Creating a strong online presence

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By Keith Shields, CEO, Designli

In many ways, local businesses have the advantage when it comes to creating personalized, engaging experiences for their customers. After all, many customers live and work in the same town as your business, making it easier to connect with them face-to-face. But local businesses can also take advantage of online opportunities to increase engagement with customers. In this article, we’ll take a look at four simple strategies local businesses can use to boost engagement.

Share your story

Stories stick. People want to connect with the people behind the companies they do business with. Your customers and potential customers want to know what your company stands for. They want to see your vision shine through in the products or services you provide. A well-designed website provides a perfect canvas to share what you’re all about.

Happy + Hale uses its website to clearly and effectively communicate its story and mission. Photo by Will Crooks.

One local business that’s doing it right is Happy + Hale. It’s hard to miss what this health-conscious restaurant and juice bar is all about. In fact, the Our Story page on their website spells out exactly why they exist and what matters to them, inviting people who share their vision to join the movement. The founders and their stories are featured, as well as photos of the people in charge of executing the vision.

Keep the discussion going

Your customers, both present and future, are spending time on a variety of social media platforms. Social media is a great place to connect with them. Find out what platforms your customers prefer and create an active presence there.

The Peace Center actively engages the public through its digital platforms. Photo by Irina Rice.

There are many ways to take advantage of all that social media channels have to offer. Share inspiring customer stories, notify people about upcoming events, post product or service announcements, and offer a behind-the-scenes look at how your business operates. The Peace Center here in Greenville does a particularly good job in this category. It’s active on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. The staff at the Peace Center uses these social media platforms to engage the public by answering questions, announcing performances, and discussing what makes each show special. Consistent activity and engaging with those who post comments are key to using social media effectively. A seldom-used account is soon forgotten.

Use technology to improve the customer experience

Convenience is a surefire way to boost customer engagement. Nonstop schedules and a nationwide trend toward overcommitment have placed time at a premium. Adding a scheduling or ordering functionality to your website is an effective way to let your customers request a service or place an order whenever it’s convenient.

Soul Yoga’s website is a one-stop shop. You can join, adjust your membership, and schedule classes from the homepage.

Soul Yoga is a fine example of a local business that makes the most of technology. Their website allows you to join, adjust your membership level, and schedule yoga classes all from the homepage. They’ve taken it a step further by creating an app that incorporates the core functions of the website into a format that’s more convenient for smartphone users on the go.

Gather your tribe

Your business’ online presence provides the perfect platform for inviting fans of your business to in-person events. These get-togethers could be designed to promote a cause you’re passionate about, feature (directly or indirectly) a new product or service, or just gather your fans together in one place for a good time.

Coffee Underground uses its website to spread the word about events held there.

Coffee Underground in downtown Greenville is a model for fostering this blending of online/offline interactions. Not only is Coffee Underground a great place to grab a good cup of coffee or a meal, it’s also well-known for hosting an array of events that it prominently advertises on its website. From amateur theater to open-mic comedy to science forum discussions, this local business attracts loyal fans for the long term.

Local businesses that thrive are the ones that find the right balance between stellar in-person service and online experiences. By serving and interacting with customers face-to-face and on the web, these companies keep the conversation going and generate enthusiasm about their brands. These activities increase not only customer visits, but also engagement and word-of-mouth, which is the best advertising there is.

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