How small businesses can use social media to promote themselves during lockdown

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COVID-19 has affected us all in one way or another but small businesses have really felt the impact of lockdown. Being closed for weeks on end combined with the nation’s financial uncertainty means they’ve been hit hard. Lots of my friends run small businesses and it’s been heartbreaking to see the struggles they face. Even for me as a blogger, I’m a small business and I’ve never been so quiet and my profits have never been so low.

But I’m here today to offer a bit of hope because it isn’t all bad for small businesses right now. 

Social media is such a fantastic way to create an online connection with your customers, especially if you’re selling online and don’t have any face-to-face interaction. It gives you the opportunity to create a bond that will lead to loyal, repeat business. It’s like having a small shop where your customers pop in most days to say hello and browse your products. You have a quick chat with them, ask about their day, tell them about your day, discuss the weather, talk about who you think will win the Bake Off and give them a sneak peek at a new product you’re working on. You don’t need to be like a market stall seller, constantly yelling at people to come and buy an orange! You can sell on social media in a much less aggressive way and it will have much better results, I promise!

Small businesses can adapt quickly during lockdown

Small businesses might not need to change their products due to lockdown, but they probably will need to change their messaging. And this is where social media comes in so well for small businesses because they can do that immediately!

Small businesses have the ability to pivot quickly and use social media to instantly share updates with their customers. For bigger businesses it can take weeks to get new messages out to their customers. Believe me I know! My background is in social media marketing and I know only too well how long it can take to put together campaigns and get them approved by the big bosses. 

My background + social media marketing

To fill you in a bit – I used to work as the UK social media manager for Flight Centre UK. I worked there for a few years before leaving to go freelance and I managed the social media channels for lots of big travel brands. I enjoyed this for a while but my heart was never in it for these big corporations, so I started working with smaller independent brands and I LOVED it. 

It was such a thrill to see how one Facebook update could influence sales. You could share a photo of a cake at a cafe and then it would sell out, or promote an item on sale and see it fly off the shelves. A hairdresser can post an update saying they’ve had a cancellation for that afternoon and instantly have an Instagram follower fill that slot. A restaurant can share a photo of their daily specials and get five extra bookings (or takeaway orders during lockdown!) for that evening. 

I’ve loved teaching people how they can use social media to increase their sales and I think lockdown is a perfect example of how social media can help small businesses. 

Why use social media during lockdown?

Word of mouth recommendations from friends are undoubtedly the best way to attract new customers and increase sales. And during lockdown, social media is the next best thing. When we aren’t able to talk directly to our friends, we turn to social media to fill that fix we get from real life interactions.

People are spending more time on social media than ever before – not only due to boredom but because we’re all searching for human connections and sometimes online chats are the best way to get that. So when our friends share recommendations on social media we really take it onboard.

How do you get your customers to recommend your business on social media?

You can use incentives to encourage your customers to mention you on social media. Things like competitions or discounts work well, such as ‘share our photo on Facebook for the chance to win a £10 voucher’. But it’s the authentic, genuine recommendations that will be most beneficial – such as when a cafe customer shares a photo of their takeaway coffee and cake and posts it to Instagram simply because it was amazing. THIS is what you really want.

The best way to encourage people to do this is simply by being very active on social media. If your customers see that you are active then they are more likely to engage with you on social media. They’ll tag you in their posts if they know you’re going to see it and share it – but they won’t bother if they know you don’t use social media. And if they’re already familiar with you through social media then they will know what your handles are so it makes it easier for them to tag you.

Speaking of handles (that’s your online @name), make sure they’re simple and easy to remember so people can easily tag you. Consider adding a business card to all sales which should include your social media handles so your customers know how to tag you. If it isn’t a business card then maybe put it on a napkin, a tag, the box or even a handwritten note.

And don’t be afraid to ask your customers to share their experience via social media and leave a review. People love to help the brands they love, especially if they know their little shoutout on Facebook could make a huge difference.

Show your face

One of the reasons we love shopping with small businesses is because there is a real person behind the brand. It isn’t a faceless corporation and we love that! So promote that and show your face! We’re shopping with YOU because we want to buy from YOU.

Get your face on your social media updates as much as possible and people will love it. I know it’s scary but, honestly, it works. People buy from people and they’ll feel more of a connection to you if they know what you look like.

Most small businesses feel comfortable sharing endless product shots but feel quite uncomfortable sharing any photos of themselves so it can be a big and scary leap but just try it once or twice and you’ll honestly see your engagement go through the roof!

Share the good, the bad and the ugly and all the behind the scenes

People are nosy, we all know that, right? But most small businesses are surprised when I tell them that their customers are nosy and want to know everything about their business! They want to know how you make your products, what your workshop looks like and all the behind the scenes details.

When we shop with massive chains we don’t see any of the behind the scenes details, presumably because Primark aren’t going to give us a tour of their Indian sweatshops where their clothes are made and Sainsbury’s won’t show us around the huge factories where their food is produced, because it’s not something we want to see. This definitely won’t help sales, if anything it’s going to put us off shopping with them.

But if it’s you and your business partner sewing clothes in your workshop or baking cakes in your kitchen – we want to see that! 

