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If you listen to any social media guru or read any social media blog, you’re bound to get “the message.” The message is, “People are talking about your business online. Are you part of the conversation?” Some business owners hear these words and panic. I’ve witnessed it first hand.
Three or four years ago, I attended a social media seminar. The speaker delivered the aforementioned message. I watched the audience and noticed dozens of eyes shift from speaker to laptop or smartphone. The guy sitting next to me started Googling. Based on his name tag, I could tell that he was searching for his business. He was even sweating a bit—afraid of what he might find (it’s a sad day when you’re sweating at a social media seminar).
I shifted my attention back to the speaker. Imagine my surprise when, more than an hour later, I glanced back at the guy next to me—he was still searching! Only now he was searching “company + reviews”, “company + bad reviews”, “company + terrible”, etc.!
He missed the entire seminar! But that’s not the end of it.
After the event, I walked over to him and said, “I noticed you started searching. What did you find?”
He replied, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. That guy is full of shit.”
And so it goes for most small business owners. More often than not, people are not talking about you online. On the one hand, this is comforting. You can relax. No one is bashing your company on Angie’s List, Foursquare, or Yelp. You don’t have to stay up late or toil your weekends away dealing with negative publicity.
However, the silence you’re experiencing means that you’re also not taking full advantage of the power of the web to grow your business and amplify word of mouth marketing.
How to Get People Talking (Positively) About Your Business
There are a lot of different ways to get people talking (positively) about your business online. For simplicity’s sake, in this post, I’m going to suggest three simple steps you can take to get things headed in the right direction.
#1 Be Remarkable
Anyone that’s run a business, of any appreciable size, knows how difficult it can be to execute. Tasks that are seemingly simple become much more difficult when you’re company has 100 people vs. 10. Some of the best local companies I know are very successful because they execute. They do exactly what you expect them to do—every time. However, many of these companies don’t generate the positive online chatter you’d expect because they execute without any type of “W-O-W!”
If you want to get people talking about your business online, you have to exceed their expectations (at least occassionally). You have to do unexpected things to delight them. I can feel you rolling your eyes. I’m not talking about flying a blimp with the words “THANK YOU” over their house upon replacing their toilet (although that would certainly be remarkable). It can be as simple as a personal phone call.
A friend of mine owns a local HVAC company in the Chicagoland area. He makes it a habit to randomly call homeowners to get their feedback once the job is complete. If something didn’t go to plan, he’s there to fix it. If they’re happy, he’ll encourage them to provide him with a referral or a positive note on their Facebook page. In every scenario, he sincerely thanks them for doing business with his company.
This step is simple, but when is the last time it happened to you following any type of home service call?
#2 Build a Platform
Some local businesses do a great job of executing and are even able to do it while being a little remarkable; however, because they haven’t created a platform, they’re not getting the business buzz they deserve.
What do I mean by “platform?” Glad you asked! Let me explain.
Within the context of this blog post, a platform consists of:
- Your website (with a mechanism for capturing feedback)
- Complete and active profiles on various social sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and others based on your industry—e.g. Houzz for remodelers)
- An opt-in email newsletter
When most business owners think of the web, they think of it from the perspective of commerce and transactions. What we’re talking about in this post is building relationships. You’ve got to remind yourself about this over and over again. While I absolutely, 100 percent believe that building relationships will generate more transactions for your business, it’s a terrible mistake to get onto Twitter or not get onto Twitter based on the leads you think it will generate.
For most businesses, Twitter is not for generating leads; it’s for building relationships and capturing feedback. The same thing is true for Facebook. Think of social media sites as mechanisms to capture feedback—not as lead generation tools.
It’s not enough to have a Facebook page for your business. You have to maintain it. People won’t provide their feedback if they think they’re talking to an empty room. Go into the process recognizing that, initially, it will be you talking to an empty room. When you see a competitor’s Facebook page alive with updates from engaged clients, what you don’t see are the months (and sometimes years) that the page was a largely one-sided conversation.
Expect this, but you also need to give people a reason to visit your Facebook page. Hold contests, ask (happy) clients to go to your page and provide a testimonial. If you’re uncomfortable tooting your own horn, hire someone (ahem) to do it for you!
An opt-in email newsletter is important because it provides you with a way to engage your entire audience at scale and inexpensively. It’s a whole lot easier to get buzz going on your Facebook page when you have a large, opt-in email newsletter list.
#3 Create a Community of Ambassadors
Think of your happy clients as a community of ambassadors for your business (some companies actually create programs that provide special offers, discounts, and service levels to their community of clients). Instead of thinking about social media sites from a transactional perspective, think of them as places where your ambassadors can congregate and provide you with feedback. If you want to use the web to generate referrals, positive reviews, and feedback for your business, you’ve got to continually engage your community. Passivity breeds inactivity.
