Not only does the internet give you a global platform, it offers an array of free tools to manage your brand image. Paul Stamp, community manager at Yell, offers some advice.
When it comes to finding a new supplier, most people now look online. The internet has become an essential business development tool, but can also help you manage the reputation of your business. And much of this work can be done for free.
While the initial costs of online marketing are minimal, to have any meaningful effect, your efforts online will take time, which is often in short supply for busy professionals. The following five tips are designed to get you started and suggest some techniques that will raise and protect your profile, without using up too much time.
Google Alerts is one of the simplest systems to pick up. A few minutes work to enter your desired keywords will trigger instant email updates on any new mentions that are added to the search engine’s archive.
So set up alerts for your company name, the names of competitors and perhaps general terms significant to the industry you are involved in and your preferred frequency for updates.
As you read through the alerts, you can quickly get an idea of where conversations about what you do and maybe even mentions of your business are taking place.
If you think you would benefit from a more comprehensive report on mentions of specific words, terms or phrases online, software is available that can provide that for you.
Special interest forums
Sites like AccountingWEB.co.uk that cater for your area of expertise, and general forums such UK Business Forums can be great resources for finding new business prospects. If you can think of an activity, interest or anything that has an impact on people’s lives, there’s probably a forum where people are talking about it. Your Google Alerts, or a few well targeted search engine queries can give you clues to other useful sites.
It’s illegal to misrepresent your business or brand online so never enter into a conversation in a forum about your business or a competitor’s as if you were a customer. Always be transparent about who you are and your connections to any business or industry being discussed. Think of a forum as a house party; people will welcome you if the host introduces you to them but they may be less impressed if it appears you’ve gatecrashed!
Amplify your word of mouth
How many times have you walked into a business premises and, while browsing, glanced at testimonials from happy customers? Maybe you already do that yourself. Many businesses say word of mouth is their best source of leads so it makes perfect sense to take this word of mouth and make it visible to everyone. In fact, 86% of UK shoppers say they rely on ratings and product reviews when making purchase decisions online.
If you are listed on Yell, customers can review your business. This is your chance to shine through previous customers’ mouths, people ready to pick up the phone can find out much more about what you are all about.
Reviews help build trust between consumers and businesses and such user-generated content can improve your search engine optimisation (SEO).
Don’t be afraid of reviews; not all businesses will receive glowing reviews all of the time. But they do provide a great opportunity to engage with online communities and show that you care about the services you provide; consider online reviews to be the most visible part of your after sales care package. Visit www.yell.com/reviews to find out more.
Facing up to Facebook, Twitter and the others
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are the big three social media sites, and what springs into most people’s minds when you mention the concept.
All three are fantastic free marketing resources for any business, but they aren’t the answer to everything when it comes to social media.
Some 25m million Britons now have a Facebook account and a business can sign up for its own page. This can then be populated with news updates, videos and pictures that represent your business. It’s also somewhere to post information about deals or offers. Let your customers know about your Facebook page and people who have “liked” it will receive your updates in their feed whenever you post them. They can then comment and ‘”like” particular updates, which their friends will see.
Look into Facebook advertising. It’s possible to set a budget and have a highly targeted advert appear when people are browsing. Imagine you wanted to target women aged 25-30 who have just changed their status from in a relationship to engaged or people based in Basingstoke who have listed that they like eating out. With Facebook ads you can do that. Your message will be placed in front in the very eyes you want it to be.
Get just 25 fans and you can have what’s known as a vanity URL so it would be facebook.com/[YOURBUSINESS]. It looks good and it’s very easy to remember and tell people.
Twitter can be used by businesses as an online mouthpiece. Yell advertisers are using it to talk about issues in the news relevant to them, promote deals or special offers and answer questions from potential or existing customers. This all helps establish them as an expert in their particular field and build trust with online communities.
Create dialogue where you can add value; look through the results of a Twitter search for “plumber” or “driving instructor” and you’ll be able to spot possible opportunities for conversation. Does someone just need to know how to switch the mains off and can you help if they need a professional? It’s possible to narrow down your search by location so this makes it a viable opportunity.
Monitor what people are saying about you on Twitter and if find negative comments reply where appropriate. Show people you are listening and if you can turn situations around you have positive PR for everyone to see.
Sign up for an account, preferably your business name with no spaces, and you’re ready to go. Make sure you fill in the biography text, as this is where you can explain what you do and reveal the real name of the person responding – another way to humanise your presence.
Free online monitoring tools such as HootSuite and TweetDeck can be used to study who is talking to you, particular keyword searches and store a record of tweets you have sent. It’s also possible to shorten URLs of links you post within these programs so you make the most of your 140 character limit, and, importantly, look at how many people have clicked on links you have posted maybe back to your website.
Don’t forget sites like YouTube where you can easily upload videos and then grab code to use in other places, and Flickr which can be used to host images of products or work.
The missing link?
If you are looking to reach other business people, LinkedIn could work well. Many professionals use the site to build their professional networks and you can do the same. Create a user profile for yourself and join the networks of people you know through business.
On top of this, create a profile for your firm. This can include information on what you do, your company logo, a video representing your business and even three banner ads that display on the page linking back to any page you want on your website.
Another great feature of the company profile page on LinkedIn is the ability to add products and services. So each product or service your firm offers can be listed and each can be brought to life with an image, video and link for more information. It’s also possible to insert details of special promotions and you can connect your profile, or maybe other employees’ profiles to each specific service.
Each of these products or services can then be recommended by other LinkedIn users so, in effect, a “like” for what you do. Recommendations and who gave them are noted with the product. Why not ask clients to recommend what you do?
The company profile section also provides administrators with analytics so you can see how many times your firm’s page has been viewed and what pages are proving popular.