In yesterday’s post about how small business owners can learn social media , I noted that webinars gave business owners a great way to learn from experts without forcing them to jet across country to do so. Coincidentally, Anita Campbell was part of a great webinar yesterday afternoon put on by the Verizon Small Business Center  that focused on how to use coupons and social media to build customer loyalty. I decided to take some of my own advice and sit in on it. And I’m really glad that I did. During the webinar Anita shared a lot of valuable information that I thought readers of SmallBizTrends may find useful and that may be worth sharing here.
Here’s a bit of what was discussed yesterday in case you missed it.
Coupons Are On The Rise
Forty percent of the vendors polled during the webinar said they offered coupons and discounts to their audience. While that number may have been curved a bit due to a slightly savvier audience , it’s still pretty impressive. Also impressive is that according to coupons.com, the growth of digital or online coupons is outpacing printed newspaper coupons 10 to 1, with coupons/rewards serving as the fifth largest growing Internet category in 2009 (up 36 percent YOY). That tells me one thing – coupons are a hot way for SMB owners to retain customers. While mobile coupons won’t come up and remove print coupons overnight, you can expect to see an increased shift towards mobile year after year, so you should be following suit.
Another thing discussed was WHY mobile coupons are gaining steam, even if it’s not as quickly  as people would like. Their success comes from the fact that email and text coupons are “opt-in”, which helps make them more relevant to people’s interest. By opting in your customers have already told you that, yes, they want to receive that message from you. It provides a high correlation between that coupon and a customer actually doing something with it. While mobile coupons are gaining market share, they’re still being used most by the young, affluent and female.
Where & How To Spread Word Of Discounts
Obviously, the questions of “where” and “how” are vital when talking about using coupons to encourage customer loyalty. Once you create a coupon program, where should you distribute them?
Anita highlighted several options:
- In print (it’s not deadyet)
- Coupon distribution services like coupons.com or retailmenot.com
- Through loyalty cards/point programs
- On your local Google Maps listing
- Review/local sites like Yelp or FourSquare
- Partner Web sites
- Your emails
- Mobile text message
And when it comes to the “how” for spreading awareness, the answer seems simple: social media. During the webinar, Anita highlighted several key social media sites that SMB owners should use to get word about coupons and promotions.
Twitter: Twitter continues to grow as a vehicle for SMB owners to spread what they’re doing. There are two ways to use Twitter to promote coupons:
- Create a Dedicated Deals Feed: Dedicated deal feeds work exactly like they sound. They’re Twitter feeds that do nothing but spit out your company’s current deals or promotion. An example of this would be the Twitter feed for online retailer Woot . Every day Woot updates the feed to alert customers to the current deal of the day and directs users back to the site.
- Announce deals through company Twitter feed: In this method, deals are simply worked into the regular company Twitter feed. Anita mentioned the feed for Champagne Bakery , which uses its feed to talk about specials, but to also hold contests and other promotions to get people engaged with the brand.
Anita mentioned some other Twitter tips like putting your Twitter handle on documents, door signs, email; making sure your offers are short enough to be retweeted; and to use words like ‘coupon’ or ‘discount’ so that those looking for deals via Twitter Search can find you.
Facebook: Anita also advised that SMB owners set up a Facebook fan page to give customers another place to engage. Use your page to hold Facebook-only specials, alert customers to events you’re involved in, highlight promotions you’re running, etc. You can also purchase advertisements on Facebook to help you promote your page and expand your reach. If you can include lots of photos and videos on your page this is a good way to draw people in. I recently wrote about how to create an engaging Facebook fan page  that may be worth a read.
Yelp: Many business owners may not know that Yelp allows SMBs to include a short announcement message on their page. This is a great place to mention any current coupons or promotions you’re offering. On a side note, if you haven’t read the Yelp for Business guide , you should. There’s a lot of important info to be had.
Through Others: Sites like FourSquare, Gowalla and Booyah allow consumers to see what others ‘like them’ have said about a business while they’re visiting. You can partner with vendors you work with to leverage networks. Another great tactic is to team up with other blogs and bloggers to help get your message in front of their audiences. Anita encouraged targeting blogs that you know your audience is reading. Doing so helps you to ensure that they’ve seen your promotion and that it stays top of mind.
I thought yesterday’s webinar provided some great tips for SMB owners looking to increase customer loyalty through coupons. What are some methods you’ve employed in your own business?