Always On: How to build relationships with your local community online

3 years ago

Lorna Syson sells her homeware designs onlineIn the run-up to Small Business Saturday on 6th December, people around the UK are preparing to show support for their community by spending money with local businesses.

But what about the rest of the year? Whilst the awareness campaign is an invaluable initiative for Britain’s small and micro businesses, we must not forget that entrepreneurs need the support of their local community all year round!

This week on the Sage One blog, we’ll be providing you with daily tips and advice to help you make the most of your local community on Small Business Saturday, as well as every other day of the year. But because small businesses are not all about the high street, we’ll be focusing on tips for online activity, helping you keep in touch with your customers in the digital age.

So stay tuned for our daily blogs and in order to take your local relationships a step further, download our free toolkit for small businesses – 10 pages of easy-to-read advice on social media, e-marketing, SEO tips and more.

To kick off the week, here’s a selection of our top tips for businesses wanting to build better relationships with their local communities online.

Did you know only 1 in 3 small businesses uses social media? Don’t be one of the other two, but don’t waste your time using Facebook for the sake of it either. Make sure you follow a clear and simple strategy to ensure return on investment for your social media strategy.

To define your approach to social media, use the GAPS method. Define your Goals, Audience, Platforms and then – and only then – your strategy. GAPS is applicable to all types of planning, but in this instance we’ll be keeping local engagement in mind to help you connect with your neighbours.

Step 1: Goals

At the end of the day, you’re using social media to add value to your business. Just having a Facebook page won’t get you anywhere if it’s not making sales – it’s as simple as that. Building relationships on social media can help you reach out to new audiences but it can also be useful to encourage loyalty by keeping you front of mind for your customers.

When considering social media to build or look after your local relationships, ask yourself what success would look like to you. Are you looking to retain customers who you have built an offline relationship with already? Or are you looking to develop new relationships within an untapped local community? Either way, make sure you know your end goal so that the choices you make support it and result in success for your business.

Download: Sage One Toolkit for Connecting with Local Customers Online

Step 2: Audience

As a small business owner, you already know that knowing your audience is vital. This goes for online activity too. In this blog post, we’re talking about your local audience, so define exactly what the word ‘local’ means to your business. Are you targeting people on the same street as you, or people in the same city? Are we talking 1 mile away or 10 miles? Know who it is you’re going after so that your efforts are focused. And remember you probably don’t want to engage everyone in your local community. Are you looking to engage local men or women? What do these locals like to do, see, hear, and talk about? Are there other local brands they particularly love? If so – or if not – why? Just knowing people are from the same city as your business isn’t enough – get to know your local audience in detail!

Download: Sage One Toolkit for Connecting with Local Customers Online

Step 3: Platforms

Although your local community might seem like a small world offline, do you know where to find your locals online? The lack of boundaries on the Internet can sometimes make it difficult to track your audience down. Ask your regular customers which social platform they prefer, or run a focus group to find out more about your local community’s favourite social sites.

We can’t tell you which platforms your local audience are active on, but we can tell you there’s no point in spending time, money and effort on Facebook if your potential customers spend theirs on Twitter! There’s a plethora of social networks out there these days, so pick the right one(s) for you.

Download: Sage One Toolkit for Connecting with Local Customers Online

Step 4: Strategy

By now you should have a clear idea of what you’re aiming to do with social media. The next step is to define how you’re going to do it. It’s time to look at the day-to-day effort you can put into your social media in order to turn this from theory into a reality for your business. Decide on how much money and time you are happy to invest in social media and make sure you stick to it. Are you going to do this yourself, for one hour a day? Or are you happy to employ a community manager to work with you?

Fast-moving social media platforms can have you thinking you need to be online all day, every day, but remember your investment needs to be proportionate to the expected results. To keep it local, remember to make sure every effort is made with your local community in mind. For this, pay for your adverts to be localised. If you’re on a low budget, boost your organic reach by using local hashtags on the end of every tweet. Is there a local Twitter Chat you could take part in every week? For example, using the #NorthEastHour between 8pm and 9pm every Monday is a powerful way to reach people in the North East of England, particularly Newcastle.

Small Business guru Emma Jones suggests you could give your local customers a reason to engage with you online by adding a forum plugin to your website. Giving your locals a place to converse is an ideal way to bring them to your site, and – further down the line – to your products or services page.

Last but not least, remember to track your activity. Your tweets don’t disappear into the ether once you press ‘publish’ – they’re all there ready to be tracked. Go back and take a look at your engagement levels: how many people favourited or retweeted your localised tweets? Were they the right people, your local audience? If the results are on target then keep it up. If not, you might want to adapt your strategy to meet your goals.

Download: Sage One Toolkit for Connecting with Local Customers Online

Find out more

Read more about Small Business Saturday and how you can get involved at www.smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com

If Twitter is your chosen platform, let us know how it goes by Tweeting us @SageUK. You can also find us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ too.

More tips and advice for local engagement are available in our free ‘Always On’ toolkit. Download now for expert advice on how to develop your local business relationships online.