social networking

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.

Is Your Business Benefiting from Social Networking?

Whenever I talk to web businesses, there is a topic that comes up time and time again: social networks. Love them or loath them, 2009 really was the year social networking went mainstream. The pessimists will have you believe this is fuelled by our celebrity-obsessed culture and almost narcissistic fascination with ego searches. However, social networking is bigger than Stephen Fry’s breakfast and hopefully by the end of this article you will see how you can use social networking sites like Twitter to bring some real business benefit.Twitter, the biggest phenomenon of the genre, operates around the open questions “What's happening?”, and you only have 140 characters to answer. Looking at my own tweets (@benjamindyer) I admit, many of them are completely pointless. I see something I like or dislike and I tweet about it. However, looking at the bigger picture, this conscious stream of information turns Twitter into a surprisingly powerful tool, especially for business.There are lots of companies doing some quite incredible things. Dell recently announced it has made nearly $6.5m in sales directly from its Twitter presence and has over 1.5m followers. Ford too has a great set of Twitter streams and US cable company Comcast is rewriting the customer service manual with its exploits on Twitter.So we have established that big companies are setting up their stalls within these social networks. Where these businesses are throwing vast sums at establishing a presence we should all be able to learn from their experience, regardless of the size of our business.First, check your customer demographics: Find out if they use social networks, and if so which ones? Chances are they are on Facebook, but don't forget Twitter is key to some and there’s Linkedin and FriendFeed too. Ask customers what they use.Next, I believe it is also important to do as much listening as talking, and this is where a lot of companies come unstuck. Use the search engine on each social networking site to find who is talking about your company. The Twitter search is incredibly powerful and can really give some amazing insight into your brand, products and customers.Also extend your searches to include competitors and anyone respected in your sector. Track what is said about the products or services they supply and what they are promoting. What can you learn?Remember that the heart of social networking is engagement. If you find someone talking about you or your products, then get chatting. Ask questions and listen to the feedback. This is an incredibly empowering process for your customers. No matter how big or small your company, we all like to feel that someone cares.A great example of fantastic engagement is the US cable company Comcast, a brand that has been synonymous with poor customer service for years. However Comcast in 2009 became a completely different animal.One change has been to embrace social networking. Comcast is on all major social media sites like Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, etc. This presence gives it direct access to its users. Searching for examples returned hundreds of satisfied customers and barely any dissatisfied ones. Two years ago this would have been inconceivable.One great example comes from Comcast customer @cc_chapman:"Last night I made a snide remark about the lackluster quality of my HD picture on Comcast during the Celtics game. Comcast saw that and tweeted me back minutes later. This morning I got a call from their service center. This afternoon someone came out. Now my HDTV rocks! THAT my friends is customer service and how it should work all the time."Engaging closely is one thing, but remember that a person’s online social space must be respected: Be smart and polite. Don’t go butting into someone’s conversation with a blatant plug. This is a fast track to achieving the exact opposite result and being blocked. Far better to offer advice that’s relevant and of interest to your audience.While most people now have some sort of online presence, the biggest complaint I hear is, “I haven’t got enough time.” It’s understandable and depending on your business and the social networks you intend to have a presence on, you’re bound to drop some plates. However, there are free tools that can really help. A good one is the brilliant Tweetdeck. Tweetdeck connects up to a number of social networks (Twitter, MySpace, Linkedin, Facebook), its power comes in the ability to define searches or groups of people to watch. These searches are organised into columns that aggregate the data.Social networks are not just the preserve of those interested in Britney’s personal life, it’s a mine of information. If you’re not using it I can guarantee your customers are already talking about you. And your competitors are probably talking to them.So, what are you doing?