Today just about everybody is online—and you should be too. But simply being there is not enough. Small businesses need to find ways to effectively engage with their audiences. Many are doing just that, revealing best practices that you can incorporate into your own small business’s online marketing practices.
All About an Online Audience
As with any communication, audience matters. Understanding your audience is a foundation factor in ensuring online success, says Emily Elliott, a marketer at TheSquareFoot, a commercial real estate technology company that provides online real estate search and concierge services.
“In order for marketers to effectively engage audiences, they need to get to know their audience first,” she says. That, she says, involves asking questions like:
- What is my audience doing online?
- What are they liking?
- What are they sharing?
- What brands are gaining their participation?
Wynne Pirini, an “online profit strategist” agrees. “The beginning tactic for any business should be to properly understand their audience’s hot buttons—know your market. From there the most important strategy for engaging your audience is connecting with them on an emotional level.”
“Internet marketing, and more specifically social media marketing, is about making connections and building relationships with your audience,” says Sean Gallahar, social media director with i7 Marketing. “Often times businesses will forget that they didn’t start a business to make money, but to solve a problem for a lot of people in an effective way. Don’t ever lose that vision you had at the beginning. Focus on making that solution available and you will keep your audience interested and engaged.”
Mandy Nagel is the founder of I Thought of You, a fair trade retailer. Their website launched just a few months ago and, says Nagel. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised with the social media following we’ve gained so far.” Listening to your fans is important, Nagel says. “They’ll tell you the type of written and visual content they want to see.
Through the listening that Nagel has done, she has found that—for her audience—“emotionally-compelling images help to draw the most engagement on our Facebook and Instagram pages.” In addition, she says: “Our users have told us how much they love our daily affirmation posts highlighting positive messages to give them a boost to get through their days.”
Because of the nature of the products she sells, I Thought of You has the opportunity to use beautiful product imagery in their communications. “Our customers enjoy learning about new cultures when we highlight holidays being celebrated in the different countries where our products come from,” Nagel says.
Not all small businesses are blessed with such natural connections to beautiful imagery, of course.
But, says Brandi Starr, president and brand strategist with Cassius Blue Consulting, whatever your product or service, “human to human interaction is the key to effectively engaging audiences online.” Importantly, it’s not high-tech, but high-touch that counts when engaging with online audiences.
“Simple things like using photos on online profiles, and having emails come from an individual as opposed to the business go a long way in developing lasting relationships with your target audience,” says Starr. “Injecting humor, showing vulnerability and even going off topic are also tactics to humanize your brand and further connect with your audience.”
Ray Howard with Tech Talent South agrees. “When engaging with online audiences, it’s important to remember that you’re both human and to be prompt, professional and friendly,” says Howard. “Sometimes it’s the simplest methods that, we’ve found, are most effective.”
“Storytelling is key,” says Christine Rochelle, director of digital marketing and operations with lotus823. “The click bait headlines have come and gone, and users are already looking for something more.” The brands that have the best engagement, says Rochelle, are those that understand how to “hyper-target” their audience.
Additional Best Practices
The following are some additional insights from small businesses and online marketers who have discovered the “secret sauce” of effectively connecting with online audiences:
“Get comfortable in your own biz-skin. Your personality, background, education, culture and values all create a one-of-a-kind business DNA that will set you apart from the competition and attract dream clients right to your digital doorstep.”
– Sonja Jobson
Small Business Marketing Strategist
“We live in a short attention span theatre world. You have just a few seconds to grab the audience’s attention before they are onto the next thing. Your visual content needs to be eye-catching; your written content short, but bold, to the point and with just enough bait dangling that you entice the audience to click through for more, or to stick around and watch the rest of the video. Push the envelope. The brands that generate water cooler conversation are the ones taking chances.”
– Justin Simon
Chief Social Strategist
“Believe in yourself and realize that it’s easier than you think. Because the Internet and options for existing online are so vast, it can intimidate those who don’t have a strong background in technology/IT. Some are able to jump right in, others need to take it a little slower, but there’s really no reason to be intimidated. Allowing yourself to experiment and make mistakes will also give you a lot of room to learn, and once you start learning you can eliminate the useless processes and focus on the things that work for you. It’s important to realize that everyone can effectively connect and engage online, if they’re willing to put in the work and learn what works for them. It’s a journey and all that really matters is starting. No time like the present!”
– Jonathan Craig
TV Producer & Investor
“If people within your industry, partners or customers make a statement or share content that you have a view on, comment or ask questions in order to begin a conversation, and, where possible, keep that conversation going. Following this you’ll be able to start more professional relationships that will benefit both of you. You can check analytics to see which of your posts get the most impressions or engagements in order to replicate and improve upon this in the future.”
– Anna Morrish
“Content on social media needs to have educational value to readers, and it needs to be information that they can use in growing and improving their company. It should spark ideas, conversation, and even arguments. In doing this, your audience will not only trust you more, but they will have a reason to keep coming back. At UrbanBound, we use Twitter as an outlet to educate people about our industry. Instead of constantly pushing out our product and self-serving our company, we post articles and content pieces that are relevant and interesting to our readers. We do this by trying our best to follow the 50/50 rule. With this rule, 50% of the content is ours, and the other 50% is from other sources. We interact, retweet, respond, and engage with the Twitter community as an attempt to spark ideas and conversation. Once people trust your brand and value what you have to say, the rest will fall into place. You need to establish credibility though, and the only way to do that is to serve as a source of education to people—not a sales pitch.”
– Erin Wasson
VP of Marketing
“We focus a lot of energy on engaging with our customers and followers on social media. These days so many people are on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn that if used properly it can be a wealth of great leads for your business. We’ve found the indirect approach to always work best, we aren’t intrusive or pushy and always simply focus on creating great useful content. Too many people use social media as a hard sell, however if you spend time writing helpful and informative posts and articles, you’ll find that people will find them useful and help spread them for you online. ”
– David Batchelor
Dial My Calls