The Importance of Visual Content

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As a small business owner, marketer, and website owner, you have to wear a lot of hats. You have to produce your products, deliver great customer service on a daily basis, and ensure you keep up with marketing techniques so you can effectively promote your brand. But unfortunately, in today's intensely competitive online world, it's not enough to simply have a website and promote yourself on social media. You also need to create some kind of a content marketing plan—such as a blog—and you should be integrating visual content into that plan. Now, you might be asking why you should be doing this. Maybe you've been writing a blog and you feel that you get enough shares, traffic, engagement, etc. from it already. Maybe you're more the type who enjoys reading than forcing your way through an infographic. Or maybe you haven't even started a blog and don't really see the point in having one.

Unfortunately, the numbers prove that images and videos—visual content—help sell products better than text alone.

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Image Source: Visually Social

Did you know that posts with videos attract 3 times more inbound links than plain text posts? Or how about that views of a published article go up 94 percent if they contain a relevant image or infographic when compared to articles without an image in the same category? Whether it's just a picture or a video, the studies show that visual content is important to the success of your content marketing strategy!

And it makes sense if you really think about it: Since the caveman days, people have been using pictures to communicate with one another! These pictures communicated needs, depicted family life, and told stories of hunts and conquests. When you think of it this way, it's easy to see that we have always loved to tell stories in creative, unique ways. Donna Moritz, an expert on modern-day visual content (not so much cave paintings). stresses that you can really hook your audience when you use images or video to tell a story or share a message. And she's right—you can use videos and images to create anything from how-to articles to images with bite-sized quotes, to informative infographics, to pictures offering tips and tricks. This makes your content more fun for your readers to share or pin to Pinterest boards. It also grabs attention in a stream of text on highly-utilized social media platforms, such as Facebook!

Images Vs Videos

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Is it better to use images or videos in your posts? Well, that depends on what you're trying to say with your message.

For example, according to a study cited on Hubspot, viewers are 85% more likely to purchase a product after watching a product video. You can use a product video to demonstrate how your product is used, how it is assembled, or how you can store it during a season when it's not likely to be used (a lawnmower during the winter, for example). But just because you use video, it doesn't mean that you should ignore static images. If you're writing an informative article, such as an “10 Ways to Keep Your Carpet Cleaner”, visuals would be immensely helpful to demonstrate your point. You can use a collection of images or put together a large infographic--whatever you think would work the best with your message. Need proof? The Hubspot article also notes that publishers who use infographics grow in traffic an average of 12% more than those who don't.

So, long story short: If your article could benefit from an infographic or video, you now know the stats. It's worth it!

Making Content Easier to Read

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Aside from helping to inform your readers and make your posts more interesting, images and videos also break up large blocks of text, making it easier for readers to navigate your article. Most people are pressed for time now, and they often skim articles while on their morning commute or while checking emails before work. Making concise sub-headlines as well as including photos helps keep their attention and explain what's happening more clearly. Choose attractive or funny photos, depending on your content. What do we mean by "attractive"? We mean that you should keep those boring, generic stock photos to a minimum. We do utilize them ourselves sometimes, but take it from us: Over time, we've learned that people respond much better to pretty or goofy photos than they do the generic “people pointing at a chart in a business suit” images. If you can supply photos you've taken yourself, then that's even better!

Whether you're just getting started with a blog or you've been around for a while, it's important to keep up with trends so that you can get the most out of your efforts. By implementing videos, infographics, and images where appropriate, you can bet that your posts will get more engagement—and you'll see more traffic and conversions as a result.

10 Reasons to Engage with Customers Online

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1. You personalize your brand

Engaging with customers allows you to control the flow of the conversation. If they ask for clarification on an upcoming sale, you can give it to them. If you thank them for taking the time to promote your brand, you can choose how you want to engage. It's all a great way to show your brand's personality—and to demonstrate how unique your company is!

2. Customers give feedback for free

Many times, customers will respond to an image or a status that you share on your social media platforms: they'll chime in with their thoughts, answer a question, or let you know how they feel about your most recent promotions. And this is a great way to find out what your customers are thinking without forcing them to take a survey—basically, you get free feedback. And who doesn't love that?

3. You present a positive image

If you're a fan of a company like Coca-Cola, you probably don't expect a lot of interaction with the brand--they're simply too big to get back to every person who tries to engage with them. But if you're a fan of a local hair salon, you more than likely expect that they'll get back to you in a timely manner--they should care about their customers. You feel they should strive to interact with customers because they're local—which is precisely why you, as a local business owner, have to be aware of your customers' needs. They'll communicate their interests and thoughts to you online—whether by email, twitter, or Facebook. When you respond to their concerns, you present a positive image that lasts.

4. Customers will share content for free

A great thing about posting on your social media networks is that your customers will be eager to share your content. Whether you're asking them to share for a chance to win a coupon, or they're simply doing it on their own because you post such great content, you're getting free advertisement. When you engage with your customers, they'll be happy to share your content, and you all benefit from that.

5. Networking is good for everyone

When your customers interact with you, you may be surprised to learn that some among the group are actually quite high-status clients. You can use this to your advantage by making a real connection with them and agreeing to help one another out. Trade blog posts, promote each other's stores or websites, or simply share social media updates. You'll both benefit from this mutual transaction, and your fans get the benefit of seeing that you're willing to network and share with others!

6. You might get free recommendations

When you engage with customers, you'll find that they appreciate you taking the time out of your day to respond to them. This in turn can increase their opinion of your brand. And if they love your brand, they'll recommend you to friends. Think of the last time a restaurant owner responded to your comment or review personally—it felt nice, didn't it? You owe your customers this courtesy. Deliver it, and they'll react accordingly.

7. Positive word of mouth

The beauty of online marketing is that it doesn't have to stay online. By building your brand image and engaging with customers, you'll make a good impression that will follow you offline, too. Whether you're a plumber or the owner of a salon, if you're friendly and active online, your customers will spread great news about you by word of mouth. This in turn can bring more visitors to your store or more phone calls to your office!

