Remember that company Facebook page you started? The one with about 17 likes? That’s the one.
Lest we forget that Instagram profile you registered that boasts one post and even fewer followers. And don’t even get me started on your empty Twitter profile with that handle that you took ages to find.
Now let’s think about why you started those social media profiles? You likely read a bunch of different articles where you were told how important an online presence is. A valid point. So you jumped onto Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and whatever other social media platforms you could – developed a business profile and then breathed a huge sigh of relief, because thank goodness that was done.
But do all of these social media profiles sitting about gathering dust actually mean that you have an online presence? Well, firstly we need to unpack what we actually mean by an online presence.
[bctt tweet=”Do social media profiles gathering dust actually mean that you have an online presence?” via=”no”]
Jane Williams suggests that “giving your small business an online presence means more than simply putting up a little website with your company’s address and phone number.” She goes on to explain how an online presence should essentially be a “virtual version” of your business. → Now this is something that I can get behind.
Your online presence should make your business accessible to your target market, this includes information about your business and the products and services you offer. Your online presence should legitimise your business and provide customers with a way to engage with you.
Before everybody runs off to freshen up their Twitter profile, let’s take a look at why this online presence is so important.
Why is an Online Presence Important?
So you’re thinking of buying a new laptop, finding the price of a new face cream or comparing banking products. Where do you start? Now I’m guessing that the overwhelming response is that you’d open up an online search engine and find the information that you’re looking for. In short, you Google it.
Because it’s that simple – we expect all that information to be readily available at the click of a button. Whether you’re looking at price comparisons, product specs or peer reviews on blogs and review sites, all that information is available at your fingertips on the Internet.
Now if using the Internet is a primary means to get information for your target market, it makes sense to have as much information about your business online, this is where the virtual business comes in. It’s important to remember that an online presence these days is expected. We all expect to find whatever information it is that we’re looking for online and can get quite frustrated when we can’t.
Now there are a number of reasons why having an engaging online presence is a must, particularly for small businesses. Beyond the important reasons described above, here are a few others:
No time constraints:
Your potential customers aren’t bound to work hours to find out about your business, but rather they can search for information whenever, wherever. Your information is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What’s better, is if you have an e-commerce platform, your customers can shop online at their convenience, which essentially makes your online store open 24 hours a day. Well, at least in theory.
Having an online presence, whatever the platform, creates a means for customers to talk to you. Whether they’re saying positive or negative things, they have a voice and that’s important.
They can give you feedback and you can use their suggestions to improve your product offering. They can also ask questions and receive answers in real-time.
You’re able to reach a wider audience when you tie your online activities in with your offline activities. You’ll now be including all those that use the Internet as their primary source of information. The maths is simple, greater access to customers = increased brand awareness.
Developing and Maintaining Your Online Presence
Many articles out there are quick to highlight the importance of an online presence. But what next? They don’t really tell you how to make your online presence successful, or engaging. Or, how much work this actually requires.
In fact, some articles suggest that maintaining an online presence is effortless. When done right, this is most definitely not the case.
Let’s imagine that you start stocking new products, how will your customers know if you aren’t constantly updating your eCommerce site? Then a few followers on Facebook ask some questions about stock availability, but who will be checking these platforms to answer their questions?
Developing your online presence is the easy part, maintaining your online presence and ensuring that it serves as a platform for active engagement, now that’s the difficult part.
Now you’re probably asking yourself which elements of an online presence you should be using. The answer, unfortunately, is that there is no blanket approach to determine this. The tools that you choose to use should be business-specific.
The trick? Finding out which platforms your potential customers mostly use – because that is where you want to be. This is where we see the importance of research in helping our everyday business decisions. You want to know which online platforms your customers are using? Ask them!
[bctt tweet=”You want to know which online platforms your customers are using? Ask them!” via=”no”]
Ok so let’s look at some platforms: Let’s start with the website. Now this is that one tiny place on the Internet that is all yours. Here you can tell the world, who you are, what you’re about and why you think they need your products more so than any others.
Think of this as your opportunity to be persuasive and make your brand known. You can use your website to showcase your products, offer online purchasing and provide your customers with some interesting content. Make sure to give your customers as much information as possible to help them make an informed decision.
Remember, if your competitors all have websites and you don’t, you’ve already lost a big part of the battle. We have reached a point where people expect businesses to have their own websites and if you don’t have one you may get some raised eyebrows and have some customers questioning your legitimacy.
Next up, social media platforms. Again, the important thing to consider here is what platforms your customers are using. Not every single business needs a plethora of Pinterest boards and endless hashtags, while others are best suited to this. Knowing which platforms to use and which to ditch is the biggest decision to make here.
While having instant access to your customers, both existing and potential, through social media platforms is an incredible tool – it creates expectations. In fact, research shows that over 80% of consumers expect a business to respond to their posts on social media within 24 hours. This means, you aren’t just developing a profile and that’s it.
You want your social media profiles to be hives of activity, where you are engaging with your customers. This means, you need to constantly be monitoring these forums, responding to followers and acknowledging their interactions. This can be a timely exercise, but a richly engaging one where your followers feel valued.
Then we have blogs to help add to your online presence. Blogs provide some interesting content to your followers and regularly updated and relevant blogs help to build strong customer relationships that go beyond just transactional relationships.
Blogging also helps you to become an authority in your field. Your followers appreciate when you provide them with interesting content, relevant to your industry, that goes beyond just trying to sell a product. Content marketing should definitely not be undervalued! It’s up to you to use your content to its full potential.
These are just a few of the tools that you can use to enhance your online presence. Remember, your customers expect to be able to find information about your business online. It’s up to you to make sure that this information is accessible and relevant. It’s important to focus on the platforms that you can manage well, monitor and engage with your followers in real-time.
About the Author: Caitlin Ferreira, Valoro Director and Lead Marketing Consultant