lionelWhen Lionel Richie cancelled a gig at Newbury Racecourse last year, 20,000 still turned up for a days’ racing before heading into town for the evening, searching their phones for somewhere to go.

Smartphone local search listings spiked by a third that warm evening, as the town pubs and restaurants quickly filled up – and people checked in and messaged friends. More than 30 local venues were reviewed online that day, and hundreds of photos posted on social networks.

For a struggling night time economy, this was an unexpected boost, with a vast array of online tools playing a significant role in directing large groups to the right places. How would you point people to your business in a similar random situation?

Here are five tips to help small businesses boost your online profile.
Technically, they’re all free – but not all are that easy.

1. Let Google be your friend – FREE.

First, set up a new gmail account to direct all incoming online communication to
a place that can be shared by more than one administrator. Use this address for
all the following profiles, subscriptions etc to coordinate an entire business online
profile from one inbox.

2. Get listed and reviewed – FREE.

Register the business to Google places, they’ll post a password to get you going. Build a quick profile – pix are a must – and add as many business description tags as you want. Then you’re listed, and will start popping up in online searches. There’s a great analytics page too which provides trends and patterns on what your customers want, and when they want it.

• Register other listings. Other local directories ( review sites (eg trip advisor,…if you don’t someone else will!
Note: deleting old profiles is difficult and time-consuming. If there are any old negative reviews out there, simply update the site explaining what’s changed and asking them to try you again. This is particularly important for high management turnover businesses, like pubs, but also shows any customer that the business is striving.

• Consider registering for a few newsfeeds from online trade publications, government departments, competitor performance, etc. It’s not dull – you get to keep abreast of industry trends, changes in the law or in customer tastes.

3. Get started on social networks – FREE.

A subject on it’s own, but as a rule of thumb, social media is better for engaging with existing customers than finding new ones. Once you’ve got them, tell them stuff they didn’t know, not the same special offer you run.
You are extremely unlikely to need all of the big Four (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube) and should settle on your primary channel early. Around five fun or informative posts a week. See dashboards for how to do all your posts at once – below).

4. Show customers where you are – FREE

Many mobile apps are driven by GPS technology, appearing more often than not as a ‘check in’. Promote check-ins using time-limited offers (e.g. next 50 people in the door get 50% off). For example, review sites like foursquare allow you to see where else your customers have logged in from.

5. Stay organised – FREE

Get all your posts and pics together for the week/month ahead, so you can keep your content regular without worrying what to post. You can post them all using a dashboard such as ‘hootsuite’, and schedule them to go live when you want.

My final tip is – once you’ve settled on a few sites – spend some time understanding what all this is telling you, and feed it into your business. So many businesses overreact when they receive a single negative opinion, often subconsciously trying to solve that problem while ignoring what everyone else is saying. Instead, mine the data, demographics and reports to find out what your customers really want.

Steve Murphy is Director of Blue Banana Marketing, which provides affordable marketing and public relations consultancy services for small local businesses.
image courtesy

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