8. Brand awareness spreads

A natural consequence of networking, sharing, and recommendations is that your brand awareness spreads. Every time a new person learns about your business, your brand has made a new impression! So remember that even if you're not where you'd like to be in terms of followers/fans or interactions, you are still building platform for yourself. There are some benefits that come from this, too!

9. Consistency will bring in more visitors

If you update every once in a while and never interact with your fans or followers, you'll find that people tend to view you as unreliable. You'll start to lose fans, and people won't care about your updates as much as they would if you were consistent. You can prevent this by regularly updating, engaging with your community, and by presenting a friendly, consistent image. Remember that even if you're not hitting your projected numbers, you're still growing. You can always change up your plan, as long as you don't quit altogether.

10. More traffic to your website and other social media accounts

Finally, your shining example of being a great business owner will help you gather more followers and fans, as well as drive more traffic to your website. Be sure to post your website's address as well as any other contact info across all of your social networks. That way, if someone finds you on Twitter, they can still visit your website or go to “like” your Facebook page. Conversely, if they find your website and want to follow you on social media, they can easily navigate to your profiles directly from your website. Easy and simple!

As you can see, it's important to engage with your customers for so many reasons. Your presence online can truly affect how you're perceived both online and off. By implementing a consistent routine and keeping a positive attitude, you'll find that the benefits of engaging with customers online are only going to better your business.

Can you think of any other benefits of engaging with customers online? Let us know!

Holiday Shopping with Social Media

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As we draw closer to Thanksgiving, ads for the upcoming shopping season can be seen everywhere: From the mall to the grocery store, it seems there's always a reminder that the holidays are sneaking up on you, and your window of opportunity nabbing the best gifts is closing. But whether you're the type who wants to go out and get all the best products on Black Friday, or you're more the kind of person who procrastinates until mid-December, you're still always looking for a great deal! After all, you don't want to spend more money than you have to, and you definitely want the whole shopping process to be as painless as possible. And that means you're probably going to do your fair share of shopping online. But in 2014, online shopping can be a lot more than just logging on to your favorite store and filling up your cart. You can also utilize the power of social media to do your holiday shopping.

By using social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, you can easily find what you're looking for in multiple places. You can quickly compare availability, prices, and more. Even better, you can read reviews and get feedback on any items before you add anything to your cart. Sure beats the old way of doing things, doesn't it?

Here are a few ways you can use social media for your holiday marketing strategy—and maybe even use some of these tips yourself when you go shopping!


 

Holiday Marketing with Twitter

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In a survey conducted among 500 US adults, 36% said they wanted to use Twitter for holiday gift ideas. Another 35% admitted they used the social media platform to find links to the business's online store.

Now, in case you didn't know, 284 million people are on Twitter and active every month. That's a lot of potential business.

Furthermore, 4 in 10 consumers who are active on Twitter plan on beginning their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving. That leaves about a week and half from the publishing of this article to get your store holiday-ready! You can begin by tweeting about special deals, ask your followers to "please retweet" your updates, and direct people to your store for coupons or special checkout codes. Perhaps you could offer a "new followers" coupon for your new fans. Think outside the box on this one--people who use Twitter want to get information and get it fast. If you deliver it in an attention-grabbing way, you're sure to get a few new eyes on your merchandise.


 

Holiday Marketing with Facebook

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With Facebook, you are provided a more “permanent” platform to advertise to your fans. Permanent is in quotes because, of course, Facebook is actually moving at a rapid pace--updates seem to come and go quickly, and the feed refreshes constantly. But fans can easily find apps or albums that you've set up on your business page to promote your holiday specials. You can make your page visually appealing and full of content to entice your audience. Plus, sharing on Facebook works a bit differently than sharing on Twitter does—people get more personally invested. Family members are likely to share with one another over Facebook, whereas Twitter tends to foster more professional connections. When was the last time you tweeted your grandparents? (or grandchildren!)

A good place to start is with two of the biggest shopping days of the year: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. According to AllFacebook.com, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are growing into a quarter-long phenomenon. They urge businesses and advertisers to “capitalize on lower reach costs and high consumer engagement before and after peak days.”

Yeah, yeah, that's nice. But what does it mean for small businesses?

Basically, that you can promote your great deals before and after days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday to get the best returns. But that doesn't mean you should only focus on those days. You should also keep promoting your business's specials throughout the holiday season, because shoppers will be buying more heavily until Christmas.


 

Holiday Marketing with Pinterest

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If you haven't gotten into the habit of posting to a Pinterest board, you might want to start: 47.7% of holiday shoppers say that Pinterest has influenced their buying decisions. That's a lot of people!

But just how can you make the most out of your pins and get people interested in your products? It'll take a bit of creative thinking, but if you try, we bet you can come up with a variety of effective marketing strategies. For example, you could try making a themed board. You can showcase great gift ideas. You can create a storyboard where a shopper uses your product to bring happiness to friends and family. You can show how other customers choose to use your products to make their lives better. It's all in how you choose to present yourself!

We hope that these tips have been helpful for you. The holidays are a great time for helping customers get the special gifts they want for friends and family. By putting your best foot forward, you can prove to your community that you are dedicated to their needs, and that you're ready to help them make this holiday season the best one yet!

Can you think of any other ways to use Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest for holiday marketing? It's always a learning experience, and everyone gets different results. But with a little bit of practice and creativity, you can learn how to get more sales, happier customers, and better engagement during the holiday season. If you have any tips or tricks, be sure to leave them in the comments below!

Good luck!

How to Use Social Media for Customer Service

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We've talked in the past about how a company can use social media to improve business: From keeping your existing customers happy through regular updates and promotional offers, to creating and promoting valuable content to draw in new customers, social media can be one of the most powerful tools in a small business owner's toolbox. But that's just one way to use social media. Drawing in customers isn't the only thing you can do efficiently with it—you can also appease existing customers by using your social media accounts to quickly provide excellent customer service.

In this article, we'll give you a few tips on how you can easily start making use of your social media accounts to provide customer service!

 

Social Media is More Efficient

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When you visit a website for technical assistance or support, you expect to easily find the company's contact information. No one wants to click around and dig to find what they came for. Customers also don't want to fill out some contact form and wait hours (or sometimes even days) before someone finally gets back to them. Nor do they feel like waiting on hold! Nowadays, people want immediacy--in fact, they demand it.

