6 Ways to Make Your Neighborhood Your Business

Elaine Gantz Wright is a speaker, writer and social media strategist, helping neighborhood businesses expand word-mouth-marketing exponentially–driving referrals, repeats and revenue.

It’s ironic to consider how we have come full-circle –from the vast global frontiers of the wild and woolly worldwide web to the intimacy and personalization of going local.  Does this mean the bloom is off the rose for our passionate love affair with the cavernous, impersonal box store on the edge of town? Are we heading back the personal service of Mr. Drucker the general store? Can’t help but thinking of Dorothy’s iconic line –“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

As we return to our own backyards, we have a remarkable opportunity to use the newest communication tools to create this new personalized customer relationship. It’s time to put the social in social media– in a way that produces tangible results for neighborhood businesses and independent merchants. Here a six things you should do right now:

1. Build an organic online hub – a socially empowered website
Your website is more than just a static online brochure. It is the center of your customer-generating universe. Think about its connections and ability to attract and refer. Incorporate a blog, social widgets, easily sharable content, compelling visuals, video, clear calls-to-action, contact forms, site analytics, best-practice search engine optimization (SEO), links to your social media profiles—and a fresh, updated design.

2. Create your business’ awareness and revenue generating social ecosystem.

Create and energize three branded platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla — and depending on your business, your choice of YouTube, LinkedIn or Flickr. Manage , monitor, engage, and respond. Learn the basics about using Facebook —creating pages, managing privacy, encouraging conversation, posting, creating quizzes, inviting fans, messaging fans, promoting the page, etc. If you don’t do anything else, think of this as your golden triad:

  • Facebook
  • Blog (Subscription/email)
  • Multi-Media (in-store and online – video, audio, photography, print)

3. If you have an email list, optimize, segment, and grow it.
And if you don’t, start it today. Think of your email address as direct path to your prospect or customer—another essential ingredient in your social media marketing mix. It’s your own CRM (Customer Relationship Management System)—a customer “intelligence base” that you can use to segment, target, and attract—in conjunction with your website and social media platforms.

4. Frame an integrated promotion plan

Create promotion in-store and online promotions and associated materials to capture prospect and customer email addresses, as well as drive Facebook engagement and You Tube, Flickr and/or Linked In participation. Leverage this affinity, along with email campaigns, to help increase repeat business and referrals through:
• Special, private events
• Quizzes
• Contests
• Polls
• Voting
• One-day-only specials
• Cause marketing opportunities
• Customer spotlight and how-to videos
• Submit-a-photo campaigns
• Gift-card purchase
• Co-promotion coupons with surrounding non-competing businesses

5. Train your customer/client –facing staff.

It all begins and ends with outrageously good customer service. Make talking about Facebook a priority. Make it part of your customer banter and in-person relationships. Work from the inside out; make the social media message more social, and watch the referrals flow. Coach your staff on how to manage your business’ presence enterprise-wide in an authentic, human and engaging way.

6. Claim Your Business of Google

This will instantly improve your Google search listings, and/or locate you on Google Maps, which gives help make finding you much easier—on and offline. Next, you may want to consider a listing on Yelp (primarily restaurants, but now expanding to travel, leisure and entertainment). You might even consider placing posts and/or ads in Craigslist, so that people seeking out your services on that site would know how to find your physical location.

Do you have a question about neighborhood marketing?

Finding Community Where We Live

I heard Peter Lovenheim, journalist and author of In The Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time, on NPR this morning. His commentary resonated with me as I considered the meaning of community—online and otherwise. Lovenheim felt compelled to write the book after a tragic murder-suicide on his Rochester, NY street, because he suspected less anonymity among his neighbors might have saved the woman’s life.

Lovenheim wonders how people can live side-by-side and know literally nothing about each other, so he brazening invites himself to “sleep over” at the houses of his neighbors. Startling stories unfold. Throughout, he waxes nostalgic about idyllic days of neighborhood barbecues, sipping lemonade on the front porch, and sharing coffee around the kitchen table. This reminded me of that classic 1960 Twilight Zone episode, “Next Stop Willoughby,” in which the addled, frantic advertising exec dreams of a simple, stress-free, small-town life in the late 1880s. (I won’t spoil the twist if you haven’t seen it.)

In his neighborhood, Lovenheim mourns the loss of a slower pace which allowed the time for casual, incidental, face-to-face contact. “We just don’t have the old-fashioned conversations with our neighbors,” laments Lovenheim. One postman he interviewed remarked, “More than 90% of the time, customers would rather give misdirected mail back to me than walking it over to the person next door.” Could our desire for privacy and independence be trumping our basic need for human interaction?

As Lovenheim reaches out to those living in closest proximity, he finds others also secretly searching for connection and yearning for an era gone by. He asks the question—do neighborhoods really matter, and is something missing in our lives when we live among strangers? What makes a group of houses or apartments a neighborhood? Just as our IP addresses have no real meaning in terms of our identity online, our street addresses have become less important components of our personal definitions of “community.” Of course, there are exceptions, but no matter where you are, building front-yard community takes a deliberate effort.

Our lives are fuller and more hectic than ever—with dawn-to-dark work schedules, overly programmed children, mind-numbing commutes, single-parent households, and vehicles available to whisk us off to soccer games, book stores, and gyms across town. Could this lack of physical, local connection be part the dramatic revolution driving social media behavior? After all, isn’t it where we live?

We have to pass laws now to keep people from texting on their mobile phones while they drive. Facebook has become a verb, and I’m in touch with friends I never see in person through their 3:00 and 4:00 am Twitter/Facebook posts. Personal stories. Tales of insomnia. Crumbling relationships. Critically ill relatives. Job losses. Despair. Joy. Finding pig for Farmville. It runs the gamut. And when we do converse real-time, it most likely includes a conversation about the latest iPhone app. Our communication behaviors are no longer sequential—talk on phone, go next door to borrow an egg, then sit down to watch the evening news. Communication is integrated and intertwined. It’s more like a tapestry. I text my son and check email on my mobile phone—while standing in line at the grocery store. No wonder we all fried by the end of the day.

Longing for human interaction, we have moved to online neighborhoods for the same casually intimate, psycho-social interactions that earlier generations experienced in the driveway or on the front lawn. Today, the difference is we access them on our own time. Many say the Internet is detrimental to human relationships, but it’s really a double-edged sword. I contend the Web is really creating a new context and a revised process. In fact, there are a growing number of sites designed specifically to facilitate interaction within neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and subdivisions. Examples include ineighbors.org and aroundme.net. Even Neighborhood America, a large white-label online community company, has recently rebranded as Ingage Networks.

However, social media just may be coming full-circle—trending back toward geo-location. Maybe you really can go home again—virtually speaking, of course. Whether we’re tracking nearby Tweets, stamping your Passport on Gowalla, or unlocking a Swarm badge on Foursquare, we are reorienting our interaction geographically – focusing to people and places around us. The operative question on all this geo-updating is—does anybody really care? But isn’t that what they said about Facebook and Twitter?

Hmm, could a virtual lemonade stand be next? What do you think?

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to make a difference. Elaine covers social media for business, education, and nonproifts. Contact her — elgantz @yahoo.com