During a recent visit to the US, I got the chance to catch up with a couple of colleagues and talk about ever growing popularity of social media. It had only been a few days before someone had asked myself and some friends about the point of Twitter and ‘why would you bother when you can talk to people’. Indeed, with 640 tweets per second and over 180 million unique visitors, the rapidly increasing fascination with just this tool alone is pretty amazing. In both discussions, everyone agreed that whilst social media was a useful way to access a greater worldwide network in short bursts, it would never replace what all of us were doing at the time.
Social Media is the constantly-in-motion front line to your business where you can connect with other relevant people in the world who share similar interests. But beyond a steady flow of tweets, Facebook updates, and occasional blog posts, it’s imperative that you back it up with a powerful platform for then connecting with those people more deeply. It’s at this point where communities, networks, and also your client base become a tremendous source of ideas, leads, and fun for you.
Increasing your uptake of social media as a way to avoid physically engaging with your clients is a dangerous line to tread and one that many wittingly take in the false hope their choices will somehow make them the fortunate ones. Despite economic pressures, corporate events and conferences are still taking place in their masses, indeed even social media ‘gurus’ are creating offline conferences to promote the benefits of an online presence. Even they must understand the importance their audience places on being listened to and not talked at all the time.
I’ve walked into far too many businesses to hear yet again how they only visit their clients if there’s a problem they need to resolve or because it’s at the request of the client. Why a business feels it’s okay to be associated with problematic situations is beyond me… a modern day Pavlov’s dog experiment in the making for many, and in small business, just a matter of time until the client is tempted to look elsewhere.
Lifting the veil of social media on a business to expose their physical limitations to engage with clients is critical. Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg did not create Twitter or Facebook retrospectively to help others grow their market share by 5% YoY. They have their own business models as should others who peddle their own trades.
If you are using these business tools to avoid the fundamental need to physically interact with your clients, then shame on you.
You may have seen various programmes on the television such as Mary Queen of Shops or Ramsay’s Best Restaurant where reputable industry professionals work with businesses to help improve and motivate them into positive change. One of the key elements to each episode is the reviews and feedback generated by their clients, and, although sometimes tough to take, leads to fantastic long-lasting relationships and business.
Granted, it’s not always easy to take the emotion out of your business, and accepting feedback (good or bad) can sometimes be harder than hiding behind an email or tweet. But it’s critical to let your customers know you care and allow you to spot fresh ideas that can help you strengthen your brand and relationships.
Technologies such as hosted services encourages the dissipation of the traditional office structure through ‘flexible’ working and as a result, it has never been more important to place priority on a cup of tea with a client when talking about new business.
Some clients who I have worked with have been nervous to start what unfortunately is a new concept for them. This reaction is okay, as long as you are honest with yourself and recognise that it is holding you back and creating unnecessary boundaries. Indeed they are not alone. Some of the easiest ways to overcome this problem is to take someone with you who can back you up and provide objective feedback at your discretion. Alternative methods include inviting clients out for lunch so that the atmosphere is more relaxed or even taking a tin of biscuits round so that you can use it as a prop to talk to other members of the team.
Being able to stand out in an over-crowded experience can sometimes seem a daunting task and whilst social media allows you to feel in the loop, nothing will compare to your ability to physically reach out and excite your clients personally.
Susanne Dansey is the Managing Director of Purple Cow Ideas Management – an organisation that facilitates a paradigm shift in the collaborative nature of the ICT Industry. You can follow her on Twitter and join the conversation on Facebook.