10 Reasons to Engage with Customers Online

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1. You personalize your brand

Engaging with customers allows you to control the flow of the conversation. If they ask for clarification on an upcoming sale, you can give it to them. If you thank them for taking the time to promote your brand, you can choose how you want to engage. It's all a great way to show your brand's personality—and to demonstrate how unique your company is!

2. Customers give feedback for free

Many times, customers will respond to an image or a status that you share on your social media platforms: they'll chime in with their thoughts, answer a question, or let you know how they feel about your most recent promotions. And this is a great way to find out what your customers are thinking without forcing them to take a survey—basically, you get free feedback. And who doesn't love that?

3. You present a positive image

If you're a fan of a company like Coca-Cola, you probably don't expect a lot of interaction with the brand--they're simply too big to get back to every person who tries to engage with them. But if you're a fan of a local hair salon, you more than likely expect that they'll get back to you in a timely manner--they should care about their customers. You feel they should strive to interact with customers because they're local—which is precisely why you, as a local business owner, have to be aware of your customers' needs. They'll communicate their interests and thoughts to you online—whether by email, twitter, or Facebook. When you respond to their concerns, you present a positive image that lasts.

4. Customers will share content for free

A great thing about posting on your social media networks is that your customers will be eager to share your content. Whether you're asking them to share for a chance to win a coupon, or they're simply doing it on their own because you post such great content, you're getting free advertisement. When you engage with your customers, they'll be happy to share your content, and you all benefit from that.

5. Networking is good for everyone

When your customers interact with you, you may be surprised to learn that some among the group are actually quite high-status clients. You can use this to your advantage by making a real connection with them and agreeing to help one another out. Trade blog posts, promote each other's stores or websites, or simply share social media updates. You'll both benefit from this mutual transaction, and your fans get the benefit of seeing that you're willing to network and share with others!

6. You might get free recommendations

When you engage with customers, you'll find that they appreciate you taking the time out of your day to respond to them. This in turn can increase their opinion of your brand. And if they love your brand, they'll recommend you to friends. Think of the last time a restaurant owner responded to your comment or review personally—it felt nice, didn't it? You owe your customers this courtesy. Deliver it, and they'll react accordingly.

7. Positive word of mouth

The beauty of online marketing is that it doesn't have to stay online. By building your brand image and engaging with customers, you'll make a good impression that will follow you offline, too. Whether you're a plumber or the owner of a salon, if you're friendly and active online, your customers will spread great news about you by word of mouth. This in turn can bring more visitors to your store or more phone calls to your office!

8. Brand awareness spreads

A natural consequence of networking, sharing, and recommendations is that your brand awareness spreads. Every time a new person learns about your business, your brand has made a new impression! So remember that even if you're not where you'd like to be in terms of followers/fans or interactions, you are still building platform for yourself. There are some benefits that come from this, too!

9. Consistency will bring in more visitors

If you update every once in a while and never interact with your fans or followers, you'll find that people tend to view you as unreliable. You'll start to lose fans, and people won't care about your updates as much as they would if you were consistent. You can prevent this by regularly updating, engaging with your community, and by presenting a friendly, consistent image. Remember that even if you're not hitting your projected numbers, you're still growing. You can always change up your plan, as long as you don't quit altogether.

10. More traffic to your website and other social media accounts

Finally, your shining example of being a great business owner will help you gather more followers and fans, as well as drive more traffic to your website. Be sure to post your website's address as well as any other contact info across all of your social networks. That way, if someone finds you on Twitter, they can still visit your website or go to “like” your Facebook page. Conversely, if they find your website and want to follow you on social media, they can easily navigate to your profiles directly from your website. Easy and simple!

As you can see, it's important to engage with your customers for so many reasons. Your presence online can truly affect how you're perceived both online and off. By implementing a consistent routine and keeping a positive attitude, you'll find that the benefits of engaging with customers online are only going to better your business.

Can you think of any other benefits of engaging with customers online? Let us know!

Back to Basics #23: Managing Your Brand

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You've probably heard the phrases “personal brand” or “brand identity” before. But what exactly do they mean? How does someone put forth a brand identity or a personal brand, and how does it affect your business? In this Back to Basics, we'll talk a bit about managing your personal brand. With a few easy-to-understand tips, you'll know exactly what these terms mean, and how you can leverage the concept of branding to increase your presence online.

Brand Identity

Brand identity is something that you probably already know about—you just aren't aware of it. As an example of brand identity, let's take a look at Coca-Cola.

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When you think of a company like Coca-Cola, what do you think of? You probably imagine the telltale red and white color scheme, the flowing font, and perhaps even their Christmas ads come to mind.

