How SMEs can build a successful online presence

In order to build a successful presence online it’s the little extras that make all the difference. At the end (hopefully) of a five-year recession, it’s understandable if social media has been low on most companies’ lists of priorities. It’s something that lots of business owners have a go at, but an area where few achieve real success. Despite being a low cost way of getting in direct contact with customers, without a carefully planned and executed strategy, the truth is that it’s probably not worth your time. Good social media usage can result in great customer relationships that build your brand and an excellent driver for traffic to your website. Here’s our very basic guide to getting social media right. A good goal for your social media efforts is to increase your ranking in search results on engines Google and Bing. Your website appearing on page one of a search for your relevant terms means that you will be the first port of call for potential customers seeking your products or services. You can’t wave a wand and get there overnight, but social media is a bag of tricks that will get you on your way. Google’s search algorithm was overhauled last year and the changes mean that a blog is now the best method of reaching customers and attracting new ones on social media. As a small business, a blog carves out a slice of the internet for you to provide customers with interesting and useful information that they will then share with their friends and followers on social media like Facebook and Twitter. The aim of your blog should be to supply customers with useful content that acts as an added bonus on top of the services or products you already provide. If you are a florist, you might want to offer your customers free tutorials on putting together basic party centrepieces, or offer advice on ordering flowers for a wedding (also warning brides of how to know when they’re being ripped off). If you run a handyman service, your blog could focus on a series on DIY based on your most common requests such as “How to rewire a plug” or “How to bleed a radiator”. You may feel like you’re giving away too much, but by providing genuinely helpful tidbits of information online, you have already built credibility and trust that customers will remember in future. Now that your content is sorted, it’s pretty important to make sure that what you put out online will be easily picked up. Key word optimisation and hashtags will make your blog posts search engine and social media friendly, but don’t fret if those two terms mean absolutely nothing to you. There’s plenty of free advice on using social media, including breakdowns on using each network correctly – or any 14 year old could probably give you the run down. Trickier still is keyword optimisation, which is an important function of search engine optimisation (SEO), but in a nutshell it involves making your outgoing content fit a mould so that it’s easily recognised and prioritised in a Google search. When sharing on social media, more is more, but don’t be too promotional. This is one area where spreading yourself thinly is a good thing. Sign up to every social network available and learn how to use each one correctly. Have their corresponding buttons on your blog posts to make online sharing a ‘one-click’ affair and easy for your readers. Remember, there’s more to social media than just Facebook and Twitter. Google Plus is hardly the coolest social media kid on the block at the moment, but it is surprisingly good for SEO. There’s also Squidoo and a host of scrapbooking and photosharing networks like Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and Flickr that are a great way of creating links back to your website. Wherever your first foray into social media takes you, as a business you must follow a single rule – Be interesting and useful, not promotional. Traditional incentives like online discounts don’t hurt of course, but if over time you consistently give a little extra back through social media, you’ll reap the rewards later. What you give away to your customers in the name of good social media, you’ll get back in visits to your website, inquiries, and repeat custom.

270958_394786620557898_2125962206_nNiamh Kinsella is an account manager at digital marketing agency TopLine Communications. TopLine Communications is based in London and provides B2B video, social media, PR and online marketing services to businesses in the technology, education and recruitment sectors. The agency is renowned for its two B2B blogs, the B2B PR Blog and the B2B Guide to Social Media, both of which give free advice to businesses and digital marketing professionals.

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