Honesty In Online Communication

We learned in kindergarten that honesty is the best policy but how many of us actually apply this advice on a daily basis?  In a culture that’s increasingly driven by countless forms of communication resulting in 24-hour access with fewer and fewer chances to be ‘off the grid,’ has it become easier to stretch the truth, feign ignorance or simply lie? According to Jeffrey Hancock, associate professor of communication and information science at Cornell University, being perceived as deceptive can seriously harm reputations and relationships, regardless of the medium.  His studies have also shown [surprisingly] that we tend to lie less online than in person or over the telephone; perhaps it’s because our online, documented posts, comments, status updates, and pictures will be around for a long time.  As a business owner, the type of communication you put in front of your audience adds up – and honesty is a big part of tipping the scales in your favor.

Enter social media. 

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Honest and open communication is the cornerstone of social messaging.

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn for business or Pinterest, Instgram or YouTube for pleasure, have you thought about how you are representing yourself online?  The first thing to do is learn how to engage online responsibly and assume you are speaking in public at all times.  We’ll say it again: the internet is not forgiving; posts, comments, status updates, and pictures will live on for the foreseeable future.  Make sure your professional social presence is one you are proud of now and will be in years to come.

Also, be yourself – honest and open communication is the cornerstone of social messaging.  Customers, or potential customers, will respect genuine communication that matters to them.  For instance, use the 4-1-1 rule; post 4 interesting, funny or informational ideas, 1 promotional post and 1 re-post [share with a friend, answer a question, hit the ‘like’ button, etc.], all of which need to be relevant to your audience.  Regardless of whether you post a few times daily or a few times per month, follow the rule above for a targeted strategy that will resonate with your audience.  And as a general rule, before posting on any social medium, ask yourself if the information is honest and relevant.

The review sites.

Here’s where honesty may be most beneficial.  What happens when online reviews about your business begin popping up via Yelp and Google?   If they are positive, great!  But what about the other side of that coin?  We’d all like to think that we give 100% all day every day, but the reality is that sometimes we fall short.  It’s inevitable that you’ll see a less than stellar business review at some point.  When confronted with this ‘bad’ review, it’s how you handle this perceived setback that can set you apart.

Be courageous in the face of bad news, honorably standing tall despite conflict [even if you suspect the negative review is the handiwork of your competitor down the street].  If tempted to avoid the issue, or to make an excuse, think of how you’d feel if a comment you made went unaddressed or simply ignored.  Not pleased, right?  Human beings are deeply attracted to courageous honesty, but sometimes when we are on the other side of the complaint it’s difficult not to be defensive.  It’s best to apologize and do everything we can to make things right — right away.  A February 2014 study by the Social Media Marketing University found that 52% of US marketers respond to negative online comments within 24 hours.  That means responding diplomatically to the comment online, calling the customer [if you can] and remedying the situation ASAP!  The Retail Consumer Report found that of consumers who received a reply in response to their negative review, 33% posted a positive review and 34% deleted their original negative review.  That means by handling the issue, you might even get that nasty, negative comment retracted!

It will work. Honest.

If you believe in what you are doing and are passionate about why you get up every day, this honesty task will be a piece of cake.  Communicating with a broader audience is easier today than ever before, but remember, your message needs to be relevant, timely and genuine.

The Value of the Experience

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A forgettable experience won’t bring customers back through your doors – an unforgettable positive one will.

All of today’s shopping, dining and entertainment experiences are just that – experiences.  It’s more important than ever to engage customers and tether them to your distinct brand – what makes you different from your competition down the street or a purchase made online?  The answer to this question – and the way it’s conveyed to your current customers – will keep them coming back for more.

Let’s face it, in today’s marketplace, it takes more work to make [and keep] the sale.  Consumers have higher expectations, expect more value, look for discounts and demand better service – so your business has to focus on how to integrate or improve upon these factors.  Use these influencers to your advantage by enticing customers to buy from you based on what they want, not what you think they should be getting.  Maybe you can’t offer the best price, but you can give excellent service and you sell an amazing product – focus on your strengths and what makes your business unique to the customer so they’ll want to purchase from you.

