How to use social media to drive business

Great article from the folks over at Mashable:

How Salespeople Are Using Social Media for Real Results

The Real Results series is supported by Gist, an online service that helps you build stronger relationships. By connecting your inbox to the web, you get business-critical information about key people and companies. See how it works here.

salesman imageThe days of door-to-door salespeople might be drawing to a close, but that doesn’t mean that people have stopped selling things. The Internet is a great resource to get your goods into the right hands, but it can also be a confusing mess of options. How do you find the right people online? How can you get your products to them?

We’ve found a collection of small companies and websites that can help you get the most out of your social media network. Whether you’re a tiny Italian ice shop, a regular seller, or a seasoned vet – these resources can help you get real results.

Online Vendors

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One of social media’s greatest benefits is how easy it is to get brand exposure. Your products aren’t limited by having to set up a physical shop or take out ads in the local newspaper. However, with so many online vendor websites (such as eBay (eBay) or even Craigslist (Craigslist)) available, it can be difficult to find your customers through all the noise.

Craigslist and eBay are expansive platforms that reach a huge swathe of customers. While this is great for reaching a large market, it can be difficult for individual salespeople to get their products featured, or noticed. Instead, look to niche online markets that suit the kind of products you’re selling.

Imagine you’re a local farmer selling honey. Selling a jar on eBay might be tricky, however, sites like Foodzie or Foodoro that focus on selling goods from small food producers is a more focused way to get exposure and sell your product. A quick search can turn up other niche online vendor hubs.

Creating Updates

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Once you’ve found a place to sell your goods, you need to let people know about it. Facebook (Facebook) fan pages and Twitter (Twitter) accounts are two great ways to let existing or potential customers know about your product. Food carts across the country have already jumped on the wagon in order to let their customers know where they’ll be parked. For example, New York’s Rickshaw Dumpling Truck regularly tweets its location for the day with light-hearted updates and customer service.

But what if you don’t have a food cart? Twitter updates are still a good way to build buzz and excitement and create a community of customers.

Group Buying

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Group buying (or mob buying) is becoming increasingly popular as a win-win for businesses and customers alike. Sites like Groupon, Deals for Deeds, Buy with Me, and Social Buy provide its users with large discounts on businesses. While there is an expected discount in the transaction, group buying sites allow salespeople to reach new customers and draw in large chunks of profit. Most group buying sites (including the three listed) have a section where buyers can sign up to be a featured vendor. Some sites, like Deals for Deeds (based in Washington D.C.), include an option for buyers to donate their savings to charity.

Sellers beware: Because of the nature of group buying, most sites are regionally based so make sure you find a site or group that is around your area or willing to sell your products online.

Foursquare Specials

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Foursquare (Foursquare) is more than just an invasive new technology for young folk; it’s a powerful tool for salespeople to share their products through social media. Sellers now have access to a small business dashboard that allows them to offer rewards and special deals to their most loyal customers. One such example is Rita’s Ice in Bellmore, NY. The Italian ice shop was able to attract customers over its competitors because of its specials and offers – some of which were only accessible via Foursquare.

Foursquare is a good way to both find new customers and reward long-time patrons for their loyalty.

The Dangers

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Yup, even the Girl Scouts – long-known for their door-to-door cookie drives — have turned to social media in order to sell their strangely addictive cookies. The Girl Scouts previously shunned the online world for safety reasons but are just now experimenting with a new, safe online outreach to allow customers to buy their favorites. You can find corporate accounts for Girls Scouts on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr (Flickr) and YouTube (YouTube). But more importantly, you’ll find Girl Scouts everywhere sending Facebook messages to their friends and family members, inquiring on cookie orders.

While they are reaching a much larger audience, the Girl Scouts illustrates the danger of tarnishing a traditional brand image through selling via social media. They are so associated with door-to-door sales, that some see the turn online as a step backwards for the Girl Scouts’ image.

Branding is just as important for any other business or salesperson. Define your brand and decide how you can market it online without compromising your authenticity. With a little bit of forethought and tenacity, you can use social media to sell your goods with real results.

Are you seeing real results from your social media sales initiatives? Let us know in the comments below.

Series supported by Gist

Gist helps you build stronger professional relationships by bringing together information from across the web for all your contacts and their companies giving you the right information at the right moment to get a first meeting, deliver an amazing pitch, or just find a better way to make a connection. Gist does all the work for you, assembling a dynamic collection of all your contacts and their companies from your email inbox, your social networks, or even your CRM system automatically building and updating their profiles as new content is published – by them or about them.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto (iStockphoto), jgroup

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