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Anti-Social Media

Are You Connecting with Customers Online, or Alienating Them?

Social media is not living up to its name. New evidence suggests that the more time users spend scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, the more isolated they feel. Posting a photo or earning a “like” on a post affects the human brain the same way as a hug or a jolt of sugar — there’s a temporary high, and once the high fades, the brain’s chemistry falls lower and craves more.

When he co-founded Rising Tide Car Wash in Parkland, Florida, John D’Eri was looking for a way to employ people like his son Andrew, who is personable, enthusiastic, enjoys doing one action repeatedly, and takes pride in a job well done. Andrew is autistic, as are most of Rising Tide’s associates.

The company’s Facebook and Twitter pages are filled with video clips and candid shots of autistic men and women doing their jobs. One recent Tweet, accompanied by a photo of an autistic employee, reads: “We designate a person to ensure each car is properly cared for and that all of our customers leave happy. This is Brandon H. doing just that, treating every car as he would care for his own! #weputpotentialtowork”

Rising Tide’s social media presence is full of personal stories, a strong message and smiling faces – not to mention a link to the company’s loyalty rewards program. But not every business’s message is so direct, community-minded and easy to convey.

It’s hard to argue against a strong social media presence for any business, small or large. At a minimum, businesses need to be pinned on Google Maps, searchable on Facebook and Twitter, and featured in a few good YouTube clips. They should also offer regular deals on Groupon and maintain a good rating on Yelp. These are the current no-brainers of online marketing.

But there’s a distinct possibility that online marketing is becoming drowned out, or worse, adding to a cacophony that leaves users feeling alienated. More and more, we’re hearing about the “time suck” of hours spent (or wasted) on social media, and about “unplugging” for hours, even weeks, at a time.

The good news is that the research is mixed. Facebook itself came out with an online report about depression and social media – and results showed that users who spend ten minutes scrolling without actively interacting come away depressed, but the same was not the case for users who engage with others while online. But what does this mean for a business?

To short-circuit the lows that follow the highs of social media use, experts suggest that online interactions should be personal, individual, fun, timely, informative and create a feedback loop between users.

“Start small,” advises Wade Keith, program manager and online point-person at Breeze Thru in Colorado. “Instead of tackling all forms of social media, choose one. Start by doing at least four posts per month highlighting things that can save people money and inform them. Cute posts go a long way, too.”

For the most part, users of social media want what users of brick-and-mortar services want: connection and community, rewards for loyalty, immediate gratification and personalized service. Designing online marketing campaigns that lift rather than depress takes patience, brains, and organization.

Here are some ways to connect with your consumers without turning them off.

Raise The Baron Engagement

Businesses are finding their ROI goes up when they push offers directly to mobile phones, bypassing emails and newsletters. The open rate is significantly higher, at about 40 percent to 50 percent, as opposed to 3 percent to 10 percent for traditional social media efforts.

Starbucks fosters community online and off by soliciting direct feedback on everything from store design to flavors, fostering community and improving the rewards system. Like Starbucks, Dell has put efforts toward directly serving the people who put stock in their brand, and are invested in making it better. Dell even revived the Linux operating system when a community of fans voted in favor of the idea.

“Social media did two jobs in this case,” Tom Hespos, Underscore Marketing, said in an article for AdAge. “It brought Dell fans together in a branded environment where they could communicate with one another, and it also showed Dell that there was a very unique, passionate audience it was not serving.”

Reward Loyalty

According to IBISWorld’s industry research report on the car wash and auto detailing industry, the three most important success factors of this market are the “business expertise of operators,” “proximity to key markets,” and “having a loyal customer base.”

Target your VIPs. If Sue visits ten times more frequently than Bill, make sure Sue knows she’s valued. Some car washes target formerly loyal customers who haven’t visited in a while, not only to incentivize them to return but to remind them that they’re missed. Another smart strategy is to reward frequent customers with exclusive rewards. Marketing to your VIPs directly, rather than waiting for each customer to fill a punch card, can increase sales by 40 percent. Mobile marketing has made this particularly simple.

Be Neighborly

One avenue of connection that’s beyond scrutiny is person-to-person. In the same way that offline friendships improve mental and physical health, the more that businesses interact with customers in positive, mutually beneficial ways, the better.

Keith encourages developing real-life relationships with customers. “As a site manager, I engaged customers as they waited for their Express Details to be finished,” he said. “I would learn what they did for a living or what they were passionate about. A lot of the times I learned something about how they or their company gave back to the community.”

When a business aligns itself with another organization – Little League, the Boys and Girls Clubs, a local school – it builds a bridge between itself and the community, growing not only its customer reach but also stronger connections with existing customers.

To foster this community spirit, some business capitalize on what the users and the business have in common, like the weather. Seasonally, Car Pool Car Wash in Richmond, Virginia, posts “car hacks” and tips about maintaining your car amid falling leaves and bugs, pollen and snow.

Keith recently posted on social media in tandem with the owner of a maintenance company that was rebuilding a motor. The target was not only car wash customers but gearheads and motorheads. The message? “We like this stuff, too.”

Talk the Talk

It’s easy to set it and forget it when it comes to social media, but replying swiftly and directly to customer feedback increases sales by 22 percent. Immediate feedback is the highest quality feedback.

For direct communication that doesn’t alienate customers, Rising Tide and others have turned to turnkey solutions like Thanx, a loyalty rewards program that prompts users for feedback immediately after they leave the shop. Customers who were once anonymous now have names, email address and opinions; ideally, their feedback makes a difference to the business, which numbers them among the community.

Another happy byproduct of directly soliciting feedback? Fewer negative online reviews.

“Use your social profiles as a platform to deliver great customer service,” said Alex Silensky, CEO of OGScapital, in an article on Forbes.com. “If you receive any public complaints on your social profile, do your best to resolve the issue so people can see your brand’s priority is to make customers happy.”

Show Your Face

Marketing expert Bettina Cornwell said people are actively searching for sources of connection, and lonely people are especially likely to seek faces in visual branding.

In a three-second video clip on Rising Tide’s Facebook page captioned “Meet Martin Breedlove,” an employee appeared close-up, smiled at the camera and toweled off a window. Someone asked, “Marvin, what happens if things don’t go right?”

“Then we go left!” Marvin said.

Adding the human component to a marketing campaign makes a brand more attractive to consumers.

“Visuals can fill a void for consumers experiencing a lack of social connection. When people see faces in branding materials, their likeability for that brand goes up,” Cornwell said.

Quality not Quantity

It’s hard to break through the cacophony of any social media platform. What’s your brand’s story? Are you the eco-friendliest wash in your county? Do you have the most loyal employee base or most helpful customer service? Do you promise low wait times at prime hours?

Don’t make customers figure out who you are – tell them. Choose your message wisely and only speak when you have something to say. Choose one platform that reaches more of your customers than the others, and stick with it. Add another channel only when you’ve proven that your messaging is working.

Share the Reins

Customers know a lot about what makes your brand successful, but they’re not often asked to share what they like about you, not just in terms of feedback, but in terms of user-generated social media content, like selfies taken mid-car-wash, and videos of baby’s first car wash.

In 2014, Starbucks received 4,000 entries in a three-week span when they asked customers to post art they made on their coffee cups. User-generated content can encourage alignment between customers and businesses.

We likely don’t know yet the extent of how anti-social social media will become, or the effects it will have on our brains or the brains of our kids. But we know that people like people, and we know that telling stories, fostering relationships, rewarding loyalty and swapping feedback make a small business great. If we keep our eye on these goals, social media might help us achieve them.


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