social media. Why? Because your prospects and customers expect you to be findable online, and will consider your absence to be suspicious, perhaps even unprofessional.

When a potential new customer meets you, he or she is likely to look for your website to verify the first impression and gather new information. Depending on your type of business, someone might turn next to LinkedIn for a look at your profile, connections, recommendations and endorsements, as well as your resume. Or, they might look at Angie's List, Yelp, Google or Amazon to see how your product or service ranks and what customers say. They might check your blog to see your articles, videos, photos and event updates. Odds are good they'll look for your Facebook page and Twitter feed to see what kind of recent news, specials, coupons or details you've shared, or to get a better sense of your personality.

Any time you leave a void in that cycle of discovery by your absence, there's a piece missing in the puzzle. Your prospect is trying to put the pieces together to get a complete picture of who you are, how well you serve our customers, how you see your role in the world, and how much you interact and engage with others. If you're not findable on social media with recently and consistently updated content, you risk looking unapproachable at best and behind the times at worst.

Stay Local

I've heard owners of mom-and-pop local businesses ask why they need to be on social media that is seen around the world when their customers come from down the street. There's a curious perspective there, assuming that only people in far-away places use the internet. The short answer is: Because your local customers also use Facebook.

Social media has become the source for news and information for a large (and growing) chunk of the population, across all age and economic brackets. Smart phones and Wi-Fi have helped to put the power of a computer and the connectivity of the internet in reach of most consumers. So it's natural that people turn first to social media and mobile apps to decide what to do next weekend, where to go for dinner tonight, what movie to see, what the flavor of the day is at the local ice cream shop.

Consumers make purchase decisions based the information they find online. If you're a restaurant without a menu online or without a way to share daily specials, some customers will go to a competitor where they can be sure to get what they want. If you're a nightspot without a way to advertise the featured drink-of-the-day and live music, you'll see business go elsewhere rather than show up and be disappointed.

Even if you're not in a retail or hospitality business, you probably aren't the only business in your field. It's a definite disadvantage when your customers can learn more about a competitor with a few web clicks than they can about you. Highly motivated prospects may make the effort, but most won't bother. Now that people are used to being able to do some 'stealth' intelligence gathering by going online, it seems intrusive and bothersome to make a phone call or request information by mail. And if your business is clinging to antiquated delivery systems, prospects may wonder if you're mired in outdated ideas in other areas.

Consider your social media sites to be ways to show your engagement with and participation in your local community. Do you support local school or community sports teams? Show pictures from the games, show off the jerseys your company underwrote, celebrate the team's victories and trophies. Do your employees volunteer locally? Post pictures from your latest project, whether it's putting in flowers at a local school, building a Habitat house or helping with a holiday toy drive. In fact, you can use the power of the internet and social media to encourage more people to donate or volunteer for the local causes you support, and to provide recognition and acknowledgement for those who do.

Don't be afraid to have fun. Use the gamification principle to run online contests, or ask your followers for their opinion with polls. Polling is fun and social when you share the aggregated (anonymous) results because everyone wants to know what other people think. Polls can be serious (like having people pick their top concern about retirement) or fun (like picking next week's featured flavor) to whimsical (like naming a company mascot or a lawn decoration or even a large piece of equipment).

Remember that social media is supposed to be social. Use it to get into conversations with your most enthusiastic customers. Find out what else they like aside from your products to flesh out a psychographic profile of your core tribe. You might get great ideas for collaborations, joint ventures or cross-promotions. Ask their opinion, even if it's about who might win the Super Bowl or the what's the best green bean casserole recipe for Thanksgiving. People love to be asked, and they love to share. Give them glimpses of your life outside of work: pets, hobbies, vacation snippets, favorite foods, etc. In a world where people feel increasingly disconnected from others, sharing personal touches builds community and also strengthens the like-know-trust factor.