Remember that the consumer experience does not end with the purchase; that’s just the beginning.  Large and small ‘follow ups’ post-purchase are necessary to keep your business top-of-mind with the consumer.  The establishment and retention of these types of relationships are becoming almost as critical as the actual product itself.  We know that your current customers are your most qualified leads, but just because they purchase from you once doesn’t guarantee repeat business.  So it’s up to you to nurture these relationships and create a strong connection between these customers and your business.  This can be accomplished via targeted direct response [email and direct mail], personal phone calls, yearly birthday messages, etc.  Stay connected to these customers to keep your business top-of-mind.

Businesses [especially privately owned ones] need to concentrate on selling the experience and differentiating themselves from the competition.  It’s the positive and unique experience that will fuse a customer to your business – not the device they take with them.  A forgettable experience won’t bring customers back through your doors – an unforgettable positive one will.

In this industry, our Associates are selling a lifestyle improvement, not merely a device.  The device is the solution, but the customers’ journey is actually more important.  Focus on the journey, the factors that are important to the customer and encouraging them to always travel back through your doors!

Remember these tips:

  • How is your business unique?  What differentiates you from the competition?   Use the answers to these questions to help your business stand out.
  • Raise the bar [especially related to service] to meet consumers’ increasing expectations.
  • Keep current customers connected to your business to encourage loyalty and repeat sales.

Which is it?

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Advertising is the most visible component of a marketing program.

Many people confuse marketing with advertising or vice versa. While both are important — they are very different. Knowing the difference and doing your homework can put your business on the path to substantial growth.

First, a review of the definitions for each and then an explanation of how (and why) marketing and advertising differ from one another:

Advertising: The paid, public, non-personal announcement of a persuasive message by an identified sponsor; the non-personal presentation or promotion by a firm of its products to its existing and potential customers.

Marketing: The systematic planning, implementation and control of a mix of business activities intended to bring together buyers and sellers for the mutually advantageous exchange or transfer of products.

It is easy to understand how these two can be confusing to the point that people think of them as one-in-the same, so let’s dig in a bit deeper.

Advertising is a single element of the marketing process. It’s the part that involves getting the word out concerning your business, a product, or the services you offer. It encompasses the process of developing strategies for ad placement, frequency, etc. Strategically determining the placement (and repetition) of an ad in useful media including newspapers, television, radio, and of course the Internet is part of the process. But, so is creating and using direct mail, or even billboards for that matter. Advertising is the largest expense on most marketing plans.

On the other hand, marketing is everything that the consumer encounters when it comes to  your business, from advertising, to what they hear, to the customer service that they receive, to the follow-up care that you provide. It’s  all marketing. Marketing creates the decision within the consumer whether or not to choose you initially, or again, for their repeat business.

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Marketing isn’t just the art, the logo, the brand – it’s the entire customer experience.

The best way to distinguish between advertising and marketing is to think of marketing as a pie, inside that pie you have slices. The slices consist of advertising, market research, media planning, public relations, product pricing, distribution, customer support, sales strategy, and community involvement. Advertising only equals one piece of the pie in the strategy. All of these elements must not only work independently but they also must work together towards the bigger goal. Marketing is a process that takes time and involves hours of development for a marketing plan to be effective.

You should think of marketing as everything that an organization does to facilitate an exchange between your business and its consumers. Taking into account the bigger picture helps to understand and appreciate the interconnected relationships between the elements that make your business thrive. If you only focus on advertising, you are setting yourself up for frustration and will likely only see the expenses. In this way you can not enjoy the full benefit of a tightly integrated marketing perspective. Think about it — your business may depend on it.

Do This, Not That in 2013

Want to know what not to do with your online presence? Here’s a list of 10 do’s and 10 don’ts to keep your online activities on the right track in 2013.

contentDon’t: Build a “bells & whistles” flashy website.

Do: Stick to the fundamentals — but it doesn’t have to be boring or utilitarian. Take the time to understand the interests, desires, and objectives of those who will find, and use, your website. Give your viewers a positive experience by focusing on delivering answers to their questions. Whether it be “where are you located?” or “how can I deal with a constant ringing in my ears?” if you make it easy for them to find what they want without making them click 10 times, or wait for an animation to stop they will be happier.

So, skip over those gimmicky design elements, like banners or videos in Flash (which slow down load times, or not load at all for some mobile* users) and any other “cool” or trendy tricks unless they are critical to the message.

