6 Ways SMBs Can Turn Social Media Fans Into Actual Customers

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social-media-logosLocal merchants are flocking to social networks like Facebook and Twitter, utilizing free marketing tools to acquire new customers and build brand awareness. On an average week, local business Facebook pages get more than 645 million views and 13 million comments, and a countless number of social marketing firms have popped up to help companies get more likes, fans, and followers online. Still, most small business owners remain unsure of how to convert their social media followers into actual, paying customers.

Although 36% of SMBs have said acquiring and engaging new customers was their primary goal in using social media, according to a recent Manta survey, only 39% said they were seeing ROI from their online activities. In an effort to solve the mystery and find out how merchants can turn online followers into customers, we consulted with the experts. Here are five straightforward ways that local businesses can turn Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers into actual revenue.

1. Inspire new ideas with in-store products.
Social media accounts should be used for more than just promoting deals and sales. Ideally, businesses should be giving out practical, inspirational ideas about how to put the products they sell to use. These types of inspirational posts will provide utility for customers, while also raising awareness of where the products they need to purchase can be obtained. (Jordan Slabaugh, Spredfast)

2. Pro-actively reach out to people nearby.
Using tools like Main Street Hub’s HubTargeter, businesses can proactively reach out to people who are tweeting about relevant topics nearby their places of business. For example, an auto repair shop could reach out to someone who just tweeted about his car breaking down with something like, “Sorry to hear it! We’d be happy to take a look!” The best way to approach people through social media without freaking them out is by using humor, asking questions, offering sympathy, and doing the necessary background research before sending any tweets. (David Kreitzer, Main Street Hub)

3. Offer exclusive in-store deals.
Many consumers follow their favorite companies to gain access to exclusive offers and discounts. Offering a deal is a great way for businesses to show their appreciation to customers, and to give them an incentive to drop by their stores for a visit. Merchants should share daily or weekly specials with online followers, and post links to coupons that online followers can show in-store to redeem those deals. Notifying fans of special offers via social media is beneficial because it encourages social sharing, further amplifying a merchant’s reach and potential for new business. (Diana Chow, HootSuite)

4. Become a local authority.
Each store experience is slightly different. Creating a local presence for retail stores with multiple locations on social media channels creates an opportunity for those stores to become local authorities on geography, audience needs, and local interests. The personalized experience can create an affinity for the brand and it can help make customers loyal to a specific store location. (Jim Rudden, Spredfast)

5. Show restraint when using social media.
Businesses with social media accounts should post in moderation, and with discretion. Consumers should never feel like they’re being spammed or that they’re reading something irrelevant to the business. By scheduling posts at appropriate times (like tweeting a daily lunch special just before noon), businesses can ensure that their messages are relevant to their followers at that particular moment. Geo-locating posts also ensures that the content of a social media message is applicable to users in their current location. (Diana Chow, HootSuite)

6. Send followers to a mobile website.
All SMBs should have a website that is optimized for mobile. Mobile search will soon outpace other types of searching, but only 14% of businesses have a mobile-optimized website. Including a link to a mobile site on all social media profiles (including Facebook, Twitter, Google+ Local, and Yelp) is a great way to enable customers who are searching for a business on their smartphones. Features like “click-to-call” buttons make it easy for those customers to reach the business with any additional questions. (David Kreitzer, Main Street Hub)

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.