It's Back to the Future for Small Businesses: Communities

Posted by: Today's Tip Contributor on December 21, 2010

Social networking is often overlooked by small businesses for one of two reasons: Either owners don’t understand social media and what it can do for them or they have more pressing problems to attend to. During tight financial times of eroding margins, small businesses need to return to their roots—building communities to help them succeed. How? By engaging every employee and customer to drive sales, services, and marketing. It’s easy to get started:

1. Know your customers’ and employees’ preferred ways of communicating. Most small businesses believe that the only way to build communities is to use today’s social media tools, including Facebook, Twitter, and private label social software providers. However, many customers and employees like to connect in person or by phone. Starting with the form of communication (in-person gatherings, weekly conference calls, or online social media) that is most natural for your constituents will help them minimize their fears. Forcing customers and employees to use new and emerging technologies never works.

2. Understand the difference between community and communications. Most small businesses think that sending regular e-mails or asking customers and employees about their satisfaction are instrumental in building an online community. They are not. Small business owners need to understand that communicating (via any medium) is not the same thing as building communities of people that care enough to help you with sales and service. To start your journey, move away from broadcasting your message to customers and employees and start listening to them instead. Once you accomplish this, you need to connect each of them to others so that they feel they are at the center of the conversation, not you.

3. If you want their help, treat them like friends and family. Regardless of the type of community you are building—employee or customer, online or off—you need to treat your customers and employees like family. For example, if you want your customers to spread the word about how great you are to their friends so that their friends will buy from you, your customers need to feel wanted and appreciated. If you want your employees to share their knowledge and Rolodex of relationships with you, they need to know that you care. Building a community of employees and customers is not about the technology. It is about connecting your constituents to each other so they feel important and at the center of your business.

It doesn’t matter how small your business is or how often you communicate with your employees and customers. In today’s world, building a community of supporters with positive sentiment is crucial in reducing costs and driving sales. Start today to build your company’s community. It’s the way most small businesses got their start and it is how they will achieve their full potential.

Barry Libert
Chairman and CEO
Mzinga
Waltham, Mass.

Reader Comments

Diane Meyer

December 23, 2010 9:43 AM

Excellent common sense approach to commmunication tools for small businesses. Some small businesses, however, are now choosing email in place of closely keeping in touch with their client/customer purely because it is less expensive. Very short-sighted. If that is their only reason, they will find that VERY expensive.

As you say, varied communication based on your customer's needs is smart planning. Listening is the key.

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