Well, all of these things are a strategic part of their brand identity. Coca-Cola has done a masterful job at creating an instantly recognizable brand image that people are quick to take notice of in any situation. The company wants to keep your attention, whether you're looking for a vending machine between classes or deciding which sodas to purchase from the supermarket. When you see that red and white, you know it's going to be Coca-Cola, and you're instantly drawn to purchase the product (that is, assuming you're not a Pepsi person!).

Now, all of this doesn't necessarily mean that brand identity consists solely of a color scheme and unique fonts. Logos also play a big part in it. Your perceived company image as a whole is a big part of it, too. Your presence on the internet and in your community play enormous roles. Simply put, when people think of your brand, the images and feelings that pop up are how they perceive your brand identity. You want to create something solid, recognizable, simple, and memorable. You also want to be consistent across all your platforms. We'll get to more of that in a minute. First, we'll talk about your “personal brand.”

What does your personal brand say about you?

Personal Brand

The personal brand is something generally associated with an entrepreneur, but it doesn't necessarily have to be so. Your personal brand can apply to how you manage your employees, as well as how you choose to interact with customers. Basically, your personal brand should prominently display your talents and downplay your weaknesses—customers and employees should feel that you're capable and understanding, rather than unsure or defensive.

Managing your personal brand can be tough, however, especially in online spaces. It's easy for people to slip up and say something they didn't mean to while caught in the turmoil so often found on social media. Your employees might do the same. Why? Because your personal brand often takes a backseat to emotion, especially when things get tough—whether you're responding to a poor review or you're getting just a little too personal with hot-button issues, it's important to remember to keep your cool. You don't want to sacrifice all the hard work you've done on your personal brand only to be embarrassed at comment you made in a time of emotional strain! It's important to keep an eye on how you're coming across online, and to monitor how people are perceiving you. Even the most careful business owners can probably find an area that they need to work on.

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Managing Your Brand in the Community

So now that you know about brand identity and your personal brand, what are some good ways to manage them? We've mentioned the many places you need to include your brand—from your local presence in your community to social media online.

A good way to start is to make a list of your personal values. For example, what do you think is important for you as a business owner? Some examples might include:

  • Providing excellent customer service
  • Responding to customer concerns
  • Providing new and exciting products regularly
  • Delivering news and updates in a timely manner
  • Rewarding valued customers
  • Promoting employees and building workplace morale

There are so many things you could list here. It all depends on what you, as a business owner, feel is the most important thing to you.

You can also talk to your employees about their workplace. Many companies focus too much on the customer and don't bother with assessing their internal company health. When the workplace is toxic or not well run, many people get angry about their jobs. Not only does this result in high turnover (and takes time to train and replace the employees), but the customers can easily end up with the short end of the stick: They might have to wait longer for service or get poor service from uninvested employees. You might think of asking:

  • Do you find your workplace to be comfortable?
  • Do you feel your duties are taken seriously?
  • Is the workplace friendly and accommodating?
  • Do you need help with further training?
  • How do you feel you are doing with your customer service skills?

Et cetera.

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Managing Your Brand Online

Managing your image online is a bit more complex than it is to manage in person. Many times, words that you type online can be misinterpreted—whereas in person, it's easier to clarify your intentions. You can also accidentally post to the wrong social media accounts. You might get too invested in a particularly heated conversation or debate and want to defend your views. You might get a poor review and feel inclined to respond to the reviewer angrily. The immediacy of the internet is what makes all of this so easy—but it's so hard to erase. In fact, it's nearly impossible.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I suited for social media management? If not, do I have the budget to hire someone for assistance?
  • Do I understand the implications of putting negative words and ideas into cyberspace?
  • Do I know how to defend myself without resorting to petty words?
  • Do I have a plan in place should there be a PR crisis?

If you think about these important things before you begin posting, you'll be much more likely to manage your brand in a way that will make your customers happy.

Another aspect of managing your brand online is how you choose to present your business's image. Just like the Coca-Cola example, you need to present an image of professionalism and attentiveness to detail. Here are a few questions you will want to consider if you want to have a healthy brand image:

  • Does my website look professional? If not, do I have it in my budget to redesign it?
  • Are customers easily navigating my website and finding the information they need?
  • Do my social media accounts match the name and color scheme my website?
  • Do I have the dedication to update my social media regularly, and to engage with my customers?
  • Am I using a consistent voice (i.e., serious, casual, technical, etc.) for all of my platforms?

Hopefully this clears up some of the mystery surrounding brand image and management. It's an important thing for business owners to understand, whether you're a Fortune 500 company or a local “mom-and-pop” store. We all need to present ourselves as professionally and openly as possible!

If you can think of any other tips for managing your brand, leave them in the comments below!