We continue our SmallBizSat Q&A blog series with our latest featured guest, Jason Falls (@JasonFalls). A well-known name within the social media community who was included on the list of The Most Influential Small Business People on Twitter, Jason offers his take on how social media can work for small business owners and how it’s often not about the tools but rather the content when building a go-to website. Also, find out what local company he feels is using Foursquare the right way!
Q. Do you feel supporting local businesses is important and why?
A. Absolutely. Local is more relevant. We’re approaching the age of relevancy in marketing where the relevant messages are delivered to the relevant audience at the relevant time and in the relevant place. Local is probably the biggest meta trend for marketers and brands everywhere because it makes the message more relevant to consumers.
Q. How can a local retailer or service business use the internet to drive customers through their doors?
A. Hundreds of ways. Whether it’s creating local-rich content that serves the community and puts you top of mind with them on a regular basis to using coupons and deals on social networks to drive foot traffic, the Internet just gives local businesses another, and often more efficient, channel to communicate with its audience. The trick is making sure you’re saying something that audience finds useful. That might mean NOT talking about you most of the time, but opens the door to being a trusted resource for people looking for local content and context to their online lives.
Q. When looking at a website of a new business, how do you judge if the business is credible or not?
A. Unless they have Better Business Bureau accreditation symbols, which can certainly be faked or claimed without merit, there’s really no way to tell from a website. But if I go to your website and you have ratings and reviews from customers there, or are pumping in a feed of what people say about your brand from around the web, I’m going to believe you’re at least transparent about who you are and what you do. I’m not going to trust you at first. But I will trust testimonials from your customers that don’t seem manufactured.
Q. If you were working with a local small business owner who’s in the retail space, like a clothing store, a coffee shop, or a restaurant, what online tools would you recommend they use to help market and promote their business?
A. Location-based services like Foursquare can be incredibly powerful if you create a compelling message and offer there. But I would go beyond the games and gimmicks, too. Build a useful local resource … maybe you pull together local event and fund-raiser calendars or information and send those notifications and links out via a blog, Twitter or your Facebook page. You’re helping the local community know what’s important and happening around them, not directly serving you, but building a usefulness feeling toward you from your audience.
Q. If you were working with a local small business owner who’s in the service industry, like a lawyer, realtor, or electrician, what online tools would you recommend they use to help market and promote their business?
A. Share your expertise, not your catalog. Just be a helpful resource for folks. Whether you’re providing some DIY tips on your blog, answering legal or real estate questions on Facebook as a resource for people or even providing some live chats around current events as they relate to your field, find something people want to know from someone with your education and training and provide that consistently. When you do, you build trust which leads to people coming to you when they want to buy.
A. If it solves a need, then it’s worth it. Miss Shirley’s restaurant in Baltimore has a great Sunday brunch — sometimes so good there’s a two-hour wait to get a table. So they have Sunday covered, but they wanted to drive more sales during the week. So they taught their customers about Foursquare with table tents, messaging, posters and the like. Told them to download the app, check in and try to become the “Mayor” of the restaurant. If they were the Mayor on Sunday, they got bumped to the front of the line and didn’t have to wait for a table. It gave the customers reason to come to the restaurant more times during the week and check-in, when they did, they ate lunch, etc. Over three months, they experienced an 18% increase in sales. The case study, though, is less about Foursquare and more about Miss Shirley’s solving a problem with a social channel.
Q. What’s your favorite example of a company running an online promotion that drove additional traffic to their physical store(s)?
A. Miss Shirley’s is awfully good.
Q. Is there a small business in your city that has done an interesting promotional campaign that’s noteworthy?
A. I’d still use Miss Shirley’s here. Louisville has some folks doing free appetizers, drink specials and discounts, but no one has blown me away here.
Q. What’s your favorite social media tool that a small business should use to promote themselves?
A. Great content. It’s not about the tools. It’s about the messages and content you create through them that makes people gravitate to you. No tool will save your business or drive more people to it. It’s about the messaging and the reason you give for people to want to buy from you.
Jason Falls is one of the leading thinkers, strategists and public speakers in the social media marketing, digital marketing and online communications industries. He is the author of the noted industry blog SocialMediaExplorer.com, a fixture at or near the top of the AdvertisingAge Power 150 Marketing Blogs list and is responsible for ExploringSocialMedia.com, a learning community for digital and social media marketing, online communications and technology. His first book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing, co-authored with Erik Deckers, was published in September 2011.