For many independent business owners, embarking on a full-blown social media program can seem like a daunting journey into unknown territory. Thankfully, the payoff is worth the effort. When done right, there’s massive potential for SMBs to directly connect and communicate with targeted, local audiences.
In fact, recent research has shown that 91% of small business owners rely on social media as a means of driving increased sales. So what’s the secret? Where do you start, and what are some of the most important things to keep in mind as you look to boost your bottom line?
Build a Community
Creating an active and engaged online following is key in strengthening relationships with existing customers, while still attracting new ones. The good news is that SMBs actually have an advantage here — they know their local audience better than anyone. Leverage this knowledge and familiarity to make your social presence a natural extension of your physical community. Engage with those who may have already shown an interest in your brand and use your social media channels to offer them something of value.
If you are running a local restaurant, share enticing images of your latest dishes like NYC restaurant The Fat Radish does, or even recipe ideas and how-to videos for how to recreate the dishes at home. Or if you are a clothing brand like LA-based Reformation that has successfully amassed almost 200,000 followers on Instagram, you might post behind-the-scenes details on your production process, snapshots of your team, or sketches of a new collection. By sharing this kind of exclusive, engaging content you are creating a personal line of communication with your target audience — one that extends beyond the in-store experience and that will ultimately help you build stronger and more meaningful relationships with your customers.
Maintain Your Brand Identity
As you look to build your online audience, make sure you are staying true to your overall brand identity. Think of your online presence as an extension of your physical space — your store or restaurant. Beyond this, make sure the language, imagery and tone of your profiles is tailored to appeal to your target demographic.
If you are trying to build awareness of your edgy, boutique clothing store aimed at millennials but your Facebook cover photo shows you at your kid’s soccer game in sweatpants, the incongruent messages you’re sending will lose the interest of your target audience.
Social media can be a great way to drive awareness of sales and promotions — and it’s quick, easy and (for the most part) free. In comparison to more traditional forms of marketing, like direct mailers or door-hangers, social channels offer huge advantages in terms of speed and flexibility, enabling you to react in real-time to customer feedback and engagement. Leveraging these assets, Catskills hideaway Graham & Co. releases cancellations via their Twitter feed, incentivizing people to follow them and securing last minute interest in vacant rooms.
If you’re still not convinced by the potential benefits, you can put them to the test. For example, if you’re not sure if Instagram or Twitter is a more valuable platform for you to invest your time and effort into, you could run a simple social campaign that offers: “Check in to The Coffee Cup and mention code “Instagram” to receive 10% off your next order.” Your customer response to the campaign will be a clear indicator of its influence. This way you can easily measure the impact of multiple social platforms against each other or against other advertising and marketing efforts to order to ensure they are delivering tangible results.
Create Brand Advocates
Consumers overwhelmed by the abundance of choice offered by digital access are now placing more value than ever before on personal recommendations from friends and family, so think about ways to incentivize happy customers to spread the word — whether it’s rewarding them for reviewing you on Yelp or running a competition on Instagram for the best picture of your store or product. But don’t forget, you also want to keep them coming back so consider offering a discount on their next purchase, or a free gift or sample next time they stop by. Norwegian onesie makers One Piece recently launched a successful campaign rewarding customers for their social following by offering them a discount for sharing images of their products with their followers.
On the flip side, social media can also be a mouthpiece for consumers who have had negative experiences. By taking advantage of monitoring tools like HootSuite, Sprout and Google Alerts you can keep track of these conversations and be prepared to react. In some instances there may be an opportunity for you to resolve the situation and rectify an unpleasant customer situation. A rapid response to issues or questions posted online will have a similar effect to providing good customer service in store.
In our increasingly online and connected world, a strong social media presence can be a hugely powerful tool for any small business. With even a limited amount of time and effort you can create new opportunities for customers to engage with or discover your brand and strengthen your relationships with your target audience. Keep these considerations in mind and start making these online channels work for you.
Jason Richelson is co-CEO and founder of ShopKeep POS, a provider of cloud‐based point of sale software for managing retail shops and restaurants.