Build Relationships with Your Customers: Q&A with Christine Perkett

Do you need a creative nudge to get your social media program energized?  Well, our next SmallBizSat Q&A series features the PR guru, Christine Perkett (@missusP) who shares with us some fantastic examples of how some small businesses have used popular new media tools to promote their businesses.  Christine heads up Perkett PR where she specializes in social media relations, business and high technology media.

Check out what Christine has to say about how to use social media tools to help build relationships with consumers, serve as an ongoing resource and turn them into loyal customers.

Q. Do you feel supporting local businesses is important and why?

A. Absolutely! I have an affinity for small businesses but everyone should want to support their local community so we continue to see new revenue, entrepreneurship, leadership and advancement in our own communities. When small businesses succeed, our communities succeed – they are the lifeblood of originality in towns. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want every town in America to look like a strip mall of chain stores – and that’s where we’re headed if we don’t help the SMB owners succeed and thrive in our communities by shopping with them.

Life can be so impersonal these days. As much as I like some of the price cuts at a big chain store, I also love the little touches of shopping locally – someone remembering your name, throwing in a freebie muffin because you’re a regular, and the camaraderie of living and working locally. When we support our local businesses, we support each other – and we keep our community’s personality and future thriving.

Q. How can a local retailer or service business use the internet to drive customers through their doors?

A. So many ways! First and foremost, Email marketing has long proved to be a successful marketing tactic for SMBS – to reinforce brand, offer special deals, build a stronger relationship with customers and offer them special deals, enticing them to come back in and shop/eat/buy. Now, with the explosion of social media tools, the Internet enhances this opportunity even further. For customers who want to consume your information on their schedule, and not have their inboxed filled up, SMBs can use the Internet as an alternative way to share that same information – in the places where customer are already frequently “hanging out.” Facebook is popular far and wide in communities large and small. It may seem like a large black hole to a local business, but the reality is if they can learn how to search for the right people to connect with, they can find their local customers online.

But what do you do after finding them? How do you drive them through your door? By doing what you know already works – being a resource, providing helpful information, asking questions and offering special discounts, opportunities and more through each specific channel. Give people a reason to follow you – don’t just promote your business, but talk with people (not just at them). For example, give away advice, tips, tricks that will make customers feel important and valued – and look to you as an expert. A dog groomer might post a video about how to trim a dog’s nails without hurting them, a local surf shop might post 10 tips for catching a great wave (followed by a video demonstration, which would be so cool), and a local chef might create a “meals in minutes” series across Twitter (ask followers what ingredients they typically have sitting around), Facebook (post the tips, with video) and include teasers to both (with links) in their monthly email newsletter. A restaurant might ask its Facebook fans to vote on which meal makes it on the “Specials” list for the weekend, or an independent jeweler might show photos or video of a variety of potential materials and ask fans and followers to name their favorites – and then follow up with a “Fan Favorite” piece for sale (and/or show how they made it in a video).

The point is to use the Internet to find and connect with customers and prospects in your area, involve them in your business in some way (it makes them feel special, and when people feel special, they are more loyal), and be a constant resource to them (helping them; not just selling to them).

Q. If you were working with a local small business owner who’s in the retail space, like a clothing store, a coffee shop, or a restaurant, what online tools would you recommend they use to help market and promote their business?

A. Definitely YouTube (did you know it’s the #1 search engine behind Google?), Twitter and Facebook. There’s so much a local SMB owner can do with them. I wrote a post in 2009 titled, “How Even a Dog Walker can Benefit from Social Media.” In it I talk about how several small, offline businesses can benefit from social media. For example, write a “doggie blog” about your daily adventures. Add humor and begin building a community by sharing tips, tricks, facts and figures about dog care. Localize it by sharing insights on where to find quality day care or vet services in other cities. Post funny videos on your Facebook, blog or YouTube that come from your every day job – you know people love funny animal videos! Again, the point here is to engage – and to build credibility. If I can see videos and blog posts about how much fun you have with your charges, I am way more likely to hire you than the person who placed a text ad in the back of the phonebook. You could even begin to include short snippets of happy customers providing testimonies about how wonderfu you are with their dogs.

Q. If you were working with a local small business owner who’s in the service industry, like a lawyer, realtor, or electrician, what online tools would you recommend they use to help market and promote their business?

A. I’m in the services industry and what I’ve found works best is to think about your strategy first – it’s crucial to a) connect and build relationships and b) be seen as an expert. Twitter is still good for this, Facebook can work, but Q&A sites like Quora, Focus, Linkedin Answers and for some, Yahoo! Answers, can be great credibility builders. They also connect you with a group of business colleagues who can follow you, post questions, and post questions that you answer. They are a bit more focused and have a lot more business-centric users, so they help build up that thought leadership that you need. Again, being a resource and showing your expertise (not selling) is the key. People do business with people they like and trust. These sites give you the chance to build that trust every day.

Although, for an electrician, I would use those for the serious tips and maybe throw in some humor in places like Facebook and YouTube… There’s a nice opportunity to entertain and inform for a business like that.

Q. Is there a small business in your city that has done an interesting promotional campaign that’s noteworthy?

A. I have to give a shout out to one of my favorite restaurants where I went to college (and my folks still live). Schubergs Bar and Grill is located in Big Rapids, MI  (home of my alma mater, Ferris State University) and makes really great, original pub food (and serves cold beer in great big mugs!) I love it and visit whenever I go back for the holidays. (I live in Boston.) That being said, when they joined Facebook I followed them just for nostalgic reasons. But they do a great job running updates on the daily specials, menu changes, and even the weather (and connecting it to appropriate food on their menu, such as “comfort food” for the winter months) – that I find myself wishing I could go in just about every day! There’s is an example of nothing fancy in regards to campaigns – I haven’t even noticed a coupon or special offer – but good ole’ relationship building … They take the TIME to do it right and it works. They chat with their customers, ask questions, play games and in general just dedicate the time.

I’ve also hoofed it into Ann Taylor and White House Black Market because of coupons they’ve offered on Facebook. I love it when they get me in their store because of something they’ve done online. Maybe it’s just the social marketer in me. :)

Q. What’s your favorite social media tool that a small business should use to promote themselves?

A. I think for local businesses, Facebook is #1. Supported by Twitter.

Christine Perkett founded PerkettPR – a public relations, social marketing and interactive digital services firm – in 1998, and has been consistently recognized as an innovative PR and social marketing industry leader. She has been named as one of the “Top 10 CEOs who Tweet,” “100 Most Powerful Women on Twitter,” listed a “Top Influential Women in Tech” by Google’s Don Dodge – alongside such impressive leaders as Arianna Huffington and WSJ’s Kara Swisher.

In addition to running the daily operations of her firm and advising its international client base on everything from branding to business plans, Christine blogs for various outlets such as her company’s blog, MarketingProfs Daily Fix, and This Mommy Gig, as well several personal blogs.

You can also check out our previous interviews from our Small Business Saturday series to find out some of their useful and valuable marketing tips!

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