* More on mobile users a little further down on this list.

Don’t: Use a social media page in place of a website

Do: Get a professional business website. Include links to your social media pages if you wish, but don’t overlook the key role a well planned website plays. With a website you have control of the content allowing you to generate interest and track activity, such as phone calls, visits, and clicks. By optimizing content you’ll be able to develop and manage new leads and create custom landing pages to support online or digital marketing. While social media pages are an excellent addition to your online presence, they should never be a substitute for a website.

Don’t: Start a social profile and leave it unattended.

Do: Use your social pages to showcase your business by posting informative, valuable and sharable content. Establishing yourself as a source for helpful information and a reliable resource will bring followers and create more traffic to your website. If you’re not sure what to post, listen to the questions that patients ask when you are helping them. Use those talking points to create a blog post on your website, and let your social followers know its there. You can also ask current fans and followers what they’d like to see more of as well, stay relevant though, keep to your strengths. Engaging with followers through polls, creating casual videos of products or services, or fan/follower-only deals, specials, or events are often well received.

like-logoDon’t: Get caught up in a quest for “Likes” or use multiple “Like Us” messages to coerce people to your social media pages.

Do: Give people a reason to like you! They will follow you, like you, join your circle, or perform any other action they need to take if you show them the value in doing so. When promoting your social pages in emails, blogs, or on your website you can stress the unique benefits they get by joining your social community. Then, go on and provide them with that informative or entertaining content to show that you understand what they want.

Don’t: Neglect your business blog.

Do: Use your blog to exhibit your professional expertise and establish thought leadership in your industry. Adding fresh, highly relevant content to your website is the single best way to drive search results to your site. Write content with desirable keywords in mind, but avoid obscuring the primary message just to emphasize those keywords. If you want readers to find you credible, write to their interests, supplementing the text with words that help optimize your site overall. It isn’t the repetitious use of the words that drives traffic, it’s the meaning.

OK, well that’s a good start.  We’ll cover the remaining five do’s and don’t’s in the next post. 

How Great is Your Practice? Let Customers be Your Biggest Fans!

It’s a great feeling when you get positive feedback in life.  Whether it’s kudos on a job well done, a compliment on the way you look or a ‘thank you’ for a good deed accomplished.  The same feeling applies to your practice, except it doesn’t have to be a passing note of gratitude.  Testimonials are a great and [semi] permanent way to tell the rest of the world how much your practice is loved, what a wonderful job you do and how satisfied your customers are – and even better, it’s feedback coming right from the consumer for other consumers to see!

If a customer gives you a 'thumbs up,' let the world know!

If a customer gives you a ‘thumbs up,’ let the world know!

Testimonials from customers can be used across various marketing mediums: in direct mailers, newspaper ads, on your website, in flyers [to physicians or the community] – the sky’s the limit!  The fist step is to ask for them.  A satisfied customer will be happy to compliment your practice.  Just ask them to fill out a compliment slip, complete a form on your website, write a recommendation letter or give a verbal testimonial – depending on the best format for them.  Always have the customer sign a release form so you can use said testimonials across all marketing and PR channels.  It’s no time to be modest – if you are providing excellent customer service while enhancing the quality of life for your patients the world has a right to know!

What happens if someone’s not satisfied?  Asking for feedback will eventually result in some negative comments as well.  But that’s okay.  This is an opportunity to find out what is dissatisfying the customer and quickly remedy the problem, turning a negative experience into a positive one for both the customer and you.

And what to do once you have all of these glowing testimonials collected?  Start integrating them into your marketing materials – where appropriate – based on the message.  For instance, in a direct mailer or newspaper ad, you’ll want to focus on the positive feedback regarding service and how long you’ve been serving the community [the mature and Boomers audiences LOVE this type of information]; for web based marketing, you want to show how you can save time for the Boomer audience and a sense of ‘well roundedness’ for the influencer audience; for physician marketing, you’ll want to showcase how important it is to the patient that their doctors work together to provide the best overall care possible.  You can utilize the testimonial in a variety of ways and speak to a number of audiences.

The best part is this is a free tactic that can be integrated into your messaging.  It’s the details in these testimonials that will set you apart from your competitors – positive feedback about your practice from your customers.

Get started today!