When I travel I am obsessive about having all my paperwork and directions in place beforehand. I even print out two copies of my boarding passes. So last fall when I was traveling to Chicago to speak at the Marketing Profs Digital Marketing Mixer, I knew exactly what to do. Fly into Chicago, leave the airport, go across the street to the shuttles, find the one for Hyatt, and they would whisk me off to my hotel. No problem.
I land, leave the airport, find the Hyatt shuttle, get on board and then get the bad news. Apparently there are TWO Hyatts in the area, and I don’t know which one I need!
So I fire up Social Scope on my Bold and ask my buddies on Twitter if anyone knows which Hyatt is hosting the Mixer. A few friends are kind enough to tweet me replies that tell me which one it is. Awesome!
Then someone sends me a DM with the name of the Hyatt I need, as well as its address and phone number! And the phone number shows up as a link I can click on and dial directly from my phone.
As valuable a tool as Google’s search engine is, it would be impossible for it to do a better job of getting me the information I needed right then, than my network on Twitter. This is the new reality for businesses that are attempting to reach a customer base that is increasingly hyper-connected, and in turn utilizing those connections to turn inward for its information needs.
Our search engine is no longer Google, it’s our own social networks.
So if you’re a business that’s invested in SEO, how can you connect with your customers if they are increasingly turning to each other instead of a search engine? Here’s some ideas:
1 – Understand WHY we use social search over search engines. For the most part, we turn to our networks when we want real-time information. Help, advice, etc. For example, if I’m about to go see a movie, I might tweet my followers to ask them if Iron Man 2 lived up to the hype or not. Or if I’m at an event, I might look for the event’s #hashtag on Twitter of Facebook page to see who’s attending and maybe where everyone is headed after the days sessions are over.
What can you do? Help people find you. If you’re planning an event, make sure you create a hashtag for the event and communicate that early on to everyone. Because if you don’t, the attendees will pick their own, and it might not be the one you want. Publicize your social sites at your business and post new information about your products and events at these sites.
2 – Be accessible and be responsive. If your customers are connecting via social media, then you should be too. But ‘being there’ isn’t enough, you have to find me. If I mention you are your competitor, you need to be aware of that conversation, and jump in if you can. Now that doesn’t mean you reply to every SINGLE brand mention, but if I mention your company and it’s obvious I am asking a question or wondering about something, there’s an invitation for you to reply and give me the information I am looking for. At least.
What can you do? Be aware, and be engaged. Closely monitor online chatter about your brand, especially among the more popular social sites like Twitter and Facebook. Interact where you can, but understand that there’s sometimes a fine line between being helpful, and being a pest. View every brand mention as a chance to help, not to sell.
3 – Make it mobile. As smartphones become cheaper and mobile devices like the iPad and Touch become more popular, more and more people will have a device with them that can send and receive data at all times. And this ties back into the need to turn to our social networks for real-time information. I may not have my laptop with me (or even if I do, there might not be an available wifi connection), but if I have my Bold with me, I have access to my social network, and can get information from them. Or if I have an app, like say the Yelp app on my Bold, then I can use it to get restaurant reviews right from my phone.
What can you do? Give me the ability to access your information on mobile devices. Or give me information that I will need to have with me if I am out and about. A good example of this could be a local news station that provides a smartphone app that will alert me via my phone when there’s severe weather in my area. Or that will text me when there’s a weather warning in its viewing area.
4 – Have FUN with it! Most of you have probably heard of FourSquare, the service that lets you communicate to your network where you are at any given time. Jimmy Choo used FourSquare last month in London to have a real-time treasure hunt. They had a pair of shoes ‘check in’ at various locations across the city, moving every few minutes. The first person to ‘catch’ the shoes at their current location, won them! Great example of taking an innovative approach to social media marketing, but also doing so in a way that entertains and excites customers!
What can you do? Think about the ways that customers are using social media, and tap into the functionality of the tools when crafting your social media marketing. Keeping with the location-based theme, you could do similar treasure hunts but instead of using FourSquare, you could use Flickr, posting different pictures of the location where the item is hidden. Or tweet clues to where the prize is hidden.
What about you? Have you noticed that you are turning to your social networks more for information instead of Google? If companies have connected to you via your networks, how did they do so?