This may come as some surprise, but there really is no trick to becoming a successful business online. Sure, you will always need a little bit of luck and some decent promotions to get started, but most of all you need a customer-first attitude and plenty of common sense.
These principles have been employed by businesses throughout the ages. Just because the technology has changed, it doesn’t mean that your ethos should too.
If you offer a crummy product, are unresponsive to customers and remain staunchly uncompetitive on pricing, you will always struggle. When you alienate or antagonise your target audience, bad situations can quickly become irreversible or turn into unmitigated disasters. But this has always been the case.
When Gerald Ratner described his products as “total crap”, it wiped £500 million off the value of the Ratner jewellery empire almost overnight back in 1991. This was long before Facebook or Google were ever conceived. It’s an extreme example, but it’s one that many modern companies should certainly keep in mind.
Fundamentally, customers DO NOT want to be:
So as a business, all you really need to do is ensure that you never find yourself doing any of the above. It’s not rocket science, just basic manners and understanding.
‘Doing a Ratner’ on Social Media
This post came about having read an extraordinary article on UnMarketing about a Atlanta BBQ joint having its own Ratner moment, albeit this time on social media (it’s a good read, I thoroughly recommend it). Now we’ve all seen plenty of gaffes on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, some admittedly worse than others. Some blow over, some explode. But all, as in this particular case, show the fundamental failings of the business itself – not just its communications.
For some unknown reason, Boner’s BBQ took exception to a negative review on Yell.com. Rather than addressing the issue with the disgruntled customer, they instead chose to discredit her using their Facebook profile. In the rather disparaging post, which included the lady’s name, her picture and a barrage of insults, they (falsely) suggested that she didn’t tip and that any restaurant should evict her.
It didn’t end there of course. Rather than a single onerous, poorly judged comment, the owner of the restaurant continued his tirade, both on his personal profile and the business’ profile as well. This bought further attention to his misdeeds and resulted in a humiliating climb down. Unfortunately, by this time, Boner’s BBQ had already featured on the local news and the Huffington Post along with thousands of social media profiles the world over.
Dealing with Underlying Issues
To think that this is simply an issue of social media misuse would be hugely misguided. The problems started a long time before they decided to criticise customers on Facebook. First of all, the restaurant should have delivered an experience that wouldn’t give cause for complaint. This means delivering tasty, fresh food, promptly and with courteous staff.
However, even if they weren’t able to deliver the level of service that they usually seek to offer customers, Boner’s BBQ should have recognised this and apologised when the initial complaint was made (in the restaurant). This knocks any potential problems on the head and gives the business some constructive feedback on how to better their service in the future.
So essentially it is bad management, from start to finish that has allowed the issue to escalate in the way it did. This has nothing to do with social media training, having a bad day or any of the other usual excuses; the problem is simply that the company is rotten to the core. Until it deals with its offline issues, then it won’t succeed online.
Again, this is another extreme example, but I think it ably demonstrates why online rankings and visibility don’t guarantee success in their own right. They don’t count for anything if your end product is lousy.
Being Able to Convert
In darts they say ‘scoring for show, doubles for dough’. Essentially it means that you can score all the 180’s in the world, but if you don’t get the double at the end of the game, you will never win. The same is true of websites and online businesses in general.
What use is it if you can attract thousands of people to your site if they all leave without having purchased anything? Traffic is just a number until you can make it convert into meaningful business. This is why offline success stories often find it easier to replicate the same results online. They have a strong identity and ethos, all they then need to do is apply this to an online platform.
This is why I have to slightly disagree with Michael’s post this morning. The idea that domain names and coding are integral to the success of a business is fanciful. Sure, it will help when it comes to gaining rankings and overall usability, but it won’t paper over the cracks of a fundamentally flawed company.
As I mentioned in my recent post announcing the arrival of Google Search, Plus Your World, with the search engine visibility becoming more reliant on social sharing, it’s important that you have a product or content that is worth sharing in the first place. Whilst you might be able to pull the wool over Google’s eyes, your human visitors won’t be so easily fooled.
As with the earlier example, offline failures can seep online and vice versa, affecting all parts of your business. So it is increasingly difficult to isolate the different parts of a company. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you own a small boutique store that is hugely popular within your town, then it should be easier to replicate and develop this online. Despite having the world at your fingertips, most of us are still seeking good, local businesses to work with. So it is in these markets that you should be looking to capitalise, not worrying about HTML5 or spending thousands on a social media guru.
After all, successful social networking is just good communication. You don’t have to be an expert to know that you don’t swear at customers, share inappropriate jokes, or ignore the messages you receive. If you work in a customer services role you wouldn’t ignore a call or hang up if they were critical, you respond – and that is, in essence, what social networking is all about. Get your message out there, interact and respond.
Of course you still have to do marketing, bring your site up to code and avoid faux pas in a new online environment, but if you want the dough, then you have to hit the doubles. The rules of darts haven’t changed and neither have the conventions of business. But the more social the Internet becomes, the more focus there will be on getting everything right.
Fail Stamp via BigStock