As more and more people spend time on the internet – social media sites in particular – opportunities arise for businesses to market themselves to these audiences. But how do businesses join the online conversations – as well as smartly promote their brand for free?
When you consider that the majority of people now search for businesses online*, it’s sensible to make the most of every opportunity to be as visible as possible when potential customers start the process of choosing a business for what they need. It’s also crucial that businesses are fully aware of what people are saying about them.
Your business’ reputation online is becoming ever more significant, and there are lots of ways to get going in pro-actively managing it. But the important thing to bear in mind is that there is plenty that can be achieved with no financial outlay. Okay, the initial steps take time, which is something that is in short supply for small business owners, but by working cleverly you can have information – such as mentions of your company on the web – come to you in many instances.
Look who’s talking
One of the simplest steps to take is to sign up for Google Alerts™. This will deliver, to your email inbox – each day, or as-it-happens – updates of the latest results from the search engine which mention your selected keywords or phrases.
You are required to sign up for a Google™ account, but the results can be sent through to an existing email address.
So set up alerts for your company name, the names of competitors and perhaps general terms significant to the industry you are involved in and your preferred frequency for updates.
When you read through these, you can quickly get an idea of where conversations about what you do – and maybe even mentions of your business – are taking place, whether this is on forums, within blogs or on websites.
If you think you would benefit from a more comprehensive report on mentions of specific words, terms or phrases online, software is available that can provide that for you.
Thinking outside of the inbox
Are you aware of the top business forums in your area of expertise, or even general forums such as UK Business Forums? Your Google Alerts, or straight search engine queries, can give you some clues. Register, see what people are talking about that interests you and get involved.
If you can think of an activity, interest or anything that has an impact on people’s lives, there’s probably a forum where people are talking about it.
Here’s an example: Are you in the baby product space? There’s a vibrant online community around sites such as Mumsnet and Netmums, so why not tap into what people are buying, what they would like to see and what they don’t like. You could even gauge opinion about products or services before taking them to market – or maybe give away some freebies.
Acting appropriately on forums
It’s illegal to misrepresent your business or brand online, so never enter into a conversation in a forum about your business, or a competitor’s, as if you were a customer.
Always be transparent about who you are and your connections to any business/industry being discussed. If you’ve not used the forum before, or if you’re in doubt as to how your comments would be received, it is wise to ask forum owners or moderators for permission before posting.
Think of it as a house party – people will welcome you if the host introduces you to them, but they may be less impressed if it appears you’ve gatecrashed!
Amplify your word of mouth
How many times have you walked into a business premises and, while browsing, glanced at testimonials from happy customers? Maybe you already do that yourself. Many businesses say word of mouth is their best source of leads, so it makes perfect sense to take this word of mouth and make it visible to everyone.
If you are listed on Yell.com, customers can review your business. This is your chance to shine – through previous customers’ mouths, people ready to pick up the phone can find out much more about what you are all about.
Reviews help build trust between consumers and businesses in a way that has never been possible before.
User-generated content, and regularly-updated pages can improve your SEO – so your Yell listing, with a stream of reviews, all added by real customers describing a genuine experience, will have a positive impact when it comes to where your business appears on search engine results pages.
Importantly, don’t be afraid of reviews – not all businesses will receive glowing reviews all of the time. But they do provide a great opportunity to engage with online communities and show that you care about the services you provide; consider online reviews to be the most visible part of your after sales care package.
Facing up to Facebook, Twitter and the others
Mention social media, and chances are the big players – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – will be in the mind of the person you are speaking to.
They aren’t the answer to everything when it comes to social media, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but they are fantastic free marketing resources for any business, big or small. And these sites, Facebook in particular, are where people are spending a lot of time. Facebook has over 1.39 billion monthly active users worldwide.**
Sign up for a Business Page and your company can have its own home on Facebook. This can then be populated with news updates, videos and pictures that represent your business. It’s also somewhere to post information about deals or offers – let your customers know about your Facebook page and people who have ‘liked’ it will be able to receive your updates in their feed. They can then comment and ‘like’ particular updates, which their friends may also see.
Look into Facebook advertising – it’s possible to set a budget and have a highly-targeted advert appear when people are browsing. Imagine you wanted to target women aged 25-30 who have just changed their status from in a relationship to engaged, or people based in Basingstoke who have listed that they like eating out. With Facebook ads you can do that. Your message will be placed in front in the very eyes you want it to be.
Get just 25 ‘likes’ on your Facebook page and you can have what’s known as a vanity URL, e.g www.facebook.com/yourbusinessname. It looks good and it’s very easy to remember and tell people.
Twitter can be used by businesses big and small as an online mouthpiece, e.g. talking about issues in the news relevant to them, to promote deals or special offers, and answer questions from potential/existing customers.
This all helps establish them as an expert in their particular field and build trust with online communities.
Create dialogue where you can add value – look through the results of a Twitter search for ‘plumber’ or ‘driving instructor’ and you’ll be able to spot possible opportunities for conversation. Does someone just need to know how to switch the mains off, and can you help if they need a professional? It’s possible to narrow down your search by location, so this makes it a viable opportunity.
Monitor what people are saying about you on Twitter, and if you happen to find negative comments reply where appropriate. Show people you are listening, and if you can turn situations around you have positive PR for everyone to see.
Sign up for an account, preferably your business name, and you’re ready to go. Make sure you fill in the biography text, as this is where you can explain what you do, where you’re based, and (where appropriate) reveal the real name of the person responding – another way to humanise your presence.
Free online monitoring tools, such as HootSuite and TweetDeck, can be used to study who is talking to you, particular keyword searches and store a record of tweets you have sent. It’s also possible to shorten URLs of links you post within these programs, so you make the most of your 140 character limit, and, importantly, look at how many people have clicked on links you have posted – maybe back to your website.
Don’t forget sites like:
- YouTube: Where you can easily upload any video you have and then grab code to use in other places
- Flickr: Which can be used to host images of products or work.
The missing link?
If you run a company that you would consider to be in the business-to-business field, spending time on social networking site LinkedIn could work well for you. User profiles are very much business-based and people registered on the site use it to build professional networks. Do the same – create a user profile for yourself and join the networks of people you know through business.
On top of this, create a profile for your company. This can include information on what you do, your company logo, a video representing your business and even three banner ads that display on the page linking back to any page you want on your website.
Another great feature of the company profile page on LinkedIn is the ability to add products and services. So each product or service your business offers can be listed, and each can be brought to life with an image, video and link for more information. It’s also possible to insert details of special promotions and you can connect your profile, or maybe other employees’ profiles to each specific service.
Each of these products or services can then be recommended by other LinkedIn users – so, in effect, a ‘like’ for what you do. Recommendations, and who gave them, are noted with the product. Why not ask suppliers and customers to recommend what you do?
The company profile section also provides administrators with analytics, so you can see how many times your company has been viewed and what pages are proving popular.
To learn more about using social media to promote your business, click here.
* 75% of UK adults use the internet to find information on businesses, Saville Rossiter-Base, 2011-12
** Facebook Newsroom, 1.39 billion monthly active users as of December 31, 2014
This article is provided only for general informational and educational purposes. It is not offered as and does not constitute legal or other professional advice on the subject matter in question. You should not act or rely on information contained in this website without first seeking professional advice on the subject matter in question.