If you’re a small business owner, you know the value of connection. Your customers aren’t just price tags – they’re neighbors. Your storefront isn’t just a place where you make money – it’s an integral part of the neighborhood. Here is where you engage with your community each and every day.
But how do you engage your customers outside of the workplace?
And in the current era of social distancing, COVID-19, and quarantined neighbors, how do you engage at all?
Enter the complex world of social media. The same values you use in the real world to make meaningful connections also apply here. Done right, social media can help you improve your brand’s visibility, reputation, and involvement in the community.
Why is social media so important for small businesses?
When it comes to larger corporations, the benefits of social media seem like a no-brainer. Their audiences, much like the bounds of the internet, are vast and wide. But small businesses rely on locals for their growth and success. If your consumer base is right next door, why is social media so important?
Only a small portion of your community is in your immediate reach – exponentially more are online. And a small business’s social media presence can deeply impact a consumer’s choice.
Below are a few key findings from studies conducted by the social media management expert, Sprout:
- 57% of users polled say they are more likely to buy from a brand they follow on social media.
- 71% of users said they were more likely to buy from a particular brand after a positive social media experience.
- 48% of users said that a business’s responsiveness on social media increased their likelihood to make a purchase.
Social media is clearly an important part of your customer’s buying journey. And by meeting your customer where they are, you can be a vital part of that. To do this effectively, you need ways to engage on social media that will extend your local reach and offer more opportunities for connection.
How to engage your customers on social media
Customer relationships are built on reliability, trustworthiness, and friendliness. The same goes for building relationships online. So, with these in mind, here are four best practices to connect with customers through social media.
1. Be responsive
Just like you would return a customer’s email or voicemail in a timely manner, be attentive to customers on your social media channels. It’s as simple as replying to a question on your Facebook business profile or responding to a positive review. Make it a rule that if someone posts, comments, or replies on your page, you will always respond. That response can be a quick thank you, a detailed answer to a question, a relevant emoji, or simply, a like.
The tricky part? Being quick to respond.
Brandwatch reports that 78% of people who complain to a business’s Twitter account expect a response within the hour. Keep notifications active across all of your devices so if a customer does reach out, you’ll be ready.
By quickly (and kindly!) answering questions and requests, you can engage with your customers on social media and build your reputation within the online community.
COVID-19 Social Media Tip: Be proactive with your social media pages. As more and more businesses are forced to move online or reduce hours, customers will want current information about your operations. Provide information succinctly across all of your social media profiles. If you’re now offering takeout and delivery services, mention this. As an added benefit, this will cut down on the number of questions you have to answer over and over again.
Social Media Engagement Tip: When it comes to responding to comments, stay positive, professional, and relevant. Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to a customer’s face. Even if you’re responding to a bad review, keep a cool head and be the bigger person. Your poised, even-keel reply will reward your business far more than a random angry comment will disparage it.
2. Offer social media-based promotions
In the real world and the virtual world, people love a good deal. Encourage engagement on your social media pages by offering online only promotions and events. Included below are some examples of how to best utilize social media platforms for promotions and discounts:
- Contests – Contests are a fun way to encourage interaction across multiple social media channels. Put the reward front and center to catch your customers’ eyes. Not sure what kind of contest to try? Get some inspiration from these classics:
- Follow & Share Contest: For users to enter this kind of contest, ask them to follow your pages and tag three friends in a comment on the contest post. This will increase visibility and your social media fans. Plus, it’s easy to choose the winner – select someone randomly from the list of comments.
- Caption Contest: Post a picture relevant to your industry and ask users to submit a caption. It invites users to be creative and have something to look forward to on your page. Post the short-list entries and tag their submitters. Your winners will share their glory on their social media feeds and give you a bit of free advertisement.
- Selfie Contests: Ask your audience to post selfies while using your product or service and tag you in the post. Throw in a few fun guidelines to encourage users to be inventive, like they must be wearing a silly hat, at a local museum, or with their dog.
