How Can Inviting Your Customers to Participate Improve Your Profitability?

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Traditional businesses may have a hard time figuring out how to use social media to their advantage. After all, their history is what is called “brick and mortar.” In other words, there is a real store or office to walk into. Business is done face to face with customers, workers, parts, services delivered on the spot and so on.

Social media is fine for a person running for political office or someone who takes orders via a website but not for me,” might say an auto repair shop, print shop, hairstylist, small beach hotel owner, camera shop or other brick and mortar businessperson. Not so fast! It might be just what you need.

How would it work? Think about what expertise you offer. Your customers benefit from it every time they come in to your shop. A car repair shop owner knows what causes that funny klunk from the rear end and a hairstylist knows how to get hair to unfrizz in humid weather. If you can get your customers to participate in a blog or online forum, you can engage them in online conversations and share your expertise with them. The more people you can get engaged, the more people hear how expert you are in your specialty.

A Blog for your Business

It will probably take a little thought for you to realize how many different things you could be writing about. (Then again, if you’re the kind of person who hates to write, then you might do best hiring someone else to write your blog for you.) Let’s just take a casual look at an auto shop owner’s blog. Most people know very little about the correct way to maintain both the mechanical side and the appearance of their vehicles. You know hundreds of things they don’t know. If you can separate out these concepts and write one blog per concept, you are set for years. For example:

How often should you check coolant? What do you refill it with when low?

Is there any way to tell if a battery needs replacing before it fails?

Can you keep your vehicle’s finish shiny for twenty years? How?

Tire health – how to judge it.

Why cracked windshields need replacing NOW!

The best conditioner for leather seats.

What to do if your sunroof leaks.

The challenge is to get your customers interested. Ask for their email addresses with every transaction and send them an invitation. Put a notice up in your friends’ businesses inviting their customers to an informative automotive site. When people start learning things they value from you, some of them will naturally want to bring their vehicles to you for service.

Blog are very easy to set up via online services like www.blogger.com or www.wordpress.com. They are free unless you want to buy a special theme (appearance) for your blog.

How Online Forums Differ from Blogs

Online forums are considerably more sophisticated than blogs. You will need special software and you will need to buy hosting service for your forum. That would be similar to paying to have someone host your website.

A forum is more of a community activity. Anyone can start a conversation or ask a question. Anyone else who is part of that community can answer or reply.

Here is a forum from Digital Photography Review. http://www.dpreview.com/forums

You can see that there are more than THREE MILLION conversations (referred to as threads) on this forum. People discuss all the different brands of digital cameras, photography tips and techniques, the challenges of getting a good print, equipment bags – just about everything. If you are heavily invested in your industry, this might be the right way to go. Just expect to have more to learn and more cost involved.

A better way to go for most businesspeople is to get involved in forums that relate to their chief activities, whether income-producing or not. A dog breeder would be smart to follow every relevant show dog forum he/she can find. Like this one: http://www.showdog.com/forum/.

Here again there are MILLIONS of conversations and replies.

A quick search on Google shows dozens, maybe hundreds of forums in any specialty you can think of! Take your expertise to the best of these forums, the ones that relate the most closely to your strengths. Just show good judgment when you start conversations or respond to people’s questions. Don’t just show off or promote whatever it is you sell. Just be intelligent and offer relevant, helpful information. If someone wants business information from you, take it off the forum and help them privately. That way, no one will bust you for doing business on the forum.

Outreach in any form is almost always good for business and these social media give you a way to reach out digitally. It’s a little more indirect than handing someone a brochure but, on the other hand, you can reach thousands or tens of thousands of people you might never otherwise reach.

Grant Boshoff