Using social media for customer service allows you to achieve that immediacy.

Of course, the downside to this is that you'll have to have someone available to answer all customer support questions quickly. But if you're serious about providing these services for your customers, there is a simple way to do this—interns, social media managers, and/or smart phone apps. Depending on your budget, you may only be able to afford one of these things, but with a little effort, you can find a way that works for you.

 

Catch Negative Feedback Before it Blows Up

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Another way you can use social media for customer service is to monitor your brand name as well as specific keywords: specifically, for complaints about your brand. If you reach out and respond to these complaints quickly, you may be able to smooth over some of the problems that customers are having, and provide a satisfactory solution.

Ideally, you should be doing this on a daily basis. Your customers expect quick feedback to their complaints, and negative posts can spread faster than you expect them to! By making an effort to assuage these issues at the very beginning, you may even be able to get the person to delete their post. It's worth a shot.

However, you should take note that searching for customer complaints to respond to is really the most effective when the complaint has been made publicly.

What do we mean by that?

Well, if the complaint in question is part of a twitter conversation that seems casual, such as between two friends, it's probably not a great idea to butt in. Many times, people feel like brands monitoring them too closely is bordering on creepy!

So, long story short: Use your best judgement and try to intervene in sticky situations when you think it will do the most good.

 

Use Social Media to Respond to Questions and Requests

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If you see your customers asking you the same questions over and over, you will probably have to make some changes around the office. Whether your customers are unclear about your pricing options or have questions about shipping and delivery, you can use their feedback as a way to bolster your business and make it even better. Ensure that your customers can find the answers to their commonly-asked questions efficiently: Then, you can offer a number for them to call or ask them to connect with you on social media if they have any further suggestions for you, or need any extra clarification.

Think of it like a free, non-invasive way of asking your customers to take a survey. You get all the good feedback at no cost to you!

 

Hopefully, with these tips, you can begin to make some improvements to your customer service strategy. But we're sure there are plenty of other ways you can go about it. Can you think of other ways that you can use social media for customer service? Let us know in the comments below!

Back to Basics #23: Managing Your Brand

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You've probably heard the phrases “personal brand” or “brand identity” before. But what exactly do they mean? How does someone put forth a brand identity or a personal brand, and how does it affect your business? In this Back to Basics, we'll talk a bit about managing your personal brand. With a few easy-to-understand tips, you'll know exactly what these terms mean, and how you can leverage the concept of branding to increase your presence online.

Brand Identity

Brand identity is something that you probably already know about—you just aren't aware of it. As an example of brand identity, let's take a look at Coca-Cola.

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When you think of a company like Coca-Cola, what do you think of? You probably imagine the telltale red and white color scheme, the flowing font, and perhaps even their Christmas ads come to mind.

Well, all of these things are a strategic part of their brand identity. Coca-Cola has done a masterful job at creating an instantly recognizable brand image that people are quick to take notice of in any situation. The company wants to keep your attention, whether you're looking for a vending machine between classes or deciding which sodas to purchase from the supermarket. When you see that red and white, you know it's going to be Coca-Cola, and you're instantly drawn to purchase the product (that is, assuming you're not a Pepsi person!).

Now, all of this doesn't necessarily mean that brand identity consists solely of a color scheme and unique fonts. Logos also play a big part in it. Your perceived company image as a whole is a big part of it, too. Your presence on the internet and in your community play enormous roles. Simply put, when people think of your brand, the images and feelings that pop up are how they perceive your brand identity. You want to create something solid, recognizable, simple, and memorable. You also want to be consistent across all your platforms. We'll get to more of that in a minute. First, we'll talk about your “personal brand.”

What does your personal brand say about you?

Personal Brand

The personal brand is something generally associated with an entrepreneur, but it doesn't necessarily have to be so. Your personal brand can apply to how you manage your employees, as well as how you choose to interact with customers. Basically, your personal brand should prominently display your talents and downplay your weaknesses—customers and employees should feel that you're capable and understanding, rather than unsure or defensive.

Managing your personal brand can be tough, however, especially in online spaces. It's easy for people to slip up and say something they didn't mean to while caught in the turmoil so often found on social media. Your employees might do the same. Why? Because your personal brand often takes a backseat to emotion, especially when things get tough—whether you're responding to a poor review or you're getting just a little too personal with hot-button issues, it's important to remember to keep your cool. You don't want to sacrifice all the hard work you've done on your personal brand only to be embarrassed at comment you made in a time of emotional strain! It's important to keep an eye on how you're coming across online, and to monitor how people are perceiving you. Even the most careful business owners can probably find an area that they need to work on.

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Managing Your Brand in the Community

So now that you know about brand identity and your personal brand, what are some good ways to manage them? We've mentioned the many places you need to include your brand—from your local presence in your community to social media online.

A good way to start is to make a list of your personal values. For example, what do you think is important for you as a business owner? Some examples might include:

  • Providing excellent customer service
  • Responding to customer concerns
  • Providing new and exciting products regularly
  • Delivering news and updates in a timely manner
  • Rewarding valued customers
  • Promoting employees and building workplace morale

There are so many things you could list here. It all depends on what you, as a business owner, feel is the most important thing to you.

You can also talk to your employees about their workplace. Many companies focus too much on the customer and don't bother with assessing their internal company health. When the workplace is toxic or not well run, many people get angry about their jobs. Not only does this result in high turnover (and takes time to train and replace the employees), but the customers can easily end up with the short end of the stick: They might have to wait longer for service or get poor service from uninvested employees. You might think of asking:

  • Do you find your workplace to be comfortable?
  • Do you feel your duties are taken seriously?
  • Is the workplace friendly and accommodating?
  • Do you need help with further training?
  • How do you feel you are doing with your customer service skills?

Et cetera.

