Good marketing is important, and most small businesses just plain don’t market themselves online – ignoring a huge un-tapped wilderness of opportunity. But let’s not be like them, because marketing your small business online isn’t as difficult as you might think – it’s no longer a fringe buzzword, it’s become part of the very fabric of marketing. But a lot of small business owners in small towns often shrug off the concept because hey, that’s too big city, or nobody here uses them anyway or, I don’t have time for that!
Well. Nothing wagered nothing lost – but, nothing gained either. Just like any form of marketing, whether it’s online or in your local weekly newspaper, we do it to get noticed; to get new business, and to keep on keepin’ on. The difference is, social marketing is free, extraordinarily powerful, and well.. fun, once you get into it.
Think about this – the top social media sites, Facebook.com, Twitter.com and Linkedin.com receive over 2.5 billion visits a month. Really, the only two websites that see more action than Facebook alone are Google and Yahoo. Just looking purely at numbers, doesn’t it seem silly to say “I don’t have time for that”?
Where do I start?
Being small town folk with small town businesses we have a distinct edge, believe it or not, when it comes to social marketing. What’s happening is our customers are changing, and the relationship between businesses and customers are very slow to catch up. It used to be that people would buy from you if you were the cheapest provider, or hire you if you could do the job well at the lowest price they could find. That paradigm is shifting into a world where customers are more savvy, there’s a general mistrust of big advertising campaigns, and with the internet they are able research alternatives; customers are more likely to patron you because you’re providing better service, or a better experience, or because a friend recommended you. But we’re already there, fellow small town business owners! We do that on a daily basis, we’re 100% about service and relationships because we share our towns with our customers, we see them in the streets, we wave as we pass them, we strike up a simple hello, how are you? All we really have to do is take that same experience and nurture it online, in communities like Facebook and Twitter.
Social Media really encompasses many different concepts, but at its core, it’s really about people, networking and conversation – remember that, every time you log on. Join these communities and maintain your small-town charm; don’t barge in and hock your wares to anyone you can get a hold of – you wouldn’t do that to Larry if you see him buying milk on Sunday morning would you? But you might mention to him that you had a nice chat with his wife Brenda at your stall in the farmer’s market. It’s all about being a good online citizen – you have every archetype out there… Just please don’t be the pushy, untiring salesman 100% of the time!
There is a group of people in your community right now, using services like Facebook and Twitter, I mean.. who doesn’t these days? Your friends, family, customers, clients, peers, fellow business owners and even employees are probably online – find them and join them! Visitors to your town are using social media as well, especially tourists – and the majority of them do some research on where they’re going either from their computers, smart phones or tablets. You want to be able to talk to them, invite them into your town – you know how to be friendly and how to treat people. They may not necessarily need what you have, but you made a connection, and they have connections and so on and so forth.
So where to start? It may seem obvious but plan, plan, plan. Set yourself some goals – and remember goals don’t always have to be about money either. Maybe your goal is to simply have a larger community presence?’
- Get a website, a good website. Put more effort and research into your website than you think is even necessary. With the state of technology in our modern world having a website is simply not enough – you need a smash-the-ball-out-of-the-park website. It needs to be the epicentre of all your marketing – everything should in some way return back to your site, so that you can ‘funnel’ people toward your goals.
- Get an account with as many social media networks that you can think of. Don’t stop at the big 3 (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin), completely fill out each account, write a unique profile for each. Even if you don’t use most of them, your business name is SECURE, and your business will start to appear more often in search results because you’re deeper and more permeated than before.
- Use your accounts. Set aside some time to focus on social media. I’d suggest, morning, lunch and right before you leave, log in and check up. Make some updates, see who’s talking about you, or join in on someone else’s conversation.
- Start a blog, and use it. It would be preferable to get a blog hosted at your .com site, because all that additional traffic will help with your ‘funnel’, and hopefully generate some more leads for you. Don’t forget to actually make some blog posts either!
