Surfing For Business: Networking And Marketing OnlineAccording to a recent survey by Manta, networking online is just as important for small businesses as networking in person, and maybe even more so. The Manta survey found that 90% of small business owners are now dedicating time to networking online, and 74% believe that it is more valuable than making face-to-face connections.
Although it is critical for small businesses to be visible online, many owners may be overwhelmed by the number of social media channels available. Fifty-eight percent of those responding to Manta’s survey said they struggle with Facebook, don’t appreciate its value, and consequently may not have a Facebook page at all.
For many, the biggest stumbling block to marketing via Twitter is a lack of understanding about its relevance to their business. Although Pinterest and Groupon are rapidly gaining popularity with consumers, small business owners reported a 1% or less response to those channels, according to the Manta poll.
Ways to Improve Online Presence
Before the Internet, one of the preferred ways business owners connected with potential customers was simply handing them a business card. While traditional marketing methods are still important, approximately 97% of today’s consumers use the Internet to research products or services in their local area, commonly searching by company name, business owner, product, or service. Small businesses know that they need to market where their audience is, and, increasingly, that means online networking.
Some ways that a small business can help its chances of being “found” online include:
- Having an effective company website. Over 25% of those responding to the Manta survey stated that of all their marketing tools, their company website generates the most business. To maximize return, a company website should be easy to navigate and designed with customer’s needs in mind. A simple, straightforward design with effective SEO (search engine optimization) is usually the best way to attract visitors.
- Making use of free tools like Google Analytics can give a business a great deal of information about the effectiveness of its company website. Google Analytics can tell a business how many website visits it is getting, which pages people visit the most frequently, and keywords that pull in the most visitors.
- Knowing how to use Facebook, which can take the place of a static website if the content is interesting and updated regularly. In the world of online marketing, there is no rest for the weary, and businesses must continually work to expand their network. Think of a business’ Facebook page as its online storefront — if a page is not professional, friendly, and updated, it will probably not draw significant traffic, just as customers do not usually frequent an outdated, abandoned-looking place of business.
- Understanding why people are on social media in the first place. People do not generally go on sites like Facebook because they are looking to buy something. They are there to be entertained by interesting links and posts, and hard-sell tactics do not usually work. To make best use of Facebook, a company should set up a business page and update it several times a week with engaging and useful content about their products and services.
- Creating a LinkedIn company page to promote your company or service. A January 2013 Wall Street Journal survey indicated that LinkedIn is used by small business owners more often than any other social platform. Small business owners can even conduct a LinkedIn poll to gather feedback about a new product or service and share it on Facebook, Twitter, or their company website to create a dialogue with potential customers.
Half of the small business owners surveyed by Manta believe that the biggest benefit of networking online is the ability to target and gain prospective customers. Over three-quarters said that they have added more than 25% of their new customers through online methods during the past year.
Jan Hill is a freelance journalist writing for Vistaprint, a leading business card printing company. Jan has written about marketing and networking topics that have appeared in various newspapers and trade magazines.
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