Social media for small businesses 4: Using Foursquare to identify and engage customers


foursquare blackboards @ Southside Coffee in B...
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Imagine if you could know who visits your cafe or shop on a regular basis. You will, of course, recognise many of these people. The man with the glasses who comes in most mornings for a flat white (that’s me by the way). The two women who always have lunch on a Thursday. Or the family who bring their children on a Saturday. You will recognise some regulars and you will no doubt speak to them and start to get to know them. Social media can help you do this more, and can, perhaps importantly, help you target people who visit sometimes but not yet regularly. This is where geolocation-based social media tools such as Foursquare come into play.

Foursquare is social media tool that lets users say where they are by ‘checking in’ at locations. You earn points for doing this and can see who else has checked-in here. If the location you are at is not yet on Foursquare then you can add details about it and plot it on a map. You earn points and get badges (status) the more times you check in and the person who visits somewhere more regularly becomes its Mayor.

I have been using Foursquare recently and, for example, might check in to the Fleet River Bakery just round the corner from my office when I get breakfast in the morning. Or I might check into Selfridges on Oxford Street in London when I’m shopping at the weekend. I am not yet Mayor of anywhere, but could become the Mayor of any of these places if I visit it most regularly. This is a small but growing tool, and it being joined by more and more geolocation-based social media tools that can be a real benefit to businesses.

Let’s take the Fleet River Bakery as an example. As a small bakery and cafe in central London they face a lot of competition (there are probably about ten similar venues nearby) but they are very popular with queues round the corner at lunchtime. Some people will be regulars and other will visit from time to time. On Foursquare, Fleet River has a profile, whether they set it up or not, and people who go there can check in - putting their details on this profile. For the guys at Fleet River this could be a powerful data resource. If they can attract people to visit them and check in on Foursquare then they can start to see who is visiting them, how often and when. But it can also be a powerful peer-to-peer marketing tool. On Foursquare your friends are told where you are. So when somebody checks in at the cafe their friends will learn where they are and so learn about Fleet River, where they are and what they do. They will also know that their friends go there and, as we know, peer-to-peer recommendation are much more important than anything a brand can say.

Using new and growing tools like Foursquare can be really powerful for small businesses. And if you work with these tools you will get even more out of them. Perhaps on the boards outside Fleet River they should say who the Mayor currently is, and perhaps even offer him or her a free coffee when they next come in. Or maybe offer exclusive discount, or a free cookie, to anybody on Foursquare who checks in.

There is a lot you can do to help people market your small business for you. Much of it free and just making use of the social media tools that are out there.

You can read all our posts on social media for small businesses here

Social media as a crisis management tool


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I have a client who once said to me: “We want to use social media to attract more complaints”. This may seem an odd thing to say, all too often attracting complaints is a reason people cite for being anxious about using social media. But this client knew that one part of there service didn’t always perform as well as they might hope. They also knew that nobody ever really complained to them. They must be complaining somewhere, they thought, and we’d like them to be complaining to us.

People use social media for lots of things, but they often use it to express their opinion about a brand or organisation, to tell you where things are good and to tell you where things are bad. To complain. We’ve written before about how to react if somebody complains about your brand online. The brand should reply when a factual inaccuracy is being discussed, or when a customer has had a bad experience and is reporting it online. And when they reply they should:

  1. make sure that they know the facts so that they can correct inaccuracies and keep people up to date with what is happening
  2. represent the brand in a way that respects its history and is consistent with the brand’s image
  3. respond in good time and continue to engage in a discussion whilst it remains relevant
  4. know how to prioritise who to respond to (this may not be as simple as the person with most followers on Twitter)

In a crisis management situation there is little different to this, it is just on a bigger scale.

The typical crisis management sees a lot of people discussing, debating, and complaining about your brand online. Many of these discussions will be factually inaccurate, and many will be from customers who have had bad experiences. These are the types of discussions that should be responded to, and should be responded to in the right manner.

Whilst every crisis is different, and there is no simple set of rules about how to use social media in these situations, a number of observations arise from looking at how people have successfully (or conversely have badly) managed crises in the past:

  1. Use social media to keep people up-to-date: The worst thing in a crisis is not knowing. This is where social media can be useful as a tool to keep people informed. Update regularly as things unfold and make sure you are updating with actual developments. The benefit of having a well established blog or online community is that you can then use it for this purpose. Make it the place people can go to for information, keep it current and keep it honest.
  2. Make sure the people representing your brand know what they are talking about: When you are unhappy there is nothing worse than feeling that the person talking to you doesn’t really know or understand what is happening. You need the people that are engaging on behalf of your brand in social media to be up-to-date on what is happening and able to speak openly and truthfully for the brand. They need to be immersed in the brand and internal process and be able to update people quickly and escalate any issues effectively within your organisation. This doesn’t mean they need to work for you directly, but it does mean they need to be fully immersed in your brand and they should be effective and experienced brand communicators.
  3. Engage people talking about you - be they compliments or complaints: When crisis happens people are going to complain, and these complaints need responding to. The best thing is to do so in a direct and informative manner. Correct inaccuracies and give people who are complaining information to stop them talking about you in social media and start them helping to resolve their own problems and disappointments. This might be directing them to your blog where you are keeping people up-to-date or it might be telling them where to go to get refunds (for example).
  4. Work effectively with a the hub and the spokes of your social media presence: You can’t be expected to engage everybody in detail on Twitter, in Facebook or on blogs, forums and online communities. You will end up repeating the same information multiple times and this information will often become out of date quickly. This is where having an established hub-and-spoke model of social media engagement comes into its own. If you have a developed hub, and online community, for example, where you can send people to get up-to-date and real-time updates on what is happening then you can engage them where they are (Twitter, Facebook, forums etc) by directing them here.
  5. Don’t wait for crisis to hit to build engagement: When crisis hits, it is easiest if you have a clear process in place already for dealing with complaints and discussions about your brand online. You need a blog or online community that people recognise as the place to go to to talk to your brand. And you need a well established presence in social media. Without this, you will find it much more difficult to go in when things go wrong and take part in discussions. You will be the newbie and the outsider, when really you should be the centre of the conversation. To get this you need to have a history of really engaging your customers; not just running social media marketing campaigns.

