Last week, we talked about the small town style to social media. Our small town style sets us apart online, because we are closer to our customers, we are natural community builders, and we care about our people. If you use that style, it applies no matter what tools you use.
This week, we’re talking about specific tools, sites and social networks that make sense for most small town businesses. These are recommendations based on my own small town businesses and my observation of what works well for others. While sites and tools are always changing, my first recommendation hasn’t changed in years:
Build your own website with a blog.
Your blog is the place you post answers to customer questions, where you share all the things we just talked about sharing. If you have no other website, a blog can be your entire website. (That’s what I do with Allen’s Liquors.) There are many different platforms out there.
- If you have tech support or the funds to hire help when needed, use WordPress software. You’ll also need to pay for hosting service, but in return you get a very powerful, very flexible blogging platform.
- If you are on your own for tech, and you’re not a tech geek, try Blogger or Tumblr. Both take care of the hosting and keep the underlying software up to date. The downside is less flexibility and relying on an outside service. If you decide to upgrade to WordPress later, you can import your posts from either of these services.
- The big secret about blogging platforms: what you say is far more important than the software you use to say it. And no matter where or how you blog, back up your data regularly.
Use a Facebook Page as an outpost.
An outpost is a supplement to your primary online real estate: your own site and blog. Don’t make your business a person; make it a Page. In fact, if you have a physical location, Facebook probably already started a page for you. Claim that Places Page, rather than start a new page.
Use your Facebook Page to do two things: invite discussion and share the shareable.
- Invite discussion by posting questions or comments that encourage people to interact. Don’t just post a bare, lonely question. But do post those pieces of stories, quotes or photos that are interesting and make people want to comment. Think about what you want to comment on, to get an idea of what invites discussion.
- Share the shareable by posting photos and stories of customers that make them proud or make them want to smile. Pride Dairy does a great job of sharing photos of folks who visit their Dairy Dipper Ice Cream Parlor. Grandma automatically wants to share that adorable picture of her grandchild with all her friends online. That’s shareable.
Fill in your Place Pages.
Google and Yelp have a place page on every business they can find. Android smartphones automatically search Google Places, and iPhones search Yelp for businesses. Go to these services, and fill in as much information as you can about your business. Give customers a reason to pick you from all the Place pages they see listed. Facebook, Yelp and Google allow you to offer a special deal to customers on your Place Page. It doesn’t have to be a big offer, but a little something shows you’re engaged.
Those three recommendations are true for most every small town business: build your own site and blog, use Facebook as an outpost, and fill in your Places Pages. Look around your industry to find other necessary tools. For example, tourism businesses like motels must monitor TripAdvisor and respond to both positive and negative reviews.
What about your small town business? What tools are working for you right now?
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.