Conversation Economy and the Increased Value of Word of Mouth

I recently read an article on Fast Company, in which angel Investor Peter Shankman laid down a $5,000 donation bet that Yelp’s business model will fail by next year. He asks why, in the “conversation economy” that we live in, would he rely on the reviews of complete strangers when the feedback from his friends on Facebook and Google+ is so readily available. This term―conversation economy―really got me thinking. Though we’ve always placed a high value on word of mouth, social media has exponentially increased that, not only online, but in the real world. I’ll give you an example.

You can't beat these tacos.

You can’t beat these tacos.

A newer coworker at Main Street Hub recently became friends with me on Foursquare. She then began the obligatory creeping my check-ins to see what’s good (her words), when she came across a check-in at one of my favorite local Austin spots―Elaine’s Pork and Pie, and the accompanying photo. She asked me about it as we were getting coffee one morning, and I began the effusive raving that this little spot deserves. Amazing food, sweet service, and cheap prices. While we were discussing this, another coworker overheard the words “Pulled Pork Tacos,” and became interested in our conversation. Another was passing by and asked if we were talking about Elaine’s Pork and Pie, and also began talking about how much he loved the place. Remember those anti-tobacco Truth commercials, where the little asterisk appears above everyone’s head? Yeah, it’s something like that.

More than ever, now that Facebook’s Graph Search and Google+ Local search have incorporated your friends into what you’re searching for online, word of mouth is king. Positive experiences, check-ins, and good reviews from friends of potential customers (with Facebook allowing a star-rating and has teamed up with OpenTable, as well) can turn into real world dollars and ROI for a business’s bottom line. Just the opposite can happen if those experiences aren’t ideal or if poor experiences go ignored. Businesses simply cannot allow themselves to remain deaf and blind to the conversations that are going on about them. Participation is mandatory.

How has this change to the conversation economy affected your business? Have you had a similar experience like the one I describe above? Have you been to Elaine’s Pork and Pie? (If you’re in Austin, ever, GO. THERE.) Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Now go get your social on!

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What Yelp’s New Mobile Reviews Capability Means

Yelp-logoWith their latest 7.0 app update, Yelp asks you to sit down, because this one’s a biggie. In their words you can now “visit any business page, tap “add review” and go bananas.” That’s right―Yelp has added the ability for your customers to write a review in the moment, on their mobile device, via the Yelp app. Please, ladies and gentlemen, don’t go bananas. Yelp responsibly.

A few things that this could mean:

  1. Optimist – More happy Yelpers will more readily share their opinions with local businesses due to the easy nature of typing up a short but sweet review on their mobile device. (bring on the Autocorrect typos.)
  2. Pessimist – Open the flood gates of angry people. Hell hath no fury like a mobile Yelper. Now that people can easily leave reviews in the heat of the moment, without first cooling down and hopefully rationally approaching a situation (or forgetting about it entirely), 1-star review hell will break loose.
  3. Realist – There will likely be some occasional anecdotal instances of both the above, but largely things will remain the same. Elite and consistent Yelpers will continue writing their reviews, possibly more often since they can do so immediately. You may see more people hanging around the table or salon, tip tapping away their experience into their phone, but I don’t expect to see a massive influx of changes to reviews.

Here’s what it should not mean, however. All business owners should not encourage their employees to download the app and write bogus reviews for their business. I have no doubt that Yelp has thought this through, being that it’s taken this long for them to add such functionality to their app, and have put some sort of safeguards in place (geo-tagging or GPS functionality, perhaps?). Don’t be that business. It always turns out badly.

What do you think of this new, obviously overdue addition to the Yelp app? Good, bad, ugly? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Now go get your social on!

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Preparing for Small Business Saturday Shoppers

small business, local business, black friday, shopping, holiday, Small Business Saturday, Amex

‘Tis the season…to shop local!

Whether you’re excited about it or begrudgingly accepting it, the holiday season is in full swing. Thanksgiving is next week and the bell is about to ring for full-on holiday shopping. Hopefully, Black Friday will bring you some business during the big-box store madness, but what I personally get really excited about is Small Business Saturday. It’s the small and local business-focused shopping day between Black Friday and Cyber Monday where your business gets a chance to shine and show customers why it still pays to shop local. The question is, are you prepared for it?

You want to get the word out, you want to make sure people are excited about taking time to support their local economy and find the unique products and services you provide, but where do you begin? If you haven’t previously started hyping this up, you’re at a disadvantage already, but it’s not hopeless.

