Your business website will typically be your business’ key online outreach to customers, but there are other online methods to promote your business. Making use of e-mail marketing, social media, blogging, text messaging and bulletin boards can help you find additional avenues to reach out to customers who might otherwise never encounter your business.
The great thing about these methods of marketing is that they’re virtually cost-free. Chances are that your business already has a computer and Internet connection, which is really all you need to take advantage of the opportunities provided by blogging, social networking, etc. Some costs may be involved with using text alerts or with purchasing software and support for your blog, but often times low-cost and even free options can be found for these marketing tools, and in any case they will cost far less than a traditional marketing effort using television, print or radio ads.
Here’s a few of the online marketing methods you can use to further promote your business:
E-mail marketing – Many businesses maintain subscription lists of customers who have signed up for e-mail alerts about sales and promotions and other information.
Most businesses provide either marketing information or substantive information via e-mail. Substantive information is usually sent in the form of an e-newsletter. Examples of this could be an e-newsletter sent by professional service businesses such as attorneys or accountants advising folks signed up for the e-newsletter about recent changes to the law or to accounting rules.
If you’re sending out an e-newsletter, make sure it has a healthy dose of good, solid information and isn’t just a multi-page advertisement for your company. While it’s advisable to market your company a little bit via e-newsletter, make sure you have worthwhile content the recipient can use, otherwise the next time a message from your company arrives in the recipient’s inbox, it may immediately be moved to the delete file.
If publishing an e-newsletter, it’s good to do so on a regular basis (monthly, is usually the optimal interval) to help keep recipients engaged.
Marketing information usually consists of news about sales, promotions or other events at a business. The key to using e-mail marketing successfully is to present recipients with messages that let them know about good deals or events. Messages should be infrequent, to avoid being classified as spam and should have an eye-catching subject line or photo or graphical element in the message to engage the recipient.
Whether you’re sending e-mail marketing information or substantive newsletters, it’s important to avoid being regarded as spam. You can help keep your image legitimate by using the blind copy function to keep your recipients’ e-mail addresses private, and by aggressively managing your email list, honoring unsubscribe requests and requiring a double opt-in system to make sure the folks getting your messages actually want to receive them.
Blogging – Running a business blog is a great way to reach out to your customers and communicate recent information and informal communications that can create a sense of community around your business.
Blogs are simply websites that have chronologically ordered posts, with the most recent posts being at the top of the page. Most blogs also have the option of including photos or videos.
Most blogs have the feel of a personal journal, which gives them great appeal to the public. They’re also easy to maintain and update and have options that allow readers to comment on posts.
When running a blog for your small business, you need to balance offering interesting information and subtle promotion of your business. If every post you ever make on your blog is about how great your business is, it’ll be a turn-off to visitors to your site. But by making the blog fun – including photos of fun work events, charity or civic projects your business is involved in, and the occasional pithy quote – you can build readership and goodwill toward your business.
Here’s an example of a good business blog. Let’s say you run a flower shop. A good blog for you may include how-to tips in floral arrangement, fun facts about flowers and news and poll information concerning the gift industry.
A good blog should follow the “news you can use” model and offer timely tips and authoritative information on the subject of the blog. If you’re running a small business blog, you’ll need to update it at least once or twice per week and be sure to police the comments section of your blog for egregiously inappropriate or offensive comments.
Social media – Social media works as a more immediate form of blogging, allowing you to form relationships with customers and deliver relevant information about sales and other events at your business. Social media marketing can help you quickly identify what your potential customers like or dislike about your niche and your particular business.
There are a variety of social media sites, but perhaps the most influential for business are Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Yelp. Yelp can have a huge impact on your business as it is a place folks visit to write reviews of businesses. Getting good reviews on Yelp can help steer more business your way, while bad reviews can be a business-killer, so it’s important to engage and respond to this online community and their concerns.
Social media sites, like blogs can help you put a human face on your business. By posting pictures, links to news articles relevant to your industry, etc., you can reach out to your customers in a way that is fun and friendly and likely to generate goodwill.
When using social media, it’s a good idea to know your business’ target audience and post content they can relate to and avoid posting things that may put the off. Potential clients for a children’s clothing store are likely to be different than those for a nightclub, so remember to keep your content audience-appropriate.
Bulletin boards and forums – Online discussion forums are great places to post information about your business and industry. By getting folks talking about your business you can attract interest and traffic to your website. Don’t just post spam messages to the boards, but do post quality posts intended to start conversation about your field.
Text messaging – Currently, there are more than 6 billion cellular subscriptions worldwide, and PayPal expects financial transactions via mobile device to top $7 billion in 2012. With stats like these, the value of reaching out to customers via text messaging to their mobile devices is a no-brainer. By allowing your customers to sign up for text alerts from your business, you create the opportunity to reach them directly at just about any time with news about sales, promotions and events at your business.
While you don’t want to antagonize your customers by saturating them with text messages, an occasional reminder about a good deal or special event at your business can help drive customers to your business and increase sales.
By taking advantage of the various online methods of promoting your business, you can reach out to a wider pool of customers, stay current with how the modern business world communicates and take advantage of an extremely low-cost, high-impact form of marketing.