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Managing Your Brand Online

Managing your image online is a bit more complex than it is to manage in person. Many times, words that you type online can be misinterpreted—whereas in person, it's easier to clarify your intentions. You can also accidentally post to the wrong social media accounts. You might get too invested in a particularly heated conversation or debate and want to defend your views. You might get a poor review and feel inclined to respond to the reviewer angrily. The immediacy of the internet is what makes all of this so easy—but it's so hard to erase. In fact, it's nearly impossible.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I suited for social media management? If not, do I have the budget to hire someone for assistance?
  • Do I understand the implications of putting negative words and ideas into cyberspace?
  • Do I know how to defend myself without resorting to petty words?
  • Do I have a plan in place should there be a PR crisis?

If you think about these important things before you begin posting, you'll be much more likely to manage your brand in a way that will make your customers happy.

Another aspect of managing your brand online is how you choose to present your business's image. Just like the Coca-Cola example, you need to present an image of professionalism and attentiveness to detail. Here are a few questions you will want to consider if you want to have a healthy brand image:

  • Does my website look professional? If not, do I have it in my budget to redesign it?
  • Are customers easily navigating my website and finding the information they need?
  • Do my social media accounts match the name and color scheme my website?
  • Do I have the dedication to update my social media regularly, and to engage with my customers?
  • Am I using a consistent voice (i.e., serious, casual, technical, etc.) for all of my platforms?

Hopefully this clears up some of the mystery surrounding brand image and management. It's an important thing for business owners to understand, whether you're a Fortune 500 company or a local “mom-and-pop” store. We all need to present ourselves as professionally and openly as possible!

If you can think of any other tips for managing your brand, leave them in the comments below!

Back to Basics #22: Small Business Marketing for Local Storefronts

SMALL BUSINESSMARKETINGFOR LOCAL STORES Here at Internet Local Listings, we focus on helping our small business clients with all of their online marketing needs—social media, websites, and managing local listings for a variety of business directories. This is an important part of your small business marketing plan, because being seen online is integral to your success as a business in the modern marketplace. And, as you know, it can be a bit confusing and time-consuming to handle all this on your own. Having help is a great asset in this case.

However, what we aren't able to help with is the management of your storefront. That might sound obvious, but an important aspect of small business marketing that many people overlook is the effect that a storefront's appearance can have on a customer. You already know that first impressions matter when you're on a job interview or first date, and the same can be said of a customer's first visit to your business—a store's appearance can have tremendous influence over whether a person chooses to return or not. In this article, we'll talk a bit about how appearance can affect a customer's decision to purchase or leave, as well as how keeping your store beautiful can help create more online interactions and engagement.

A Storefront's Appearance Matters.

According to a study done at Retail Customer Experience, more than two-thirds of the surveyed group had avoided a store simply because the storefront was unattractive, outdated, or dirty. Although it might be a bit difficult to make a building look newer than it is (particularly if you share the building with other offices and have no control over renovations), it's always possible to keep the inside of your store looking neat and tidy.

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Image from I Loved New York.com

Keep the Place Smelling Fresh.

Aside from keeping your store's appearance tidy and clean, you're going to want to make sure it smells okay. This might seem as obvious as keeping it clean, but if you're, say, a car mechanic and you're used to the smell of oil, you might not realize how off-putting it can be to some people. While you obviously can't control the smell of the vehicles you're working on in your shop, you can control the smells in the lobby. Brew some fresh coffee. Set up snacks. Keep everything wiped down and clean; keep the doors to the shop closed to prevent extra noise and smells sneaking in. Finally, you may want to use this as an opportunity to promote some great-smelling air fresheners!

This goes for any industry, however. Even if you run a bookstore (and many people love the smell of books), make sure that everything is clean without overdoing it on the “chemical” smell.

The “First Ten Feet” Rule.

According to Rick Segel, author of Retail Business Kit for Dummies, you must offer a price-sensitive incentive for customers to continue shopping within the first 10 feet of the door. For example, this could be a special offer you're running, a promotion for your store's top-selling product, or even a poster board offering information on local community events. Whether you're in the business of selling auto parts or you offer home cleaning services, you can always find some related community events or classes that would appeal to your clientele. Don't be afraid to get creative—have some of your customers asked questions about the availability of a specific product? Have they asked where you could learn more about your business? Maybe they just simply get lost on the way to the bathroom! Do whatever you can to help them feel welcome and at home in your store, and they'll be likely to remain long enough to explore. Plus, you may just earn yourself a repeat customer!

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Maintain Your Store's Fixtures.

Sometimes your store is clean, your employees are welcoming, and the place is set up to draw the customers in—but people just aren't staying. You're confused and you're wondering what could be going wrong.

  • Take a step back from your store. Walk into it again as if it were the first time you'd ever set foot in it. Now, you're probably so used to it that this will be difficult for you, but try really hard to place yourself in your customers' shoes. Here are some key things to look for:
  • Are your displays are neatly arranged? Do they look up-to-date? An old, faded poster or a messy stack of “clearance” products might make your store look disorganized.
  • Do the lights seem too dim or too bright? If they're too dim, it might make your store look unwelcoming or shady—which is, naturally, off-putting to customers. If your lights are too bright, it can make customers feel uncomfortable, too, because who wants to feel like they need to wear sunglasses inside of a store?

Finally, make sure your staff is friendly and welcoming.

Make sure there's always a manager or knowledgeable person available to answer your customer's questions. And of course, ensure everyone looks his or her best to keep with the professional appearance you've worked so hard to instill in your store.

The wonderful part of keeping your storefront clean and inviting is that it will cross over into the online realm. People will be happy to leave you positive reviews. They'll want to follow you on Facebook or Twitter to see what your new specials are. They'll refer friends and family. Remember that this is all part of the bigger picture--getting the word out about your fantastic business!

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Small business marketing is complex. It's a mixture of online finesse as well as a little bit of good, old-fashioned business skills. While the marketing experts at Internet Local Listings can help you with the internet marketing part of the equation, we can only offer tips for the local aspect of it! We hope you've found these helpful!

If you have any tips or suggestions, leave them in the comments below! And be sure to subscribe for regular updates from our small business marketing blog.

Should You Ask Your Customers to Take a Survey?

customer-survey It seems almost everywhere you go now, there's someone asking you to take a survey. Go to a store, and there's a request to take an online survey on the receipt. Visit a website, and there's a pop-up asking you to take a survey after you finish your shopping. Call about a bill, and sure enough, you'll be asked to take a survey at the end of the call.

