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Keep 'Em Coming Back: How Freight Brokers Can Engage Customers Online Using your website and social media to boost your business is critical for your success, even if the bulk of your work as a freight broker takes place on the open road.

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The following excerpt is from The Staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. and Jason R. Rich's book Start Your Own Freigth Brokerage Business, 5th Edition. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Your website is one of the primary ways prospective customers will find you, and it's a key way to communicate with your existing customers. A well-designed, easy-to-navigate, optimized website is essential. Study the websites of successful freight brokers, and make notes of the elements that appeal to you, as well as the ones that don't. Then when you have a clear vision of what you want your website to look like and what you need it to accomplish, take the project to a designer.

Use Your Website to Educate Your Customers

One of the most efficient and effective ways to promote any business is through content marketing, defined by the Content Marketing Institute as "a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action."

Some people refer to content marketing as education marketing. The idea is to provide information that has value to your audience through your online content. You can share and promote that content through a variety of ways, and one of the most popular is social marketing. But if you're going to do it, you need to do it right.

The two primary components of social marketing are media and networking. Social media are websites and applications used for social networking. Social networking is the use of dedicated websites and applications to communicate informally with other users or to find people with similar interests to oneself.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of social marketing is the number of platforms available and the rapidly-changing popularity of those platforms, which is why we're not going to give you how-to lessons on specific social media sites. It's not necessary for you and your freight brokerage to be active on every social network. A smarter strategy is to pick the two or three networks that are most popular with your market and establish your presence on them, and not worry about the others. And you don't need thousands of fans and followers; you need customers and prospects who are engaged with you online.

These steps will help you get started:

1. Set clear goals for your social marketing efforts. Be specific and keep those goals in mind with everything you do. If a particular initiative isn't likely to help you meet an objective, don't waste time doing it. Along with setting goals, determine how you're going to measure results.

2. Dedicate the human resources to social marketing. You need someone on your team (and it could be you) who understands social marketing, is comfortable with the platforms you'll be using, and has the time to manage your social marketing program. It's better to not do social marketing at all than it is to start it and let it fall by the wayside.

3. Be prepared to produce sufficient content. Content is the fuel for your social marketing vehicle, and without it, your efforts will stall. Content includes blogs, special reports on critical transportation issues, images, videos, infographics, comments and so on. It's OK to share content from other sites (with appropriate permission and attribution, of course), but you should also be creating your own original content.

4. Prepare your website for social media attention. One of the likely results of your social media efforts will be increased traffic to your website, so be sure you're ready for it.

5. Remember that it's a conversation. Don't simply talk at your audience, engage with them. Ask for input. Create content that's so great they'll want to share. And don't let their questions or comments go unanswered.

6. Be realistic in your expectations. Don't anticipate monumental results for a minimal investment. Also, remember that not everyone on social media is your "friend"—these are customers, and they may use your social platforms to complain. If they do, handle the issue as quickly and efficiently as possible, using the situation as an opportunity to demonstrate your superior customer service.

An important part of your overall management and marketing strategy is your social media policy. You need guidelines for what employees can—and can't—say about the company whenever and wherever they're online. In the past, workers who had a bad day would go home and grumble about it to their families or to their buddies over drinks after work; today, they're far more likely to vent on the Internet, and what they say could damage your company.

Points your social media policy should address include:

  • On which sites and under what circumstances employees can identify themselves as employees of your company. Online business networking has value and should be encouraged, but if employees are involved in activities outside the workplace that may be considered divisive (such as hot political and social topics), you may not want to risk alienating customers by being publicly identified with those issues. Don't try to keep employees from expressing their opinions; just make it clear that they are not to connect the company to those opinions or actions.
  • Protecting confidential and proprietary information. It may sound like a no-brainer, but your policy should specifically include a prohibition against revealing confidential information on social media sites.
  • Prohibit disparaging the company, its employees and suppliers, and its current, previous, or prospective customers. Social media sites are a popular place for people to vent, but your employees need to know that if they've had a bad day and they're ticked off at the company, their boss or a customer, they can't put it up on a social network in any way that would identify the company, the customer or the individuals involved.

Have your policy reviewed by an attorney to make sure it doesn't violate employees' free speech rights or other applicable laws or regulations. Provide employees with a copy of your policy, and have them acknowledge in writing that they have received and understand it. Finally, enforce the policy consistently without exception.

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