  1. The first thing you need to do is start creating excitement and get the word out. Small Business Saturday has only been around for a few years, so some of your customers may simply not know that it exists. Mention it to your customers in the store, put some messages out on your social sites and get people talking. ‘Like’ the Small Business Saturday Facebook page (link at the end of this post) and start mentioning it on Facebook (tag the page so people can check it out, too). Also, just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean you can’t take a page out of the big guys’ books. Start offering ‘sneak peaks’ this week of specials you’ll be having, or plans you’re anticipating to make the day fun and different than any other shopping day. Make sure you mention any adjusted hours so people know they can hit your store earlier or later than usual.
  2. Feel out your customers. What are they most excited about this shopping season? What items are on their wish list that they should buy from you? What do they hate about holiday shopping that you can potentially make easier on them? These are the kinds of things you should be asking to get a temperature of your customers’ feelings at this hectic time of year, and try to provide the more personalized service and experience that makes shopping local so great.
  3. Not a small retail business? That doesn’t mean you have to be left out. Cater your specials to weary holiday shoppers! If you’re a restaurant, have a Small Business Saturday shopper menu with items at a discounted price. A coffee shop: Provide a discounted cup of coffee or free flavor shot to fuel up those people who are shopping locally. Spa or salon? Offer specials to local shoppers to unwind after a busy and stressful shopping day. The possibilities are endless. Just be sure to remind them that participating in “local” is what got the them their special treatment. It’s about community here, folks.

Now, the review responder in me must add this last point. This is your opportunity to shine and remind people that you exist right down the street from them. Make sure you’re properly staffed, everyone has a smile and is excited to be part of the experience. Remember that many of these customers may have already dealt with ludicrous and potentially dangerous crowds elsewhere and may be on edge. You don’t want all of your hard work to unravel in the form of a slew of unhappy customer reviews.

For more information and tips, here are a couple more resources:

  • Small Business Saturday Facebook page
  • Small Business Trends article on preparing for Small Business Saturday
  • Forbes article with some tips and ideas
  • If you find the holiday season too overwhelming to handle your social media presence, the company I work for, Main Street Hub, can alleviate the stress of handling and monitoring your online presence. Check us out!

What kind of things are you planning to make this year the best for your small business? If you’re not a business owner, do you plan to participate in all three “shopping holidays”? (Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday) What are some crazy or unique specials, gimmicks or tactics that you’ve already seen?

Let me know below with your comments.

Thanks for reading. Now go get your social on!

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Keeping Customers In a Short Attention Economy

Facebook, addiction, Internet Addiction Disorder, attention span, case study

“Attention span of a goldfish” just became a compliment…

Customer attention spans are becoming shorter and and more thinly spread as each new gadget, network and mobile device hits the market. You cannot simply hope that a customer will get over a bad experience and continue doing business with you because it’s too much hassle to search out other options. It’s so easy now for people to find your competitors’ presence online and seek them out, quickly forgetting that you ever existed. Let’s be honest, they can and will do it from their mobile device, while they’re still inside your business. If you’re especially unlucky, they’ll leave you with the parting gift of an awful online review. I’ve discussed tips on diffusing that kind of situation here.

The answer is moderately simple, but is never easy. There’s an age-old remedy to keeping your customers’ attention, maintaining their loyalty, and adding value to your product or service. Two words: Customer Service.

As social media ROI is becoming more evident (thus getting more SMBs to begrudgingly establish an online presence) it’s even MORE important to maintain focus on face-to-face customer service. As potential customers find you online and give your business a try, you’ll need to make sure their experiences keep them coming back. If the service isn’t there, all your digital efforts are for naught. So very often, in the reviews that I work on for clients, I’ve seen people say something to the effect of “the food/product/work wasn’t that great, but the service was fantastic. That’s the only reason I’d give this place another try.” I also often see, “The food/product/work was great, but I can find that somewhere else. It’s not worth putting up with the awful service I received.” Rarely do I see people state that they’d come back because the product is so good, even though they felt mistreated or received poor service. We intrinsically hold high value on how we’re treated at a business, even though the product is likely what brought us there in the first place.

If your business is providing fantastic customer service, this gives you a bartering tool with an unhappy customer, and may help you keep them from never returning. You can try to fix the product that they didn’t like. You can ensure them that it will be better next time, and they may take your word for it. It will likely be a lot tougher to convince someone that they’ll receive better service next time. Poor service really sticks with people.

A great product can bring people through your front door, but great service is what’s going to keep them there and create loyalty. It even adds an intangible value to your product. It’s important. If you can’t provide great service to your customers, hire someone to do it for you. It’s worth every bit you invest into it.

