marketing with social media

By Rieva Lesonsky

As a small business owner, you know that having a business website and a presence on social media are important to your business’s growth and success. But are you just giving lip service to that concept, or are your small business website and social media outreach really delivering what customers want? Sadly, most small business owners are falling short of consumers’ expectations, according to the latest Web.com Consumer and Small Business Perception Survey. As a result, these entrepreneurs are missing out on opportunities to increase their sales, create loyal customers and build lasting customer relationships.

The poll of consumers and small business decision-makers nationwide has good news and bad news for entrepreneurs. First, the good news: In general, consumers prefer to do business with small businesses than large ones, citing personal involvement, engagement and connection as important reasons to choose small businesses over larger brands. Consumers used words like “personal, intimate, human, face-to-face;” “customer-focused;” “reliable, there when you need them most;” and “local, close-by, convenient” to explain why they prefer small businesses.

Now, the bad news: While a whopping 83 percent of consumers say having a business website and using social media are important factors when they’re considering which businesses to patronize, only 34 percent say the small businesses they’re familiar with have a business website. Even worse, just 50 percent say the websites are meeting or exceeding their expectations.

Small business owners have a significant perception gap. Although nearly two-thirds said having a business website is important, just 41 percent actually had one. Of those, 61 percent rated their sites positively–but just 46 percent of consumers rate the websites of small businesses they’re familiar with positively.

If your website does deliver what customers want, there’s a lot to be gained. The study found more than half (58 percent) would be influenced to take positive actions if a small business delivers on their web/social media expectations. About 60 percent say they would be likely to visit the business’ website and social media to find out more about the business; recommend the business to family and friends; visit the physical store or office; and learn what other customers have to say about the business. About half say they would be likely to seriously consider the small business over larger companies or internet-based businesses; put the small business on their “short list” of favorites; and make a purchase.

So what do consumers want from your site and your social media presence? Consumers seek empowerment, engagement and relationships, while business owners tend to focus on transactions, awareness and marketing. This may be part of the problem.

If you want to build loyalty, grow sales and develop relationships with customers, make sure that your website and social media outreach aren’t solely focused on “what’s in it for you.”

  • Posting news about your business, alerts of sales and special offers are great ways to drive traffic and boost sales—but for long-term success, you also need to focus on posting content that’s not purely transactional.
  • Ask customers for their input on what your next menu item should be or what kinds of products they’d like to see in your store.
  • Encourage customers to share photos of themselves engaging with your business—using or wearing your products, eating at your restaurant or attending an event at your location.
  • Use your website and social media to survey customers and find out what they like, what they don’t like and what they want more of.
  • And remember, always be responsive when customers like, post or comment on your social media sites.

You can read more data from the Web.com survey and check out their infographic here. (Disclosure: Web.com is a client of my company.)