Using social networking to build sales and improve customer relations

  1. How can social networking through Twitter, Facebook etc benefit your business?Social networks allow entrepreneurs to track down their target customersUsing the websites you can also improve your sales and customer serviceBut it's important that you listen to what your customers are telling you

I’m sure you’ve heard about social networking websites. Chances are even better that you’re on a social network yourself, especially as you consider that Facebook alone has 250m active users. Putting that into perspective, if Facebook was a country it would be bigger than the UK, France, Germany and Italy put together, and growing at about one million users per day!This is a staggering level of growth. The average Facebook user has 120 contacts and 5 billion minutes are spent on the site each day worldwide. That’s a lot of socialising.So, how can businesses use social networking effectively? In this article, I explore some of the possibilities for leveraging social networks in order to build sales and improve customer relations.So, what does this mean today?Obviously social network sites give users the ability to communicate with each other and share information, but they also enable users to find like-minded thinkers. In contrast to traditional communication tools, it’s much easier to expand your network with relevant people, or communities based on mutual interests. These communities have brought an almost unparalleled amount of power to individuals. It potentially heralds a seismic shift from company to consumer.The growth of social networks demonstrates that business can no longer rely on the traditional mediums of print, TV and radio. Whether it’s to sell, support or market products, enforcing the company view of the world has become a whole lot harder.However, it’s not all bad news. Used correctly social networks can become a real business enabler, helping you to find and identify current and future customers and respond to problems quickly and effectively.Find your customersThe first thing any business needs to do is research. No doubt you already know, but social networking can be a time sink. Researching using the medium takes real effort, so make sure this effort is concentrated in the right place. Check your demographics and find out if your customers use social networks, and if so which ones? Chances are they are on Facebook, but don't forget LinkedIn, Twitter or FriendFeed. Ask customers what they use.Don't talk, listenOnce you have found your customers sit back and listen. Social networking is renowned for its real time opinions, use this to your advantage and employ search engines to find people talking about you or your company. Even better take it a step further and listen for your competitors’ names, or search phrases that relate to your products or services.Depending on the size or type of business you're running there will be a lot of information, often too much. The challenge is to identify the wheat from the chaff and to capture good information in such a way that it benefits your business.When you do talk, be smartA person’s online social space is sensitive; respect it by being smart and polite. You wouldn't expect to barge into a normal conversation with blatant advertising, and social networking is no different. Instead, join in the conversation and offer advice that’s practical. Within my business we actively spend time helping customers. We direct people with queries to our own online resources such as our knowledge base and advisory articles.Realise the potentialSocial Networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and FriendFeed are brilliant for asking questions. The open nature of these communities allows for anyone to ask, view or respond, so the potential for sales is obvious. Once again it’s important to play by the rules. Companies such as Ford and Dell do this incredibly well, building relationships and being proactive. Helping with enquiries boosts the perceptions of your brand, or service.The key is to remember the connected nature of social networks, recommendations prove to be the best type of sales lead and social networks can act like a mega phone for both praise and condemnation.Despite the obvious opportunities, many sales professionals I talk to remain very uncertain about social networks. While it’s true that traditional sales methods don't always apply in this brave new world, it’s important to remember the art of a good sales team is to identify and leverage the next competitive advantage. It may feel like it is taking focus away from core sales activity, but social networks allow both a greater insight into a prospect and an alternate method of communication. When I receive a cold call I am instantly put out. However if I am introduced via a common contact I am much more receptive.SummaryIt’s important to realise that web-based social networking is not a black art; it’s really about common sense. Often the first hurdles to be overcome can be one’s own preconceived ideas. If your business is still questioning the relevance, let me ask a question: Do you want to be part of, and influence the conversation that’s already occurring about your market place right now, or do you want to be left to one side? If you engage, sales will follow. If you don’t, your competitors will be making the running.

FOWA London '08 - Day two thoughts

Tim Bray from Sun kicked it all off this morning, his hat isn't quite as cool at Ryans, but its a hat, hats are the new Vans apparently.