If you can time it right, it might be worth it.

You're a business owner. You need to know how you're doing with your business. If your customers are unhappy, what can you do to remedy that? And if your customers are happy, could they be happier? The only way you're going to find this out is by asking them directly.

According to an article at Microsoft.com, it's definitely worth it to send out surveys. The issue is knowing when to do so. You don't want to send out a snail-mail survey two months after the customer has visited your store or purchased your products. Depending on your type of business, it might be effective to have them take a survey while on your site; others, it might make more sense to follow up a week after a visit. You'll have to do some research and use some common sense to determine when you'll get the most responses.

Don't be misleading about the time required to complete the survey.

If your company wants to ask a lot of questions, you might want to rethink your strategy. Rarely are people going to sit down and spend fifteen minutes of their time answering questions—unless there's an incentive. Be honest about how long your survey will take, and if it's especially demanding of customers' time, be sure to offer a little incentive to reward them. Something like a 10% off coupon or buy one get one free. Really pore over your questions and make sure that they're concise and relevant. Get rid of any extra fluff.

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Follow up with your customers.

Okay, so you've gotten your customers to take the survey. You have data (which you need to analyze—don't just let it sit there!) and you're feeling pretty good about the responses.

Now you have to follow up.

Following up is a rarity today. By going the extra mile to contact a customer and thank them for their honest review and time, you put yourself in front of other companies. Even if the customer wasn't happy, asking what you could do better or offering them an apology and a request for another chance at their business can really make all the difference in the world. They will feel like you've truly listened to their concerns. And as a great business owner, that's exactly what you should be doing!

The downside to surveys is that they tend to get abysmal response rates, and if they're formatted incorrectly, are too invasive, or take too long, they may actually decrease customer satisfaction. If you feel that you have the tools and wherewithal to invest the proper effort in preparing your surveys, the responses you get could really open your eyes to your business's strengths as well as weaknesses.

If you don't feel that you have these skills at this time, consider hiring someone (even temporarily) who can help coach you in the feedback department. He or she can assist you in preparing a survey and learning to analyze the results.

What do you think? Should you survey your customers? Do you have suggestions for great surveys? Let us know in the comments below!

Back to Basics #19: Digital Marketing for the Holidays

digital-marketing-for-the-holidays Ahh, you knew something like this was coming up soon. It's October, which means that autumn decorations have been on the shelves since the 4th of July clearance rack cleared out (for Americans, anyway). Soon, you'll see Thanksgiving decorations, and then come the December holidays—it's all going to be Christmas and Hanukkah themes until it's almost 2015. And let's not forget about Black Friday and Cyber Monday...

During these next few months, you're going to see a lot of expensive marketing campaigns from big name companies. You'll see sales events, promotional deals, and all sorts of bundles and shipping specials and limited-time releases that your head might feel like its spinning.

And, as a small business owner, you might feel pressured to come up with some campaigns of your own.

But you don't have millions in your budget. And you don't have a lot of time to put something together. So how can you go about digital marketing for the holidays if you own a small business?

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1. Make a charitable donation. This is probably our favorite suggestion because it really helps everyone! You get to help others and draw attention to a great cause, as well as draw positive attention to your business.

Whether you choose to donate a small sum of cash or you volunteer your time at a local charity, these types of gestures speak volumes. Make sure it's something that you can get everyone involved with—your team can come up with great ways to make sure it's an event that won't soon be forgotten. But you also can't forget to let your clients and customers know that you're taking part in this special occasion. Be sure to send out a card or email and let everyone know that you're participating in a special charity event, and that your clients are welcome to participate, too!

2. Decorate your social media sites. Another cheap way to get everyone into the holiday spirit! Change your banners, headers, and color themes to reflect the holiday of your choice. You can even change your logo by adding a little Jack-O-Lantern for Halloween or a cornucopia for Thanksgiving. The best part is that you can reuse these again next year—a great return on your very small investment. And when you're finished? Simply replace the logo with your usual fare and you're good to go.

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3. Send out special holiday offers via email. This is one that you'll have to be careful with—you don't want to appear as if you're spamming, after all—but sending out special coupons or offers to customers who subscribe to your newsletter can be particularly effective. Make an announcement on your site. Say something like “only subscribers will receive a special deal via email, and they can look forward to receiving it just in time for the holidays.” The incentive can be whatever you want it to be—whether it's a coupon, a special one-of-a-kind item, or a free service. Whatever you can come up with!

4. Start thinking of gift suggestions. People choose different times to do their holiday shopping. While some wait until the last minute (right now would be a good time to capitalize on the Halloween costumes or decorations!), others do so months ahead of time (these people are already keeping an eye out for Christmas deals). You will want to keep your social media sites and blog updated with all the latest deals that would appeal to these shoppers.

5. Make yourself stand out from the crowd. We mentioned at the beginning of the article that you don't have the budget or resources to compete with the big companies. But you can make up for what you lack in budget with quality services.

For example, you're probably a small, local store. You can offer personalized attention to each and every client. Can a big-name store do that? No, they can't. You can also remind people that when they support your business, they're supporting local businesses and real people who contribute to the community. There are so many people looking to switch to buying local now (and sometimes exclusively), so this is a great way to let them know that you truly appreciate their business. If you have years of experience, highlight that. If you have a positive track record for customer satisfaction, mention it. And if you have a great story about how you came to build your business in your town, people will love to hear it. It's all about aligning yourself with the “big guys” in ways that highlight your strengths—not your lack of financial resources.

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By thinking a bit on the creative side, you can come up with some great ideas for digital marketing for the holidays—even if you're a small business without much revenue.

Do you have any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments below.

Back to Basics #18: When Should You Automate Updates?

scheduling-updates We've talked before about how you can take a load off your shoulders by scheduling your social media and blog updates. But, as with any automated services, there's a point where you need to draw the line. Your followers and fans don't want to interact with a robot, after all—they're there because they enjoy what YOU have to offer.

So how do you know when to automate your blog posts and social media updates, and when to interact with your fans?

Automate for hours you aren't awake.

