Two months ago, I traveled to Taiwan with my wife for a two-week trip. We didn't spend much time in the big city but traveled around in scenic spots such as Nantou, Sun Moon Lake, Ching Jing, Hualien and more.
Don't worry. This is not a column about my travel blog. I'm going to talk about social media marketing lessons learned from local small businesses.
During this Taiwan trip, we stayed only in local bed and breakfast (B&B). For my pre-trip research, I realized most of these B&Bs, besides an official website, have also setup their Facebook page or blog. After I visited some of them in person, I found that the social presences of these B&Bs were actually managed by the owners, usually a middle-age couple that acts as the concierge, care keeper, and occasionally chef. In addition, as they realized the power of social media marketing, now they are also the community managers of their B&B's social networks.
While I admire their multi-tasking abilities, I am also inspired by how efficient they are as a social media marketer. Their Facebook pages might not have thousands of fans or been managed professionally. But I have so much to learn from the way they manage the social conversations with their customers and prospects.
Here are the top five lessons:
1. Put a human face to your brand.
I'm not saying you need to visually show a mascot or ambassador for your brand's social presence. But it's always important to show a human side of your company when it comes to social networks. Try not to standardize or repeat your responses like an automatic answering machine. Your social media community manager should always add in a bit of personal touch even for some of the scripted responses. At the end of the day, social media is about conversation. So why can't we make it sound more like a human conversation rather than robotic responses generated by a soulless administrator?
Unsurprisingly, after I met some of them in person, I found that most of these B&B owners are as friendly and enthusiastic as the way they behave on their Facebook pages. Do you believe in consistency of brand experience does matter to your customers? Shouldn't we align the tone of voices of your company between the online and offline world?
2. Promote your social presence offline.
Your customers do not just live in the online world then why should you? You should be as proactive as possible in promoting your social presence offline. Adding your company's Facebook address (or other social presences) on the promotion materials from print ad, poster, collateral, to shop-front's sticker is a good start. But how about promote them in person?
To give you a real life example, at one of the B&B places I stayed, I was told that free Wi-Fi was available as soon as I checked in. As you can tell I was craving to go online as a tourist who is also a social media geek. I was so excited to go online immediately through my mobile phone. At the same time, that auntie at the B&B concierge asked enthusiastically if I could "Like" their page or check-in their location while pointing me at a standee featuring their B&B's Facebook page address. Similar experience like this happened several times. I was even encouraged to take pictures and share them on my Facebook.
How well are your front-line staffers informed about your company's social media efforts? How coherent are your social marketing messages with the point of sales promotion materials?
3. Respond to real time conversation as it happens.
We all know social media is about conversation, it is often critical for companies to talk to customers or prospects real time not only for the sake of brand engagement, but also the opportunities to capture actual business leads. While doing my pre-trip research, I did several enquires for the B&Bs I was interested to stay. Their responses were usually very timely even after office hours or weekend. A few times, I wanted to check the availability of rooms for certain dates but it turned out I didn't even need to ask. Because I already saw a new response by someone else which actually answered my query. As the social conversation is always publicized in real time, the more responsive you are, you can facilitate a more efficient customer services enquiry.
You may have appointed a social media agency to help your company manage all the social media presences. They might also send you real time alerts whenever there are customers or prospects leaving messages. However, in most cases, your agency might not have the authority to interact with your customers in real time. Shouldn't we assign and train at least one immediate person from either client or agency side to handle real time responses?
4. Remember: conversations are social media content.
In most cases, marketers would put so much effort in delivering "content" to customers or prospects even in their social networks. We "push" so much content on the social networks we assume our customers would be interested. However, we might have forgotten that one of the key reasons people go to social networks is to connect.
One of the typical reasons your customers want to connect with your brand through social media is seeking customer support. If customer service is crucial for your business, you should seriously consider deploying some of your customers' support effort on social media or give customer service training to your social media manager or appointed agency. It is understandable that you would be worried it might turn out to attract loads of complains or whiners to your company. In most cases, a well maintained customer service conversation would not only save the day but also general business leads. These social conversations are in fact another form of good content to promote your brand.
5. Connect with your business alliances.
How "social" is your brand in the world of social media? You shouldn't define this by just focusing on your customers and prospects. Just like doing business in the real world, your company also need to stay connected with business alliances. When it comes to social media, it is actually even more convenient to facilitate this partnership. Hyperlink your business alliances' social network with yours and actively cross-promote their relevant information of their businesses to your customers. Not only does it help to maintain a mutual beneficial relationship, but also demonstrates how sociable your social presence is.
In fact, I found a handful of local tourist information and useful contacts from most of the B&Bs' Facebook Pages during my Taiwan trip. From hired car, restaurant, local tour, to even another B&B for my next stop, I received various valuable recommendations, both through these B&B's social networks and in person (offline again!). It is like an ecosystem operated organically among these local small businesses. Does your company have any business alliances also active on the social networks? Have you ever cross promote or at least hyperlink your network with them?
Setting up a social media presence, such as creating a brand page on Facebook or open a Twitter/Weibo account has become a must-have item on almost every marketers' wish list these days. While you think that hosting a Facebook page for your brand is compulsory, have you ever thought deeply why your customers and prospects have to "like" your page?
Managing a social media presence is different from maintaining a brand site. Your customers and prospects would only "like" your page because they want to connect with you rather than read your press release or advertisement.
The lessons I learned from the aunties and uncles of these B&Bs might sound trivial to a big brand or large corporation. But the spirit of entrepreneurship behind and the understanding of human behavior are something we as agency people or marketers always overlook and worth rethinking about.
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Rudi Leung is general manager, director of digital and social at Tribal DDB/ DDB Group Hong Kong and Guangzhou. He was formerly director of communication planning at AGENDA, an interactive agency network under the WPP/Wunderman group in Asia. He is also an exco member of Hong Kong Association of Interactive Marketing. Rudi previously held roles as VP of Carat Media Services, creative ambassador of Yahoo HK Media Services, and creative director of TBWA\Tequila\HK. In addition to his extensive experience as a creative director and copywriter in numerous leading 4As ad agencies including Ogilvy & Mather, Leo Burnett, and Bates, he has gained wide exposure in advertising for numerous MNC and local advertisers in the last 18 years. Besides advertising, Rudi is a part-time lecturer of HKU Space since 2007. In his leisure, Rudi is an active blogger and columnist of ClickZ, e-Zone, HK Economic Journal, and MetroPop Weekly. He holds an MBA from Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Graduate Diploma in Business Administration from UC Berkeley Extension, and Bachelor of Arts in Music from Chinese University of Hong Kong.