First, welcome to the forum! We're glad to have you here.
You did a great job explaining what you are facing. I'm going to move this to the General Online Marketing Information
category to help get ideas on all types of marketing ideas.
I'll touch on the social media part of the equation and others can jump in and provide more ideas for social media and other marketing approaches.
First though, I'd like to provide my perspective on competing against cut-rate competitors.
Forget the customers who want the cut-rate prices. Often they don't understand that rock bottom prices can end up costing you more over the long run. Don't even bother marketing to them and don't get sucked in to a "I have to slash prices to compete" mentality.
Instead, focus on finding the right customers who, even in a bad economy, are willing to spend more to get the job done correctly the first time.
I, for example, am very careful with our money but I know the best way to be careful is to hire people who will get the job done correctly for me, the first time. And who will provide services the competitors won't. I don't want to pay a rock bottom price to someone who ends up creating more problems and costing more in the long run.
For example, I only go to one local mechanic who is more expensive than others in the area. I'm willing to pay more because I trust them, the quality of their work and benefit from the extra services they provide. These extra services cost them very little and they know it's a better approach than getting into a price cutting war with competitors.
1. They provide detailed information on what needs to be fixed (very important since I know little about cars) to solve the current problem. This includes detailed prices all the way down to the taxes so I know what I'll be spending and what for.
2. They provide recommendations on areas that should be watched to avoid future problems, again with detailed prices. A great way to generate repeat sales from current customers.
3. They are certain to meet my time needs because if my car isn't done on time, I have no way to pick up my kids from school.
4. And after dropping off my car, they take me home and then come pick me up when the job is done.
They focus on providing great service that costs them very little but allows them to charge more.
That's an example of using outstanding service in your marketing mix. It costs little but keeps current customers coming back and generates word of mouth.
Ok, now to some specifics on how to use social media to build trust and gain customers without spending all day on it. The drawback of social media is that it's not an overnight solution and does requires an investment of time. But, by having a plan and using tools you will significantly reduce your time investment.
Forums are indeed social media. To get started here:
1. Set up your signature file
. This link will give you step by step instructions on how to do so.
Having a signature file shows your company with every post you make. The more posts you make, the more exposure your company gets and the more trust you will build.
2. Check the forum each day watching for opportunities to answer questions in your area of expertise. Do this by searching our forum
and/or by simply scanning the new posts. You do this by clicking the "Today's Posts
" link in the nav bar. This will take just a few minutes.
3. Find other forums with your target audience and do the same. You can easily find more forums in google by searching for the name of your topic followed by the word forum. For example, type in the words: business forum
Create a list of forum bookmarks so you can quickly check them each day.
1. Get HootSuite
(free) or similar software to help you to quickly look for opportunities in Twitter.
2. In HootSuite set up columns for:
a. Sent Tweets: Keeps track of the tweets you've sent so you can refer back to them easily.
b. Mentions: Keeps track of each time someone has mentioned you in a tweet. This can be retweets of tweets you've made, tweets sent to you, tweets about you, etc. When people retweet your stuff, thank them "Thanks for the RT"
c. Search Terms: In this column you'll set up a search term to help you watch for opportunities to help someone. You'll need to figure out what phrases work best for you but you could do something like: "sacramento computer repair" or "crashed hard drive" or "need computer service LA"
3. Customize your Twitter home page. Here's ours: http://twitter.com/smallbizanswers
You can do that with a basic graphics program. Include your logo, what you do, and how to contact you by phone, email, etc. Read this article for tips on the whys and hows of customizing your twitter page: How to Create Custom Twitter Backgrounds
4. Find people who are in your target market and follow them. Many will follow you back. Set a daily goal of how many new people to follow depending on your time available. Start with 25 a day if you can. Read this article to learn tricks for searching for finding people to follow: 7 Insanely Useful Ways to Search Twitter for Marketing
Don't jump in to Twitter shouting about your company and just pushing what you have to sell. The key to Twitter is giving and building a network of potential clients. Just like with forums, you need to participate so people come to trust you as an expert at solving their problems.
How you can "give" on Twitter:
1. Answer questions.
2. Tell people about resources you've found.
3. Tell people about tools you are using or would recommend. "Testing this tool, anyone have experience with it"
4. Retweet other people's tweets that you like. For example, tweets about an article they've written that would be useful to your followers. People really appreciate this and it's a great way to get new followers.
5. Talk about business networking events in your area.
Do this for a while and then you can sprinkle in more direct promotions for your company. For example:
1. Coupons/special promos: "We are running 10% off hard drives this week. Just use coupon code "Twitter" in the order form"
2. Tell people where you'll be: "Come meet us in booth 200 at the small biz computing conference where we'll answer your questions"
3. Test the waters: "Need feedback, would you find whatever service useful? "
4. Tweet your blog posts. You can do this automatically ... read item 2 below.
1. Don't be intimidated by this. You don't need to be a great writer, just talk about what you know. An easy way to do this is come up with a list of common questions you are asked by customers and make each question a short blog post. Post the question and your answer. Be sure to use a descriptive title.
Read this article for loads of ideas for posts: 100+ SMB Blogging Ideas to Kick Start 2010
2. Tie your blog to Twitter so each of your posts is automatically Tweeted. Get a Feedburner account and then read this post on how to do it: Socializing your feed with Twitter
Wrapping it up... I've barely scratched the surface but this should at least get you started with forums, Twitter and your blog. Don't try to use every social media outlet. Pick a few you are most comfortable with and master those before adding to the mix.
Anyone else have marketing ideas? They don't have to be social media related.