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Social Media Networking: The New Frontier for Interacting With Customers

Social Media Networking: The New Frontier for Interacting With Customers

Cassandra Dillenberger

The marketing experts tell us that there are three steps to getting our customers to act to choose us – think, feel, and do. Last month, we discussed some of the items that develop the “think” component, making people aware of your company. We stressed the importance of the basics in getting your Web site to best represent your company and your work. This month’s article moves past that to look at strengthening the “think” and “feel” components of your customers’ decision-making. We are talking about using social media networking as a way to raise awareness of your company, to get your customers closer to the “feel” and “do” steps of finalizing their decision. Social media networking may not be on your radar screen as a marketing tool. But it is likely to be the next medium for outreach to your present and future customers, employees, and recruiting candidates. By social media networking, I mean blogging, e-newsletters, Facebook, MySpace, Linkedln, YouTube, podcasts, vodcasts (videos), or other media such as RSS feeds. Chances are your suppliers, attorneys, and other service providers are already marketing to your organization through these channels.

CBMR spoke with Dana VanDen Heuval, an Internet marketing consultant with his own firm, Marketing Savant (dana@; 888-989-7771). In the construction industry, where you are not likely to be cold-called by a prospective customer, VanDen Heuval points out that the question we need to be asking ourselves is, “How do we stay top of mind for those who decide?” Your future customer’s decision to choose you over a competitor is not going to end with your well-designed Web site. The customer is going to do a search on the Internet for information on your firm. What will he or she find? In the best of circumstances, the information will be your Web site and a positive (or neutral) article or two on some work you did.

VanDen Heuval says that we ought to look at how we can move from a passive position in the portrayal of our business to participating in shaping the perception of our firms. Marteli Builders in Canada (there is a Marteli Builders in the United States, but we here refer to the Canadian company) has put the concept to use. Marteli generates Internet content to explain who they are, what they do, and how they interact with their customers. They have a YouTube video of the company president and several customers describing their experience with the company. My initial thought when I clicked on the video was that “no one wants to watch an infomercial on a construction company.” Not true: The video had 2,430 views before I came along. The 2,430 views of Martell’s video makes more compelling VanDen Heuval’s argument that this content helps your future customers understand who you are and perhaps this extra knowledge (and the lack of knowledge about a competitor) pushes them closer to you. In its simplest form, this content puts a human face to the list of customer references you already supply in print form.

Home builders are not the only segment of the construction industry using social media marketing. Leopardo Companies Inc., a general contractor that performs a wide array of work types, posts its customer testimonials, videos on cost analysis, and videos by key employees of what it is like to work for the company. Other construction companies have posted videos of lectures and awards ceremonies they have participated in. These videos and online media have the potential to change how future customers perceive you.

These videos and other materials have a far more genuine feel than the Ron Popeil commercials we have seen. We are not advocating the posting of propaganda with the expectation that it will motivate customers. VanDen Heuval suggests keeping the mantra “altruism before capitalism” in mind when deciding what you put in digital space. People can tell right away whether the material is useless and provides no meaningful information or insight into what they want to know.

VanDen Heuval also points out that often customers go back and do research online to validate their purchase decisions. While you may have your backlog locked up, there is a pretty good chance your clients are still trolling the Web for current information about you.

What about the bashers and crazy posts? Posting material on these channels opens up a dialogue about your firm for better or worse. The “worse” can be just about anything you dreamt about in your nightmares, including false and untrue statements. While it is true that you end up giving up control of the content, VanDen Heuval says that two elements to the process help keep things on an even keel. First, you get to participate in the conversation and are able to respond to posts. Second, there tends to be a self-policing aspect to online posts. In most cases, someone in the digital space thinks the poster is way off base. He or she will typically come to your defense by posting a reply. There may be some solace for you to know that defamation laws apply to digital posts. A person was recently sued for making untrue disparaging comments about her apartment’s property owner on Twitter.

Another form of online communication that may help your firm stay “top of mind” for present and future clients are e-newsletters. You probably already get these from law firms and some manufacturers. The newsletters can discuss topics such as current project progress, innovative means and methods you use, or technology that you have implemented that improves your performance.

Social media networking may be another tool for recruiting for your firm. Your future employees and current employees from the millennial age (born in the 1980s) are already comfortable with these modes of communication. Many companies are establishing a presence on MySpace and Facebook to illustrate their human side and show potential candidates who they are and describe their company philosophy. These venues may, at some point, become a vital part of your recruiting process.

If you are not yet ready to dive into social media networking, VanDen Heuval suggests beginning with networking tools such as Linkedln. He sees that networking breakfasts and face-to-face meetings are gradually becoming a thing of the past as the same kinds of networking are being done online through Linkedln and sites like it. Linkedln allows you to search people by skill, occupation, or industry and network with them. VanDen Heuval has found that these people are generally open to communication via these channels.

Copyright Institute of Management & Administration Sep 2009

© 2009 Contractor’s Business Management Report. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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