- Promotional Codes – If you have an online store, post discount codes on your social media channels – codes that users won’t be able to find anywhere else. Your customers will share your page with like-minded friends who want to stay in the know about your services.
- Cross Promotion with Other Local Businesses – Don’t be afraid to team up with other local businesses in the area to promote one another and leverage each other’s audiences. For example, a pizza joint and an ice cream shop can create a promotional ad about “the best dinner combination” – a slice of pizza and an ice cream cone afterwards. To go one step further, offer a receipt discount. If a customer purchases an item from one store and shows the receipt to the other, they’ll receive a discount.
COVID-19 Social Media Tip: If you feel limited in the prizes you can offer due to COVID-19, there’s still something your customers will love to compete for: gift cards. Your customers will appreciate the opportunity to support you in these uncertain times and have something to look forward to when things return to normal.
3. Provide resources
As a small business owner, you strive to be an expert in your industry. Share your knowledge on social media to show customers you’re invested in their education and awareness as well as your own.
- Q&As – Open up your social media page to a quick Q&A. Set time limits just like you would for a regular promotional event, and remind your fans of the time and medium prior to the start.
- Tip of the Day – Post a useful piece of advice for your users to look forward to everyday. If you’re a restaurant owner or a chef, you could post a new recipe each morning for your fans to try. Or, if you’re in the health and wellness industry, you could post about ways to maintain a sense of balance during the stressful times of COVID-19.
- Share the Content You Like – This could be infographics on common issues in your field or news articles you think are relevant. If it’s valuable to you, chances are, your audience will find it useful too.
Social Media Engagement Tip: People are on social media for many different reasons, none of which include being talked at or advertised to. So be wary of pestering your audience with frequent promotional posts. In Sprout’s social media study, 46% of users said the primary reason they unfollowed a brand was “too many promotional messages.” Before putting content out into the world, ask yourself: Is this valuable for my audience?
4. Support your neighbors
No man, woman, or small business is an island. Your neighbors have helped your business thrive in good times and in bad. And you’ve helped them, too. Take that approach online and you’ll be surprised how many customers will show appreciation for your community loyalty.
- Know What’s Happening – Is there a park cleanup coming up? Is it the 100-year anniversary of a beloved mural? By sharing and amplifying local events that bring people together, you’ll make connections with the event organizers and demonstrate your commitment to supporting your community.
But how do you keep tabs on all the amazing things happening in your neighborhood? Stay in the loop with Nextdoor, the neighborhood hub. Hear about what’s going on in your community as soon as it happens and participate in the communal dialogue.
- Work with Your Neighbors – Talk to your local small business owners about supporting each other’s work online. If your neighborhood lunch spot is offering a special, talk about it on your social media pages. If your local plumber was just awarded ‘best in the area’ by a regional newspaper, post about it. Share their successes, celebrate their milestones, and they’ll do the same for you.
- Get Involved in Local Service Projects – Show your commitment to the community by amplifying the efforts of local nonprofits on social media. Work with those organizations to give freebies to donors and volunteers. These small gestures and interactions will go a long way for your reputation online and in the real world.
Why social media engagement is vital for local businesses amidst COVID-19
With social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates in full effect, consumers are spending more time online than ever. In Q1 of 2020, Android and iOS users spent 20% more time in apps than they did Q1 of 2019. And in-app spending is reaching record highs as well; from January to April 2020, consumers spent $23.4 billion worldwide.
What does this mean for your business? While you may be temporarily losing in-person revenue sources, your consumer base isn’t gone. They’re now online and looking for ways to stay connected with their beloved businesses.
So reach them where they are spending most of their time: through social media.
Make meaningful connections on social media
When all’s said and done, social media is just one way to reach your customers and build important relationships within your community. These relationships can then transform into recommendations, positive reviews, and even lifelong friendships.
Whether you do this in-person or behind a screen, authentic, meaningful connections can only bring one thing for your business: positivity.
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Featured Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.