Three Ways Small Businesses Can Improve Digital Marketing in 2016

One of the most exciting things about digital marketing is how the tools help to level the playing field for small businesses. While major brands and corporations have large marketing budgets to work with, it is the independent small business owner who can make significant gains by utilising social media, blogging and content marketing to gain exposure to new customers and generate sales.

Social Gets Personal

If you are not on social media; you need to be. And if you are on social, consider changing the method by which you communicate to your customers online. Ask yourself this question: How eager are you to personally engage in a one-way conversation? The rules of social media have changed, and brands that are winning new customers and advocates do so by engaging in two-way, personable conversations online.

There are two parts to a personalised brand approach to social media communication. The first step is to design content and posts that frequently ask for feedback, opinion or engagement. People enjoy sharing their comments and insights, but they must be invited to do so on social. Ask your customers to comment and encourage their feedback.
The second step to personalised social media communication is response; all major brands and businesses monitor their social media for inappropriate content daily, but few provide polite, customer service oriented responses. Brands that feel confident in their ability to use social media to dialogue directly with customers create a positive impression that consistently translates into improved website traffic, and sales conversions.

Increased Emphasis on Crowd Sourced Content

Have you ever taken one of those quizzes on Facebook that gives you a personal result? Whether it is a description of your personality type, favourite colour or most similar celebrity, the success of a quiz that offers entertainment value is apparent. What is also apparent is the value of the viral sharing that can happen when a successful quiz allows the personal result to be shared with family and friends on Facebook (which in turn draws in more participants, eager to know their own results).

Social media marketing has been around for more than seven years. In that time, consumers have been fed content by brands who were eager to use the communication medium in a broadcast method; brands created the content and consumers watched or read it. With the proliferation of content available on the web, consumers are more interested now in engaging with brands, rather than simply listening to them. Today, consumers want to participate and express themselves (and be acknowledged by attribution for the content that they help to create).

LEGO created the LEGO Ideas dedicated website to allow consumers around the globe to contribute to ideas for future product development. The toy manufacturer also allows family and friends to ‘support’ the new product idea, choosing the winning ideas based on consumer popularity. The program is a win/win for the manufacturer who is able to access innovative new ideas, while allowing brand advocates and loyal customers to participate on the site and share their opinions. It is also a way for LEGO to develop new products into an existing demand structure, assuring new product popularity and sales.

In social media, the most prolific example of the success of crowd sourced content is of course, YouTube. Using algorithms and advertising enrolment programs, YouTube capitalises by selling advertisements on popular consumer generated video content. Designing campaigns or programs that encourage engagement and contribution is a valuable asset to building online community. It is also an affordable and exciting way to augment your own brand generated content, corporate blogging or multimedia.

Consider good will campaigns that encourage your customers to design, film, write or share their insights about your products and services, and use the submissions as part of your content marketing regularly.

Incorporate Google Reviews

The popularity of websites such as Yelp, or Angie’s List and other sites demonstrates that consumers trust the customer service experience and word of mouth of others. This works favourably for businesses who excel at providing an excellent level of value and service to their customers; you have customers waiting to write you a glowing review (the sort of feedback you need to win new customers).

Start by registering your business for a Google+ page. The process is free and easy, with a verification that can be done by phone, text or email, which confirms ownership. Once you have set up your Google+ page and your profile (upload images and logo, address and telephone number of your business) you can start to ask customers for review.

How to leave a Google Review:

1. Type in the business name and address of the business in Google search. For example, “ABC Company, 123 Willow Road, Berkshire”.
2. On the right hand side of the search results, a company profile will appear. This is where you can see your current Google rating (out of five stars) and read past reviews.
3. Customers can leave your business an online Google review by clicking the ‘Write a Review’ button.

There are a number of ways that businesses can ask for Google reviews. Some provide a link by electronic invoice or email after purchase or services are provided. Others supply a card that outlines instructions for leaving a review. Google reviews are beneficial to help generate traffic (and favourable search engine indexing) of your website, while also allowing prospective customers to read about positive service experiences; it’s valuable relationship marketing.
Remember to make time to respond to all reviews you receive on Google. A polite customer service response should also be made for negative reviews, to demonstrate an attempt at resolution. Never argue or escalate a complaint on Google reviews; customer reviews cannot be deleted.

Consider your digital marketing efforts in 2016 to be customer service oriented, rather than advertorial and overly salesy. Be honest and likable, and share content that is personalised to your business and brand culture. Create an authentic connection with new and existing customers; one they will want to talk about with family and friends, and generate priceless word-of-mouth advertising.