- Get some reviews! Ask your happy customers to write a review for you on Linkedin, on your Facebook page, on Yelp.com and others. Then promote the heck out of these positive reviews.
- Often overlooked, don’t forget to resgister your business in places.google.com/business, local.yahoo.com, ssl.bing.com/listings/ so you show up on a map when you’re searched for!
- Get a proper email address. Ditch your @hotmail or @gmail email addresses. Get a firstname.lastname@example.org address. It’s so easy to do, and it makes you look so much more professional I’m shocked how often people don’t do this!
- Leverage your marketing. Promote yourself all over the place, use Facebook to promote your blog, use your blog to promote your website, use your business card to promote your Twitter and Facebook, and so on and so forth. The more places you can bounce off of the better!
- Start a mailing list. It’s not hard to ask for emails from people you associate with. Maintaining an opt-in list (where people have explicitly signed up) with a site like www.mailchimp.com is a great way to get your word out. I’ve seen email marketing do some pretty miraculous things if done right – just remember your small-town sensibilities!
- You know that old saying keep your friends close and enemies even closer? Same for social media, keep a keen eye on your competition and what they’re doing, but never, ever interfere. Just do your thing, and do it better.
- Track everything. Use a service like Google Analytics to track your site’s visitors so you know how they found you, and what they did while on your site. You should also track your links that you post elsewhere, so you know how many clicks they receive. Doing so can help you see the returns on your efforts!
Once you’re there, and your fresh to the social media scene, inevitably when you’re sitting at your computer, in front of a blank post window… you’ll just be stuck on what to say. There are no rules, but try to sort your thoughts into 4 categories, and assign them a target ratio. You don’t want to lean too far into Sales and Marketing for example, because people may find you a little pushy and annoying if you’re constantly on that. They key is balance, and finding that balance can take some time – the more you participate the more comfortable you will be with your own balance, learn from others, and listen to your feedback!
- 1. Start a conversation
Social networking is a reciprocal sort of place, be the type of citizen you want to attract. Join in on conversations, comment and reply to other local business people or customers. Engage your followers with questions. What should our next project be? What’s the best hotel to stay in Calgary, AB? Ask for help? Try Personal updates once and awhile, there is a human behind this account after all, and showing that will help maintain a personal touch. Know the tone you should be writing in for each site. Facebook is more casual, Twitter is more to the point, Linkedin is more professional. If you’re not sure, lurk for awhile, learn the etiquette of the community, this way you ‘fit in’ with each.
- 2. Your community
Promote your community, doing so will help boost your local economy and lubricate that complicated series of purchases and sales. The more vibrant your local economy, the more vibrant you are – so never forget to step back and look at the big picture. Promote your town, promote local events, your fellow business owners or associates, share what makes you proud of living where you do. Share why you chose to start a business here.
- 3. Company info/support
The best place to start is to talk about what your customers/clients want to know. Keep a list of questions they ask, comments they make, or conversations you’ve had and ask yourself if this is the sort of information others would want to know. If so, open up and talk about it. If someone’s looking for an answer, and you sound like you’ve already got it sorted out, they’re more likely to go to you. Talk about your staff, and the other people you connect with in the dealings of your business. Let Scott the delivery guy know you appreciate him. Or how about your most trusted and handy employee, you know the one who’s gotten your business out of some sticky situations? Ask them if they would like to share their expertise with the world. Try doing some online customer support, if someone’s unhappy ask them how you can do better, and make an effort to do so.
- 4. Sales and Marketing
Put the spotlight on you and what you are doing. Talk about your blog, newsletters, upcoming sales or events, and whatever else – just remember to focus on quality not quantity! You want a reputation of providing Good Content because every time you share a post, comment or network with others you are marketing. Try not to aggressively promote yourself either, that will get you de-friended and un-followed quickly. People don’t like to be “sold to” all the time. Remember to always follow good small town etiquette, and try balance your presence online. In fact, it’s always nice to do the opposite of what people expect, and offer a special discount or deal to your online network!