Social Media & the Toy Store

Many of my clients ask me about social media.  They want to know what they can do to benefit (e.g. get more business) from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.  My answer is “do what do in the real world.”  I’m afraid this leaves a large number of folks scratching their heads.  Some are thinking “what do we do in the real world?” and others “how?  How, Andreas, how?”

The point of today’s post is to shed a little light on both of these issues.  Of course, each company is unique and what works for one won’t work for all so the concepts will be higher level.

The neighborhood toy store

There’s a toy store in my neighborhood that has a small wooden Brio/Thomas the Train train-set on a specialized table and available for play.  It’s complete with a collection of “Thomas the Train” trains and even a few NYC Subway cars.

This train-table is a hit with kids of all ages, including my own son.  We’re there frequently but we rarely buy anything.  Yesterday my wife said, “I think we’ll need to get him a track of his own sometime soon.”  She’s right.

Yesterday was a rainy day here in New York and my son and I weren’t alone at the train-table.  As my son played, no fewer than ten other kids cycled in and out – each accompanied by at least one parent.   Having owned a retail store, I’m always interested in customer behavior.  Of the people I observed in the store, I’d say about 1/3 came in to buy something.  The other 2/3 were there because of the train table.   In totally about half of the people I watched bought something.  The rest of us just got to keep our kids entertained on the cheap. I thought to myself, “this is the best example of a community service I’ve seen in a long time.”

The reward

As I mentioned, we rarely buy anything and yesterday was no exception, although my wife took a moment to check the cost of the Thomas the Train kits they sale.  The sets on the shelves were the more elaborate kits costing upward of $100.  Our son isn’t even two-years-old and doesn’t need a draw-bridge, a crane, or a water tower so the sets they have seem excessive for our needs.

Right next door to the toy store is a card and gift store.  They also sell Thomas the Train stuff, including a sub $40 “starter kit.”  Frankly, we’re not in the buying cycle right now, but when the time is right, I’ll first ask the toy store, “Can you get this for me at a competitive price?”  Sure it is a small pay-off – a one small sale.  But, by having this train-table accessible and never hassling people about using it, they have earned my loyalty.  Over the years, I am sure this will add-up.

Applying this to the web

So how does this translate to the web?  Would this toy store benefit from creating a virtual train-table?  No.  While that may be a nice distraction for the kiddies at home, it would not drag their parents into the store.  But trumpeting the existence of this train-table sure can.

Applying this to your business

How can you apply this concept to your business?  In general, there are two things almost every business can do:

  1. Provide value: The first thing  you need to do is identify something of value you can provide.  Can you be sharing tips with your clients?  Is giving them updated news on industry events important to them?  Is there other information you can tell them about or remind them of?
  2. Show your position as a generous leader in your community: If you are a local business, and you sponsor a pee-wee soccer team, tweet the results and how proud you are of them.  If local support isn’t relevant to your business, then emphasize what you do for the community around your industry (or better yet, your clients’ industry).

Regardless of what you do, keep your goal for social media in mind.  Typically it isn’t enough to trumpet your own horn.  You need to do something with the attention you bring.  One idea is to use a page or section on your website as a social-media hub.  More on this another day.

Back to real life

What have you experienced in real life that made you loyal to a business?  Do you think that could somehow be applied to their internet presence?  How do you treat social media and your business?


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