Connect With Customers Through Online Social Groups

Megan Knox
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Megan Knox is senior communications specialist for ADB Airfield Solutions (formerly Siemens Airfield Solutions). She handles a variety of marketing communications efforts including public relations, advertising, print and multi-media materials, online marketing and, now, social media.

On the way home from my first social media conference, I couldn't help wondering if what I'd learned was applicable to my industry - airfield lighting - and the aviation industry as a whole. Are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, blogs and podcasts really something we could use to reach our customers?

According to Global Faces and Networked Places, released in March by Nielson, member communities are visited by more than two-thirds of the online population. In addition, 10% of online time is spent visiting social networks or blogs. And by all accounts, these numbers are growing. The report also reveals that as social media have become mainstream, their audience has aged. Almost one-third of Facebook's 200 million users are 35 to 49 years old; one-quarter are 50 to 64. This means social media isn't a fad, it isn't just for young people and you need to consider getting your company out there.

While many people use social media for just that - social interaction - there are other uses that businesses can leverage. In Facebook, you can create a company profile, attract "fans" and use your Facebook page to keep those fans up to date on company business and new products/services. You can even send invitations to customers and prospects to build your fan base. The key to social media is connecting with engaged users who have opted in to your social network.

An electric company used Twitter during an ice storm to keep customers up-to-date about power outages and expected repair times. Airports could do the same during bad weather.

Twitter can also be used to offer deals/promotions, invite customers to events or drive them to a blog, podcast or web site. If you want true exchanges with your customers, blogs are great. They can be used to address current company or industry issues and garner feedback on them. They can also be a resource for technical information or a place to keep employees informed. Best of all, you can interact directly with customers and promote your company as a thought leader or industry expert by sharing knowledge and advice.

The reasons to consider using social media for business applications are many. What better way to influence potential customers than to have current customers speak favorably about your products/services? Of course, there is also the danger of having folks talk about your product/company in a negative way. But there are positive ways to view negative feedback: It gives you the chance to improve your product/service, and it gives you the opportunity to resolve issues and build relationships with those customers.

Other key reasons to embrace social media:

• It's free - for now

• It's global

• It's the fastest growing use for the internet

Shortly after I returned from my conference, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport launched its Facebook page. I've also discovered plenty of aviation interests on LinkedIn, the professional networking site.

As I'm writing this at 10:30 p.m., there are 301 members logged in and participating at There are forums on civil aviation, military, technical ops, trip reports, aviation photography, stats and polls - all ideal for exchanging ideas. It's a mix of business and pleasure, which is really the key to social media: building relationships and seeing where they take you.

When using social media, it's important to be transparent, relevant, candid and targeted with your message. Most of all, remember that social media is just that - social. Those who forget that, do so at their peril.

I encourage you to join or build an online community and participate in the conversation. It's a great way to communicate with customers, not deliver a sales pitch. The goal is to find or build a community where people help each other, a place where people with similar interests engage each other and hopefully with you. Create a place where they can ask questions, find answers and give feedback.

At a minimum, you need to discover if anyone is talking about you. If they are, find out what are they saying and see if there's a way to contribute to the conversation. TweetBeep monitors Twitter; Google Alerts allow you to track the frequency brand names, URLs, etc. appear on Google; Technorati can be used to search the blogosphere for keywords, company names, etc. And they're all free.

I look forward to seeing you online.

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