MTN has announced the launch of the MTN Online School, a free online portal with learning resources and lessons, as well as additional tools…
Social media has reduced the barriers to entry. Today any business can access the internet and begin an online market where transport costs, logistics and advertising co-ordination simply don’t matter. Whereas previously capital stood as a barrier, getting started is much easier. But with more competition, the loyalty factor has become even more crucial.
However, how do you gain a following?
With the internet spreading, it’s also spread something less tangible but no less crucial: ideas. When philosopher Richard Weaver said Ideas Have Consequences in a book by the same title he may as well have been speaking to businesses.
Today business is emerging into more than a transaction between a product, service and profit. Brands are building communities by successfully standing for something larger than themselves. Whether it’s the right to know, fair trade or offsetting carbon emissions there is a point of contact traditionally outside commerce that is allowing businesses to build followings where online communities are growing. It’s an important reality for new businesses.
For a start, a community by definition is an association of people with a common interest. That makes social media a critical forum for your company to facilitate conversation. For businesses that hold to strict business ethics and a selling point that respects consumers in an age of increased “social consciousness” in buying, brand loyalty aligned to important causes that solidify a strong customer support base.
As progressivesocialmedia.com summarises it, the primary task of social media is not so much to immediately boost sales as much as an uptake in customers is the result of a primary effort to build a community. Brand loyalty is determined by the content you place on your social media platform. How useful is it to people who share a conviction in what your brand is aligned to — be it fair trade, the environment or another social issue relevant to your industry.
Since community brings together mutual interests, in effect social media presence is built on adding value to customers who see your forum as a place to exchange ideas and engage in conversation. Users frequently ensure that conversation extends not only to discussion on issues related to your product or service — but may include a defence of it should your company draw criticism. There are few better PR exercises than seeing customer complaints on social media addressed by fellow users as opposed to your company. It is a strong demonstration of the belief in your community and your brand once you have successfully built and engaged following.
Perhaps most importantly ensure your customers are engaging with your company as much as with each other and would-be customers. Building an online community also requires allowing your users to feel they have a say in determining the direction of your brand. Ask for regular feedback, hold polls for customers to vote and show you are using the good ideas, acknowledging those who have raised them, while thanking them for all contributions.
Where necessary intervene immediately to assist customers having problems using your product or service: a visible social media presence for an engaged company demonstrates your concern for the customer and is a public thumbs up for after-sales support.
Finally, once you have effectively created a strong social media presence, encourage new users — and customers not yet plugged into your social media sites — to connect through incentives: the promise of exclusive offers for Facebook fans or the lure of great deals, but equally so a feeling of belonging is created when you invite users to share in privileged information. It could be asking advice on your company’s new site before it’s launched – or simply giving customers a chance to rate new features on a product before it launches.
Building loyalty is the result of building a community. Give customers reasons to believe in your brand and value that goes beyond just your product or service. People rally behind something they believe in and are frequently willing to show it on the social media space.
Ultimately then ensure belonging by making users a part of a brand they can believe in. Share exclusive insights, previews and information that make the user more than just a customer to your company, but a valued to contributor to its development.