Trying to explain the benefits of social media to local businesses often proves challenging. A handful of Central Valley business owners have suggested to me they don’t need any online presence because the Valley isn’t as “wired” as other places. That view is mistaken.
My in-laws own and operate Linda’s Used Books in Visalia. My sister-in-law and wife maintain the store’s Facebook page, with related posts and sharing interesting stories. Yet, on a Visalia Facebook group, my wife noticed people mentioning they thought the business no longer existed, despite being open since 1982 and in its current Houston Avenue location for more than 30 years. If a business isn’t easy to find online, people assume it doesn’t exist.
An active Facebook page was insufficient for the store to be found via Google or other search engines. It needed more. It needed a website.
Businesses need websites, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yelp, Pinterest, and possibly Instagram accounts, if only to monitor what customers and industry leaders share online.
DMI Agency, the publisher of Direct and other local media, offers website and social media services to local businesses seeking a complete online branding strategy, as well as SEO and SEM. It is important to develop a coherent and clear identity for your local business online.
Websites are today’s Yellow Pages advertisement. I cannot recall the last time I used a phone book, but I often look for services and goods online. Not appearing in Google or Bing costs a business potential customers.
A simple WordPress website and domain costs from $35 to $75 a year, including the registration fee for a domain (the “.com” address). My tech savy wife was able to create a simple WordPress site for her family’s store. WordPress offers “search engine optimization” (SEO), and extra features and SEO tools are available as plug-ins for easy installation and configuration. There are many books available on using WordPress and many consultants offer local support, too.
Register a domain that reflects your business, not individual people. Obviously, a business named for a person or family should register a domain and media accounts with that name, but always emphasize the business or organization.
If the name you want is taken, do not resort to creative spellings or long domains. Think about what the business does and try a name reflecting the goods or services. For example, “Smith’s Painting” might find “smith.com” and “smithpainting.com” already owned by another company. Ask yourself what customers can easily remember and type into a cell phone, tablet, or computer. Maybe include the city or county in your domain, if you only serve a local region. We use “Visalia” for some business domains because it is distinct and improves search results.
You can register a domain with Bluehost, GoDaddy, HostGator, and many smaller hosting companies. When you register, most offer a discount for selecting WordPress as the platform and paying for two, three, or five years in advance. Typically, I register new domains for a small business for three years with automatic WordPress configuration. Also, I recommend the big three hosting services, though they do charge more for the higher reliability they guarantee.
Many options to WordPress sites exist, offering easy website creation with drag-and-drop tools for adding text and images. I strongly prefer WordPress for small business and personal websites, and I use WordPress for several non-profit organizations.
There are situations in which a content management system such as Drupal or Joomla work better than WordPress: websites with many contributors and the need for a strict editorial workflow. I have installed Drupal and Joomla for universities and larger non-profits with dozens or even hundreds of authors composing articles on a weekly basis. If you only need to update content once or twice a week and only a few people will be contributing content, then WordPress offers the most flexible solution.
Content on a website needs to be fresh, which is one of the metrics Google and Bing use for search rankings. If pages update only once or twice a year, a site falls from the top of search results. At the least, I encourage one monthly update to content and ideally one update a week.
WordPress was originally a blogging tool, and short blog entries work well. Announce promotions, give advice, and mention new products or services online. WordPress plug-ins provide automatic sharing of these posts to Facebook, Twitter, and other services. You post new content to your business or organization website and instantly all social media receive the news.
Connecting your social media to your business website includes creating a clear visual brand across the website and social media. Do this by featuring your business or organization logo clearly on the popular social networks.
A good logo needs to work well at large and small sizes. Avatars, the small thumbnails used by social media, range from 32-pixels square to 150-pixels square. If your full company logo is difficult to read at these sizes, ask a designer to create a monogram or iconic logo for social media uses.
For banner width images, those wider than 800 pixels, the combination of a logo and image sometimes works well. All images, from the smallest thumbnail to the widest banner, should match in color, typeface, and any graphics. Simple graphics work best online, so if you have a complicated logo from the days of ink and paper, consider revising the logo with a contemporary look for online use.
Once you have a website, Facebook, and other social media accounts, follow some basic good business rules. Do not respond angrily to any reviews or comments. Always try to solve problems, especially in public spaces online. Consider Santa from Miracle on 34th Street. When you cannot help someone, directing them to another business or organization develops trust and loyalty.
Building a brand requires paying attention to your online reputation. Read reviews and comments to learn from them, not to dwell on angry customers.
Small businesses need to be online, and they need an online media strategy. Once you are online, revisit and improve your online plan regularly