While the last several hundred years certainly saw plenty of advances in how we conduct business, it’s easy to say that these centuries of changes pale when compared to the shifts borne out of the Internet.
The way we conduct business, communicate, advertise, and think about company reputations have all changed — especially for small business owners. While there are too many detailed alterations caused by the Web to list them all, there are a few specific areas where the changes should be noted.
“Word of Mouth” in the 21st Century
Word of mouth has always been the most powerful form of advertising. The difference is that, today, most people communicate their “word of mouth” information without using their mouths at all.
Instead, they use the Web to talk about their positive and negative experiences with businesses. Social networks are a key component to this, and a large portion of the “tweets,” “tells,” “posts,” and “updates” are about business experiences.
Further, while previous word of mouth advertising happened one person at a time, a single online post can reach hundreds — sometimes thousands — of viewers. This makes social networking both a powerful tool and one that must be used with care; poor relations with your customers will quickly damage your business.
A Good Webutation
To succeed in modern business, one of the assets you’ll need to develop is a good “webutation” — or reputation on the Internet. There are several steps you’ll want to take to ensure this happens.
Provide top-notch customer service. Much of what’s present online is a direct result of how your customer care department behaves.
Have a strong web presence. This includes a professional blog that has an attractive design (such as the free Business Turnkey or Green Stimulus templates for WordPress) and is updated frequently; a profile on all the major social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.); a website; and presence on local review sites (Yelp, Hotpot, 4Square, etc.).
Build a reputation for expertise. Beyond simply having a presence on the Web, provide informational content that’s both useful and establishes your position as an expert in your field. One great way to do this that shouldn’t be ignored is guest blogging.
Address any concerns brought up online. Keep track of Tweets, Yelps, or other posts that mention your company, and actively seek to address any issues that customer had; you can change bad reviews into a glowing reputation if you do this carefully and consistently.
Greater Access to User Data
While your customers or potential customers were once reluctant to provide data such as an email or home address, it’s now second nature for many to “grant permissions” to this information (often through social network applications or simple newsletter widgets). Take advantage of this data to build a strong long-term relationship with your customers and treat their privacy concerns with care. Additionally, it’s wise to look over the demographics of your users to better understand your market.
As you continue to build your presence online, always remember that the Web is constantly changing; keep abreast of new technologies and opportunities to further your company’s success.
Lorna Li is a social media expert who writes about green business marketing and social entrepreneurs. Visit her green marketing blog for tips on how to use social media for green business. Follow Lorna on Twitter @lornali.