By Sean Berg, Shift4
If a business wants to be successful in today’s digital era, an online presence is just as significant as its physical location. Some may even say that we have reached a tipping point and a business’ web presence is more important than your physical locale. If you find that statement hard to believe, here are a few statistics about local searches that might make a believer out of you:
- 46 percent of all Google searches are local
- 84 percent of consumers who conducted a local search visited a store within a day
- 78 percent of local mobile searches result in an offline purchase
These stats make it genuinely clear that as a local business, your online presence matters — and it matters in a big way. Resellers can help clients grow their businesses and simultaneously deepen their relationships by guiding them in the use of these digital tools and explaining why they matter.
Let us take a look at how to improve an online presence so more customers can find your customer’s business.
What Does An Online Presence Mean?
Before we can talk about ways to manage an online presence, first, we need to define it. An online presence is the sum of all identities that an individual or a company creates that are found via an internet search.
A web presence can be something as simple as a name on a list of an online directory. It can be social media accounts, a business website, or a third-party medium, such as a customer review platform like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or Consumer Affairs. Collectively, all these digital impressions are known as an online presence.
Why Is An Online Presence Important?
Retaining customers, gaining new ones, and maintaining a strong business reputation require a stronger presence than ever before. Twenty years ago, social media did not exist, and a website was a nice-to-have. Today, with 9 out of 10 American adults using the internet according to a 2018 Pew Research Center Study, an online presence has become a minimum for maintaining current customers and winning new business.
Not only is an online presence a way for more customers to locate a business, but it also helps to build relationships, consumer trust, and brand identity. Imagine a business without their signage out front, with closed doors and windows, and a neglected road out front. The average customer would assume it was no longer in business or was going out of business. Think of an online presence as the digital storefront and make sure it is welcoming and looks open for business.
If a business is not actively involved in social media and keeping its online presence up-to-date, that establishment is losing business without even noticing. For example, say you are out to lunch at a Thai restaurant. The food, service, atmosphere, and experience are impeccable, and you would like to return to that establishment. At home a few weeks later, you decide to order Thai food from that restaurant.
- You search for the restaurant online to place your order.
- The restaurant’s outdated website has no menu and no way to order online, so you decide to check if they have a seat available.
- You find the business’ phone number to place your order, but the phone number is no longer in service.
- Continuing your internet search, you find no information about a new phone number, the restaurant’s hours of operation, or anything else relevant to contacting the business.
This is no different than placing a cardboard sign in the window that reads “closed.” Because the restaurant was unable to provide basic, convenient, relevant information, it lost business to a competitor that could provide it. By having an updated website, social media account, Google presence, or a combination of online tools, customers — old, new, and potential — have a way to identify a business. These internet tools also ensure customers know what goods and services they are getting and how and when they will receive them.
Improving An Online Presence
These days, there is no better or more cost-effective way to reach customers than through social media. Today, at least 70 percent of the U.S. population has a profile on at least one social networking site, and that number will continue to grow in the coming years.
For starters, Facebook continues to be the most widely used social platform, with 68 percent usage among U.S. adults. If for no other reason than market share dominance, you will want to join the other 50 million small businesses and create a Facebook business page for your company.
Moving beyond Facebook, the business owner should identify any additional social media avenues that make sense for the business’ industry and target market. Search engines, a website, and social media are not the only places consumers go to find a business or learn more. Yelp, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and Merchant Circle are directories for local businesses, while online platforms such as Angie’s List and Thumbtack focus on service-related businesses. Start by listing the business name, phone number, and address on some of the bigger, more-generalized platforms and work downward to the more niche sites.
The great thing about online directories is they help increase web presence, and if backlinks are included to a business’ website from those profiles, which is highly recommended, this will also help search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.
Social Media And Reputation Management
In today’s digital age, consumer reviews are more significant than ever before. With 92 percent of consumers reading online reviews, making sure customers find positive feedback about a business is imperative. Many social media avenues have the ability for customers to provide ratings, reviews, and feedback for establishments. On Yelp, ratings range from one star on the low end to five stars on the high end. With online reviews, reputation becomes simple math. The more four- or five-star reviews received, the better chances your client will have of customers finding positive content about them. However, the inherent downfall with customer reviews is that consumers that have negative experiences are more likely to write a review than those who had a positive experience. This significant imbalance means the cards are already stacked against your client in this regard, but it does not mean they are down for the count.
