***I recently began writing a column entitled “Business Watch” in the Waltham News Tribune. The first column was published in last Friday’s paper and can be read online here. The following is the text of this week’s column on small business and social media, which can be found online here.***
For many small businesses, the prospect of dipping their toes into the seemingly murky waters of social media can be daunting. The company names and industry terms alone can be cause for confusion. Main Street business owners (or Moody Street, as the case may be) aren’t used to relying on resources with names like Twitter, Klout, Gowalla or SCVNGR to identify and/or communicate with prospective and existing customers. However, the landscape is shifting. One of the oldest marketing tenets and a sound piece of advice to any business looking to advertise is to go where the customers are.
I can assure you, by and large, they aren’t looking in the yellow pages.
The advent of social media marketing provides businesses with an unprecedented opportunity to communicate directly with their customers at a minimal expense. Customers are sharing the experiences they have with a business, company or brand (both positive & negative) with their friends (often in real time) via social networks. More and more businesses are realizing that since those conversations are occurring with or without them, they are best served by finding ways to participate in the discussion.
One such opportunity is through the use of location-based services like foursquare, the popularity of which is steadily rising. Smartphone-wielding consumers use these platforms to announce their whereabouts to their online connections by digitally “checking in.” The person who checks in to a specific location the most number of times in a given period using foursquare is awarded the status of “mayor.”
It might seem odd to say that fostering and leveraging a relationship with the venue’s foursquare mayor is as important to the success of a business as doing so with their city’s mayor. However, research would certainly indicate that it’s true. The “mayor” of a Waltham café, an inherently social place (in both senses of the word), recently looked up from her coffee during a recent visit to find the actual mayor of Waltham, Jeannette McCarthy herself, seated a few tables away. Forward-thinking and social media-savvy businesses are positioning themselves to spot and engage with both.
Foursquare users can open the application on their phone in any location and it will auto-populate the current specials from participating nearby business. This is an enormously beneficial feature for a business given that their goal is to provide customers with the path of least resistance to finding out about it or a particular sale or special it’s running.