Mom ‘n’ Pop is back. Grab your sweet tea and head over to the porch

“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” – Scott Cook, co-founder Intuit

This quote is dead on. Brands indicating to consumers what they are and having them believe it didn’t last for very long at all. Can you imagine how much companies loved the lack of accountability that they enjoyed for a short period? It was the in-between stage when people stopped building front porches, didn’t talk as often to their neighbors, and the Internet was something only nerds messed around with. Man, you could get away with anything!

The days of choosing your own cut of steak and your favorite rub was for the most part a thing of the past. Why, because the butcher went out of business because we chose cheap and impersonal. We chose a lineup of thousands of steaks, chicken breasts, and pork chops sitting on top of a piece of styrofoam wrapped in cellophane.

Look, I’m not knocking the ways we changed our shopping habits. There are lots of folks out there who write about Big Bad Corporate America, but I’m not one of them. I’m simply making the point that accountability, quality, and customer service was not the same after Bill The Butcher closed his doors for the last time, William The Watch Man drifted off into retirement, and it certainly hasn’t been the same since Francis The Flower Lady threw her flower stand in the truck and headed south for the Keys. We lost touch with what made a business awesome; personal relationships.

When you got a cut of steak that wasn’t satisfactory, you told Bill The Butcher, and he made it right. If your watch stopped working two weeks after you bought it, you told your next door neighbor, Nick. When the flowers you bought smelled wonderful and lived for days, you talked about it on the front porch with Pam, while you sipped cold sweet tea with lemons.

The times changed, and people got busy. They stopped sitting on the front porch and instead sat on the back porch, by themselves. They shopped at a super store and had no clue who the butcher was, because he was in the back cutting and packing while a 15 year old stocked the line. People started ordering their flowers over the phone.

Did I forget to mention Phil the Paper Guy? Yeah, he was replaced with a blue box and a coin slot. You get the point. We changed the way we did things.

Well friends, Mom ‘N’ Pop is back, and I’ll tell you why. Yelp, Foursquare, Twitter, andFacebook, amongst others, have become our new front porch. Some of you may think this comparison is sad, but it’s better than nothing. People are talking to each other more about life, their dinner that’s cooking, the new shop downtown, and the killer restaurant they just ate at. They are writing reviews, and awarding stars, and telling people where they are.

Businesses have to recognize that the old ways of doing things are back, but with a modern twist. If you serve cold soup, someone will tattle on you in a review on Yelp. If you have a cool location that’s a bit out of the way, no big deal, we will find out about it when someone checks-in on Foursquare. If you’re giving away a car as a promotion at your dealership, people will like your business on Facebook. And if you have a great piece of art hanging in your cafe, someone will attach it to a Tweet.

If you’re a business owner or marketing director, you had better be sitting shotgun while everyone else is driving your car. If you’re not, it’s going to end up in a tree. Don’t try to take the keys away either. Change the radio station for them, give them the directions to your destination, and tell them the story of how you got your car. It’s a cool story I’m certain.

The most important step you can take is making sure you have administrative control of all of your online business accounts. Get on Facebook and search for your business name. If it’s already listed, request to take control. Check Yelp to see if you show up. If so, take control. Do the same on Google Local.

Once you have control of these accounts, make sure that there are no duplicates. If there are, get with the site’s tech support and merge them. At this point, you need to add content. Make it crazy easy for people to know everything about your business. Add your hours of operation, make sure your address is correct, add your website URL, add an email address, upload great photos, and tell your story. If your business is missing, add it!

Respond to reviews!

If someone has taken time to write a review about your business, honor that action with a response. If it is a negative response, apologize for the problem, and let them know you will work to be better. If it’s positive, thank them for their support.

You have thousands of dollars of free consulting right at your fingertips. How cool is that?

If you only want to acknowledge the good things people think about your business, you’re going to lose. Take the criticism, and make changes if you see that it’s an honest review. There will always be people who complain about everything, and you can’t do much about that unfortunately. You can only hope others see through this.

Google your business.

Even small websites that have listed your business are important and can have an impact on your business. Make sure you know everything about your online presence.

Engage those who’ve engaged you.

When someone comments on your Facebook wall, don’t be a slacker. Write them a short response, every single time.

Keep it fresh, and maintain your accounts.

Don’t do what I did for years and ignore your Facebook and Twitter. I spent so much time building huge followings for my clients and let my own companies’ Facebook and Twitter dry out in the desert. I’ve just now started nurturing my own, and it’s going to take time to catch up. Learn from my mistake. Remember, also, numbers aren’t everything. People earn a living setting up hundreds of Facebook pages and charging people for likes. This isn’t authentic, and you shouldn’t do it. If you have 50 followers that love what you do… that’s huge.

Create a culture for your patrons that they can relate to. Allow them to know your business in a personal way. Give them insight into what it is you do, but more importantly, why you do it. Don’t try and sell them your product without helping them understand why they should buy it. Give them a reason.

What is it that makes your business special? Whatever it is, promote it for all it’s worth. And by all means, don’t be afraid to be the Mom ‘N’ Pop that everyone loves.