Consumers today increasingly rely on connected devices to research products and services before making purchases – so it’s no secret that small businesses need to focus more of their marketing resources than ever before on online strategies.
As the journey from consumer query to purchase becomes more complex – incorporating multiple devices, websites, apps and offline activities – so too do the options for tracking consumer behavior and leveraging online media for targeted advertising.
There are companies today specializing in almost every aspect of online marketing, leaving business owners with a dizzying array of options. For many the question is not the value of online marketing, but rather where to start and how much they need to do to accomplish their marketing objectives.
Do local businesses really need a website? The answer is unequivocally yes. Websites are how local businesses get found via directories and search engines. It’s the “home base” for pertinent information about your business, including hours, location, products, services and more.
Remember that keeping your website information current and correct is extremely important. Inaccurate information can get picked up by other sites and directories, which, in turn, makes it harder for your potential customers to find and engage with your business.
Don’t slack off when it comes to providing information about products, the company and the industry. In the age of information, it behooves small business owners to provide readable, informative content. Good content serves many purposes, from attracting higher search engine rankings to helping prospects choose your products or services, and reinforcing your brand. A good start is to look for opportunities to educate and share your expertise. How-to videos, FAQs or links to informative resources about your industry are great ways to add value and encourage people to come back to your website. Other content, such as seasonal greeting videos or stories about work you’re doing in the community, may serve to humanize your brand and build authentic connections with your customers.
Mobile is quickly becoming the device of choice for consumers to search the web. According to research by International Data Corporation on behalf of YP, nearly one in three consumers uses two or more devices when looking for information about products and services; and in 2015, Google announced that it receives more searches from smartphones and tablets than from computers. Yet many businesses are slow to adapt.
If your website is difficult to navigate from a mobile device, you can lose business to your competitors – especially since mobile searches are often about more than finding information. Consumers are using their mobile phones to take action after visiting a site, including calling a business, checking store hours and mapping directions. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly and easy to use from a variety of devices so you don’t miss out on potential customers.
Among the internet’s tools for drawing business, social media is one of the foremost reasons many people now go online. While engaging in social media won’t turn a failing business into a successful enterprise overnight, it can help business owners in a number of ways.
At this writing, Facebook has 1.71 billion monthly active users. Twitter, another popular social media platform, has more than 313 million registered users. Simply put, social media is more popular than ever before, and its popularity is growing by the day. Businesses can take advantage of this by joining social media and immediately increasing their visibility. And that visibility is constant, as social media sites don’t close at 10pm and they reach customers far and wide.
Social media can be used as a promotional tool. Blog about a product to help potential customers better understand it, and customers won’t feel as if they’re being delivered a sales pitch. Business owners can easily produce how-to videos to explain the product, and any questions customers have can be simply sent via social media. Business owners won’t have to spend as much time trying to convert them from potential customers into actual customers, and the informal nature of promoting a product via social media can make customers feel more comfortable about their decisions.
Though it can sometimes feel like the days of the successful small business owner is a thing of the past, social media is making it easier for small business owners to promote themselves and entice customers along the way. Buying from large corporations tends to alienate consumers, and small business owners can use that to their advantage. Use social media to tell your story. When consumers know who is behind a product, they tend to trust the company more and feel a more personal connection than they’re likely to feel with a larger company or corporation.
Social media users enjoy the social sites because they give them a chance to share their thoughts on a variety of things, including the products they buy. Small business owners can help their business by encouraging those who follow them on social media to share their thoughts about certain products or promotions. Employ social media to understand what customers like and dislike about certain products. This market research might once have cost small businesses a substantial amount of money, but now social media allows business owners to access this valuable information at relatively no cost.
Mary Kurek of Atlantic Beach, a professional networker with years of experience navigating social media and finding ways in which it can benefit businesses admits that it can be a daunting task, especially for someone who isn’t as computer literate as they would like to be. But it certainly isn’t impossible. Once you’ve established your business account, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other sites are easy to find your way around. Simply take a bit of time to explore and begin making a list of how the sites can benefit your company.
“You have to think about it with a marketing mindset. There are all kinds of ways to promote events and services,” said Kurek. “Know that it does take some time – an investment of your time – but it is also a great way to reach a very large market.”
Daily activity is important, but it doesn’t take a lot to gain attention. Take pictures of you providing services, whether you’re a plumber or you own a boutique. Share info about your products or just take a picture of the beautiful view you have from your office window.
“Keep in mind that it’s not so much about direct selling, but more about building a relationship and having a back and forth with potential clients,” she said.
Take time to search for other local businesses and friends and “like” their page or become “friends.” Then make a point to like the things they post on a regular basis, hence promoting your own company’s visibility. If you have competitors in the market, check out who is following them and request to connect. Note that many of the social media sites also have localized groups. For example, 8,000 local people may be members of Beaufort NC on Facebook, and by joining and participating in the ongoing commentary, your business name is reaching out daily without a pushy sales pitch.
“When you’re first launching your business page you can boost your posts on Facebook,” suggested Kurek. Posts can be boosted for as little as $5 and the online tool allows you to choose the demographics you want to reach. “Do it every day for a month, post a relevant article, put out some great pictures, and you’ve build a brand with a perfect audience.”
Be cautious not to post too much – once or twice a day is usually adequate. Overloading your followers may make them decide you’re taking too much of their time. The business tools built into Facebook, for example, let you know which posts have earned the most attention and will help you finesse your activity. Perhaps posting at noon gets 200 likes, while posts put up at 9am only grab the attention of 25.
For those who aren’t interested in tackling the beast themselves, there are a variety of companies set to handle your social media presence for a fee. But most business owners will find a small investment of their time will go a long way.
Word-of-mouth has long been a friend to small business owners, and now social media enables satisfied customers to share their experience with friends and family members who might one day become your next satisfied customer. Small businesses often need all the help they can get to establish and maintain success. Social media can be a significant ally to your small business in a number of ways.