Tuesday, June 25, 2019

From web shy, to flying high - The Guardian

From web shy, to flying high - The Guardian


From web shy, to flying high - The Guardian

Posted: 25 Jun 2019 04:33 AM PDT

Online Presence
Illustration: Josh McKenna

We all know how a beautifully curated shop window can entice shoppers to step inside. But what happens when customers view your business via the windows and tabs on their laptop screens and digital devices?

Sure, some small companies have achieved outsized success with an online advert or social media post that goes viral, but there are plenty of companies that either get it wrong or simply don't know where to start. Others become so bogged down with managing their web presence that it becomes a distraction.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) points out that most small companies are still web shy. "Two common issues tend to hold firms back," says Mike Cherry, the body's national chair. "One is a lack of confidence regarding how best to use social media and advertising tools; the other is a lack of time to experiment with and adopt digital technologies."

FSB research (pdf) suggests that only a third of small businesses and microbusinesses have introduced online advertising in the past three years. So how can companies overcome their fears and manage their digital storefront in a way that doesn't detract from their day-to-day business?

Maps, keywords and websites

Jimmy McCann is head of digital strategy at Search Laboratory, which helps clients with search engine visibility and online advertising. "The starting point," he says, "is making sure you're findable. Have a website, even if it's not the most sophisticated in the world, and make sure you're on the free platforms like local directory Yelp and Google My Business, which integrates with maps."

McCann says businesses should then think about potential customers and their needs: "A cake shop might want to advertise brownies just out of the oven on Facebook Ads in a tight radius of 2km. A plumber might crank up their presence on Google if there's going to be a cold snap."

If you're advertising on the Google Ads platform, think carefully about the keywords you choose. The more popular a term, the more competitors will be bidding for them, and so the higher the cost. "The Google keyword planner tool will give you an estimated monthly search volume and an average cost per click," says McCann.

"The main thing with keywords is to be specific, rather than all-encompassing. For instance, you might bid for 'boiler repair, Leeds' if you are a local plumber."

Too many customers

Nory Jones, professor of management systems at the University of Maine, has studied how a digital presence boosts consumers' awareness of small companies. She tasked her MBA students with creating e-commerce websites for small local companies using Shopify software and the Wix website builder. However, improving reach is not always the answer.

One of the businesses the students worked with was Till Farm Soaps, which makes soap from organic goat's milk, selling it at local farmers' markets. While the e-commerce site predictably gave it access to a far bigger market, Lydia Kieffer-Till, who runs Till Farm Soaps, said the increase in demand, combined with a change in personal circumstances, meant she had to scale back the website and sell just through Facebook.

"Between the local stores, craft fairs and orders I was getting directly, [scaling back the website] seemed the easiest option," she says. "I hope to make it live again in the near future, when things settle down around here and I'm able to commit more time to the business."

Too much demand might seem a good problem to have, but it's still a problem. And it's something that can prove particularly challenging for microbusinesses that can't easily scale-up to meet it. Indeed, even politely turning down surplus orders can take up precious time and resources.

As McCann points out, a plumber has only so many hours in a day. "You turn your advertising off then," he says. "It would also be worth having a network of other reputable plumbers, so they can pass on stuff and get a kickback – make sure you've got an overflow network."

The distractions of social media

Social media presents a similar problem for small firms with limited capacity. Cultivating and maintaining a social media presence can be a drain on time and resources – after all, we all know how addictive it can be in our personal lives.

So, while it's important to respond to complaints and negative comments in a timely manner, businesses should also try to apply the same digital discipline as we use in our personal lives; that means setting strict time limits, and not checking it when you need to attend to core business matters. If you can afford it, you could also try to get some help with managing your social media responses.

But how much time should your business devote to creating an online presence in the first place? Bryan Lukas, professor of marketing at Alliance Manchester Business School, says there is no simple equation to how much effort you should put in. He highlights the 2012 case of the Dollar Shave Club, whose website crashed after receiving 12,000 orders in 48 hours following a tongue-in-cheek YouTube video by co-founder and CEO Michael Dubin.