Overall, when crisis hits, social media can be an effective and powerful tool. But only if you have been using it to engage people long-term. Only if you have a history of dealing with criticisms online, and you know where people are likely to complain. Only if you make it easy for people to contact you and to find information from you. You don’t want to be dealing with hundreds, or thousands, of individual complaints scattered around the social media web. You want people to know where to go to complain and to get information. And you want this to be a place you manage and facilitate. You want people to come to you, so you can deal with their problems and update them with what’s happening. You want a place to send people to if they are talking about you online.

Social media is a powerful crisis management tool, but only if you have been using it when you are not in crisis mode too. It’s real engagement not campaign-based marketing. And in a crisis it will be easy to see which is which.

Selling social media starts with an elevator pitch


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Image by H. Lloyd via Flickr

One of the most important mantra’s of successful sales people is to �?Earn The Right’; get some diary time, or hold a short telephone conversation with a new prospect or stakeholder, you must first �?Earn The Right’ for their valuable time.

To get the attention of the stakeholder when you are selling social media, one technique is to inform what his peers or competitors may be doing. If his competitors may be gaining advantage from the use of social media then why wouldn’t he want to urgently explore this with you?

You may only have ten seconds in an initial contact with the stakeholder, and therefore your key message regarding their competitor (or other compelling justifications - I’ll cover these in future posts) must be snappy, relevant, and vital. For this reason, it is sometimes called the �?elevator pitch’, i.e. you are in the lift (elevator in US!) with the stakeholder, and you only have a few seconds until he leaves at the next floor, what will you say to get his attention? Be concise and high level. Carefully rehearse the message beforehand. And then rehearse again, and again!

For example, I was watching breakfast television this morning, and Jeffrey Hayzlett, Chief Marketing Officer Kodak was interviewed, explaining how social media has re-shaped their business. He said that social media can excite, evangelise, educate, and engage their customers, and makes a real difference to their changing brand. Their brand was previously deemed old and out-dated, and now, with the help of social media, they have re-vitalised the company.

This is a great story. I know of at least five brands that would compete directly with this brand and I will contact them later today with my elevator pitch! Let’s see if it is effective and earns the right for a further dialog with them.

Read all our posts on Selling social media here.

  • Kodak’s Social Media Tips (
  • Why Kodak Thinks You Should Use Social Media (
  • Twitter at C Level (

The first rule of selling social media: listen


Read OR Listen?
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A reasonably bright school kid will build an excellent business case for a car that is 60% more fuel efficient, or a pc that is 50% faster. It’s easy! He can look at reduced running costs (for the car) or improved efficiency (for the pc), and the business case will quickly form.

But selling social media, whether to a client or internally at an organisation, requires more expertise and selling skills, because the benefits are much broader, and often a little obtuse! In my experience, every business or department that buys into a social media solution has a different business case with greatly different benefits. These could range from increasing customer-based innovation, to enticing greater web traffic, to enhanced SEO, to converting more online sales, to building the brand values, and I could list twenty more possibilities…

Therefore, for example, there is no point discussing the value of increased insight from social media, if what is really needed is to increase online sales. These are polar opposite reasons to use social media.

So the first lesson of successful selling in social media is…listen to and understand your client, because there will be a compelling business case for social media and you can help the client to reveal it.

(A note regarding my terminology:- for �?client’ read �?department head’ if you are selling social media internally within an organisation)

So, to get to the essence of the business case, there is no better person to understand your client’s business - than your client!

So ask him about it!

But this is where the skill comes in.

  1. Do your research beforehand
  2. Make the client (or department head) feel comfortable by building empathy
  3. What’s in it for him? Establish the right to take his busy time.
  4. At the meeting or on the telephone, ask lots of open questions, and finish with clear next steps and follow-up.

There may be some Objection Handling, but let’s discuss that some other time.

Read all our posts on Selling social media here.

The FreshNetworks guide to getting started in social media


Roads At Night: It's Picking Up
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Over the last ten days we have shared our thoughts on four steps any brand should do when they are getting started in social media. The aim is to give any brand who is looking to use social media (or indeed to use it better) a framework to work through, some ideas and also a lot of questions and decisions that will need to be made. As I say in a recent article in the Independent: “The biggest mistakes companies make, are implementing a tool-based, as opposed to people-based, strategy”.

The four posts in the guide are below. Many of these posts raise as many questions as they offer answers and getting your use of social media right is not easy. But they should provide a useful framework for any brand looking to get started in social media. And if you need some help with this you can always give us a call!

The FreshNetworks Guide to Getting Started in Social Media

  • Part One:  Do you know what people are saying about you? Buzz tracking, social media monitoring, the power of understanding who is talking about you where and why, and some great free tools for any brand to use
  • Part Two: What do you want to achieve? Working out your brand’s aims and objectives (and making these measurable) is the single most important factor in a successful social media strategy. Do this before you think about technology.
  • Part Three: Have a go and experiment with social media Once you have clear objectives that are measurable it’s time to get going. Try things out and experiment, but make sure you do them where you know you will have the greatest chance of achieving these aims and engaging the people you want to engage.
  • Part Four: Track and evaluate the success you are having When you are using social media tools it is essential that you are measuring and tracking your performance against these aims. Measurement is critical and assessing the benefit you are having will help you to refine and improve your strategy overall.