How to use social media to get more customers

Written on the 28 July 2008

Everyone is talking about social media – websites like Myspace and Facebook have millions of members and big businesses everywhere are using online communities and interactive content to attract customers and build their brand loyalty.

But social media isn’t just for corporate giants or catching up with old friends.  The internet has now matured to a level where websites are highly-functional and very affordable, so small bricks and mortar businesses can use social media to get more customers and make more money online.

The key to this is making your website an online community where your customers can interact with you and each other, as well as offering engaging content and features that draw them back to the site regularly – because the more time they spend on your site, the more chances you have to get them to buy from you. 

Here are some strategies for achieving this on your website and some practical examples to help you see how you can apply these ideas to your business:

Photo gallery

If you sell products, you should have a photo gallery of your range on your website – more than 50% of consumers research online before they come in-store to purchase so you should be using your website to draw them in.  Photo galleries also have some other really interesting applications for different businesses and they are a great tool for engaging with customers and giving them a reason to return to your website (and even share it with their friends).

  • Hairdresser – ‘before and after’ photos of clients that have just had their hair done
  • Construction company – images of buildings in progress for owners and investors to share with their friends
  • Costume hire shop – customers can upload photos of themselves wearing costumes and site users can vote for the best one
  • Restaurant - photos of a patron's party or function to check themselves out or share with friends

Internet forum

Forums are a popular way to build a community around your business.  Your customers can ask each other or you questions and discuss topics, and if the chat room gets popular, you could have hundreds of visitors coming to your site on a daily basis to participate in conversation.  The key to a successful forum is to make it worthwhile for people to participate – they need to get something out of it, so if you don’t have the type of business that easily generates discussion, you can attract participants by sharing your own expertise and other guest attendees through your online forum.

  • Clothing retailer – once a week the owner has joined forces with a number of beauty and fashion experts to do a live chat with their clients and members to answer their beauty/fashion questions
  • Photographic supplier – uses the forum for photographers to discuss the industry, make contacts and share tips and pointers with each other

Classifieds system

The form of classifieds that we all know is newspaper classifieds, which is where you pay to place an advertisement in the newspaper to buy or sell something.  Online classifieds work in the same way – people pay you the opportunity to advertise something of theirs on your site.  This tool is ideal if you want to start an online business or directory because it’s an easy way to get your site making a profit for you and it builds a community of users that visit your site on a regular basis.

  • Camping store – as well as selling new products online, this store allows users to advertise second-hand equipment on their site for a small fee
  • Real estate company - to be top of mind and drive local traffic to his site frequently, this agent allows all local businesses and locals to advertise on his site for free (sell, buy, lost, what's on etc.)
  • Chamber of commerce – to make their site a reference for the local business community, the chamber allows all businesses in the area to pay to advertise on their site, while members get their listing for free

Bulletin board

This is a simple and effective way to introduce two-way communication between your business and your customers.  A bulletin board allows you to post messages and information on your website and also for your customers to post their own messages – from events, to items for sale, to questions for your business or other users.  It’s a very simple system, so it has a multitude of applications for different businesses.  Also, the website owner retains control over the board and can block any inappropriate messages from being published, so it’s very secure.

  • Gym - puts up notices on their site for members to see upcoming social and gym events and members are also able to put up their own notices too
  • Manufacturer - they use the notice board internally to communicate with their staff by putting up notes on social events, staff meetings and business notices and allowing employees to post their own messages

Competitions

Everyone loves to win something, so competitions are a very successful tool for your website.  They have multiple benefits – building up your database with all the entrant’s details, up-selling and promoting your products in a different way, and also getting people to visit your site regularly.  If you do run a competition on your website, always offer something valuable as the prize so you get a lot of entries, make sure get the proper permits and get entrants to subscribe to your newsletter so you can continue to market to them.

  • Interior decorator – get current clients to refer a friend and they can go in the draw for a $200 discount off their next room makeover
  • Butcher – get customers to submit a review of their favourite product and go in the draw to win a month’s supply of meat
  • Financial planner – after reading the financial planner’s ebook about money advice, potential clients can go in the draw to get a free consultation

Getting results online is all about being different and offering something that attracts people to your website and then keeps them coming back.  There are a lot of web tools out there, so you need to sit down and think about creative ways to use them in your business and then find a website developer that has the software, team, experience and reliability to deliver a quality solution for your business.