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Maule: Social media can help small businesses build relationships

Published: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

In the world of business, there is a great deal of discussion about reaching clients using social media. Social media – that vast sea of tools to connect with your customers – includes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and others.

The challenge is staying ahead of the wave of innovation that is threatening to drown small business while staying relevant among the clamoring voices using this cheap advertising medium.

Gary Vaynerchcuk, a national social media strategist, mentions in his recent book “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World,” that “It took 38 years before 50 million people gained access to radios, it took television thirteen years to earn an audience of that size. It took Instagram a year and a half.”

It has never been easier to reach your customers. 

Gary Vaynerchuck also believes, “Great marketing is about telling your story in a way that compels people to buy your product.”

It is the art of storytelling that engages your customers amidst the frenetic, noisy social media circus. It is the nuance of your story that you build through every customer contact that leads to brand identity and customer advocates. It is the sense of personal connection and understanding that builds good will and ultimately leaves a customer feeling you understand them so well; it would be rude to buy from anyone else. Social media is not the answer, but it is the tool to ask the questions that build relationships.

And business is about building relationships. Mastering these tools will prevent you from becoming the online equivalent of the annoying neighbor. (You know the one that is always pestering you about things you don’t value until you begin to avoid them.)

Business owners have unprecedented access to the opinions, thoughts and reactions of their customers to every aspect of their business.

People in general are better critics than creators. They are better at deciphering how to make an existing product or service better by telling you what they don’t like about the current offering. They are less capable of telling you about their unmet needs.

I remember the internal cheer I felt when Steve Jobs announced I could have “10,000 songs in my pocket” during the introduction of the iPod. I had never felt a loss by not having my own personal jukebox player at my fingertips, but in that moment, I was convinced I could not manage life without my own personal soundtrack.

Customers are a tremendous source of insight on how to improve existing products, but as Henry Ford once said, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” 

Look around your desk: Your pedometer, your smartphone, the auto start on your key chain, voicemail. Your life is filled with must-have, can’t-live-without products that you never knew you needed before they were introduced.

When looking for innovation and ideas for business expansion, often a small business is better served by telling rather than asking what their customers need. And this doesn’t come from having all the answers, but from asking the right questions. Have a conversation with your customers. Be nice. Talk less about you and ask more about them. Talk about relevant subjects. Listen. Show your customers you care.  

You will discover what matters to your customers, and from there, how to best serve them. 

• Mary Margaret Maule is the president of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce.

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