Being a small town business comes with more benefits than you might think. In small communities, local businesses are staffed by local residents, the relationship between supplier and consumer is more intimate, hours may be more flexible, and advertising is usually less expensive. These, on top of a myriad of others, are solid reasons why small town businesses can be some of the most unexpectedly successful. Up until a few years ago, most small town operations didn’t rely on an online presence or social media for any sort of marketing purposes. Even today, if you drive down the street of a small rural town, you might have a hard time finding a business if you enter it in Google or look for it on Facebook. The thing is, many of these businesses do just fine operating on a word-of-mouth marketing campaign or advertising in a local newspaper, so why would they expand to the high-maintenance world of internet marketing?
There are many reasons to get onboard and online when it comes to social media. While smaller communities may already have a deepened sense of trust within them, having an online presence helps expand this trust network and in a sense, show it off to any newcomers. Growth is inevitable in any residential area and businesses can only benefit from this if they approach it from the right direction. While word-of-mouth is an incredible asset to any company, being able present that good publicity on an easy to reach platform like Facebook through things like reviews and testimonials adds a layer of credibility to any business.
Furthermore, joining social networks doesn’t have to mean trying to cater to a huge new worldwide audience. In reality, small town businesses may not organically reach thousands of followers or page likes for a while, as they’re working within a geographically limited audience. Not to mention, a lot of people in neighbouring major cities will often source what they need from that city.
This, however, is where small towns can have cities beat: take a car dealership, for example. There is a universally understood cliche about the “sleazy car salesman” who will try to upsell you into the newest, fanciest, most expensive car, add on a ton of extra fees, rope you into high monthly payments, and have you driving off the lot in something that depreciates by almost 20% of its value within the first year of ownership. He’s a big-city hot-shot salesman. Now, expand your online car search to include a geographical radius of 100 kilometres. Up on your screen appears a “mom and pop” previously-owned vehicle shop whose Facebook reviews consist of rave after rave about the professionalism, the salesman who listened to your needs, the administrator who kindly arranged your low-rate financing, and the comfy customer lounge with a fireplace that made the whole experience way less intimidating and more enjoyable overall.
This is the kind of one-on-one encounter that a large city dealership just can’t offer.
This is the trust. This is the humanizing of business and genuine customer service that consumers are desperately seeking in an automated age. Without an online presence, without a platform for past and future customers alike to explore what you have to offer, not only are you passing up on potential business, but you’re also missing out on the chance to build relationships with an expanded network of people who will also provide good word-of-mouth. It is first about expanded reach, second about sales, and overall about keeping up with the times.
Another common misconception is that having a website and a Facebook/Instagram/Yelp/LinkedIn page means losing that small town charm, or selling out, or abandoning values. Of course, it does none of these things. That charm and those values easily translate online, and there’s no reason to think that being on the web means presenting a “modern” profile or website that in no way matches your business just because it’s what is aesthetically trendy everywhere else. Ideally, your social media profiles will accurately reflect what an in-store experience is like. Share online articles from the local newspaper. Publish a post about a town event that you recently attended. Discuss a community initiative that your business may be hosting. Post images of your store, or the food in your restaurant, or your smiling group of staff! Above all, maintain that authenticity!
The final point about social media for small businesses that is valuable to think about is advertising cost and return on investment. Business profiles on all the major platforms are free to set up and use. Furthermore, advertising on social media (Facebook, for example) is much cheaper than print media (like a local paper). While there is still value in print media for small towns (especially among older residents who may be patrons of your business but don’t have a social media presence), imagine exponentially expanding your reach for only a few extra dollars per week! Even if you build a Facebook business profile and don’t have that many followers, you can still use ads to target a large demographic of people who may not follow your page yet (that car-shopper for example).
At the end of the day, being a small business doesn’t have to mean having a small audience. Following the ebb and flow of social media will not only boost your appearance to your local following, but it will help you expand that following. Whether you’re trying to set up your online profiles as a DIY project or hiring a professional to do it for you, know that having a social media presence will only improve the overall impression of your small town business!