Sure, it's not the perfect time to post at 3 am on Twitter—not for everyone, anyway. But many businesses have customers who reside on the other side of the pond—and they're awake during those hours. So it's a good idea to schedule a few tweets to go out when those other eyes will fall on your page. As for platforms like Facebook and Google+, it's best to figure out when you get the most interaction. For many people, the best hours are earlier in the day, local time. If this is the case, you don't necessarily have to automate your updates. However, you might choose to do so if you know you're going to be forgetful about it!

Going to be busy or out of town all weekend? Automate your updates.

Of course it's ideal that you be around to interact with your fans and followers no matter how busy you are. But the reality of life is that we have to unplug every once in a while.

But just because you're gone doesn't mean that you can't still engage your audience. By scheduling a few posts to pop out when you're away, your fans will still be able to see what you're up to, the content you want to share with them, and products that they might want to buy.

Keep a balance of 80/20: 80% promoting other people, 20% marketing your own products.

People don't like to see a constant stream of advertisements coming from the accounts they choose to follow. If the only updates you ever offer are hard sales pitches, you'll find that your social media presence and blog subscriptions are going to go nowhere fast. A good way to keep this balance is to schedule some retweets or shares during the day. This way you can be sure that you're still contributing to discussions without coming off as overly sales-y.

Reuse old posts—schedule them to pop out at some time in the future.

What do you do with old blog posts? Well, as long as the content is “evergreen” (meaning that you could read it three years from now and it'd still be helpful), you can schedule the posts to pop out in the future.

For example, let's say you write an article about cleaning your gutters yourself. This is probably the most useful in the fall, but that's not to say it can't be helpful at other times of the year! Posting it once every few months across your social networks can help drive traffic back to your site. By scheduling them in advance, you won't have to think too much about it, or try to remember a few months down the road. It'll already be ready for you!

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When should you NOT automate your updates?

  • When dealing with customer service--people want responses from humans, not robots.
  • When you have a fan or follower trying to get an answer to a specific question. For example, “How long is your sale going to be on?” shouldn't elicit a response based on the fact that a person contacted you (i.e., “thanks for connecting!”), or worse—radio silence.
  • During a time of national crisis. Too many brands have forgotten to take off their scheduled tweets or updates during an unexpected crisis, and as a result, they came across as insensitive—even callous. Even if your company's services have nothing to do with the crisis at hand, sometimes it's just best to stay silent for a little while.
  • When someone follows you (this is primarily geared toward Twitter users). When you follow someone on Twitter and they send you an automated direct message welcoming you (or asking you to buy something), how does it make you feel? Annoyed? Yeah, it probably doesn't really make you want to interact with the person. So don't do this to your followers. Send a personal greeting if you like, but whatever you do, don't spam them.

What do you think? Do you automate your posts? When should someone avoid scheduling updates? Let us know in the comments below!

3 Reasons to Encourage Customer Reviews

customer reviews five stars Whether you really enjoyed your service or really hated it, chances are that you’ve left a review for a company before. Believe it or not, these reviews (even the bad ones!) can actually help a company in multiple ways: Reviews not only help a business gain visibility and credibility on the internet, but it also gives the owners a chance to converse with customers and learn how to make a customer’s experience better. In other words, reviews benefit everyone. But how can you go about encouraging customer to leave reviews for a small business without coming off as pushy or desperate?

Here are three reasons you should encourage customer reviews in a natural—not an annoying—way.

  1. Customers who read online reviews tend to purchase more. According to statistics cited by Econsultancy.com, 61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision and 63% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a site that has user reviews. And when you really think about it, this probably rings true for you, too. In my case, the last time I was shopping for a book online, I read the reviews first. Sometimes I purposely look through books with terrible ratings just to see how bad they really are (strange pastime, I know); however, I will never end up paying for them. Instead, I’ll pay for the ones that have outstanding reviews. And I bet if you think back to the last time you were shopping online, you probably did the same thing.
  1. Reviews can help advertise a new product. Do you have a new product or service available for your customers? You can encourage reviews by offering a coupon or gift certificate to those who complete a survey or leave you a review. According to Sam Decker, vice president of marketing and products at Bazaarvoice, a gift certificate offered in exchange for reviews can boost your review volume by 500 to 800 percent. That’s a lot of new reviews for your company—and the gift certificates will bring in customers who may otherwise have decided against making a purchase at your store.
  2. Reviews help customers get more involved with your brand. When a customer leaves you a review, they’re spending their own free time offering you their voice. Whether the review is positive or not, this is a pretty big deal! Take the time to respond to your reviews. Make sure that you engage all customers with respect and honesty. And be sure to encourage them to review wherever it feels comfortable. For example, if you’re on Yelp as well as Foursquare, leave links to Yelp and Foursquare on all of your sites—social media included. Send out periodic tweets or posts asking customers (politely) to leave a review if they had a great experience with you. Before long, your customers will become more involved with your brand. And when they see that you respond to your customers, they’ll know that you take the time to read their opinions and that you take them seriously. Now that’s some positive PR!

With these things in mind, here are a few things you might want to avoid:

Don’t blast the customer with an email every other day. Have you noticed now that wherever you go—the mall, a restaurant, or even a website—that everyone asks you to fill out a survey or give an opinion? As a customer, it gets exhausting. As a business owner, it’s stressful. You, the owner, get irritated trying to get customers to cooperate. And in turn, they don’t feel like filling out a form after every shopping experience! So simply ask them in a polite way and move on. They’ll participate if they want to, and bugging them all the time won’t help your case.

Don’t beg for reviews. I’ve seen it on Twitter more times than I care to count. “Review me and I’ll love you forever!” “Help me out and I’ll follow you!” “Please, please, please review me, I need help!” None of this looks good; it’s actually totally unprofessional in the best scenario, and makes you look desperate in the worst. There’s no issue with occasionally tweeting something like “Have you had a great experience at our store? Leave us a review!” and posting a link to the review site. Just be sure to ask in a friendly, professional manner and try not to spam your followers.

