The art of establishing a strong online presence is an essential one for modern small business owners. Yahoo spoke exclusively with Deluxe Corporation Vice President of Small Business Engagement Tim Carroll on May 14 regarding several ways that small businesses can harness the power of social media to increase their sales and build a solid reputation among consumers.
I know you’re a master of social media and small businesses. What are some things business owners can do to generate buzz?
Carroll: Small business owners do a remarkable job of the hardest part of generating buzz and word of mouth: they have great products and they create great relationships with their customers. What we want them focusing on right now is, as you’re out there creating buzz with your day to day business, what happens next? We know customers have many more options to read reviews online and do a lot more research before engaging. So we’re advising small business owners to make sure you’re getting your best customers online first and writing great reviews about you and sharing you with their networks.
Also make sure you understand where you rank in the search engines, and if you’re not getting the rankings you expect on keywords, making sure that you’re findable. Because if you do a wonderful job of driving word of mouth and customers are hearing about you and can’t find you online, you’re really leaving cash on the table by not converting that into an opportunity.
In terms of search engine optimization, where is that today? I know that was a really big thing 15 to 20 years ago, but it seems to have gone by the wayside. How can small business owners make sure they’re optimized properly?
Carroll: I think it’s less about keywords and more about engagement; showing interaction with consumers… We really encourage small businesses to ensure that they’ve got fresh content on the site that really is relevant to what they think customers are looking for, that they have as much rich media as they can, whether it’s video or photos, and just keep making sure that the content’s fresh. We don’t want small business owners to game the search engines. We want them to have legitimate relationships with their customers.
I have a friend who’s starting a business from the ground up. She makes tutus for little girls. How would you suggest she go about promoting herself as a small business?
Carroll: I think she should start by talking to… tutu buyers and just understand how they shop. Where are they looking for advice or designs? Do a little bit of research first so they know where to focus the effort. If that’s happening on a site like Etsy.com , then maybe they don’t need a website to start with, maybe you should be there. So do a little research first with your target market, even if it’s very casual, and that’ll go a long way in telling you where to start.
There were surprising statistics that came from a recent survey you conducted. Can you tell me a little about them?
Carroll: We asked small business owners what are the most important tool they’re using to find and engage customers and how much time are they spending on your online presence on things like your website, social media and email accounts. We found out that 70% of small business owners said that word of mouth is far and away the most important tool that they use for finding and engaging customers but only 30% of the people who responded were spending more than an hour a week on their online presence. We thought there was a big disconnect there, where they’re doing a great job getting the word out but maybe not being ready for what happens next in this age of savvy shoppers.
If having an online presence is that important, why are they putting more of an emphasis on having a website and being out there for consumers to see?
Carroll: We asked that question as well. They say they think they don’t have the technical skills, the time, or they don’t have the interest in doing it themselves. And we get that. They don’t get into business because they have a social media talent or digital capability, but our message is it doesn’t mean you don’t do it. At Deluxe we create tools that help companies do this. We have a mix of affordable and easy tool for people who do want to try it themselves and more sophisticated solutions for small business that want help or want someone to do it on their behalf.
What kind of a role does social media play in business development?
Carroll: There’s definitely a growing amount of social commerce, but I think it’s quite small. People are using social media to get the word out about what’s cool, what’s hip, what’s on sale, what’s fun, and they’re using that as the front door. Then they try to drive those transactions to an ecommerce site or a brick and mortar store. So social media is an important tool to add on to traditional word of mouth, but I still think it’s in an early stage of being an ecommerce engine on its own.
What’s the role of a site like Twitter in social media marketing?
Carroll: If you’ve got a very deal oriented product… it’s a very convenient way to get out a message to your audience… [it’s not so much about the demographic as the product.]
Where can my readers go for more information?
Carroll: At Deluxe, our freshest content is on our Facebook and Twitter feed, with the Deluxecorp handle. We have a blog at Deluxe.com and you can learn more about the company there as well.
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