“Did you move your business to Kansas?” Jeff asked.
“No!” Sam responded. “We are still right here in Lancaster County, PA where we have been for the last 40 years! Why do you ask?” Jeff was one of the top dealers of Free Rock Equipment and certainly would have been informed of any major changes in the company.
Sam soon learned that one of Free Rock’s dealers in Kansas had purchased the domain name freerockequipment.com on the internet. The dealer then set up a website at that website address that posed as the manufacturer’s website. The information was misleading and caused a lot of confusion with other Free Rock dealers and with equipment users.
Free Rock Equipment spent considerable time negotiating the website removal. Fortunately, they also negotiated the transfer of control of the domain name freerockequipment.com from the dealer to themselves. The owners of Free Rock Equipment learned the hard way that the internet impacts nearly every modern business.
Should you find yourself in a similar predicament, it may not end as well for you as it did for Free Rock (name changed to protect privacy). Whether or not you have a website, you need to be proactive in controlling online activity related to your company.
You may be thinking, I don’t use the internet, and I don’t have a website, so I don’t have anything to worry about. But in today’s world, your business is likely to have some kind of online presence whether you intend it to or not. For example, your business may be listed on review sites where customers comment on their experience with you. Your business name and address are likely listed online even now. You have a choice to manage your online presence or Google or someone else will do it for you.
Things every business should do online
As you read the following information, you will probably feel overwhelmed. The purpose of this article isn’t to overwhelm you, but to give you helpful information that will guide you in taking the next step in the right direction.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to do these things yourself. You can hire someone reputable and trustworthy to address these items for you.
1. Buy domain names for your business.
The domain name is the address of your website. Domain names are bought and sold online on a first come, first served basis. In the example above, the domain name was freerockequipment.com. Rosewood Marketing’s website domain name is rosewood.us.com, but we also own others such as rosewood.marketing that redirect to our website.
One reason for this is simply to prepare for the future, in case you want to set up your own website someday. The other reason is that someone else could buy your logical domain name, thus preventing you from using it. Even worse, a mean-spirited competitor could purchase it and use it against you by redirecting people to their own website.
In addition to buying your business’s main name (freerockequipment.com) if it’s available, consider buying some variations (example: freerock.com, freerockequip.com). There are hundreds of different extensions (.com, .net, .biz, .co, etc), so it likely is not practical to buy them all, but consider buying the most common ones.
2. Claim your Google listing.
Google is the internet’s main search provider. Google allows anyone to list their business with Google Business Profile. Your business profile can then show up in search results.
For example, if you own Sunshine Sheds and someone in your town searches for “buy a shed near me,” Google may show your profile, location, and contact information (along with other applicable businesses). Google will also display your location on their popular GPS/map service called Google Maps, as well as showing reviews that previous customers may have written about you.
If you don’t have a Google Business Profile, a well-meaning citizen (or occasionally an unscrupulous competitor) can list your business information inaccurately. From that day forward, when someone searches for your business listing online, they are presented with inaccurate information or even your competitors’ contact information.
Whether or not you have a website, setting up a Google Business Profile and keeping it updated with accurate information (for example, your hours of operation) is important to avoid confusing customers.
3. Set up a basic profile on social media.
Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are used by both consumers and businesses to share information about themselves. Even if your business has no intention of using social media, having your profile set up with accurate information can be a service to customers. In addition, it keeps others from claiming your name. Having an account on a social media platform allows you to see what others are saying about you on that platform.
Seth Godin, the author of numerous marketing books, wrote about how someone else claimed his name on the social media platform named Twitter. In Godin’s case, the account was not used maliciously — but it’s a simple illustration of first come, first served. If you don’t claim your name on basic social media platforms, other people might.
4. Monitor online reviews left by your customers.
Consumers in today’s world make decisions largely based on the opinions of others. Consumers usually read online reviews of a product or service as part of their decision-making process. Google Business Profiles and social media platforms are often their go-to sources for these reviews.
Monitoring reviews helps you keep a finger on your customers’ pulse. You can learn what they like and what they don’t like. While social media has a host of drawbacks, it also can be an effective tool for monitoring your business reputation.
