Working social media both on and offline

Towing companies are a necessity in Vermont. From mud season to winter and everything in between, at some point or another you’re going to need a tow.

Each day on my way to work I pass by a towing company on Route 2 in Richmond. They have a small billboard on the side of the road which usually has some sort of creative message promoting their business. This week they went with the Avatar theme and wrote “We tow in 3D, no special glasses needed.” (I know, the picture is a bit fuzzy – but I was taking a picture while my husband was driving).

Though I have no idea how much business they get from that billboard, I have to imagine that this gives them some exposure to a good percentage of our  bedroom community (4,000+) who pass that sign everyday on their way to work.

After a little research I found out that the company has a website and a pretty active Facebook page and oddly enough, most of the time the messages they display on their billboard can fit right into the status bar of Facebook or Twitter.  They’ve completely integrated their billboard with their website and Facebook page. Nice job!

This is a great example of what social media is all about. Their billboard is viral (I took a picture and am currently writing a blog post about it), its humorous and timely, and it shows a personality behind their brand. Let’s face it needing a tow sucks but this company has creatively made it okay with their lighthearted updates, speaking directly to their consumers.

It’s good to see local companies embracing social media and integrating it with their offline marketing strategy. The sign may be the first point of contact and it’s fun and catchy and may prompt people to visit them online. Then all of a sudden visitors become fans and fans become part of their community. And guess what, when they need a tow or their friend needs a tow, who do you think they’ll call?

I’m not saying you have to make jokes to promote your brand successfully but what I like most about this company is that clearly they know their customer. That’s really the most important thing to know before you dip into any marketing strategy. Know your customer, find out where they live and play both on and offline and then don’t be afraid to have a conversation with them.

Using social media to engage in the conversation

picture-1Smart marketers are spending more and more time in the social media space. It is inexpensive, highly targeted and gives businesses the chance to build a personal relationship with their consumers like no other medium offers. Social media allows businesses to interact with their audience in a two-way conversation that builds brand affinity, and most importantly, trust. People will buy from people they trust.

At this stage of the game, it is not enough to just have a presence in the social networks, you must facilitate that conversation by encouraging your audience to participate in the discussion through blogs, discussion boards, Tweets, groups, etc. Get involved with your consumer and find out what they think about your industry, your product and your competition. Let’s face it, before you even sat down at that desk to write your marketing plan, people were talking about your product or industry. Why not get involved in the conversation?

Recently I pitched a potential client and offered them my services in social media.  Aside from maintaining their Facebook page with fresh content, I proposed that I would monitor the web and find out what people are saying about their product, make comments, add to discussions and report back. This can be time-consuming (which is why I pitched this client – to take the burden off their plate), but can be well worth the trouble.

First and foremost, if you haven’t yet enabled Google Alerts, please do so immediately. Just type in your keywords and email address and Google will send you updates when those keywords are picked up by the search engines. This is a quick and easy way to find out what is being said about your product online.

Other ways to monitor what is being talked about online is to spend some time in discussion areas, groups, pages and user rating and review sites such as Trip Advisor, Angie’s List and Yelp, to name a few. This is a one stop shop in finding out what people are saying about your product. It’s like surveying your audience without actually surveying them.

Finding out what your customers are saying is only half the battle. Taking that information and using it to make your business stronger is the other half. For example, if you’re a restaurant and you notice on Trip Advisor that people are complaining about your service. You can address it accordingly.

There are many other tools and sites to help you monitor and get involved in the conversation. Find which ones work best for your business. The point is, to get out there, embrace user-generated-content and use it to make your business more successful.

Building your brand through social media does take time and energy and sometimes hours online, but as with anything, you get out of it what you put in.