It's Time to Thank Your Customers, the Social Media Way

Last Updated Nov 29, 2010 11:50 AM EST

With Thanksgiving around the corner, you're probably thinking of turkey, stuffing and sales... and not necessarily in that order.

Are you also thinking of how to show your appreciation for your customers? You don't have to have a huge budget to do this, especially if you take advantage of some interesting and easy-to-use social applications.

Of course, you should be saying "thank you" to your customers on a regular basis; a happy customer is more likely to be a repeat customer, not to mention bring you new customers.

So it's not just a question of being courteous; it's good business.

Consider the following social ways to say thank you as the holidays approach.

1. eCards
Though it's been around for less than a decade, Plaxo has carved out a niche for itself as a relatively painless way to manage your contacts, by virtue of its online address book which syncs with not just Microsoft Outlook, but with several Web-based email and contact services as well. I've found its efforts to reinvent itself as a social network less than exhilarating, but one of its features I use regularly is its eCard feature.

You get access to a few eCards if you maintain a free Plaxo account; if you up that to a paid account (as I did a while back), you have access to what they call "premium" eCards, which you can customize, in addition to other levels of service for Plaxo overall. They're delivered directly to the recipients' email inboxes, which means they see your greeting instantly, rather than having to click on a link to a greeting card site and waiting for animation and so on to load.

Groupcard allows you to send an electronic card signed not just by you, but by several people (for example, your team). However, the down side is that if you have a large customer base, it's too labor-intensive to type each and every email address into the "recipient" field... but if you're a small business wanting to show a special level of appreciation to certain customers, it's worth checking out. You can get a free one-month trial membership after which you have to pay an annual fee, or get a one-time premium printable card for $4.99.

2. Give a little
Your customers do things for you all year-round (like purchasing your products/services). Why not give back by making a donation to a charity in their name, and letting them know?

Even better: plan ahead. Engage your customers in your philanthropy by asking them to choose from one of several choices you offer, and make the donation to the charity that gets the most votes. You can do this by running a poll on your own blog, Facebook, Twtpoll, LinkedIn polls... the possibilities are endless. Not only is this a great way to get a sense of what your customers really care about, you will show them that there is indeed a face behind that URL.

Too late to set up the customer-driven donation this year? Never mind; plan ahead for next year and, in the meantime, you can still make a donation and then let your customers know.

The caveat here is that you should not ask them to do anything in return. (Don't even think about asking them to "like" your company on Facebook. You can do that another time.) For now, just show them you're trying to give back to the world around you. Go ahead and write a blog post explaining how you're celebrating the holiday in honor of your customers, and share that information on your social platforms... but don't ask for anything in return.

3. Fund a business
Remember what it was like when you started your business? You probably had detractors, more than enough doubts of your own, not to mention the fact that it was likely challenging for you to raise the capital to get your business off the ground.

But now that you're a bona fide business owner, how about helping someone else get their start?

There are a couple of ways you could do this.

First, if your preference is to support creative projects, consider checking out the several projects that are looking for funding on Kickstarter (Eat Your Serial is one example.)

Second, if you're interested in extending your reach literally around the world, look at a micro-lending site such as Kiva.org. Essentially, you can choose from several small businesses, in a wide range of fields, that are looking for microfunding by browsing Kiva's site, and support one. These loans are funded by people like you, and disbursed through Kiva and its "field partners" (read about the entire Kiva process here); and once the entrepreneur is off the ground, s/he repays the loan.

It's said, "it's better to give than to receive." Maybe because that generosity of spirit will come back to you ten-fold.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Shonali Burke is Principal of Shonali Burke Consulting where she helps turn businesses' communication conundrums into community cool. She opines on PR and social media at Waxing UnLyrical and is considered one of 25 women that rock social media.