SME internet and social media marketing strategies

Conrad Ford, managing director of Funding Options, looks at some internet and social media marketing methods you might use as a small business.

Given how many of us use the internet and social media, it makes sense for many companies to devote more resources to marketing via these media. Your company may therefore need to think about whether an electronic marketing strategy is right for you, and whether traditional marketing methods such as advertisements in traditional media, cold calling and direct sales forces are as appropriate as they once were.

Think about what you do when you are considering buying a product or service. In many cases, it is likely that the internet is the first place you visit, rather than looking at newspaper advertisements or opening a telephone directory. Your own potential customers may be no different, and if you fail to embrace technology, these potential customers could be visiting your competitors’ websites right now, while you lose out.

In this article we look at internet and social media marketing methods you might use.

Company website

The simplest method of electronic marketing is to set up a company website. As with most things, you get what you pay for here, and you can choose to have a very simple, very cheap layout; or an expensive site with fancy graphics and audio-visual features; or any of a number of options in between.

The basic information on a company website should be a profile of the company, what it can offer and how to contact the company. Regarding the last of these, at least the basic contact details should be provided, but ideally a contact form should be provided on the site.

Special offers and discounts are things you can arrange to have prominently displayed on your website. Depending on the nature of your company, you may want to have an online shop or similar, where people can buy goods and services via the site, but if you choose to do this, take expert IT advice first on how to ensure the payment systems are secure.

Other useful things to include on company websites are profiles of your staff, testimonials from satisfied customers, links to websites in your business sector and a news feed of stories relating to your business sector.

Search engine optimisation

Usually shortened to ‘SEO‘, this is concerned with ensuring that as many people get to see your website as possible. You might include your web address on all of your other promotional material, but if an internet user does a search for your business sector and town, will your site appear prominently in the list of results?

Using key words and phrases on the site; using graphics and videos; having a news feed or blog; and writing quality content that is regularly updated can all increase your prominence on search engines.

You may also be able to purchase domain names relatively cheaply, to enhance your chances of coming near the top of a web search of this type.

Email newsletter

You may have a printed newsletter at present. If so, you can save money, and possibly reach a wider range of recipients, by asking the people on your mailing list whether they would welcome the opportunity to receive it by email. If you have no customer newsletter at present, consider whether starting an email newsletter would benefit you.

Ways you can build up a database of email contacts include: inviting people via your website to sign up, asking customers who call at your premises if they would like to be on the mailing list and adding the email addresses of customers who buy online (although here they should be given the opportunity to opt out of receiving correspondence, say by use of a tick box on the online shop pages).

Things you could include in your email newsletter include: new product or service offerings, special offers and discounts, company events, general news about your business sector and news of key staff appointments. Each item on the newsletter can include a link to a relevant area of your company website, or another site. For example, an item about a new product or a special offer can be accompanied by a link to the online shop where the product in question can be purchased.

Social networks

Large numbers of people spend long periods logged on to some of the best known social media networks. Therefore, if you could use these media for marketing what you can offer, you could potentially reach a large number of people.

Think about how you could encourage people to add you to their contacts list on social networks. You might for example include your social media web address on all of your other marketing material, or on your company stationery.

Messages on social media can be used to publicise new product or service offerings, special offers and discounts, company events and news of key staff appointments. These messages can include pictures, videos and the like. But don’t just post messages and leave it at that, instead start replying and interacting with contributors.

Online articles

There might be a number of websites which are dedicated to providing news and comment about your business sector – try doing a search if you are not sure. Do these sites welcome new contributors, and can you use your expert knowledge of your business sector to write a piece for them? If they will publish your article with your name and your company’s name then so much the better.

Words of caution

Firstly, never forget that the internet or a social media platform is legally considered to be a broadcasting forum. You cannot say things, or make claims, that you would not want to say in a print advertisement, or on television or radio.

Also, think carefully about whether an electronic marketing strategy is likely to work. If your typical client base is from a section of society that does not use the internet regularly, you might end up wasting money on marketing activities which never yield a response. Do your competitors make extensive use of the internet and social media? If they don’t, there is probably a good reason for this.

If you have a website, you can set up a facility to count how many people visit it.

Further reading on marketing

Conrad Ford

Anastacio Raynor

Conrad Ford is founder and CEO of Funding Options, an online marketplace for UK business finance.

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