On the surface, negative reviews are perceived as a bad reflection on the business. However, if business owners dig a little deeper, it is actually an opportunity to engage with customers and turn a negative experience into a positive one. If business owners come across a negative review, the first thing to do is acknowledge it. Respond to the review and let the customer know the business is sorry for their bad experience and would like a chance to make it right. Even if the customer does not change their rating or give a chance to fix the problem, other reviewers will see the attempt to remedy the problem, and that can go a long way.
Another way to offset negative reviews is to ask customers or incentivize them to leave positive reviews. If a customer genuinely seems to have a good experience, business owners send them an email asking them to write a review and include a link to the review platform where to leave the review. If they do not respond to the email and fail to leave a review, try an incentive like a free month of service. This extra motivation might be the little push they needed to type a few kind words about your client.
Managing An Online Presence
Signing up for appropriate and necessary internet and social media platforms is step one. Business owners should make sure their entity is known on as many social media and internet platforms as possible. Every outlet can be seen as a road; three roads to a storefront is great, but eight roads to it will provide much more traffic. Further, it is essential that every social media platform linked to the business is well maintained. Much like a road filled with potholes is avoided by cars, so are social media outlets that do not provide the correct and necessary information about a business.
Finding efficient and meaningful ways to monitor and manage social media and internet presences is the next challenge. Unfortunately, many businesses do not have the resources to dedicate a department, or even a single person, to digital, internet, and social media initiatives. Generally, business owners have to add this responsibility to their already long list of tasks. They should not try to perform these tasks manually.
There is an abundance of tools available, such as Shift4's Lighthouse BMS, that put Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and various social media platforms into one dashboard. These tools allow users to manage attached social media accounts in unison or independently, automate messages, and track engagement. For example, if a pizzeria chose a social media coupon campaign, it would be able to actively monitor every metric of the initiative. These tools and services also come with training and support, so end users are not forced into learning a new world and the skills necessary to operate within it by themselves.
When managing social media, it is important to prioritize responses to one-star reviews. Your clients need to ensure whatever tool they use sorts these reviews into a list that is simple to address immediately. Notifications by text or email when these occur are also very valuable. Once your client has addressed one- and two-star reviews, having all five-star reviews in one place so they can thank them for their service should be available next. At this point, simple tools to post to any or all online platforms at once allow your clients to provide daily updates and create an active community. For businesses that are not yet taking advantage of Shift4’s platform, there are simpler platforms, such as Buffer or HubSpot, that can help streamline their social media efforts.
The Final Word
Online interactions with customers should be no different than if the conversations were to happen in a store. Customers should feel appreciated and that the business is grateful for the opportunity to serve them. Customers should also feel welcome to engage at any time and know the business cares about their concerns. When all else fails, remember, “the customer is always right” still applies during online interactions. Resellers have the unique opportunity to help businesses realize social media opens new windows of opportunity for sales growth and revenue generation, and these new initiatives are as, if not more, important than the signage at the front of the business.
About The Author
Sean Berg has spent the last decade seeking knowledge from highly successful industry experts and sharing this understanding for community betterment. His technology career began as a networking and software consultant for businesses prior to joining Harbortouch (2010). In Harbortouch's early years, Mr. Berg managed the support and operations teams. These positions provided perspective into the technical challenges business owners faced. However, these roles did not offer an outlet for understanding the industry's sales community. Sensing this disconnect, Mr. Berg sought feedback from several sales offices on how to better optimize their experience. He found a community that was hungry to learn and happy to reciprocate with their knowledge and experience. Over the years, this led to his curent role as Shift4 Payments' (Harbortouch's parent company) Director of Education, where he is thrilled to share his experiences with thousands of sales partners, technicians, and staff.
About Shift4 Payments
Shift4 Payments is the leader in secure payment processing solutions, powering the top point-of-sale and software providers across numerous verticals, including Food & Beverage, Hospitality, Lodging, Gaming, Retail, and e-Commerce. This includes the company’s Harbortouch, Restaurant Manager, POSitouch, and Future POS brands as well as over 300 additional software integrations in virtually every industry. With eight offices across the U.S. and Europe, 7,000 sales partners, and three state-of-the-art data centers, the company securely processes over 1 billion transactions annually for nearly 200,000 businesses, representing over $100 billion in payments each year. For additional information, visit www.shift4.com.