You’ve set up a coral oasis in your spare bedroom, a fish breeding operation in the basement, have taken to acrylic-smithing in the garage, or have are a regular brick-and-mortar LFS and you need to reach your customers. Social media has been a blessing taking word of mouth marketing to the digital level, allowing you to reach out and communicate directly with your existing customers or create new ones — but do it wrong and you can do more harm than good. Here are six social marketing tips for vendors, stores and manufacturers to keep in mind to be as successful as possible in marketing to the hobby.
Every day we are bombarded with bad marketing across all industries, and we have seen plenty of bad examples in the aquarium hobby market. From overly saturated coral frag pics, to people using personal profiles as business pages, to poorly written posts and emails — there are a lot of examples out there of social marketing gone wrong. How do you do it right then?
First off, you don’t want to be “that person” who is thinking they are doing a good job, only to be shunning your customers and getting people to “Un-Like” your Facebook Page or unsubscribe from your email blasts. Secondly, you want to leverage these tools in a way to attract, retain and grow your customer base. Finally, you want to be able to manage and maintain your social marketing while still having time to eat, sleep, spend time with family and all the other day-to-day activities of running a business.
Here are some tips that will help you keep on track and actually gain customers instead of scaring them away.
Do your research
Get to know the social networks. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, and Google+ all have unique benefits. Do your homework to find out which one is best for you. Also spend time researching how to use each platform the best way possible. There are plenty of websites that provide valuable data on how to leverage social media in a beneficial way, a quick Google search will yield many helpful articles.
Also, don’t feel you have to be on all the social networks at once, just pick the ones that make sense. It is better to have a strong, engaging presence on one or two networks rather than trying to be everywhere at once. Social marketing takes time — time is valuable, spend it wisely. Right now Facebook has the largest audience, but also try a visual platform like Instagram, Vine or Pinterest.
Know your audience
Who are you trying to reach? Where do they live? How do they like to be communicated with? These are all questions you should ask in order to target your key customers with in an effective, efficient and meaningful manner. What can you find out about your audience that will make you a more understanding business owner? The more you know about your audience and customer base, the better you can be at solving their problems. Just because a business works in Los Angeles, doesn’t mean it will work in Des Moines and vice versa.
Social marketing is like opening up a brick-and-mortar store — location is everything. If your customers aren’t on Pinterest or Twitter, why spend time there? Find out where your customers are online. Don’t be afraid to ask and utilize short surveys to find out more about your customers. You can utilize free services such as SurveyMonkey or KwikSurveys to get customer feedback.
Have a plan
Just like starting your business, have a plan. Sit down and write down a few key objectives and figure out what you want to accomplish with social media. Are you going to use it to gain customers or communicate with existing customers? To keep customers coming back or to attract new customers, you need to be able to solve a problem or add value in a meaningful way — make sure this value proposition is part of your plan.
You also need to figure out who is going to be posting and what your response strategy will be. People take to social media to praise, but also to fix problems. Don’t ignore these channels as a customer service mechanism. Make sure you have a quick response plan to keep all your customers happy.
Just because people are complaining, doesn’t mean you have to open yourself up for excessive abuse. Internet trolls can make your life hell by using foul language and engaging with other posters in a derogatory way. Make sure part of your plan includes community guidelines that spell out what is acceptable and what is not. But try to satisfy customers first before just banning them. They might just be upset and need you to acknowledge their issue before a resolution can agreed upon.
Frequency, tone and content
You have identified what platforms you want to use, you’ve identified your customers, you have a plan, now what? You need to have an engagement strategy where you outline the frequency, tone and content you’ll use to communicate with your audiences. You’d think the more the merrier is the way to go but too much communication can cause audience fatigue and you’ll end up losing customers. On the flip side, not enough and you’ll get lost in all the noise. For Facebook, posting a few times a week will be plenty. Try not to post more than once a day unless you have some compelling information to share (a few new products or a special event reminder). On Twitter, 2-5 posts a day is more likely to be more effective.
Now you need to find out your tone or voice you’ll use to communicate with your audience. Be conversational, friendly and unique without being obnoxious. Take into consideration grammar, slang terms and don’t shout at your audience IN ALL CAPS. Think about the companies and people you enjoy on social media and take queues from them. Also think of how you’ll address your audience. Since Reef Builders is a group of awesome writers, we always try to use “we” over “I” in our social posts.
Content is king in social media. Establish what kind of information you’ll share with your audience and remember don’t always be selling. Share information on how to care for your corals, fish or equipment. Think of interesting articles, videos or images (plenty of great content here at Reef Builders!) you can share. Keep your customers up to date on sales, special events and any other information they will find useful. Create a content calendar in advance so you can track of what you want to post. This will help ensure you keep posting regularly and make you more efficient with your time.
Play by the rules
One of the biggest things we see is when organizations aren’t aware of the Terms of Service (TOS) that outline the basic rules of the road for each platform. The biggest violation we see is vendors using individual profiles on Facebook instead of Facebook Pages for businesses. Why should you convert your profile to a Page? It is free, offers more features for your business and violation of its terms to use a personal account to represent something other than yourself. All it takes is one person to report you and have your page deleted — along with all your customers and content. Need help converting? Make sure to read this post.
Another major faux paux is running contests on social platforms. You know these, “We’ll give away a $50 gift card to one lucky person that Likes this post!” First thing you need to keep in mind is being familiar with contest and sweepstakes rules and realize there are local, state and federal laws to take into consideration. Also there are TOS requirement that make you responsible for these laws for each platform and with Facebook, you must run your contest through a third-party application or face losing your page. There are many inexpensive apps that allow you to manage a contest, plus you’ll be able to collect valuable information on your customers such as asking for an email address or ZIP code as part of the entry mechanism. Remember, the more you know about your customers, the more value you can provide.
Finally, remember there are laws to protect customers from unwanted and deceptive communication. If you are using email at all, make sure you are familiar with the CAN-SPAM Act since not being in compliance can be costly.
Email is still valuable
Sure social media has changed the way we communicate with customers but email is still a valuable way to communicate with your customers. You can offer personalized communications with valuable information and promotional information in an easy way. Recent statistics show that people who buy products marketed through email spend 138% more than people that do not receive email offers and 44% of email recipients made at least one purchase last year based on a promotional email.
Utilize email marketing but take advantage of the plethora of email marketing tips that are available online. Don’t know where to start? For a nominal fee, services like Mail Chimp and Constant Contact offer email templates, email list management, campaign statistics and tips and pointers to be as effective as possible.
Keep in mind the CAN-SPAM Act and always make sure you opt-in people to your email list and they have a way to easily unsubscribe.
Hopefully these tips will help you leverage social media in a more meaningful way. Remember to always respect your audience and try to provide value or solve a problem.