I get excited when I see that one of my favorite San Francisco haunts has a twitter account advertised on its blog or in its window. I usually jot down their handle in my ever-present little notebook, then dutifully follow them on twitter when I get home. And then I wait...and wait...and nothing.
No follow back. No reply to my excited tweet @them professing my undying devotion when I added them.
Frequently, when I peek at the lists of whom they *do* follow, what I see is a couple dozen bigwigs in their industry, celebrity tastemakers, and sometimes a few journalists. But almost never a good selection of their followers.
Does this make good business sense? I don't think so. And here are three key reasons why.
Reason #1: You May Be Alienating Some of Your Biggest Community Supporters
That person with a few dozen followers you blew off by not replying to her tweet? What if she's one of your best customers, not only dropping a ton of money in your shop, but also microblogging about you and recommending you to everyone she knows? You've just missed out on a great opportunity to connect with her, and validate that support, and you may have even turned her off a bit to your brand. I know I've personally in such a situation at least momentarily had the thought "I thought they were a friendly local shop, but they think they are too cool to follow me back? How lame."
Worse yet, if you are a non profit, you could be blowing off your contributors and members when you only follow a select few accounts you deem to be important. Save the exclusivity for your personal account (or better yet for a private list.) If the purpose of your blog is to build your small business's brand-- and it really should be-- you will want to connect with a wide selection of your fans and supporters.
Reason #2: You are Missing Out on Getting Tons of Free Market Intelligence About Your Customers
If you are following your loyal supporters and customers and engaging with them online, you can start to see some trends emerge regarding what they're talking about, or even their day-to-day needs. Armed with this data you can make better decisions about what to stock on your shelves or even new services to offer. All for just the cost of your time and effort in maintaining your social media channels. For extra efficiency, and to add even more context to this qualitative data you can set up google alerts to let you know when your business (or its social media channels) are mentioned online, and can use google analytics to see the keywords and social media channels that are driving content to your website or blog.
Reason #3: If you're Not Engaging With Your Customers, Your Competitors Will Be
Your customers have a choice every time they make a decision about the purchases they make. Just because you are their regular go-to place for books, or a special dinner, doesn't mean you will necessarily be that forever. Many small business have seen the power of directly engaging with consumers via social media, especially when they are somewhat dissatisfied with a purchase or service interaction interaction.
If you're not following your clients back, that can't send you a direct message to interact with you 1:1 to resolve an issue. Which means they may put it out there on their status update, giving your competition the opportunity to reply and offer their alternative to their services. I know I've personally seen that happen quite a bit. When the service provider responds to me directly, I'm charmed. But when I never get a reply from them, but I do from their competition, whom an acquaintance has referred me to in light of my dilemma? You can bet I go check them out.
One last thought
Social Media isn't high school. It's not important to have more people following you than you have followers. Having thousands or hundreds of thousands of followers is not the point. Connecting with your customers and engaging in conversation with them? That's where you want to be focused.
Do you have some good examples of local businesses who are making the most of their social media presences?