Turning Customers Into Advocates

John Caplan, founder and CEO of OpenSky.com, shares his tips on how leveraging the web’s social tools to build a community around your brand and engage directly with shoppers can grow your business.  

As an entrepreneur, I know how important it is to build a community of people around your business.  As a business owner who is passionate about growing emerging businesses, getting your business online to leverage distribution and build relationships is an essential tool. 
At OpenSky, we strive to empower emerging brands to grow their businesses by engaging consumers.  We make sure to communicate and constantly listen to the concerns, questions and feedback from our merchants and our members, which helps us build a platform that works for people we serve.
Leveraging the web’s social tools to build a community around your brand by engaging and communicating directly with your shoppers can grow your business.  Here are some ways to help you achieve this.

1. Social media makes it easier than ever to connect directly to customers.

Establish your brand on social channels – Facebook, OpenSky, Twitter, Pinterest — where you can have active, real-time conversations.  It’s not only a great way to share updates but often times, it’s that real time feedback from customers that can help you resolve a problem before it impacts a huge number of people.  This will serve as an effective way to give people a great experience because then they share it with their friends and their friends share it with friends and so on.  There is nothing more effective for marketing than a truly happy customer.

2. It’s essential to listen to customer feedback on social outlets and respond right away.

  However, as it important as it is, make sure that isn’t the only way you’re getting direct feedback from customers about how you’re doing.  Ask for it anytime an opportunity arises.  From packing slips, to invoices, customer surveys and emails – there are numerous opportunities to ask your customers for feedback and offer a place where they can provide it.

3. In addition to blogs and social networks, invite members of your community from customers to partners and vendors into your offices, stores or workshops.

  Whether it’s for a party, focus group, or to demo a new product – creating the face-to-face connection can be invaluable for creating brand loyalty.

4. One of the most difficult and stressful elements of growing a business is expanding your products or services. 

Adding a new feature or service can strain your core business and potentially alienate existing customers, especially in the beginning. Open the lines of communication and bring your community into your growth strategy by talking to them during the process.  Working with your core customers early on to help them understand new products and services will keep you on the right track, provide valuable insight and make your loyal customers more forgiving of any mishaps in the road to success.

Author’s Bio: John Caplan is the Founder and CEO of OpenSky, the social network for shopping where members shop with their friends for unique, artisanal finds. Prior to OpenSky, John was the CEO of Ford Models. In five years, he rebuilt the agency, tripling its size and value while expanding it to include Ford’s artist divisions and digital media business. During the late 1990s, John served first, as CMO of About.com leading the brands growth and later as President of the About Network before selling the company to Primedia in 2001 for $500+ million. Caplan has made numerous appearances as a business expert on television shows including CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg TV, Reuters TV, TODAY Show, WNBC-TV and many others.


  1. says

    The birth of social media was one of the greatest developments for modern business. It’s just been very difficult for small businesses because managing your social media can be a full-time job in itself. You need to provide daily updates on your business and industry info, and as you mentioned in #2 you must listen to and respond to your customers right away. But if you can afford to hire someone or create a position in your company specifically for this purpose, it can be the difference between a struggling business and one with overwhelming growth and success. When managed correctly social media can provide businesses with explosive growth like never before. The biggest part has just been that initial hurdle for small businesses, but fortunately it’s now at a stage where a lot of software has recently been developed to automate much of the workload so even someone with minimal spare time or marketing budget can still work it into their business model now.

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