The following guest post is by Nathan Labenz, cofounder, Stik.
When it comes to choosing a local business, 9 out of 10 people trust a friend’s recommendation above every other source of information. Why? In a word, authenticity. In the era of advertising saturation, social media overload, and always-online connectivity, there’s something about a friend’s honest endorsement that cuts through the noise.
Yet, in the online world, authenticity is still in its infancy. Businesses are trying to connect with customers online — in fact, businesses spent $202 billion on website design and management, hosting, and social media management in 2012 — but in general they are not able to turn this spending into the kind of customer relationships that bring real opportunities.
Social media gurus everywhere advise small business owners to (a) blog regularly and (b) be active on social media sites including Facebook Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Pinterest, and more. If you can find the time to write it, they will come. It’s an appealing idea, and we’ve all seen high-profile examples where it’s worked, but for the vast majority of business people, it’s simply not practical. Local professionals aren’t writers, and they’re too busy running their businesses to keep up with their Facebook Pages. That’s why a full 70% of Facebook Pages are currently inactive. Content creation is just too much time and energy for too little results.
Here are 5 strategies that will help your business stand out online with relatively minimal time investment.
Focus your energy where it really matters. Most businesses get most of their online customers through just 1 or 2 channels. The specifics vary by industry, location, and random luck, but the key insight is: double down on those key channels and make them great. Don’t get distracted by the latest fad. If you’re a restaurant, it matters far more that you look great on Yelp than that you are active on Pinterest or Foursquare. In just about any business, it’s critical to look great when people Google you and land on your website or an industry-specific review site. Focus on the basics for the biggest returns.
Make everyone in your company an ambassador. Everyone is on social media every day anyway, so why not encourage them to promote your business? Ideally you’d empower them with some raw materials — pictures from company outings or with happy clients, customer feedback that highlights their own individual excellence, etc. This is “earned media” in the purest form, and studies show that it actually improves employee morale and loyalty. It does carry some theoretical risk, but if your employees love their jobs, you’ll be fine, and if they don’t, you’re probably in trouble anyway. If you’re not sure where exactly how your employees feel, experimenting with this strategy is a great way to find out.
Share your inspiration. In the modern economy, the WHY is often as important as the WHAT. Chalkfly, a new office and school supply retailer committed to outstanding customer service, gives 5% of their sales to teachers & their students. Every time you interact with a member of the Chalkfly team, you feel a sense of higher purpose about their work. Customers love the concept, and word is starting to get out. What inspires your business?
Own mistakes. If there’s ever a time when you really need to invest time in creating content, it’s when the story of your business threatens to spiral out of control. In these moments, communication is key, and if done authentically, can turn a problem into an opportunity. Take this story, for example, from a small business owner who explains why she simply can’t accept overdue Groupons. Customers were initially angry, but her heartfelt explanation went viral online and won more than a few customers’ hearts. Remember that people are rooting for you to succeed as a small business and that Americans love a second chance / comeback story.
Harness the power of online reviews. As the internet moves from anonymity to requiring Google / LinkedIn logins on nearly every site, personalized reviews & recommendations are becoming a unique and indispensable opportunity. In fact, a recent study found that 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Yet, most small businesses have not made any attempt to generate reviews or maximize the value of their online review footprint. Perhaps the best thing a high-quality local professional can do to promote him or herself is to work with clients to tell the story of their business and service in a way that will inspire future customers.
The best part about these strategies is that, while extremely powerful, they are fundamentally very simple and don’t require much time. They also align with your business’ core objectives — make clients and employees happy, and then work with both to tell your story once, in simple terms. Huge win for your business, no journalism degree required.
Nathan Labenz is cofounder of Stik, a reviews website for local professional services that is bringing the traditional word-of-mouth business referral online.
This article was written by My Say from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.