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Maule: Business should embrace, not hide from, social media

With the growing number of social media platforms making it easier than ever to reach consumers and business partners, it is easy to believe that the end of traditional marketing is eminent. 

There has been a shift of power in marketing to the hands of the consumers. This has left many small businesses lost in a sea of hashtags and acronyms scrambling to respond. Social media has handed small business a powerful and efficient tool that is inexpensive and can produce powerful results. It also can be a huge distraction from building your business or spotlight on the areas that need improvement. Unfortunately, it has left many small businesses on the sideline in fear their customers may say something negative.

Not participating in social media won’t prevent customers from airing their grievances, it merely stops you from managing the process. Social media allows for a speed, scale and flexibility of band management that has never been seen before. It allows a company to communicate with its customers and gather ideas of how to best serve them. It is important to remember the fundamentals of good brand management still hold true: Make a promise, deliver on that promise, listen to your customers and always look for ways to over deliver. That is why when adding social media to your marketing strategy, it is important to know your intention, set an objective and be ready for the feedback. It is more important than ever that small businesses understand brand development and get the basics of marketing right.

Customer promise: The key to any brand development is creating a customer promise. What is it we can count on from you? McDonald’s is known for fast, reliable service. Apple computers is known for innovation. What are you known for? At the Crystal Lake Chamber, we are known for serving the needs of our member businesses. Those needs change and as a result, we change to meet those needs through advocacy, communication and education. Our promise is to serve our members whether that means to highlight changes in legislation that can impact a home based businesses or facilitate events for major employers. 

Build trust: Social media, if poorly managed, can easily become a time suck and a distraction. Merely having a Facebook page is not enough; social media should be a part of your overall marketing strategy. The fundamentals are simple. Know your brand promise. Build trust by delivering on that promise. Use customer engagement to strengthen that promise and better serve your brand. Find the right social media platform to best reach your customers. It may be Facebook or it may be YouTube. It may be Yelp or it may be a WordPress. Knowing your customers and understanding what is relevant to them will help you to determine where to spend your efforts.

The world of business is customer-centric, not product-centric. It is important to understand how you fit into your customers lives. Proctor & Gamble does an amazing job with their Beinggirl networking site. This interactive site has discussion boards, white papers, videos and blogs to help young girls navigate puberty. They successfully found a way to move that “private” subject on to a very public platform and still create a BFF vibe that builds trust and confidence amongst the visitors. 

Continuous improvement: Sure, you can try to close sales on Facebook, but the greatest benefit to social media is the ongoing communication businesses can have with their customers. How can you fit into your customers lives better? The changes don’t need to be big, just customer-focused. Think about the ease of ordering a “skinny vanilla latte” versus a skim-milk latte with sugar-free vanilla. The market is filled with product innovations that were the result of a better understanding of how a customer uses the product. American Express Open forum is a terrific example of how to build trust and provide value to customers but more importantly, to better understand the challenges faced by small business. The job then is to develop products to best solve those challenges. 

Innovate beyond expectations: Social media is not a brand savior, but it is a way of thinking about the relationship between your brand and your customers. It is an ongoing, ever-present customer forum that provides insight to how your customers are experiencing your business. It is the chance to truly understand what a customer wants, even if they don’t.  

• • •

Help us to welcome our new members: Broken Oar Inc., Confetti Gourmet Academy and Catering, Copper Fiddle Distillery, Euclid Managers, Fabric Fiber & Finds, Fiji Construction Inc., First Congregational Church, Lake Barrington Woods, Legacy Art Framing, Provicis Technology Strategies, Service Master Restoration, Sushi King, The Global Equipping Centre and TLS Veterans HVRP.

• Mary Margaret Maule is the president of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce. Reach her at 815-459-1300.

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