It was 2007 and my business was in trouble. For the previous 20 years,Unique Photo had been one of the largest distributors of photographic supplies, including film (35mm, 120/220, Polaroid, Kodak, Fujifilm, etc.), cameras, photo paper, chemistry, and accessories. At one time, we even represented 5 percent of all rolls of film sold in the U.S. Our customers were primarily small retail outlets, such as camera stores, photo labs, tourist shops, pharmacies, and professional photographers. They relied on us for low prices, quick delivery, and stellar customer service.
As we entered the early and mid-2000’s, we were plagued with many seemingly insurmountable attacks on our business:
- Film cameras (and film) were replaced by digital cameras at a much faster pace, which no one had anticipated
- Digital cameras became available everywhere, no longer just at small stores – but at places such as Walmart, Target, and Best Buy
- Product became easily accessible via the Internet, aided by the emergence of the big gorilla — Amazon
- Lifespan of the digital-camera model decreased, making inventory management extremely difficult
- Margin on film was 20 percent, while on digital product it was closer to 10 percent
- Small stores, and in particular local drug stores, were being bought up by large chains – such as CVS and Walgreens
- Digital imaging led the one-hour photo lab to go out of business because customers were no longer forced to develop and print their pictures
- The number of camera stores decreased significantly, from more than 10,000 to a few thousand…and then to a few hundred
Simply put: all our customers were going out of business, our product was losing margin, and our competition was growing in number, capability, and size. New Jersey was our home turf and we watched much of its camera business go to the biggest electronics store in the world, B&H Photo of New York City. I had to do something or my family’s 60-year-old business would also be done.
My solution was to open the Unique Photo camera superstore. Yes, I opened a store when most other stores had gone under. I wanted to reinvent the camera-store concept and build something unique, no pun intended. The problem was, how was I going to execute this new concept with limited time and budget? We were so far behind the competition; we couldn’t outspend Best Buy in advertising dollars or surpass Amazon in technological prowess and presence. Unique was a B2B business, new to the retail business, which meant that consumers had never heard of our brand.
I decided to give social media a try. It was inexpensive, had a low entry barrier, and I could do it myself. I learned the techniques of using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and email. I even invented a few tricks of my own, including a two-brand strategy for enhancing the power of the company’s and my personal brands.
Within five years we became a highly recognized brand (more than 50 percent of residents and 80 percent of photographers) in New Jersey for camera equipment and photography supplies, and we became one of the largest, single-location camera stores in the country. In 2013, we were picked as the best camera store in the country by DIR Magazine.
Using social media to build my brand and business worked, and even better than I had even imagined.
Here are 7 social-media power techniques that I used to great success:
1. Up-To-Date Social Sites
Make sure the information on your company pages and on social-media platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest) are up-to-date and accurate. Nothing screams small-time more than those pages having old or inaccurate information. Make sure your logo, background image, etc., are sharp, professional, and consistent across all platforms.
2. Quality Posts Every Day
Post at least once per day on each platform. If you can’t personally do it, hire someone who can. This will build followers. The most common way to lose them is to not have new content there. Furthermore, your posts should be interesting and valuable to your customers. Posting a sale special gets only 10 percent of the views that something informative or humorous would. Customers will keep coming back if there is something there for them.
3. Follow Your Competition
This works best on Twitter and Instagram. Not only should you follow your competitors’ accounts, but you should also follow their followers — many will follow you back! I would sometimes look at their followers and try to identify potential high-value targets and tweet at them myself.
4. Always Answer Your Customers
Only a few hours should lapse before every customer is responded to — with no exceptions. If the discussion needs to be private, post something like, “Personal message sent” Or “Call/email me at…”. Complaints should be addressed, as well as a “thank you” sent for compliments. Once you interact with customers on social media, you deepen your relationship with them and they never forget you. Many customers will re-post and tell others, so make sure the conversation ends well. Both good and bad comments last forever on the Internet.
5. Be a Customer-Service Leader
As the owner, principal or executive at your company, the best use of your time and position is to interact with customers directly on social media. I would monitor the company’s Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and respond to customers quickly — sometimes in the middle of the night. Getting a tweet response to a customer’s problem at midnight always impresses and makes him or her feel special. It can turn an unhappy customer into an advocate for your company. For example, a tweet that says, “Sorry you had that problem (be specific), I will look into it first thing in the morning” changes a customer’s entire experience.
6. Show Your Face on Facebook
Make comments on your company’s Facebook page via your personal account. Customers love seeing a top executive give some inside ball. It attracts them to you and your company and demonstrates that the company is led by someone who is authentic. For example, when my company would post information on a hot upcoming product, I would post additional information about exactly when it should be available or a feature not mentioned in the company’s post.
7. Don’t Forget LinkedIn
Connect with your customers on LinkedIn. This personal connection makes the customers feel that you care about them, and that they are more than just revenue to you. I have gotten orders, complaints, compliments, and suggestions from many of the several hundred customers I have connected with on LinkedIn. And 99.9 percent of these connections are still customers.
Whether you have a large, medium, or small company, a retail store, or are an independent contractor, photographer, lawyer, doctor, plumber, shoemaker or florist, you can employ these power techniques today. They will immediately bring you new clients or customers and sales.
To be successful today, you need the attitude that social media is not something you do. It’s a lifestyle.