Harnessing social media and digital signage to grow your bottom line

Social media has created the world’s two youngest billionaires, Dustin Moskovitz and Mark Zuckerberg. It has brought down high-level politicians, reunited long-lost high school friends and crowns “mayors” of favorite, most-visited places. We all know the popularity of social media these days, but how about its importance in helping promote and grow your small business?

More than likely, if you are a small business owner, you have a website. If not, you really need to get with the times. Gone are the days of the 6-pound phonebook. In those days, business strategies included naming your company with the letter “A” to get it listed first in the Yellow Pages and, hopefully, allowing you to take the lion’s share of customers’ phone calls. Online search engines, such as Yahoo!, Google, Ask and Bing, now help guide customers to your website. So, in 2012, you must be online to survive.

Getting your business online and part of the 21st century crowd is a good start. Now, how about having a social network presence? In the business world, Facebook and Twitter simply aren’t just hip and trendy platforms anymore. They are now being used to keep up with the times. In business, competitors may use them steal your customers away by marketing to them via an ever-increasing and superior online and marketing presence. According to multiple 2011 surveys, approximately one in two U.S. businesses use social media in some fashion. Small businesses make up an even larger percentage (upwards of 81 percent) of this trend. Where does your company fit in this integrated and digitized world?

Sure, you can find thousands upon thousands of small businesses with Facebook, Twitter and other social network accounts by simply searching for them online. But, it’s mostly the customers who do the legwork as small businesses rarely promote their social media presence in stores, and even fewer promote it via digital signage within the confines of their establishments. Word of mouth, or a customer’s simple curiosity, is still the norm.

How do you get started? First, after creating your social media site, you must inform the masses. Like most small businesses, you don’t have the budget to advertise on TV or radio. You may advertise in the local paper once or twice a week or pay a few extra dollars to make sure you have a premium presence when someone searches for your local services online.

If your business has a social network account, what are you doing to let customers know that is exists? Do you hope they stumble across it online? Do you tell them about it in person? Are your servers or sales associates supposed to mention it? Wouldn’t it be easier, and more productive, to have a digital signage board or menu that consistently reminds patrons of immediate, as well as long term, benefits if they “check-in,” “friend” or “like” your business?

Social network promotions via digital signage doesn’t have to be bland and simply informative. Make it fun and interactive by having a continuous full or split-screen feed of your Facebook page on one or more monitors within a location so patrons can see their check-ins in real time. You can offer the Foursquare “Mayor” of your establishment free lunch once a month or give them a $20 gift card. Give patrons who “friend” or “follow” your business a once-a-month or once-a-week special discount via Facebook or Google+. Reward customers who check-in and tag two or more friends. With these promotions, a significant amount of patrons will friend or follow you immediately.

Opportunities Lost
I recently stopped by a local franchise of a nationwide restaurant chain, which has a rather large Facebook presence whereupon they regularly advertise social network-specific specials and benefits. But, my friends with Facebook accounts, who also frequent this particular establishment, had no clue that these social network specials existed. The disconnect occurred because patrons were not asked to “friend” this franchised location on Facebook, where these specials are advertised. Since this chain is famous for a multitude of screens within each location, how many more customers do you think would “friend” or “like” this location if an in-store digital signage board promoted free food in exchange for social media engagement?

Corporate parent companies should not be the only ones to spearhead social media campaigns. Individual franchises should be, as well. Local marketing is key for the small business owner/operator. Of course, franchised locations may have to abide by corporate headquarters’ rules and regulations, depending on their contractual obligations and limitations, especially if corporate is providing the direct feeds to your digital signage. But inquiring about it or simply re-reading your contract may be all it takes to launch this simple yet effective campaign for your franchise. If you are allowed to have a Facebook page, use it to advertise your business.

Then, there’s the built-from-the-ground-up, self-founded owned-and-operated small businesses that are not handcuffed to corporate policies. I spoke with a local private bicycle shop owner who claims to do a lot of social media for his business. He uses a few “pay-for-play” outsourced marketing programs, such as email blasts to some current and potential customers. I inquired about the two in-store digital signage screens that display scrolling specials and product information of the different makes and model of bikes that he sells and services, as well as his store’s maintenance capabilities. I didn’t notice anything about promoting his social media presence during the digital rotation. He looked at me with furrowed brow, and said, “You know, I never thought of that. That's not a bad idea.” It’s a simple yet effective campaign.

Drive-By Marketing
You don’t have to promote your social media accounts solely in-store. Small to mid-size businesses have an even greater opportunity to grab the attention of potential customers via digital signage. Take car dealerships, law firms, medical practices and furniture stores, for example. Many advertise on large digital billboards along major vehicular arteries. Slapping the social network icon on this message board that plugs your available new cars and financing specials or your medical expertise reminds thousands of potential customers and clients on a daily basis to visit your Facebook site. They can also see others who have “friended” your site, read reviews about your business and see online promotions you currently offer. I’m not too sure how many law firms have “friends,” but you get the idea.

Fight ADD and Hook Them on the Spot
If you operate digital signage in-house or advertise on them outside your location, you may be missing the boat to capitalize on marketing your social media presence. With the added popularity of smartphones and similar devices, many customers have the ability to “check-in,” “friend,” “like” or “follow” you right there, on the spot. Your captive audience just needs to be reminded to do so consistently while you have their attention.