It was 2008, and my business was failing. For the previous two decades, Unique Photo had been one of the largest distributors of photographic supplies. At one time, we represented 5% of all rolls of Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, and Ilford film sold in the US. Our customers were small retailers such as camera stores, photo labs, tourist shops, drug stores and professional photographers. They relied on us for low prices, fast 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:
- Digital cameras replaced film cameras at a much faster pace – which no one had anticipated
- Digital cameras became available everywhere, especially at BIG Box stores like Walmart
- Product became easily accessible online and especially on Amazon
- Digital camera model lifespan was very short, making inventory management extremely difficult
- Gross margin on film was 20%, while it was closer to 10% on digital cameras
- Small stores were being bought up by large chains – such as CVS and Walgreens
- Instant digital images meant customers were no longer forced to develop and print their pictures
- The number of camera stores decreased from over 10,000 to a few thousand and then to a few hundred
It seemed that all our customers were going out of business, our product was losing margin, and our competition was growing in number, capability, and size. I had to do something, or my family’s 60-year-old business would also be gone.
My solution was to open the Unique Photo camera superstore. I opened a camera store when most other ones had gone out of business. I reinvented the camera store concept and built something unique. But how was I going to execute this new idea with limited time and budget? We were so far behind the competition – we couldn’t outspend the BIG retailers in advertising dollars or surpass Amazon in automation and presence. My company was a business-to-business brand, new to the retail market, which meant that consumers had never heard of our brand.
My attention was drawn to the new field of social media. It was low cost, had a low entry barrier, and I could post and interact myself. I learned the techniques of using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and email. I learned how to implement a 2-brand strategy – using the power of my personal brand to magnify the company’s brand.
Within five years we became New Jersey’s most recognized camera retail brand (more than 50% of residents and 80% of photographers). We became one of the largest single location camera stores in the country, and in 2013, we were named the best camera store in the country by DIR Magazine.
Using social media to build our brand and business ended up being our savior. Here are eight social media power techniques that I used to get us there:
1. Up-To-Date Social Sites
Make sure the information on your website and social media platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn, beBee, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest) are up-to-date, accurate and attractive. Nothing says you are small-time more than social profiles having missing or inaccurate information. Make sure your logo and background image are sharp, professional, and consistent across all platforms.
2. Make Quality Posts Every Day
Post at least once per day on each platform. Hire someone to do it for you, if you can’t manage it yourself. This will help build followers; the most common way to lose them is through a lack of regular content. Furthermore, your posts should be interesting and valuable to your customers. Posting a sale special will get you only 10% 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 their accounts, but you should also follow their followers – as many of them will follow you back! I would sometimes look at a competitor’s followers and try to identify potential high-value targets, then tweet them myself.
4. Always Answer Your Customers
Only a few hours should lapse before every customer is responded to – without exception. If the discussion needs to be private, post something like “Private Message Sent” or “Call/email me at…”. All complaints should be addressed, and a “thank you” sent for every compliment. Interacting with customers on social media, deepens your relationship with them and they never forget you. Many customers will re-post and tell others – so make sure your conversations end well – all comments, both good and bad, 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 directly with customers on social media. I would personally monitor the company’s Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and respond to customers quickly – sometimes in the middle of the night. A tweet response to a customer’s problem at midnight always impresses and makes them feel special. An unhappy customer can be turned into an advocate for your brand. A tweet saying, “Sorry you had that problem (be specific), I will look into it first thing in the morning” for example, will change a customer’s entire experience.
6. Show Your Face On Facebook
Make comments on your company’s Facebook page through your personal account. Customers love to see a top executive give some inside ball. It attracts them to you and your company and demonstrates a level of authentic leadership. For example: when my company would post information on a hot upcoming product, I would post additional information about a feature not mentioned in the company’s post or exactly when it should be available.
7. Don’t Forget LinkedIn And beBee
Connect with your customers on LinkedIn and beBee. This personal connection makes the customers feel that you care about them, and they are more than just revenue to you. I have received orders, complaints, compliments, and suggestions from many of the several hundred customers I have connected with on LinkedIn – and 99.9% of those connections are still customers.
8. Email Weekly
Email is still the most effective method of reaching customers. Collect email addresses from every customer who contacts your company and email them creative and informative content. Emails should be less than 25% sales related, or folks will unsubscribe. You want customers to look forward to seeing your content.
No matter your size or type of company – retail store, independent contractor, photographer, lawyer, doctor, carpenter, or florist – you can employ these power tips today. They will bring you new clients and customers and sales.
If you are not using social media to build your brand and business, you are falling further behind every day. If you want to be successful, it’s time to implement your social strategy!