You don’t need anyone to tell you about the importance of an online presence for a business in this day and age. The vast majority of people running startups these days are digital natives – we grew up with the internet, and the idea of a business without a website is strange to us. We’re the first generation to be this way, and yet you’ll still occasionally hear business experts impart the advice that “online presence is so important” as though they were delivering precious, sacred knowledge.
Of course online presence is important, but it’s not enough to just know that now. Whatever sector your business is in, chances are it has become quite crowded. Each and every business in that crowd will have an online presence, so we’re back to square one as far as that is concerned. What’s vital now is making that online presence stand apart from the crowd, which is a tougher job than just finding a website designer and waiting for the customers to roll in.
To really thrive in this digital age, it’s about the difference between knowing that you have to use the digital tools you have at your disposal now, and knowing how to use them. And so, here are the keys to making your online business more effective than your competitors.
You Have To Offer More
The average business site has an online store or order form where their products or services can be purchased. It has an “About Us” section which offers a potted history and, if they’re pushing the boat out, it may also have links to the business’s social media accounts. None of that makes them unique.
Building an app for your business will help, provided it is one that won’t just sit on a customer’s phone for months before being culled to free up space. Focusing on the right areas of your app is essential for this; it’s not just about the tech side of things. Having someone on your staff who can answer when you ask: “what is windows 10 developer mode?” or “how do I configure this app for all phones?” is important, sure — but so is ensuring you’ve got content that will ensure people use the app again and again. If you focus too much on the technical side rather than offering innovative content, then your app won’t offer much beyond your basic website. You have to give people a reason to download and then to stick around.
Continue this same appetite for user-retention into your business site. Make your business site more interesting by having a blog featuring up-to-date, educational articles about the sector you work in. If your area of expertise is in the news, write about how the story will affect your sector and what people need to do about it. Then, offer them the chance to achieve their aims by using your service.
You Have To Relate To Customers, But Not Try Too Hard
We have all seen, and cringed at, social media mistakes by businesses who felt they could sell to millennials by throwing an ephemeral cultural reference into a Tweet. The “How do you do, fellow kids” meme blew up in response because the present generation knows when someone is trying too hard to sell to them — and hates it.
At the same time, being stand-offish is a red flag also; creating the impression that a business sees its customers as giant dollar signs and nothing more. You need to genuinely think about how you use social media. There are three golden rules for engaging with social media users:
- Don’t get overly personal; use their first name — if they have offered it — but nothing more. Always offer to take it to DM if they have a complex query.
- Don’t get defensive with complaints. It is absolutely never a good look, and screen caps can live forever in cyberspace.
- Don’t ever get political on a corporate social media account; at best you could be alienating half of your potential customer base.
In engaging with customers online, you have more tools than ever at your disposal, so use them. There is no excuse for poor customer service. If you have to employ a social media specialist, do so. Online has a language all of its own, and knowing how to use it is an advantage in a world where many companies are still making slip-ups.
You Have To Reach Out To People
The social side of internet business is not a one-way street, where customers beat a path to your door to ask questions or make complaints. You can make a difference yourself by promoting people who do good work in your sphere. That means targeting creators whose products you have found useful, or writers whose content you can signal-boost. In turn, these people may return the favor and increase your business visibility. People will remember what you have done to help them, and the simple truth is that kind gestures are good publicity in a world where businesses are increasingly expected to have a social conscience.
The bottom line is that your business is now more visible than ever, so you have to decide: What do you want customers to see?