Avoid the pitfalls of marketing your business online

Last year, Paul Njiru, a farmer based in Embu, posted impressive pictures of seedlings and plants sagging under the weight of fruits in a farmers’ Facebook group.

He was looking to net clients. He also included screenshots of pages and links to local newspaper features of him. Going by the many comments and inquiries from interested farmers, he was sure that Kamiu Horticultural Nurseries was in for good business. But soon, all hell broke loose.

A disgruntled client posted what drove away potential customers, and a virtual lynch mob descended on Paul.

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The cash transaction details of a contractual agreement that went awry with another farmer were laid bare. The lynch mob wouldn’t hear Paul’s explanations, and at the end of the day, he was termed a conman.

He has not posted anything on the Facebook account since.  

Did he do anything wrong? What can be done to recover?

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Well, the thing is, social media is a great marketing tool for any business in the 21st century. It is great for brand promotion and driving sales. And only a vision-less business person can ignore its usefulness.

Now that you have opened your business’ social media accounts, what are the things you should be aware of?

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1. A tarnished reputation is a hard sell

Rachael Wanjiku who markets men’s apparel through her social media accounts says that cyberspace is a place one needs to tread carefully.

“Disgruntled customers can post damaging comments or make posts that could potentially ruin you,” she says.

Like in Paul’s case, recovering from that negative publicity will take ages and a lot of effort. But it can be done:

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· Plan your responses carefully. Don’t just hit back at the client, giving just as good as you got it. The client needs to feel heard, and if possible, compensated. Act fast but don’t be rash and spout off a response.

· Be empathetic to the disgruntled client. Don’t dismiss their concerns. If you are at fault, apologise and remedy the situation. It sounds dismissive to just say, “I will look into it.”

· Acknowledge the problem. Is it bad customer service, bad service delivery or wanting after-sales service? You need to fix it immediately to prevent future issues.

2. Security risk

What would you do if someone hacked into your social media business account and swindled your existing clients and potential customers?

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James Mugo, an IT expert, says social media accounts can have security breaches and be hacked into.

“This would have impact on one’s brand. Think of the implications a breached account can have on people out there. And besides that, no one may trust you if their information can be accessed by a third party,” he says.

How can you ensure your account is safe?

Change passwords often.

Only use a few devices to log into the accounts. Using multiple devices increases the chances that many can access your pages when using the devices.

Close accounts you don’t use. Keeping old social media business accounts open only gives hackers fodder.

Check account settings to ensure only those you want to can access the information.

Limit admin privileges to those who actually need it to get the job done.

Don’t link personal and business accounts. This is because if hackers figure out one set of log in information, they can access multiple accounts.

3.     Legal ramifications

Every platform has its own legal requirements. For example, on YouTube, you can’t market a product without outrightly informing the viewers that you are advertising it. Did you know that Facebook will not allow promotion of alcohol, supplements or tobacco products? Find out everything you need to know about the platform you choose lest you run into some legal issues.

“A breach of such laws can be costly in terms of litigation, denting your finances,” says James.

4. Goldmine for your competition

Everything you need to know about your competition is out there. And while that isn’t altogether a bad thing, it could work against you, especially when dealing with unscrupulous people.  Joseph Kamotho, who runs JD Trendy Men’s Wear, knows this all too well.

“They will copy everything. Even the catchy lines I use to promote my products are copied, without any alterations except contact numbers. There’s no doubt a competitor will sit down and study one’s methods and use them,” he says, terming this a lack of market creativity.

Do it right

1. Respond to customers’ anxieties and queries promptly

Getting back to your clients is not only good manners but it also allows you to nip in the bud any looming bad publicity. When dealing with potential clients, always pre-empt any issues they may have with your products or services because chances are if they receive bad treatment, they will post it online. And always remember, the Internet never forgets.

2. Find out where your demographic is

Are your potential clients more likely to be found on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook? Don’t do blind marketing. Do your research and find what suits your business best.

3. Be engaging

You can’t afford to be lax with your social media marketing. Usually, the account that posts often gets a higher response from the audience, which boosts your chances of making a sale. You have to be interactive. Find out when your posts get the most interactions and maximise on that.  

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