Do you have any customer service success stories, on either side of the experience? Have you experienced a missed opportunity by a business that led to you seek out their competitor(s)?

Let me know below with your comments.

Thanks for reading. Now go get your social on!

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3 Tips for Doing Twitter Outreach Without Being a Creep

By now you’ve probably heard that social media does not follow the Field of Dreams mantra: “If you build it, they will come.” (I know, for all you die hard Field of Dreams fans, that’s not the factually accurate quote. But that’s what it has become in pop culture so bear with me.) Simply setting up your social media profiles and waiting for people to come swarming to them will just not happen. You have to give them a reason to come to your page. You have to seek them out by knowing your business, knowing your customers, and knowing your community. One great way to seek out potential customers is by doing Twitter outreach. I’m not going to go through the use of Twitter’s search features here. Those articles have already been written by much more knowledgeable bloggers to varying degrees. I did recently write a guest post for Main Street Hub, a social media management company that focuses on local businesses, in which I discuss three tips for doing Twitter outreach without coming across as a creep or spambot. Twitter is fraught with both, so differentiating yourself from them is critical. You can read the post here:

What are your thoughts on Twitter outreach? Have you been reached out to or poached successfully? What did the person do that worked, or didn’t? Do you have any more tips to add? Let me know below with your comments. Thanks for reading. Now go get your social on! Follow this blog on Google Currents! Download the app in your app store or marketplace and click here to subscribe.

Klout Perks – Does the bribery work?

Me, when I received Klout perks in the mail…

Ask most accomplished digital marketers about Klout and the vast majority of them will scoff. “Klout scores don’t mean anything.” “The scoring system is flawed and ridiculous.” These are the kind of responses you’ll likely hear. And they’re right. Once you’ve received your first “Klout thinks you’re influential in [something you’ve never, ever talked about],” you’ll know that there isn’t a whole lot of deep science behind the ranking system. So the question remains: Why is Klout still around? The answer is twofold.

My score on Klout as an Influencer

My Klout score…

One, we are a culture that loves an easily identifiable number, whether it actually holds any real validity or not. We love ratings, star systems, and any easy way to rank people, things, or anything we can assign a value. Especially in these times of overbearing multitasking in our business and personal lives, the easier we can dismiss that which isn’t important, the quicker we can get on to our next task at hand.

This is about how I look when I hear FREE

Two, we are a culture that loves free stuff, regardless of whether we need it or not. I’m most guilty of this myself. I’ll admit that the real and only reason I continue to monitor Klout is that I love to get free stuff and revel in the possibility of gaining early access to beta testing apps and networks. The only fuel behind why I’d ever fret over my score is the concern that I’d fall under some unknown threshold and miss out on some Perk not yet known to me.

I received my first physical perk in the mail a few weeks ago. It was some iced tea samples for a big brand. They gave me a pretty ridiculous amount of samples, which is kind of nice, but it’s going to take me so long to get through them I’m not sure if and when I’ll ever have to buy any of it. The tea was alright, a little too sweet for me, but I’ll drink it throughout the summer. I received my second physical perk this week. It was a sneak peek at the new season of a TV show. Here’s the thing. I don’t have cable, so I won’t be able to watch it once it airs anyway. I also misread the Perk, not realizing that it was season 2, so I’d be lost to start with. Did the fact that I received these two items turn me into a brand advocate? No. If the right thing came along, however, it just might, and I think that’s what brands are banking on. For example, in a post a couple weeks ago, I talked about a Klout Perk for Learni.st, a Pinterest style network that allows you the share and learn things within your community, which I received early access to. I dug the network and the idea behind it, and I actually have even invited a few people to sign up for it while they’re in live beta testing. The creators of Learni.st answered and acknowledged all of my questions, checked out my blog post when I wrote about it, and were excited to have me participating. In this instance, I became an advocate for their product because I liked it and actually felt like I was part of an exclusive group. I didn’t feel so exclusive drinking a glass of tea from a brand I was already well familiar with and I knew was quite established. That’s where I think the power in these Klout Perks really lies. Creating loyalties with brands you may have never heard of, or up-and-coming startups and apps where the feedback of a real and invested community can take a company and its designers to the next level of innovation and creativity.

So, what do you think? Does ‘rewarding’ those with Klout scores above a certain threshold really get a brand anywhere? Do you feel that being rewarded with a freebie would get you behind a brand, or does it take something a little more for you to become an advocate?

Let me know below with your comments. Thanks for reading. Now go get your social on!

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