Like I said above, your customers have chosen to shop with a small business because they know each sale is benefitting an individual person. We’re shopping with small businesses because we like the idea of each item being handmade and crafted just for us. We don’t want items that are mass produced in a sweatshop, we want our items to be individual and to have a story behind them.

Share your story

And speaking of each item having a story, make sure you share your brand story!

I love knowing the story behind the small businesses I shop with. 

A really great example is Sally from Beeswax Wraps who has a post on her Instagram sharing her story and how she came to be making beeswax wraps. You can read it here.

After reading that I felt like I knew Sally a little better and felt more invested in her business and interested to see how her business develops.

I know it can be difficult to know what your story is when you’re in the middle of it. You can’t see the wood for the trees and most people do struggle to identify ‘their story’ unless something momentous led them to that business. But everyone has a story so try asking your close family and friends to help you identify it.

A great place to share your story would be on Instagram Stories and save it as a highlight so new followers will see it as soon as they discover you.

Share your USP

Make sure you regularly share your USP on social media to help you stand out from your competitors. 

If you make beauty products using all natural ingredients, share photos of those natural ingredients to highlight your USP. Many small businesses will share the finished product but sharing the unique ingredients that made that product are actually what make you different and interesting to your customers.

Tips for accommodation businesses

I know lots of the people who follow me are from the travel industry and have small businesses with holiday lets, glamping and other types of accommodation. I know lockdown has hit these businesses so hard and it hasn’t been easy.

My main tip for these businesses when it comes to social media is that it doesn’t need to be all about the accommodation. Yes, we want to see the beds and the sofa and the view from the window. But when people are staying in your holiday home, they’re probably not there for the bed, they’re there for the surrounding area. So use lockdown as an opportunity to share more of the local area and give people that feeling that makes them say, ‘Yes, as soon as lockdown is over I can’t wait to go there!’

If I share too much, aren’t I showing my customers how to make my product?

I know a lot of small businesses are worried about oversharing on social media and giving away all their trade secrets. You might want to be selective about what you share but this doesn’t need to be a concern. Most of us know that, in theory, we could make ourselves a great cup of coffee but we still prefer to go out and get one. I have a fantastic coffee machine at home but I still go to the local cafe to get a coffee from time to time! So don’t worry about showing your customers how you make your coffee because they already know they could make it themselves if they wanted to. When they buy a coffee, they’re not just buying a drink, they’re buying an experience that they can’t get at home.

You don’t need perfect pictures

If you’re hesitant to post much on social media because you’re worried your photography isn’t up to scratch then I want to remind you that your photos don’t need to be perfect. People are shopping with you because you’re a small business and non-professional photos actually emphasise that. 

Of course, you don’t want really bad photos so I have a few tips to help…

A few quick and easy photography and video tips

  • You can take great photos on your smartphone, you don’t need to go out and buy an expensive camera
  • Good lighting is the main thing that makes a good photo. Whenever possible, take photos with lots of natural daylight for the best results. This may mean setting up a photoshoot near a window or outside and possibly even moving all your equipment to somewhere with better light.
  • Make a Pinterest board for photography inspiration and don’t be afraid to copy photos you love. You’ll learn so much through copying because you’ll realise the exact angle of the camera, the props involved, the lighting and the editing techniques used.
  • If you’re making videos and you’re new to video then I have one tip – don’t move the camera. The main thing that makes video footage look ametur is when it’s shaky, jerky or the camera moves in an unnatural way. It’s really easy to combat this by simply not moving the camera. Rest the camera on a shelf or a tripod just whatever you do, don’t move it.

Tips for network marketing businesses using social media

I had a couple of people on Instagram ask for social media tips for network marketing. Now I’ll be honest here and say I’ve never worked with network marketing businesses before. I’m never sure if I’m being sold a product or being sold a dream?

If you’re selling a product then you really need to show that you’re an expert. If you’re selling beauty products then you really need to be a beauty expert. You wouldn’t buy a car from someone who didn’t know much about cars and you wouldn’t book a holiday who didn’t know much about travel. So whatever you’re selling – make sure you show you’re an expert and really know what you’re talking about. 

It’s also worth showing that you’re making sales. If you want people to sign up to the MLM, you want to show that this is a profitable business for you so don’t be afraid to brag about your sales.

I’m scared about being active on social media – what if people use it to complain?

I’ve worked with some businesses who are nervous about social media because people could use it to leave negative reviews. It’s true – people can use social media to leave negative reviews. But, let’s be honest, they’re going to tell their friends about their negative opinions regardless. At least if they share it with you on social media then you’re going to see it and will have the opportunity to fix the problem.

Complaints don’t have to be a bad thing. Complaints are customer feedback and an opportunity to see your weaknesses and see what you can improve. If you’re getting a lot of complaints via social media then it isn’t a problem with social media, it’s a problem with your product.

People will talk about your business, but with social media you’ve got the opportunity to listen to the conversation.

Final tip

My final tip for small businesses using social media during lockdown is this:

Don’t just share product photos! Of course, we want to see your products but the magic really happens when you share behind the scenes photos. Let your customers into your life so they feel a real connection to you. If they feel a connection then they’re much more likely to support your business.

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