Social media tactics work for Internet services company

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Customer support is the bread and butter of e-mail marketing companies. Their b-to-b clientele tend toward small and midsize businesses, few of which have much technical expertise. Support representatives spend a lot of time troubleshooting basic questions and walking customers through the often-baffling process of creating their first HTML newsletters.

Patience and a sense of humor are virtues, and iContact, a rapidly growing service firm based in Durham, N.C., is using every low-cost social media marketing technique at its disposal to showcase its exuberant work force. Its tools of choice include Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and online video service

User groups on Facebook and LinkedIn provide a means for customers to connect to individuals at the company and offer free advice on maximizing e-mail performance. People connections are critical to a business boasting that its reps are willing to spend an hour or more on the phone just to improve the appearance of a customer’s communication, said Chuck Hester, iContact’s communications director.

Take the company’s use of Twitter, which Hester said provides a valuable window on customer experiences. Designated iContact representatives monitor Twitter streams and respond quickly to statements of complaint or confusion. Statements of support also get a quick and appreciative tweet. Beside its role as a customer insight- and customer-service channel, Twitter has been iContact’s most successful method of promoting its services and company news.

To boost the company’s young-and-fun image, iContact recently launched a weekly karaoke-like event on UStream. To celebrate the company’s first $2 million month, directors wrote a takeoff on the feel-good hit “We Are the World” called “We Are Not Spam.” Performed by 15 employees, most of whom clearly lack musical training, the video portrays a group that is young, diverse and willing to laugh at itself. The video clip logged 500 views on YouTube in its first weekend.

“We’re promoting to customers that this is a great place to work and therefore to do business with,” Hester said. The weekly events are promoted via Twitter.

The cost of all this marketing is effectively zero, other than employee time. Payback is measured in customer comments, fan group memberships, video views and mainstream media coverage. Something must be working: the 5-year-old company just raised $5 million in venture funding and is on a $25 million run rate.

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