Do you have a local business that you want to promote online? Actually, we don’t even need to ask that question anymore. Any business that wants to gain more clientele needs to promote itself online. It’s a given nowadays that whenever you setup a new business, you also need to setup its presence online. The great thing about setting up online is that for the most part, it is pretty straightforward and extremely cheap (or sometimes even free!).
Ok so you now have your business all set up and operating. You’re done with your grand opening and met a few potential regulars. You want these new customers to be updated with your new promos and promotions, maybe generate some repeat or referral business – you want to be able to reach out to them easily and the most cost effective way to do this is to use any or a combination of the following : email, social networking sites and online review sites.
Phones and snail mail still have its place. Let’s not forget these two, but they are now relegated to specific situations. Direct phone calls are still more personal than any digital correspondence but can be considered intrusive. Call a customer only if you want to inform them directly about something (a contest or an online reservation, etc.). Good old fashioned mail is perfect for sending out printed discount coupons or holiday post cards.
Here are the key benefit and challenges for each of type of site
This might take a bit of charm to get since most customers are wary of giving away their email and if they do give you one, it may not be the one they check regularly. If you do get their regular email then you’re in luck. Providing you don’t spam them (which would get you blocked), email correspondence can be the most responsive and direct type of communications with your client.
Some restaurants offer a survey card to their patrons to get feedback about the service while they are still in the premises. These survey cards usually have a field where the customer can put in their email. Try to give an additional incentive like a weekly raffle for a free drink or promotional product.
If you have your website address visible on all your printed materials, you should get a few visits from customers who check you out online. Every visit to your site is a good opportunity for you to ask them for their email. Your website should have a contact form or an option to subscribe to your newsletter.
Yelp, Zagat (restaurants) and Epinions are a few examples of review sites. Local Businesses should always establish their presence here. Create your profile or claim it if someone had already made one for you. It’s critical you have ownership of your profile so you can update it with promos, photos and the correct address to your website (where you get an opportunity to get their email). Some online directories have now added “leave a review” or “feedback about this business” options for visitors to their site. It’s a good idea to claim your profile in these sites too, especially if it’s an active one. The only drawback here is that they may want to charge you for taking ownership of the profile or sell you some of their services like web hosting or website design. They might ask you to join their site and charge you an annual fee which, depending on the popularity of the directory, could be a total waste of money.
Map sites have also enabled reviews to be posted on their site. A good example is Google Maps. You have got to have control of your profile here. The primary reason being for this is Google has the most number of users and they show Maps entries on their search results. Claiming your profile can be a bit tedious especially if your business phone number is tied up with a previous business, but it is well worth the effort.
For Review sites you must diligently check the feedbacks posted about your local business on these sites. Respond promptly and give the impression that you value any feedback given – even the negative ones. Avoid arguing with the customer on these sites. This is probably the best way to turn people off your business before they even try you out. I’d suggest inviting people who leave a negative post back to your store so you can address the issue directly or provide them with your email address so you can sort things out without airing it in public.
Social Networking Sites
Ok this is the big one. Social Networking sites are the most popular way for people to share their experiences with others. In the US alone there are over 150 million Facebook users. That is a huge pie to share for local businesses. There are other sites of course. The most popular sites being Facebook & Twitter, but you should also have a presence on Instagram & Pinterest.
Social Networking sites are like a combination of email, maps and review site for a local business, with one major complication / opportunity – the potential for going viral. Many local businesses would probably need to have a very unique idea or produce a very catchy piece of content to go viral, but it is the ultimate goal for marketers. When something goes viral, it means that a huge number of people have seen and shared whatever that piece of content is and having your name or brand attached to piece of content means you get tremendous exposure for free. Look up Chuck Testa on Youtube.com for a good example of a local business’ video advertisement that went viral. You do need to proceed with caution because it is not only interesting content that can be shared over the Social networks even a negative opinion about your local business can be shared too. A few major companies have had headaches over this and some have even opted to close their account which isn’t really a good move for any business. Having a robust presence on social networks provides a business with a very powerful damage control tool for both online and (to limited extent) real world concerns.
With the advent of the picture oriented social networking sites like Instagram and Pinterest, having a photogenic place of business, product or location becomes a big advantage. This is especially true for restaurant, flower shops, and furniture shops – basically anything with products to display. People share their experiences online using these sites and they do it primarily with pictures as compared to comments like in review sites. So it stands to reason that all the food you serve should look neat and very tasty. Floral arrangements should always look fresh while furniture should look sturdy and new.
You can even hold contests on your Facebook page for the best picture submitted by your clients. This type of engagement is necessary to the continued growth and success of your business online presence. Whatever good impression you make on people who follow your business on social networking sites adds up towards building a loyal customer base at a fraction of the cost and time than what was needed a decade ago.
Email, review sites and social networking sites provide your business with tools that you can use to solidify your presence online. It is no longer enough to have a website or blog about your business, you need to engage and connect with your customers where they are and not just where you are. Seek them out and let them know you can be found online. The initial investment in setting up your online presence, optimizing it and spreading the word will pay for itself in the long run. If you’re not up to the task then there are several professional companies and individuals who will expertly do it for you. What matters most is that you do not leave this necessary component of business to chance. That kind of negligence is just like leaving your house unlocked with all your windows open, an invitation to surefire disaster.