Listen for Success: An Interview With Business Community Builder Sarah Robinson
Acclaimed business coach, author and business community builder Sarah Robinson sat down with Marketing Matters to discuss the Dex One webinar Listen for Success: Reputation, Community & Your Business. Her book Fierce Loyalty: Unlocking the DNA of Wildly Successful Communities will be released on September 18, 2012 in print and on Kindle.
MM: Thanks for joining us, Sarah. Many local business owners will want a stat or an actual ROI number to convince them they should spend the time creating a community of fans around their business. Why can’t you put a monetary value on creating a community?
SR: Building a community is about building relationships and taking the long term approach. How do you put a hard dollar amount on any relationship? That’s like trying to put a number on going to a business cocktail party. And yet those parties are so invaluable because it’s a chance to start a relationship, build a relationship, or further a relationship. And we know in this economy, we want to do business with people we know, like and trust. The only way to do that is to build a relationship.
MM: What are 5 benefits local businesses will see from creating loyal communities?
SR: First, you get a free marketing department who will spread the word for you. Second, you get a free research and development department because you can give them ideas or promotions to gauge what they think and see how they’ll respond. Third, you get a client base waiting to gobble up whatever you offer because they’ve been involved in developing it. Fourth, you get more loyal customers. And fifth, you get happier customers—and isn’t all of that what everyone wants?
MM: Why aren’t more companies creating loyal online communities?
SR: Some of it is because they simply don’t know how to go about doing it. They’re scared of the commitment. They’re scared of all the unknowns that go with it.
MM: Why do so many companies fail at creating vibrant, loyal communities?
SR: Because many people don’t really know why they want a community in the first place. I talk to a lot of business folks who say they want a community “so I can sell them stuff.” Or they want one because “our competitor has one.” Or they want one because “so-and-so says I should have one.” Those are not really great reasons. Revisit the five reasons I mentioned earlier for having a community. Which one would have the biggest impact on your business today? Your answers are your real reasons for wanting a community.
MM: What are 3 things a local business can do to make its community more successful?
SR: First, I always ask people to figure out why do you want one? Once you know that, it will dictate a lot of decisions for you and make your choices easier. Second, ask the community what it wants. I’m not saying let the community make all your decisions, but don’t just create one all by yourself and then try to fill it with fans. It won’t work. And the third thing is to make sure you have communication channels not just between you and the community members, but also between community members themselves. The most successful communities all allow their members to interact with each other. Engagement and connection are essential to our feeling of happiness. If the community you design can fulfill some of that need and provide a piece of happiness for someone, they will never leave.
MM: How can a local business owner gain a snapshot of their current reputation?
SR: First, you could use something like Dex One’s Reputation Management service. If you’re not ready for that step yet, do a search on the social media channels for your name. You are being talked about somewhere; it’s just a matter of whether you know about it. Set up a Google Alert for your company name so you know when something gets posted about you. Any of those review sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor, if they’re relevant to your business, will give you instant insight to how your company is viewed.
MM: What are some ideas on how business owners can find common interests (frames) among their customers?
SR: Ask them. Facebook polls are a great tool but don’t ask more than three questions. Even just posting a single question works well. Eavesdropping and/or participating in tweet chats that are happening around topics related to your business can also give you valuable insight. Visit LinkedIn Groups related to your business. Offline, try a three-question customer feedback card and be sure to ask them where they hang out on social media.
MM: What are some ways small business owners can make it easier for customers to connect with them and with others in the same community?
SR: Have an after-hours open house with music, food and a purpose so people can talk to you and to other customers. Make sure you have a way to facilitate the conversation because most of them won’t know each other. Go out on your sales floor and have a conversation that is not about selling something. You’ll be amazed what you might have in common with your customers. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter are great ways to interact, but don’t make it all push. No one likes to be sold to. Talk about things that don’t necessarily have anything to do with your business.
MM: Is there anyway a local business can track the success of their community?
SR: The number of members in your community or followers is an easy thing to target, but probably the least relevant thing to look at. What I always look at is the level of engagement. What’s the back and forth like? How many conversations are you having? How many people are sharing your posts or re-tweeting what you have to say? How many are asking you questions or responding to your questions? Those are the kinds of things I measure. I’d rather have five followers that talk to me than 100 who don’t.
MM: What are 3 things needed to create fiercely loyal communities such as Harley Davidson?
SR: There are three defining qualities that separate a fiercely loyal community from just a regular community. Those three things are pride, trust and passion. You can’t manufacture those. They have to come from within the community and whoever is hosting the community has to foster those three qualities at all times.
MM: What are 5 things a local business can do today to start building a more loyal community?
SR: First, start small. Rome wasn't built in a day and your community won't be either. One well executed step is worth much more than elaborate plans that never happen. Second, find five to ten people who are willing to be your anchor community members. They will help you get it off the ground and build it. Third, ask yourself "Why would someone want to be a part of this community?" Try to come up with three to five really good reasons that your community will add something of value to its members. Fourth, make it easy to join your community. Have the link on your business card. Make sure it's in your marketing materials. Keep the application process simple and streamlined. Finally, make it easy for people to spread the word about your community. Give away prizes to people who invite others to join. Give current members tweets and Facebook updates that are easy to copy and share. Prominently display the community link on your site and on your social media channels.
MM: What are the key points you want people to walk away with?
SR: If you only do one thing, I want people to go out on the floor of their business and start talking to customers. Start having conversations. Be more interested in them and their needs than in selling whatever it is you sell. Really listen to what they are telling you and then start focusing on “what do those people really need that I can help provide to them.” Of course social media is great for communicating, but I want people to take relationships offline, too. The really, really great communities do a combination of both online and offline engagement with their members.
About the Author
Leading business experts, marketing professionals and digital marketers offer their advice on latest industry trends and strategies to help you grow your business.