Tim had an Interesting pitch which he tells us he changed it at the last minute from a detailed technology pitch to how companies in the techspace can survive the current crunch. I have to be honest, after a day of being depressed about my stocks this was about as appealing as root canal work, but he pulled it off. Some people (including me) will hate this, but Tim tells us the waterfall method is dead, we need to be agile. Projects that take months of requirements cost infinitely more. Well I agree with that, if your some l33t start up, the rest of the world need requirements, nothing like finding out your agile approach missed something 20 iterations ago to really screw up your day.Honestly, the cloud, and what ever it is beginning to get a little boring. If I hear another pitch that infrastructure is like "1900s electrics and why would anyone want to generate it" again, I will scream, bring back the lolcatz. However Tim was a little critical of both Amazon and Google, infact he drew the exact same conclusion I have that lock ins are bad. You need to get into the cloud but you need to be careful. Poor old Werner spent the session moaning on twitter that he couldn't respond, would have been interested in his replies.The thing I loved about this session was the upbeat approach to a downbeat subject, downtimes are also a great chance to reposition your business, according to TimThink about regulatory technologyThink about basic needsThink about servicing the legacyThink about telecomsBuild something for yourselfFear VCs (really, well if you work for Sun...)Really interesting , but pulling telecoms into the same pitch as fearing VCs, I dont know, perhaps I am over critical here but it was a slide filler.Tim then went on to talk about how to ride the crunch personally:No technology religionDesigner vs developer, dont just be oneDont be an X developer (for any value of X)Build skillsContribute to an OS projectPublishNetworkLove it, its the philosophy I live by, I hate some of the narrow mindness of the tech world and Tim kicked ass in this part.Adam Gross - SalesforceAdam discussed cloud computing from a developer perspective. Discussed the subscription model and how it deliveries value quickly. Adam tells us that the key to be a great SaaS company you need to be totally scalable from day one and extensible, yer, we know. The pitch was a little disappointing and was really just a sales chat. I love the product, but I loved it before I heard the 10th pitch. Adam also wears nice jumpers.I then went on to a uni session lead by the very friendly and consummate professional Robin Daniel. Robin spoke about running your business in the cloud, interesting chat about Disney and Mickey Mouse tracking services. Ron gave a solid overview about the force.com platform.Chris Messina from Vidoop then gave a great talk about how oAuth and portable data can revolutionise your web app. Very interesting, very relevant and quote of the conference in my mind:"Passwords are not confetti"For those that dont know oAuth basically replaces the need for third parties to ask for user credentials, thats the deal, I have to be honest I kinda got a little lost how this differentiates from Open ID (and Facebook connect), apart from the fact that oAuth can run on the desktop, I think. This was quite a technical session, which I quite enjoyed,Work/life balance or Blood, sweat and tears: Which is the startup way?This was great, it was a double header from Jason Calacanis (Mahalo.com) and Tom Nixon (Nixon McInnes) talking about some of the philosophies behind running a business.I love tech, if your reading this you know I do, but this was a great break after days of detailed byte level conversation. I will be honest, I loved this, ok, I am a conservative voting spirit of free enterprise and I believe in two core business principles, if you want to succeed you need to work damn hard and you need to believe in what your doing. Gary Vanachuck calls this business DNA, I agree (but in a more British and less Randy Matcho Man Savage way). I guess what I am trying to say is this, if you want to live on the beach drinking tequila you better have an awesome business idea, not everything web 2.0 is about wine, shoes or friends. This session gave both sides of the argument, that's why it was interesting. As a people manager I can take a lot away from this, there is a fine line somewhere and finding it it key.Jeff Bar, the Amazon AWS head honcho then went on to talk about the important bits of cloud computing, he went head to head with a chap from Mindspring.[viddler id=cac4dc80&w=247&h=181]This was frigging awesome, not awesome in terms of the content, even though it was a very interesting devils advocate to cloud computing. It was awesome for the fact I send a couple of twitters out complaining about S3 then was invited to talk to Jeff Bar and Werner about my complaints, the CTO of Amazon is involved, he reads twitters, thats pretty cool.The Future of Entrepreneurship - Julie Meyer, Ariadne CapitalInteresting discussion how companies can demonstrate how there is market demand for tech products. Very interesting discussions regarding B2B and B2C, quite thought provoking. Discussed the speed of innovation (although she came from a VC perpective) the thing I quite liked is not to stress too much about the technology, but make sure it works. Its interesting this is a similar concept as Edwin from AOL spoke about yesterday, I wonder if its credit crunch inspired.Julie had an interesting quote from WorldPay, apparently the most important thing Nick Qgden did was never miss the payroll......It was ok, death by powerpoint, she was interesting though.How can you survive outside of Silicon Valley[viddler id=399c3f64&w=247&h=181]Again a double header with Michael Galpert from Aviary and Andy McLoughlin from Huddle, great overview of the development and VC scene outside of Silicon Valley. This was quite an inspiring session, and Andy made me proud to be British and involved in the tech world!Facebook connect overview - Dave MorinI liked this, having spent time today looking at things such as Open Social and oAuth I was a little "credential managemented" out, but this is pretty cool. The thing I really like about FaceBook Connect is the ability to:1. find out who you are2. grabs all your info3. gives you an option to publish what it was on your facebook accountI can see this as a real value add for so many people in so many different spaces, forget the credential bit for a moment, basically being able to tell people you care about what it is you just did, is very powerful.Next session was an Adobe AIR app Dragons den £5K prize, I didnt get chosen (not bitter). I wont go into detail as the whole thing was a little amateur hour, but fun.Mark Zuckerberg, FaceBook CEOThis session was hyped to the max, and that can only lead to one thing, a little disappointment (I support Spurs, I know all about this). I dont know what I was expecting, Facebook CEO to announce he was opening up his platform, that he was hiring Ben Hur and his crack squad of LOLCATZ who knows. It was interesting, but not amazing, I didn't spot Jesus or Gandhi in the audience. He looks half my age which is oddly inspiring, must work harder. Zuc all but confirmed there is going to be a facebook payment system. So we need to keep on top of that :)After Zuc there was the most awesome talk from Kathy Sierra, I cant even write about it, it was that good (I am also tired, been writing this post for over two hours!).Then live Diggnation and Facebook party but that a whole different posting...