As a local business, your local-ness is one of your greatest strengths. Play up your participation in local festivals, parades, sporting events, school programs, street fairs, business organizations, charities and recreation. Snap pictures of you and your employees out and about in local places or nearby parks or attractions. If you are the most recent proprietor in a long-running family business, share old photos and reminiscences. Give shout-outs to customers who get recognized for being active in local community-building, charity, business and education programs. If your company provides a scholarship, make an event out of naming a recipient and post photos. Find ways to celebrate your locality on social media and make your online pages a go-to place for your customers and neighbors to find out what's going on, see their friends in action and be seen interacting in the community. Your Facebook, Twitter, and other sites can become the online equivalent of the neighborhood's favorite front porch, where everyone gathers because that's the place to find your friends.

Go Global

Even if your clientele spans the globe, you can use many of the engagement strategies outlined in the Stay Local section, just tweaked for your broader market. Instead of focusing intensely on one location, emphasize the world-wide nature of your work with travel photos, pictures posted by your customers from various countries, or quizzes and contests with a globe-trotting focus.

Use case studies and stories to illustrate how your services or products make your customers' lives better in all the global marketplaces you serve. Demonstrate your adaptability to differing cultures while emphasizing the common successes and outcomes achieved regardless of location. Play up your community and volunteer involvement regardless of where in the world your staff is located.

While Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube serve a global audience, it's worthwhile to look at which other social media platforms are popular in the countries where you have clients. Recognize that other countries may have different social norms about informality or sharing personal information in a business setting, so adjust accordingly.

Use Facebook and LinkedIn groups to build an online community of your raving fans. Give customers the sense of your personal presence with video, even if you're thousands of miles away. If there's a language difference, consider having subtitles in the native language if you're recording in English, or providing a translated text.

The Power of Community

Whether your business is local or global, creating a sense of community among your clients, prospects and fans can be the glue that increases engagement and customer loyalty. Online communities often center around Facebook or LinkedIn groups, which have replaced more cumbersome group-management software programs.

One of your first question will be whether to make the group public or private. If your first priority is to gather new members of your tribe and bring them closer into your orbit, then a public group is the place to start. You can invite people to join the group as your 'ask' in your videos and social media messages. The group is also a natural follow-up for people who have attend one of your events or webinars and want to discuss what they've learned. You can reward members with additional free content to draw them further down your sales funnel, providing ebooks, short videos, checklists, articles and worksheets. Plan to be present some of the time, but also build in was to encourage your members to keep the conversation going and support one another.

If you are looking to strengthen the bond among your inner circle of fans or dedicated customers, or if you plan to use the group as a way to share paid content, then the group should be private. Many people create multiple Facebook groups, one of each of their signature courses/seminars/events so that attendees can bask in the afterglow, engage with each other and with the presenter, and receive additional VIP content for which they have paid an extra fee.

If you need more features than just an online place to meet, you may want to step up to software that will let you create a members-only forum with additional features like calendars, and polls. Some options include MyBB which is free and open-source, and BBPress, which was developed by the Wordpress people and integrates easily with Wordpress blogs. Another system that has been around for a while and offers a wide array of features is Ning. Ning was one of the original do-it-yourself online community building sites, and it has a lot to offer, but not everyone will find it intuitive to use.

Meetup focuses primarily on live events. But it does have scheduling and announcement, email, or comment capabilities, and could be used in connection with an online venue for a public community that is looking to boost membership. Or you could add an online group component to augment a Meetup group's live events for more engagement and conversation.

Whether you are local or global, the goal of engaging customers and prospects on social media is to create a sense of community to build loyalty and help clients get the most successful outcomes from your products/services. Easy to use, affordable tools make it simple to build live or online gathering places to extend your brand and influence depends on your goals. How much those gathering spots become actual communities depends on your intent, and in your personal investment of your presence and content.

The Last Word

Die-hard fans and loyal consumers want to belong to communities of like-minded people. When you become the hub for a community that extends your concepts while engaging your followers, you extend your credibility and influence.

Excerpted from The Essential Social Media Marketing Handbook: A New Roadmap for Maximizing Your Brand, Influence, and Credibility