How to Make Your Business More Social

Carla Turchetti by Carla Turchetti on December 12, 2013
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The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important, American philosopher John Dewey observed. His insight may help to explain why blogs and social networks have become so popular. Before Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and the like, the only way that the average person could influence the masses was to become a celebrity. Now, anyone can wield power online — and feel important.

How can your business capitalize on this trend? By incorporating various other social elements into your business strategy and marketing efforts. Here are some pointers.

Making Your Customers Feel Important

Incorporating social aspects into your business gives your customers a more human experience with your brand. The following five social business models are great examples of this.

Invitation-Only Sales — This tactic, which requires consumers to receive an invitation from a friend to buy products and services, works especially well in e-commerce. For example, Gilt Groupe became a billion-dollar brand using this sales model and inspired other members-only retailers. Site members may participate in flash sales, in which they have only days or hours to purchase goods from some of the top luxury brands on a first-come, first-served basis. The invitation-only nature offers users scarcity, which increases demand, and exclusivity, which instills a sense of importance in consumers.

Product Recommendations — According to a recent survey by Ask Your Target Market, 32 percent of respondents said that they usually seek recommendations from others before making a purchase decision. As a result, social shopping models are popping up and doing extremely well. For example, startup weeSpring appeals to new and expecting parents by allowing them to share advice on baby products. Stella & Dot provides a unique experience for social shopping, empowering aspiring entrepreneurs to start their own business as independent stylists through in-home trunk shows. In 2012, the brand expanded internationally, reached $200 million in sales, and reportedly paid $100 million in commissions to stylists.

Crowdfunding — Crowdfunding initiatives generated $2.7 billion last year and are projected to generate $5.1 billion this year. “Crowdfunding offers a great opportunity for everyone to leverage their social networks and transform social capital into financial support,” said Massolution analyst and research director Kevin Berg Kartaszewicz-Grell told VentureBeat. For example, more than 100,000 projects have been launched on Kickstarter and $678 million has been pledged. Rival Indiegogo has also launched more than 100,000 projects and its most successful campaign raised over $1.3 million last year. These business models appeal to investors’ sense of social good, offering rewards or incentives for contributing to each project.

Social Commenting — Commenting is a classic way for users to communicate and interact. As such, it has evolved into a real social network. For example, commenting platform Disqus currently serves more than a billion monthly unique users, 100 million user profiles and 2.5 million site installs. It integrates its own social features with the ability to voted on comments and individual comment replies, so websites which install the platform can connect readers together.

Integrating Social Aspects Into Your Business

So how do you use these tactics in your own business? Whether you’re a startup or looking to reinvigorate your existing brand, here are three initial steps you can take.

1. Provide exclusivity and some friendly competition. Offer reward badges or otherwise acknowledge your repeat customers. This works especially well in education and with publishers. Earning a badge gives users a sense of accomplishment, the drive to earn more badges, and in turn engage more with your brand. Publishers like Mashable and The Huffington Post do this well by promoting their most active commenters. It is easy to pinpoint their super users with special badges.

2. Appoint top users as brand evangelists. Invite your biggest fans to create or lead social-influencer programs and offer suggestions on new products or services. For example, fashion retailer LuLu*s uses influential personal style bloggers to gain more visibility.

3. Reward them for referrals. Retailers do this by providing credits or discounts toward shoppers’ next purchase. For example, Elle Magazine‘s flash sale shopping site Rue La La offers members a $25 credit when a referral makes a purchase.

Carla Turchetti

Carla Turchetti is a veteran broadcast, print and digital journalist who is passionate about small businesses and the stories behind them. Carla is a small-business columnist at the News & Observer, the regional daily newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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