The business environment used to be about companies and brands. Today it’s about people.
This is a relationship economy, and green industry companies that have built their businesses by word of mouth are ideally positioned to capitalize on this trend. Even leading regional and national companies recognize that business decisions are moving down to the local level. The message is clear. If you want to survive this economy, you must have a strategy for engaging and interacting with people in your local market.
When I started writing this column a year ago, there were less than 150 million users on Facebook. There are now more than 350 million Facebook users today, and the majority of them are over the age of 35. These are your friends, customers and potential customers. A great deal has changed during the past twelve months, so I am going take an aerial view to lay out what I would do right now if I were a green industry business that wanted to use social media to position my company well.
It’s a Relationship Economy
The market may understand your company’s role, but they really want to know what you are all about as the leader of that company. This is the crux of this relationship economy. People are much more risk-averse, and will therefore favor the company that is more transparent and personable. This means owners and managers have to literally get out of the office and meet with people, while hopefully using their social networks to extend and reinforce that personal touch.
Many consumers do not fully comprehend what your company can do for them. They may understand what you do, that you install patios or make lawns greener, but do they know how you do that in a way that separates you from your competitors? That difference is your social media advantage. It is the reason for having a relationship with you. Refine your social networking bios to clearly state in 20 words or less what you do, how you do it and who you do it for. Then test this live with your best customers to see if it resonates with them.
Markets are Collaborative
Markets today are collaborative. Most buyers expect to be involved in the process of working through their business needs with you. Business is no longer just selling to buyers, but working with them to create collaborative solutions that they can jointly own. In competitive markets where everyone has superior quality at competitive pricing, the business will often go to the company that has engaged the buyer with a well-designed sales process. Make sure your whole team follows the same basic process. Markets expect that consistency.
Community Needs are Changing
More than ever, people want to be listened to and understood. Get a leg up on this by using Google Alerts to monitor what is happening in your market. Set alerts for the products and services you provide. Listen, learn and make helpful comments on the social networks. Do the same for your company brand and personal name. This is free market data that are available for the taking. Use the social media technology to reach out so you are current with changing market needs.
The stagnant economy has conditioned all of us to seek out what is fresh and new. When consumers do a Google search, they are looking for the most current and relevant information. Google understands this. Just this week they enhanced Google Places to encourage small businesses like yours to make regular updates that keep your company relevant.
Google Places, sometimes known as Google Local, are those search results that aggregate local companies together into commonly used categories, such as landscaping or lawn care. Set up your Google Place page and make this a social media hub where you offer deals and friendly reminders that encourage engagement. This is a free service you should take advantage of. If you don’t have a physical location, set up a Google Profile instead.
And finally, people want to work with someone that cares. It has always been like this. Yet, because many communities today are challenged, and resources are limited, there is greater emphasis on friends pitching in to help out. This trend is indicative of another one that is gaining momentum at many of the top business schools. It is known as social entrepreneurship, and you are likely to be hearing more about it.
Social entrepreneurship isn’t philanthropy. It is augmenting your business model to include social needs alongside traditional profit needs. One of these social needs is sustainable living. This is on the minds of many of your customers. Use your social media networks to learn more. Just keep your eye out for it, and I’m sure you will recognize more of it, and eventually discover ways to get involved.
Jeff Korhan works with green industry leaders to maximize their Web visibility, reputation and referrals. He blogs daily at http://jeffkorhan.com