Don’t fake reviews. You know the saying “Fake it ‘til you make it?” Well, that doesn’t apply here. Faking reviews is probably the biggest faux pas that small companies make, as well as the one most commonly seen. Your family and friends are probably more than willing to help you out by leaving you glowing, positive reviews. And that’s great that they support you—but you should be focused on gathering real customer reviews. Don’t fall victim to paying for them or padding your reviews with falsities.

Need help getting customer reviews?

At Internet Local Listings, we help our clients get their small businesses listed accurately across the internet. As an internet marketing company, we strive to help each and every client reach more customers, and in turn, grow their business. And because our packages are priced at a rate that the average small business can afford, we truly believe that by working together, we can make a lasting difference for your company where other internet marketing companies can’t. Call or visit us today for more information.

Why Small Business Marketing is Essential in 2014 and Beyond

small-business-marketing-in-2014

small-business-marketing-in-2014 Getting the word out about your business has always been your top priority. As a small business owner, you already understand how important marketing is—whether it's word of mouth, fliers, direct marketing, or running local advertising campaigns, you know that you have to get the word out or your numbers suffer. But what many small business owners don't take into consideration is a marketing plan. And without some type of marketing strategy, you'll likely become frustrated, not knowing whether your efforts are paying off.

This is the primary reason that small business marketing is now non-negotiable. In 2014, we have a number of options to help us determine how and where to market to our clients: social media, blogs, video marketing, online local business listings, Google Places, and more. With all of these tools at our disposal, is there any excuse not to have a marketing plan in place?

No, there isn't. In this article, we'll talk a bit about why small business marketing is essential in 2014 and beyond. When you understand just how effective marketing is for your business, you'll have a better foundation to grasp the concepts of beginning your own marketing campaign.

Small business marketing is the only way to get the word out.

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You've heard of companies like Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, and Apple. Why is that? Because they have a massive consumer base and they have massive marketing budgets. Their ads are fed to you frequently to ensure you know what the company is up to, and they make sure that their products stay up-to-date and relevant.

Now, you're probably thinking, “Well, I don't have that kind of money to spend on an advertising campaign!” and you're probably right. Most small business marketing budgets are scant. And that's okay. You don't need a ton of money to start seeing returns on your efforts. As we've discussed in previous articles, you can implement social marketing strategies for very little money, and you can get started with blogging completely free of charge. The best thing about this type of marketing is that you can begin to spend money whenever you like to boost your efforts. Want to place an ad on Facebook? You can spend as little as $5 a day to promote your business. Want to pay for a domain name and host your blog as a website? For less than $20, you can grab a domain name, and hosting can be as low as $3-5 a month. There's no reason you must feel like you are required to spend thousands of dollars just to be seen online.

When you get the word out with small business marketing, you begin to build your audience online. And that's the #1 most important thing.

In 2014, traditional networking is still important.

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Networking. It sounds like a buzzword, and to some extent, that's what it's become. That aside, you should never underestimate the power of networking. If you go to local business expos, connect with influencers on Twitter and Facebook, and simply ask your customers to refer you to friends and family, then you're already networking. If you're not networking and these activities don't sound like they'll increase your sales, then think of it this way: you're building a strong reputation and a sturdy foundation of support and availability for your clients. And that is absolutely essential.

The easiest way to get started is to simply ask your customers to review you on Yelp and Google. This has the added bonus of sending “relevancy” signals to Google, helping you to rank higher. Many customers would be happy to submit positive reviews when asked, but they often don't bother to go online and leave reviews otherwise.

You can also get started on Facebook and Twitter for free. Place signs around your office or store that tell customers where they can find you online. Ask friends and family to spread the word. None of this will cost you a thing, except maybe an hour or two of your time to craft the signs!

Are press releases outdated? Nope. Not even close.

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Spread the word about newsworthy business developments: A new product, a sale, or a special event your company is attending or hosting. Try to send out a press release once a month to keep the word about your company relevant and fresh. This can cost money if you choose to promote your company online—you can pay anywhere from $120 to upwards of $250 to have your press release promoted on popular sites. But you don't have to do this. Small business marketing is all about leveraging your local connections. Talk to your local newspaper or ask to be on the news or featured on a radio show. You can talk about your new products or even offer customers a special discount if they mention your interview or article. By doing this regularly, you can easily make a good impression on your local community.

The new way of connecting to customers: Videos.

YouTube logo small business

Many small businesses specialize in a specific, niche service: Plumbing, dog grooming, notary services, etc. Think of how you felt when you first started learning about your industry. You probably felt overwhelmed and looked to professionals for guidance. Or consider how you feel when you want to save money and try to take care of things yourself—fixing a pipe or cleaning your roof, for instance. Many people look up tutorials now on YouTube.

This might seem counter-intuitive to teach your customers learn how to help themselves, but it is actually a great way for your customers and company to share a dialogue. It establishes you as an authority figure and expert in your industry. Plus, taking the time to create a video tutorial for your customers shows that you spend time thinking of their needs—and customers truly appreciate that. Finally, videos on YouTube, when properly optimized, send strong relevancy signals to search engines, and that helps your website rank higher.

And there you have it. Small business marketing is essential in 2014. You need to network to connect with clients. You need to create content to stay relevant on search engines. You need to connect with customers in new and innovative ways. As the internet grows more content-based, your small business will have to keep on top of these trends to ensure your customers are still finding you.

If you need assistance with any small business marketing services, Internet Local Listings is always here to help. Simply contact us here or visit our site for more information. We have a special running right now, too—so act fast and save money while you start bringing in more customers!

Is Word of Mouth Marketing Still Effective?

word-of-mouth-marketing In today’s busy, online-centric world, you hear a lot about how social media is the answer to everything: more traffic to your website, more phone calls to your business, and more customers purchasing your products and services. As a small business owner, you don’t have a lot of extra money to spend on complicated advertising campaigns. While larger businesses have millions to pour into campaigns that they can adjust over time, you have a very limited budget and no excess to tweak your strategy in the future. So you’re probably still relying on word of mouth marketing. But is it still effective? Are you getting the most you possibly can from it?

