18 January 2012

Social Media is Authentic, Not Automatic

A garage door service man understands Social Media better than most marketing people I know.

He happens to be technically inclined, but that's not what makes him an expert.

Who is this guy?

"Brad" is the owner and chief mechanic of Garage Door Corporation in Skokie, Illinois. We needed to replace a garage door remote control, and after looking in vain at DIY and Hardware stores, I found Brad's company via an Internet search. So far, a pretty routine 21st Century shopping procedure.

My phone call landed in voice mail, but the message was courteous and efficient, promising a return call within ten minutes. Sure enough, about ten minutes later Brad called and listened to what I wanted. He actually counseled me against buying anything right away, instead recommending a different, no-cost solution. During this conversation he directed me to his website, which surprised me in more ways than one.

Brad: Social Media maven

Your first impression of Brad's website will be that GDcorp.com is a pretty typical small business website. Lots of information and the graphics won't win any awards from D&AD. Then again, you go to a site like this to be informed and not entertained.

Then you'll notice icons for Facebook, Twitter and the company blog. Everybody has these, but since we were still on the phone I asked Brad how this Social Media thing was working out for him.

For Brad it's not about the technology, although from our conversation it's clear that he knows his 1s and 0s. He's an electrical engineer and has a Master's degree, but he doesn't think he needs those credentials to succeed with Social Media.

How a Small Business Succeeds at Social Media

Brad’s garage door business is surviving a recession that’s hit hard anything related to home construction. Others like him have closed down. It’s not Social Media by itself that saved him, but a way of working that happens to work well with Social Media.

· What business am I in? “I don’t manufacture garage doors or parts,” Brad says. “I can’t control that. In this day and age it’s all about service.” He lives this to such an extent that instead of selling me a remote control, he sold me his expertise. “We’re running a lot leaner than we were during the home-building boom,” he observes. “The key (now) is to be helpful.”

· Customer focus. One of the most over-used and under-applied terms in business, I know. Few people have true empathy for their customers. Brad doesn’t really have a mission statement other than what he told me on the phone: “Let us know what you want and I’ll get you the right thing.” He’s not a one-man show and takes hiring very seriously. “Who wants to see a guy drive up in van full of propane torches with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth?”

· Social Media can’t be set-and-forget. Based on some of his remarks, it seems he’s been pitched by some so-called experts. (He may have thought I was leading up to a pitch myself.) Who should manage the Social Media? “Nobody but the guy who knows the business and which markets he wants and what his customers are looking for.” On the subject of offshore call centers, he says “Once you get past Level 1 (a basic question), the offshore call centers can’t help you.”

Fanfare for the Common Man

Brad is a serious businessman who doesn’t take himself too seriously. His Twitter feed isn’t what you would call “a great follow” unless you want occasional insight into the garage door opener industry. That’s not the point, though. The point is that Brad uses Social Media not as en end unto itself, not as something to bring measurable ROI, and certainly not as a substitute for customer service. Rather, Social Media enables all those things by allowing Brad to express himself authentically to a growing customer base that hires him because he knows what they really need. Lots of industry pundits talk about Social Media as a tool of customer relations, but Brad actually does it.

1 comment:

  1. What if Brad was to apply this approach to all of his advertising? How would his radio and TV talk with potential customers? How would his print or direct mail open a dialogue?

    Social media isn't the only tool being used improperly by many.