Responding in a professional way to reviews establishes your credibility. Replying to positive reviews is a common courtesy, but how should negative reviews be handled? We live in a fallen world, and not every customer experience is going to be what we wished it would be. However, these are opportunities to leave a Christian witness, as well as to remedy your mistake if the fault was truly yours.
Responding to negative reviews in a Christlike manner conveys a positive message to others that extends far beyond the business level. On the other hand, if you don’t respond at all to a negative comment, people who look up your business online will be left to wonder whether the disgruntled customer’s experience was a common experience.
How to make social media work for your business
If you are comfortable enough with online marketing to move beyond the minimum steps we’ve recommended above, here are additional suggestions to incorporate social media into your marketing strategy, especially if you are a business-to-consumer brand. However, be aware that social media can soak up an inordinate amount of your time and resources with little real-world impact to show for it.
Ten years ago, you might see the occasional business profile on social media. Now, social presence is an expectation for businesses, with 80% of marketers relying on social media to raise brand awareness.
The point of using social media is not to gain more followers than the competition or to show off your capabilities. Like any other marketing activity, your social media activity should be designed to help the customer. This means that your content should be helpful and relevant to them.
Again, you don’t need to personally deal with social media. You can hire a reputable person or agency that you highly trust to address these items for you.
1. Choose relevant social channels. Consider which channels make the most sense based on your industry and audience. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube all have distinct audiences and marketing strengths. Do some research or ask your marketing partner to find out how these platforms work and which are best for you. Start with just one or two channels. Ask yourself: “What channels are my competitors and best customers using?”
2. Flesh out your profiles. Make your business easier to find in search results and build your brand identity with a fully developed profile. Move beyond just claiming your company name on social media and post pictures and videos of your products and services. Social media results are often among the first to show for any given small business on Google and many people check out social media results even before visiting your website. Use high-quality photos to establish credibility.
3. Follow other businesses, brands, and prospects. Show you’re an active participant in the community. You’ll get ideas on how to use the social platform by following others.
4. Keep an eye on your mentions. Timeliness is key when making the most out of your interactions with followers and clients. Tools like Smart Inbox can help you centralize what’s going on across multiple social platforms.
5. Define clear goals for your content strategy. Consider your marketing goals to determine the best approach to content, keywords, and hashtags. Concentrate your content on the main themes of your business. Regularly post fresh content so you are there when people need you. Social media is a quick and easy way to alert customers to sales and specials.
6. Plan content using a calendar. Planning and scheduling your content in advance saves you time and helps ensure that social posts are meaningful contributions, not afterthoughts. Planning also helps you post content at optimal times during the week and day.
7. Engage with others. Social media is a conversation–take the time to reach out and connect with followers and potential customers. This reveals your personality and showcases your brand. Ask their pain points and what you can do for them.
8. Find your brand voice. A distinct brand voice will reinforce your brand identity and help you stand out on social media. Be authentic and human. Be Christlike. Consistent branding across your online presence is critical.
9. Promote your social channels. Don’t rely just on social channels to get followers. You can promote your profiles in many other marketing channels.
- Your email newsletter, footers, and signatures
- Your website headers or footers
- Cross-promotion between social sites
- On signage and business cards
10. Monitor your social presence. After your profiles are up and running, keep an eye on your growth with analytics and reporting.
11. Conduct a social media audit. Periodically conduct a social media audit on your channels. A self-audit can help you catch inconsistencies across channels, what campaigns worked (or not) so that you can improve your social media strategy.
12. Keep an eye on the competition. Don’t copy your competitors, but learn from them and surpass their content.
Integrity is a must for internet and social media use. Integrity doesn’t try to show your business as something that it is not. Not everything the internet entails is healthy or safe for the Christian. But learning to use some basic internet tools is part of surviving and thriving for many businesses today. It gives us an opportunity to interact with the people using these platforms. If you are not monitoring what others are posting about your company on the internet you may unintentionally be leaving a poor Christian testimony. Maintained intentionally and carefully, your internet presence can serve both your business and your customers.