Today's guest post was written by Norah Carroll, Digital Strategist at Lava Row. Norah and Lava Row help corporations and brands use social technology and emerging media to improve their communications and uncover new business opportunities.
The social web demands a shift in how we think about communication. Online audiences expect companies to talk with them, not at them. And yet, if you look at the online profiles of many local businesses, you’ll find they’re using the same tactics, and even the same language, they’d use in a television commercial.
The most successful companies on social platforms are the ones that seek opportunities to not only start conversations, but to join conversations already taking place. In doing so, they demonstrate to their followers that they see Twitter as more than just a promotional tool, but also as a way to become more engaged with their communities.
Self-promotion doesn’t build fans. In my work with Lava Row, so many companies believe the more they talk about their company, the more followers they’ll receive, and the more conversations their fans will start with them. In truth, it’s just the opposite – businesses that join the conversations already happening will be the first to attract valuable, well-connected fans, and in earning their trust, they’ll earn the right to (occasionally) share information about their businesses.
At the end of October, I made plans to meet up with my friend Gabby for drinks after work. Eager to try out something new, I posed a question to the Twitterverse:
Des Moinesians: what's your favorite spot for after-work drinks? Need a recommendation for tomorrow night!
— Norah Carroll (@norahcarroll) October 25, 2011
In just a few minutes, my Twitter stream became inundated with responses. One friend, no longer a Des Moines resident, mentioned how much she missed the margaritas at Dos Rios. A client recommended El Bait Shop, while another Twitter connection suggested stopping by Gusto Pizza Co. for a drink and a few slices. All great options, but none of them sounded just right. Then I saw a tweet from Americana, a newer restaurant in downtown Des Moines’ Western Gateway neighborhood.
@norahcarroll We have $5 Specialty cocktails, $5 Tapas, and $5 glasses of Prosecco from 3-6 pm every Monday-Friday
— Americana Restaurant (@AmericanaDSM) October 25, 2011
My decision was made. Americana was the only business to reach out to me and respond to my tweet. Even better, they provided me with the exact information I needed – their happy hour specials – without me having to seek them out. That single interaction secured my business with Americana that evening, but even more, it created a loyal customer.
As a consumer, I use Twitter to seek out recommendations for almost everything – books, movies, even local dentists. I research health care providers through LinkedIn, search for discounted products on Facebook, even choose dishes to order at restaurants through foursquare tips. The social web provides us with a wealth of authentic, experience-based suggestions from people we trust – whether we’ve met them or not.
The challenge for local businesses is to earn our trust online so they can earn our business offline. As consumers, we’re understandably jaded – we’ve come to expect aggressive advertising messages from businesses instead of genuine conversations. Businesses have to work a bit harder than individuals to earn our trust online. They have to prove they’re interested in talking about more than just themselves.
Only once businesses have built a strong foundation of interacting with other users, of taking part in larger community conversations, will we allow them to throw in a marketing message here and there. I trusted Americana because I knew they interacted with the same people, organizations and companies I interacted with. I knew they were on Twitter to do more than just attract customers to their restaurant; their conversations with other community members felt authentic.
Americana had already won my trust. All it took for them to win my business was one tweet.