Don't wait for customers to come to you

What needs, wants, or desires are you actually fulfilling for your customers?

Sometimes subtle insights into the true nature of your product or service offering can make a significant difference to the way in which you market yourself, and to who. By learning more about your customers' needs, it becomes easier to find them and fulfil them.

An introduction to eCommerce

An introduction to social media for small business

Tim Gentle, Small Business Victoria Workshop Leader

[Visual: Tim Gentle sitting at table]

G'day. It's Tim Gentle here, and we're talking social media. Now when I think of social media, I think of it like the heartbeat of the internet. That's where you participate and how you are perceived in social media.

So what are the benefits? Well one that I really like is that you get to people at the early stages of the buying cycle. To break that right down, it's like when you're sitting on the couch and you're thinking about going on holiday. You're browsing on your iPad, and slowly but surely little social gems come into your feed. It's a bit like when dad brought home that QANTAS jet, you know, now I'm flying Qantas. So social media isn't all about the now, it's about the early seed.

Now also it can help you with your search engine rankings. How you are perceived, and how you participate in social media, is part of the algorithm that Google use to rank websites. So on occasions you need to get involved in social media just so you get good rankings.

Now it can help increase conversion rates on your shopping cart. If you use social videos to, you know, show how to use the product, or maybe reviews about you as a company. These are all things that people look for and it's called social proof.

Now when we participate in social media, we wear five hats. Let's walk through those.

The first hat is marketing. That's all about your brand. It's about customer service, about research and about generating leads.

Now another hat we wear is informative. We want to inform people about, say, an event we've got coming up or a product and service we sell.

Now the other hat that we wear is supportive. We want to support people. We want to encourage them. They might be participating in a fundraising event.

We also want to energise people. We want to get people excited, and that's all about social media.

And the final one is to listen. Make sure you listen to what your customers are saying and what your competitors are doing.

Right. I wanted to leave you with some social media tips to make sure that the effort that you put in, you reap the rewards. All right. We'll start from the very top.

I always ask my customers what they want in their social feed, so you need to know what the fish are biting if you want to catch the fish.

Now have top level support. What I mean by that is if you've got a directorship, or if you've got management, they need to support social media, because in social media you have to be able to accept the good, the bad and the ugly. Just like the real world, it's not always going to be positive and you need to have a policy in place if people say something negative about you.

Now always be transparent and be honest. People want to get the human factor when it comes to social media. And don't let perfection get in the way of progress.

So another tip is to be consistent. If you're in a bad mood one day maybe just pull out of social media and attempt it tomorrow. But at the same time, you know, don't be this one day and that another day.

Another thing is website integration. Do you know that you can feed in your Facebook feed or your Twitter feed into your website? That's a fantastic thing. And always measure success. A lot of these social media platforms have insights which tell you what people are looking at, what they are sharing and what they're liking.

Alright, well my name's Tim Gentle and I'm one of the Small Business Victoria workshop leaders that put on an array of workshops for you as a small business to grow. My suggestion, check out some of the knowledge, attend the workshops and grow your business online. I'll catch you soon.

[On screen: Victoria State Government – Authorised by the Victoria Government, Treasury Place, Melbourne. Spoken by Tim Gentle.]

How well do you know your customer?

The more niche your business offering, the easier this question is to answer. If you sell hats, you might say your customer is anyone with a head, which is too broad. You need to target your audience as much as possible to maximise your ROI (return on investment) for whatever activity you're investing in.

Focus on key demographics, such as:

  • age range
  • marital status
  • location – locally, nationally, overseas, or even in very specific locations
  • gender
  • affluence
  • race/ethnicity

A good online tool to help you better understand your likely target markets is Google Trends. Just give it a search term (just like you would a normal Google search), and let Google reply with popularity and location information.

Doing market research can also help you define your target market, making it easier to know where to look for them.

Know where to look

You know what you're selling and who you want to sell to. So where are your customers?

Do a search on relevant keywords and phrases. See where the discussions are taking place. Note which competitors websites appear prominently and learn from their design and content. Keep in mind Google localises searches, meaning you'll get different search results back for the same keyword search depending on where you're geographically located at the time.

Don't be shy in asking your customers where they spend their time online – you might learn about some relatively small niche website with a very high density of target market individuals that isn't yet showing up in the search engines.

Research the social media landscape

According to the 2017 Sensis Social Media Report, Australia's use of smartphones (more than eight in every 10 adults) has driven more people onto social media platforms than ever before (79% – up 10 points from 2016), revealing:

  • Facebook continues to dominate the social media environment, used by around nine in 10 small, medium and large businesses that have a social media presence.
  • LinkedIn is the second most popular platform, but only used by a majority in the large business segment (82%).
  • Twitter increases in popularity with business size, from 24% of small businesses to 36% of medium sized businesses and 55% of large businesses.
  • Instagram is more prevalent in medium (39%) than small (19%) or large (20%) businesses.
  • Snapchat has almost doubled in popularity since 2016, jumping from 22% to 40% of social media users.

Depending on the demographic of your target audience, and the type of product or service you're providing, you might want to include other popular social media platforms such as Pinterest and Tumblr in your research.

Aiming to help Australian businesses make more informed decisions about how to use social media channels to engage with consumers, the Sensis Social Media Report is an important resource you should use to ensure you're up-to-date with the social media landscape – which can change rapidly.

For example, according to the 2017 report:

  • People are more likely to inspect a brand's social media presence before making an online purchase if they have not purchased from their website before.
  • There were increased levels of trust for brands that interact with customers in a positive way on social media (up from 52% in 2016 to 64%) and businesses with engaging and relevant content (up from 52% to 63%).
  • Among small and medium businesses (SMBs) just under half (47%) have a social media presence while for large businesses numbers are higher at 60%.
  • In 2016, 76% of large businesses using social media platforms as a two-way communication channel but now nearly all do so (95%). This compares with 58% of small firms (previously 46%) and 41% of medium firms (previously 45%).

Know what to do

So, you know where your ideal customers are. Now what?

Take time to familiarise yourself with the channel you choose. Think about how it works, the etiquette, and the advertising opportunities. Consider some targeted advertising spend – a little at first, and more later if it's paying dividends. Include some clear business goals in your digital strategy, and think about how you'll measure the success of your efforts.

Try actively using your chosen channel to promote yourself as an expert/leader in your field. Don't blatantly self-promote at every single opportunity. Write articles. Be professional, courteous, helpful, prompt, sincere.

Engaging with social media in the form of articles, conversations, support or ideas might not give you the instant hit (that is, increased traffic to your site) that paid advertising might, so think of it more as a long-term investment.

The benefits of paid advertising stop the moment you stop paying. Your online words and deeds will be around, and findable, a great deal longer. Learn more about how you can use social media for business.

If you're using your own website to engage with your customers, remember to consider the legal aspects of privacy, spam and electronic transactions.

Measure and monitor

Make sure you've decided what you're measuring – such as click-through-rate (CTR - i.e. how many people are coming to your site from a particular location) and conversions (how many are continuing on to buy something).

Google Analytics remains the standard for measuring and monitoring visits to your website. Ensure you've got a Google Analytics account hooked up to your website, and take some time familiarising yourself with it. If you're too time poor, there are professionals to assist.

Google Garage offers free online course on topics such as running search ads, helping people nearby find you online and getting noticed through social media.