"That is considered a classic example of relatively limited effort with a huge impact, far more than could have been expected from any traditional form of advertising," says Lukas. "Compare that to efforts where companies are blogging and working their social media channels every day, and not much is happening: there is no clear evidence that effort equals output."

Lukas does believe that companies that post on social media seem more credible to their audience – and will get shares if the content is "cool, funny, authentic and genuine". But, along with the drain on your time and resources, another downside to stepping up presence on social media is that it entails a loss of control: negative comments on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram can be difficult to recover from.

This is why Jones's advice to small businesses is to only engage with social media if your customer care is up to scratch and you can respond accordingly.

Dealing with negative reviews

"Today, the vast majority of consumers trust the opinions of strangers on the internet as much as their own friends," says Jones. "While an online review coming from an anonymous user, or one that doesn't seem genuine, won't fall into this category, online reviews that are articulate, thorough and personal, much like an exchange between friends, carry a lot of weight."

There are valuable lessons to be learned from the bugbear/saviour of the hotel industry, TripAdvisor, where hoteliers have got used to dealing directly with positive and negative customer reviews. TripAdvisor's advice to any business after reading a bad review is to first "take a deep breath". Then, analyse what happened and where the problem lay, incorporating customer feedback to ensure that it doesn't happen again, and writing a management response on the website as soon as possible. "And don't underestimate the power of a sincere apology."

Dave Stallon, commercial director, Federation of Small Businesses, says: "There are plenty of things that small firms can do to combat fake and bad reviews. Don't allow comments to fester and gain traction – you need to try to engage with your website or social media every day to see what is being posted.

"If possible, take the issue off the main page and into a private message or call; this will move genuine complainants from the public sphere. Finally, say publicly when an issue has been resolved; this will show customers that you are good at responding to any potential issues that may arise."

In the worst case, you can always submit your concerns to the publisher, be it Google, TripAdvisor, Facebook or any other site that hosts customer reviews. For example, a review might break guidelines or be repeated elsewhere. And of course, while fake reviews can damage your business, you should certainly encourage happy customers to share their good experiences. Perhaps counterintuitively, research suggests that a few negative reviews will add to your business credibility, as they suggest you are not burying the inevitable odd mistake.

From web shy, to flying high - The Guardian


From web shy, to flying high - The Guardian

Posted: 25 Jun 2019 04:33 AM PDT

Online Presence
Illustration: Josh McKenna

We all know how a beautifully curated shop window can entice shoppers to step inside. But what happens when customers view your business via the windows and tabs on their laptop screens and digital devices?

Sure, some small companies have achieved outsized success with an online advert or social media post that goes viral, but there are plenty of companies that either get it wrong or simply don't know where to start. Others become so bogged down with managing their web presence that it becomes a distraction.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) points out that most small companies are still web shy. "Two common issues tend to hold firms back," says Mike Cherry, the body's national chair. "One is a lack of confidence regarding how best to use social media and advertising tools; the other is a lack of time to experiment with and adopt digital technologies."

FSB research (pdf) suggests that only a third of small businesses and microbusinesses have introduced online advertising in the past three years. So how can companies overcome their fears and manage their digital storefront in a way that doesn't detract from their day-to-day business?

Maps, keywords and websites

Jimmy McCann is head of digital strategy at Search Laboratory, which helps clients with search engine visibility and online advertising. "The starting point," he says, "is making sure you're findable. Have a website, even if it's not the most sophisticated in the world, and make sure you're on the free platforms like local directory Yelp and Google My Business, which integrates with maps."

McCann says businesses should then think about potential customers and their needs: "A cake shop might want to advertise brownies just out of the oven on Facebook Ads in a tight radius of 2km. A plumber might crank up their presence on Google if there's going to be a cold snap."

If you're advertising on the Google Ads platform, think carefully about the keywords you choose. The more popular a term, the more competitors will be bidding for them, and so the higher the cost. "The Google keyword planner tool will give you an estimated monthly search volume and an average cost per click," says McCann.

"The main thing with keywords is to be specific, rather than all-encompassing. For instance, you might bid for 'boiler repair, Leeds' if you are a local plumber."

