How can a business use social media effectively? When it's used to relate and build relationships.
Growing up, I used to hang out after school at my family's small hardware store in Hartford CT, City Hardware. Then in college I worked at my family's small restaurant, Village Luncheonette in East Windsor CT, which was really an old-fashioned "soda bar" located inside an independent pharmacy.
In both businesses, we developed real relationships with customers. I watched as a customer became "Mr. Smith" or "Mrs. Jay", then "Fred" or "Nancy". Then I watched and listened as those customers became like friends, with families, jobs, joys and troubles, and I watched as those customers grew in number and frequency, which translated into the businesses growing and prospering.
Real conversations were held. Real stories were told. Real relationships were formed.
Both businesses have been long since sold. I think that was the tail-end of "main street businesses" in my state, giving way to high-volume, lower price businesses. That shift was, admittedly, good for customers, bringing in more goods and services for less cost.
Within this phase of convenience, selection and attractive pricing, we entered into a more impersonal relationship between people and businesses, making decisions based on pricing, clever marketing or whatever one-way sales and marketing pitches captivate our attention and desire, while businesses went for the best-priced, farthest reaching, and "loudest" ads and marketing tactics of the day.
However, today, businesses have a remarkable opportunity to reintroduce real relationship building with their customers (people) and prospects (people). This is especially true for smaller businesses. The vehicle for this "P2P" shift can be social media; "Social" being the key word.
Whatever your preferred social media channel, if used with the attitude found with old-school "main street" businesses of yesteryear, where you strike up an authentic conversation with someone, share stories, get to know each other, maybe even get to know them on a personal level, a business can engage in the kind of marketing that develops customer bonds that will withstand efforts from marketers engaged in adding the same-old plethora of content overload.
There will always be a place for "shout marketing", big print ads, commercials, billboards, radio ads, mailers, etc. However, social media is our opportunity to reengage with the public, to relate, to reduce the "shouting", to listen more than speaking.
What about the "Stop selling" part?
No. Selling is here to stay, but tell yourself to stop as a reminder to substitute it more and more with an approach and attitude of wanting to authentically relate to your customers, which means growing comfortable with a little vulnerability on your end and investing a little time in this activity.
Social media is not a billboard. Nor does it represent a captive audience who has to listen to whatever you put out there. Call it "information overload" or "content shock" or whatever, but people are learning to filter garbage out, even without the developing content filter technology. We are social creatures. We like to be listened to. We like relationships.
Be that business that caters to the human side of people, your customers, and you just may have an edge on your competitors stubbornly clinging to the idea that everyone has to listen to their constant sales pitches.
So, try on the attitude of "Stop selling and start relating". See where it goes and remember to listen, too! You just my be surprised with being rewarded for your listening with being listened to.