Give people a reason to talk about you. When they do, reward them promptly. Keep in mind that rewards don’t always have to be in the form of money and gifts. It’s amazing how far attention and recognition go. A lot of business owners I know desire having their friends and referrals treated like V.I.P.s. They are far more than some $50 giftcard to Amazon (although giftcards are certainly appreciated).
How to Manage Negative Reviews
If you’re successful in your attempts to generate buzz about your business online (and if you follow my advice, you will be), at some point you’re going to have to deal with negative feedback and reviews. I could write an entire post about this topic (luckily Elizabeth Moore already has).
My recommendation is that you:
Above everything else, do not—under any circumstances—use the word “BUT” in your conversation with an upset client!
Companies do this all the time and it’s a ginormous mistake.
“I’m sorry you’ve had this terrible issue, BUT our tech was feeling under the weather.”
“I’m sorry the new toilet we just installed rocks when you sit on it, BUT your bathroom floor is very old and uneven.”
The word “BUT” negates everything said before it. Use it and you’ll become intimately familiar with another “B” word—B*llshit.
Most customers are reasonable people. When they’ve had an issue, they want to be heard. They want you to feel and acknowledge their pain. If you listen to them with empathy and make an earnest attempt to solve their problem or compensate them in some way for it, they’ll generally reward you with their loyalty and even referrals. What you want to avoid with these folks is failing to listen/empathize, rationalizing your error (see my comment above about the word “but”), and not adjusting your business practices to solve the problem from happening again.
On rare occassions, you may be the victim of a troll. A troll is an angry person seemingly put on this earth to do one thing—stir up unnecessary drama on the world wide web. Trolls are looking to pick a fight, and they’ll use any excuse possible to do it (“your plumbing tech kept smiling at me”). No matter what you say or how well you do with an apology, they’ve got a snarky retort.
The best way to handle people like this is to apologize and then ignore them. Resistance is the lifeblood of the troll. Resistance is futile. Apologize for their experience and move on. If you’re fair and reasonable, the rest of your community will likely take your side and the troll will soon search for another party to crash.
Using Google Alerts and Other Brand Monitoring Tools
Even though people probably aren’t talking about you online, you should still set up some Google Alerts and/or consider investing in tools to monitor mentions of your company name. By doing this, you can monitor your progress as you build your online platform. The minute you start seeing mentions of your name, you’ll know that you’ve got things headed in the right direction.
Setting up a Google Alert is free and easy. Just Google “Google Alerts” and it will walk you through the process.
Expert Tip: Monitor Mentions of Your Larger Competitors
One thing you can do, while you’re waiting for buzz about your company to build, is set up Google Alerts for each of your larger competitors. This is helpful for several reasons. First, it will allow you to see where/how they’re being mentioned. It will give you a front row seat to what they’re doing online from a PR and marketing perspective. If you see positive buzz about something they’re doing on a national scale, try to localize it and test it in your market.
Second, you can use negative buzz and comments against them. For example, let’s say you own a small, local HVAC and plumbing company. You set up a Google Alert for several large, nationwide, franchised competitors. If you see repeated remarks about their drivers showing up late for service calls or missing them altogether, and you take pride in the fact that you offer specific appointments and/or very narrow time slots for service (and your team ALWAYS hits them), blog about that fact.
You could also relay the message to your existing clients (say via email newsletter or on your social media profiles). You might write something like, “in our industry, a lot of large companies are notorious for showing up late to service calls. Sometimes they miss them altogether—without even a call. Fewer things are as frustrating as taking a whole day off work to get a plumbing issue fixed and then having the company blow you off. Unbelievable! At XYZ Plumbing, we take great pride in the fact that we offer the narrowest service time slots in the industry and we never miss them. If you have a friend that’s frustrated by having to take an entire day off of work whenever they need a plumber—only to have the plumber show up late—please give them our name!”
The key is to become known for something. It makes you much easier to refer.
Contrary to the preaching of most social media gurus, most small businesses don’t have a lot of people talking about them online. While not having any chatter means no negative comments or trolls, these are small inconveniences when you consider the web’s power to amplify word of mouth marketing. You want people talking about your business online.
The way to make it happen is to:
- Be remarkable—do things that make you stand out from the crowd
- Build a platform that comprises your website, social media sites, and an opt-in email newsletter
- Create a community of ambassadors around your business
There’s nothing overwhelmingly complex about the steps above, but most small businesses find the consistent execution exceedingly difficult. If you’d like help building a platform for your business online, creating a review capture system for your website, establishing stellar social media posts, building an ambassador network, and generating more buzz for your business online, drop us a line!
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About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
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