Word of Mouth is Still a Reliable Marketing Method

Many small business owners say that they still use word-of-mouth advertising and that it is effective for their marketing efforts. In fact, two in three marketers say that word of mouth marketing is actually more effective than any other traditional marketing tactics they’ve tried. According to a study done by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, 70% of marketers say that their companies will increase social media budgets in the next year, whereas only 29% say that they’ll spend more on offline word-of-mouth marketing. So what does this mean? It means that small businesses rely on word-of-mouth marketing, they find it to be effective, and because of this, they don’t see it as necessary to dump a bunch of money into it. It’s a safe investment for them because they get real results.

Word of Mouth Marketing is More Flexible Than You Think

If you think about it, you can still benefit from word of mouth marketing while utilizing modern social media tactics.

Sites like Angie’s List make it possible for your customers to leave feedback in an online space designed to market your business. Encourage your happy customers to leave you a glowing review to bring in more business. It’s like telling a friend that you really loved a restaurant and then they go and check it out. Someone recommends your site on Angie’s List and that’s a lot of clout.

Yelp  is also a great site to show how awesome your small business is. Again, encourage your happy customers to leave reviews and help spread the word about your business. Yelp is practically a go-to resource for those looking for local businesses.

Facebook is another way you can connect with local customers. When your customers share your statuses or interact with you on your page, they’re more likely to buy from you. In fact, 85% of customers who follow brands on Facebook are likely to recommend it to their friends.

You Can Still Encourage Customers to Spread the Word in Person

While all of these strategies work to spread the word about your company, simply talking to friends and family is still an effective way to bring in new customers. If you are in the business of working directly with clients—say, as a lawyer, doctor, or dentist—you have a lot to gain from this. People are far more likely to take recommendations from friends and family when it comes to important things like finances and health.

Let the experts at Internet Local Listings help you get the word out about your business. We’ll get you listed across all major online directories and we even provide updates for social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. By working together, we can get people talking about your brand—and help you draw in new clientele.

How to Increase Customer Engagement for Your Small Business

increase customer engagement for small businesses If you’re a small business owner, there’s a big chance you’ve heard the term “customer engagement.” Depending on your level of experience in managing an online storefront, you may not have a clear picture of what it means to have customers “fully” engaged. To some business owners, a highly-engaged customer simply means someone who visits your store—whether in person or online—and purchases a product or service from you. To others, this term means that a customer would have to purchase and come back to use your services again, or perhaps be involved with your website or social media accounts in some way. And it’s true that for different industries, customer engagement will be different: i.e., if you’re a concrete contractor, you’re not going to expect the same return service as a boutique or thrift store. So how can you determine the best way to improve customer engagement for your company?

Know Your Clientele

This is the best answer, but unfortunately,  it’s also very complicated. You may know the basic needs of your clients, but you might be surprised at how in-depth you can really get with the details. For example, if you’re a boutique specializing in women’s clothing, you already know that women are going to shop at your store more often than men. But do you know finer details, such as income level, interests, hobbies, and spending habits? Getting your customers more engaged with your store requires a little bit of research, as well as some finesse in gathering this type of data.

The good news is that social media is the perfect answer to this dilemma. According to a survey done by Avaya’s Autonomous Customer Research, 82% of customers prefer multi-channel engagements—meaning not only do they want to visit you face-to-face in your store, but they probably want to connect with you via email, Facebook, Twitter, or on another social media channel. But why do customers enjoy this?

Simple. They can get all the information they need from the comfort of their own homes. They can stay caught up with your sales and special offers simply by “liking” you or following you online. Don’t you think you owe it to your customers to help them stay connected to your brand in such a convenient way?

How to Improve Customer Engagement

If you haven’t already, you’ll need to choose a few social media networks that you want to maintain. Keep in mind that this is a time-intensive endeavor—if you want results, you’ll have to be willing to spend at least several hours a week dedicated to this part of the process.

That’s why it’s important to just choose a few networks that you know appeal to your clientele. There are so many out there that it would be next to impossible to maintain your presence across each one. Whether you choose Facebook, Google +, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Tumblr, you’ll have to find your strengths and play to them. That being said, here are a few tips to help you increase customer engagement across any social media networks:

  1. Create relationships, not “hard sells”. You are a sales pro, no doubt. But the way you approach customers online is not the same way you’d approach them in the store. People come to your site to browse at home—let them do so in peace.
  2. Make it easy for customers to find you. You could have the best business in the world, but if your customers can’t find you on the web, they’re not going to be calling. Make sure you are ranking on the first page for a set of targeted keywords. Customize your social media profiles with easy-to-find-and-follow links to your site. Finally, be sure your contact information is available. Customers like knowing that they can contact you if they need to.
  3. Provide relevant updates. Customers like to know what your company is up to, but they also enjoy related topics. If you’re a salon, try updating about the latest hair trends. If you’re a contractor, talk about seasonal updates that homeowners can benefit from.
  4. Update frequently. This is a common mistake. Oftentimes, people assume “if you build it, they will come.” This is far from true in the fast-paced world of internet marketing. You need to not only build a strong foundation, but you also need to keep adding to it. Aim to update your site’s blog at least one time a week, if not more. Update Facebook, Google +, or LinkedIn once a day. You don’t have to spend hours crafting a post, but try to keep clients engaged with your site through quality, fresh content.
  5. Respond to criticism. But do so politely. If you have a negative review, evaluate what the customer has to say. Publicly address it so others know that you recognize and care about a customer’s experience. Which brings us to our next topic…

Dealing with Angry Customers

It is not fun to deal with, but it happens to the best of us. You will have angry customers and you will have to find a way to respond to them without looking unprofessional. The best way to do this is to find legitimate complaints and politely respond as you would to a customer in your store. If the complaints are abusive, slanderous, or are coming from someone impersonating your company, you can report them to the appropriate person. Keep on top of this—you don’t want to leave unprofessional or negative comments around!

Want to hire the pros?

Did you know that companies who have a fully-engaged customer base see a 23% average increase in revenue? There are so many reasons you should be online and engaging with your customers—but if you’ve decided it’s just too much of a time investment, you can always hire the pros. Visit Internet Local Listings to see our variety of online marketing packages, or give us a call at (888) 770-3950 to set up an account. We’d love to help you increase customer engagement and get your site ranking!