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5 Ways to Drive Engagement By Featuring Customers Online

Customers love to be seen and heard. Featuring them online is a great way to do both because it gives them an opportunity to share the experiences they’ve had with your business, your products, and your services in truly genuine and authentic ways. It’s also an opportunity to build deeper connections with both current and prospective customers while creating positive buzz around your brand at the same time.

There are many ways to feature your customers online: throughout your business website, across social media, and even on your blog. Here are five ideas that pretty much any local business can put into effect immediately. Add a new idea to your marketing to-do list each quarter to keep customers at the forefront of your efforts.

Instagram Takeover

Instagram takeovers have become popular with well-known brands like Google, Weight Watchers, and Estee Lauder. The idea is simple: an industry influencer – or, in your case, a customer – “takes over” your Instagram account for the day, posting photos and videos of their choosing, as though they were your official social media manager.  

For an Instagram takeover to be successful, the customers selected should ideally have a reasonably large following across social media and, even better, have some sort of influence across the web – perhaps through their own published blog. If not, though, you can still tap into your customers to give your Instagram account a unique and more personalized flair. So, with a customer or two in mind, it’s time to plan the takeover:

Determine your purpose: What do you want to achieve: audience growth, community engagement, foot traffic, an increase in sales – or a combination of them all? Answering this question will allow you to set goals for the takeover and more effectively measure success once all is said and done.

Set a timeline: Most takeovers happen for one day. But don’t just spring it on your followers. Plan lead-up promotions the week before to get your followers excited and to encourage others to raise a hand to do a takeover down the road. Also, be sure to schedule a “Thank You” post for the following day as well.

Work out the logistics: Set up a process for posting content to avoid giving anyone outside of your business direct access to your Instagram account. This will help you maintain quality control to ensure that whatever is posted is appropriate and relevant. You may also want to decide these details in advance:

  • Frequency of posts
  • Total number of posts
  • Content themes (to ensure brand relevance)
  • Product or brand call-outs

Customer Blog Spotlight

Featuring your customers on your blog is a great way to weave them directly into your marketing efforts. Not to mention, once that content is published, they’re likely to tell their friends and family about it and share the link via social media. In other words, they end up doing a lot of amazing earned marketing for you.

A blog post is rarely “one size fits all,” so have some fun with the format of your customer-inspired posts. Not only does this add a little variety to your blog, but it makes developing content a lot more fun for your customers, too. A few ideas include:

Q&A: A simple question-and-answer format is a great way to engage your customers in a conversation about a specific topic, product, or service. You can even use some the information captured in the Q&A to create a customer profile that helps readers get to know your customers better – which can double up as the intro for your blog post:

Name: Sally Smith
Occupation: Writer
Most-recent [Brand name] purchase: ABC product
Favorite TV show: The Love Boat
Favorite place to visit: San Diego, California

Video: Post a "day in the life” style video where customers show how they use your products and services in your home or in your day-to-day activities. This is a perfect way to offer quick tips and other advice related to the benefits associated with the products and services you offer. For example, a pool building company could do a feature on how a customer created a unique backyard experience via well-integrated design, landscape, and furniture.

Guest post: If you’ve got customers who just so happen to be great writers – or even have a decent blog following of their own – invite them pen a post about relevant topic of their choice. It can be a personal story, a list post (“10 Ways to…”), or an op-ed. Just be sure it’s related to your business or industry.

Design Innovation Contest

Make customers a part of your business by inviting them to help you make your business even better. The idea is simple and can be done easily via social media: ask customers to submit ideas for a new product or service. The winning idea is then implemented within the business. Major brands, like Lays chips, have done this successfully on a large scale. It can work for small businesses as well. You just have to be clear on the parameters of the contest so customers submit ideas that you can feasibly turn into a reality.

For example, a local sandwich shop could ask customers to help them come up with their latest sandwich creation. The selected sandwich could be named after the winner or after a name of the customer’s choosing. This same idea can be done with a local ice cream shop, restaurant, café, or coffee shop.

Just be sure to make the submission process easy to manage. You could:

  • Ask customers to submit ideas in the comments of a particular Facebook post.
  • Create a Facebook group to accept submissions.
  • Create a hashtag to collect submissions on Twitter or Instagram.

Customer-Led Twitter Chat

Twitter chats are a great way to boost engagement and your social media following – all while answering questions about your business and engaging customers in conversations about products and services that matter most to them.

However, instead of hosting one yourself, ask a customer to be your moderator. This makes it more relatable, minimizes a lot of bias, and can help assure a solid turnout since the guest host will likely invite friends and family to participate. (And that’s before you do any marketing to publicize the chat!)

Be sure to set your customers up for success so they don’t find themselves stuck in a stressful or awkward tweeting situation. Here are a few tips to keep mind:

  • Choose a topic your customer feels comfortable speaking about – a specific product or industry-relevant topic.

  • Pre-plan your chat by outlining questions and hashtags in advance.

  • Teach your customers appropriate Twitter Chat protocol. In short, a question and then engage with users as they respond. The question format should be “Q1: [Insert question]”; Q2: [Insert question] – and so on. As would be expected, answers are typically formatted as “A1: [Answer here].”

Don’t forget to identify success metrics and goals in advance so you can determine whether this was an effective use of your resources and time. Your goals might include:

  • Gaining ## of new followers
  • Getting ## of tweets with the pre-identified hashtag
  • Driving ## of sales transactions
  • Getting ## of “favorites” or “re-tweets”

Crowd-Sourced Webinar

Instead of coming up with webinar ideas on your own, ask customers to tell you what’s on their mind. Then, design a webinar around a theme, a specific concern, or an idea that emerges from the responses you receive.

When it comes to hosting your webinar, you’ve got a lot of platform choices:

  • Facebook Live
  • Instagram Live
  • Google Hangouts
  • Webinar Software
     

​​The key to making a webinar successful is to make sure you do a good amount of marketing leading up to the event to ensure that you drive the largest attendance possible. Just remember to promote that this is not just you speaking to your customers, but rather a real, living, and breathing customer sharing his or her own experience. As we’ve learned from the power of word-of-mouth, people love hearing the stories of people they can relate to.

You can even go one step further by treating this as a “takeover” and inviting a few customers to host their own webinars or live video events on behalf of your business. Human Beatbox did this with Facebook Live back in December to an audience of 63 attendees (which is great for a small business). Use the same set-up process as you would for an Instagram takeover to keep these webinars focused and effective.

Summing It All Up

As you can see, featuring your customers online can be fun for both you and your customers. Just choose the format you think will work best for your business and give it a try. While there’s no guarantee that every idea will be a hit, engaging customers in this way will go far in building long-term brand, which, of course, is the ultimate goal of any small business owner.

 

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock (standard license)

Jessica Thiefels has been writing and editing for more than 10 years and spent the last five years in marketing. She recently stepped down from a senior marketing position to focus on growing her own startup and consulting for small businesses. She's written for sites such as Lifehack, Salesforce, Manta, StartupNation, and more. When she's not working, she's enjoying sunny San Diego with her husband and friends or traveling somewhere new. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07.

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