Too many customers

Nory Jones, professor of management systems at the University of Maine, has studied how a digital presence boosts consumers' awareness of small companies. She tasked her MBA students with creating e-commerce websites for small local companies using Shopify software and the Wix website builder. However, improving reach is not always the answer.

One of the businesses the students worked with was Till Farm Soaps, which makes soap from organic goat's milk, selling it at local farmers' markets. While the e-commerce site predictably gave it access to a far bigger market, Lydia Kieffer-Till, who runs Till Farm Soaps, said the increase in demand, combined with a change in personal circumstances, meant she had to scale back the website and sell just through Facebook.

"Between the local stores, craft fairs and orders I was getting directly, [scaling back the website] seemed the easiest option," she says. "I hope to make it live again in the near future, when things settle down around here and I'm able to commit more time to the business."

Too much demand might seem a good problem to have, but it's still a problem. And it's something that can prove particularly challenging for microbusinesses that can't easily scale-up to meet it. Indeed, even politely turning down surplus orders can take up precious time and resources.

As McCann points out, a plumber has only so many hours in a day. "You turn your advertising off then," he says. "It would also be worth having a network of other reputable plumbers, so they can pass on stuff and get a kickback – make sure you've got an overflow network."

The distractions of social media

Social media presents a similar problem for small firms with limited capacity. Cultivating and maintaining a social media presence can be a drain on time and resources – after all, we all know how addictive it can be in our personal lives.

So, while it's important to respond to complaints and negative comments in a timely manner, businesses should also try to apply the same digital discipline as we use in our personal lives; that means setting strict time limits, and not checking it when you need to attend to core business matters. If you can afford it, you could also try to get some help with managing your social media responses.

But how much time should your business devote to creating an online presence in the first place? Bryan Lukas, professor of marketing at Alliance Manchester Business School, says there is no simple equation to how much effort you should put in. He highlights the 2012 case of the Dollar Shave Club, whose website crashed after receiving 12,000 orders in 48 hours following a tongue-in-cheek YouTube video by co-founder and CEO Michael Dubin.

"That is considered a classic example of relatively limited effort with a huge impact, far more than could have been expected from any traditional form of advertising," says Lukas. "Compare that to efforts where companies are blogging and working their social media channels every day, and not much is happening: there is no clear evidence that effort equals output."

Lukas does believe that companies that post on social media seem more credible to their audience – and will get shares if the content is "cool, funny, authentic and genuine". But, along with the drain on your time and resources, another downside to stepping up presence on social media is that it entails a loss of control: negative comments on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram can be difficult to recover from.

This is why Jones's advice to small businesses is to only engage with social media if your customer care is up to scratch and you can respond accordingly.

Dealing with negative reviews

"Today, the vast majority of consumers trust the opinions of strangers on the internet as much as their own friends," says Jones. "While an online review coming from an anonymous user, or one that doesn't seem genuine, won't fall into this category, online reviews that are articulate, thorough and personal, much like an exchange between friends, carry a lot of weight."

There are valuable lessons to be learned from the bugbear/saviour of the hotel industry, TripAdvisor, where hoteliers have got used to dealing directly with positive and negative customer reviews. TripAdvisor's advice to any business after reading a bad review is to first "take a deep breath". Then, analyse what happened and where the problem lay, incorporating customer feedback to ensure that it doesn't happen again, and writing a management response on the website as soon as possible. "And don't underestimate the power of a sincere apology."

Dave Stallon, commercial director, Federation of Small Businesses, says: "There are plenty of things that small firms can do to combat fake and bad reviews. Don't allow comments to fester and gain traction – you need to try to engage with your website or social media every day to see what is being posted.

"If possible, take the issue off the main page and into a private message or call; this will move genuine complainants from the public sphere. Finally, say publicly when an issue has been resolved; this will show customers that you are good at responding to any potential issues that may arise."

In the worst case, you can always submit your concerns to the publisher, be it Google, TripAdvisor, Facebook or any other site that hosts customer reviews. For example, a review might break guidelines or be repeated elsewhere. And of course, while fake reviews can damage your business, you should certainly encourage happy customers to share their good experiences. Perhaps counterintuitively, research suggests that a few negative reviews will add to your business credibility, as they suggest you are not burying the inevitable odd mistake.

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