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There is definitely an upward trend at the moment, in the area of proximity-based social networking and for many businesses, large and small, it’s a new concept to learn. Many new apps are growing in popularity, such as newly launched Color, while other apps such as LoKast (which offer local file sharing from mobile to mobile) are developing to become even more accurate and efficient. While many organisations are now comfortable with using social media purely online, combining this with physical location presents a new challenge altogether. The benefits are great, but only if you get it right.
Train your staff on the ground
One of the biggest challenges for many businesses now is to co-ordinate a social media strategy with staff across different business premises. It’s one thing having a social media control room like Gatorade, but making sure your staff in different locations across the country or internationally are trained in social media is a different challenge altogether. I’ve heard quite a few stories where people have tried to redeem an offer on Facebook Deals or Foursquare, to find that the person behind the till has no clue what they’re talking about. Your staff out on the shop floor are now one of your biggest assets when it comes to online communication and for larger businesses particularly this presents a challenge. They need to be trained up on your company’s local social networking strategy, as well as being able to spot potential business and monitor online for questions or complaints they may be able to deal with. This training should start right away, even if you’re not yet implementing a local social media strategy.
Build a mobile team
I think that one of the most exciting things about proximity-based social networking is the possibility for local ‘crack-teams’ to identify and monitor customers real-time and be in a position to offer a service, such as replacing a faulty product. This is particularly true for companies that may not have a physical location in stores. As people raise their expectations of how companies approach them online, this will carry through to location-based networking as well. If you’re able to identify where your customers are and what problems they’re having, you should be in a position to be able to deal with them real-time. This will have a hugely beneficial effect on your reputation online and your actual customer experience.
Adapt the tools to suit you
It’s true that not every new location-based app or service will suit your business, but people will respond to those companies that find a way to use new tools to adapt and improve their existing business services. Think of Lokast for example, which allows people to create public profiles through a mobile app for the content they want to share, such as photos, music, links and contacts. You might not think that file sharing can really be used in a b2c context, but imagine that a company representative in your store has created a branded profile on Lokast. This can be used to share value-added content either with people already in your premises, or those nearby, enticing them in. A list of the best music to enjoy a relaxing cup of coffee with, or a selection of photos of your freshly baked cakes to bring people in. The potential to turn social networking completely on its head and truly integrate it with the physical is fascinating, and there are some excellent tools and apps that can be used to show you do business with a difference.
Claim the right listings
While it’s important to claim your online listings through tools such as Namechck, claiming your physical business presence is even more important. With many consumers engaging with companies through Facebook Places etc.. the last thing you want is not to be owning that relationship! Your business should be registered on the main location apps such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Yelp, Facebook Places, Google Places. This is also important in terms of SEO, if you’re building out the profiles properly and encouraging interaction. You should focus on only claiming the profiles that are right for you, and that you will build out by actively engaging on. I believe it leaves a very bad reaction for people if they find a profile that has been set up just to claim a name and where they can’t get any response. If you claim it, use it!
Use data to do better business
A distinct benefit of proximity-based networks is being able to access real data that can benefit your business. This data can be incredibly useful if you take the time to analyse it and improve your business practice as a result. While the numbers offered alone can be useful can be insightful, such as looking at how often people check in to your business, make sure you look a little bit deeper such as what deals were popular on a particular day, was there a higher number of check-ins than deal redemptions for certain offers? You should be continually optimising based on the real, reliable data you can now access and this is very exciting for businesses of all sizes. This should also be the job both of the people in the sales/marketing department, as well as working with people on the ground. Here you should combine the expertise of people who meet customers every day, with the knowledge and expertise behind the marketing/promotional strategy.
Don’t forget physical promotion
One thing that I think many businesses are over-looking is promoting their online presence in stores. Many people will be checking in etc.. of their own accord, but there is still an incentive for businesses to work on physical promotion of their local social profiles. The benefit of a social interaction extends way beyond the one person that you engage with at that particular time. It means that you’re instantly creating a connection with their online community and this is very important for businesses now, particularly as people are building out communities based on location. Instead of it being seen simply as an endorsement of your business, it’s a notification to someone in the area that they should check you out. Don’t undersestimate the importance of a simple sign, provided you’re giving people a reason to do something and explain it clearly. There’s nothing worse than a simple ‘find us on Facebook’ without any information on your page url or why people should look for you. This can also be used to educate people about new services they might not know about, that are in line with your brand.