by Bob Maples
Across the country, local businesses are struggling to reach new customers with traditional local marketing.
The view on the ground is grim. Local newspapers are floundering and closing. Customers are ignoring classified advertising. Free business directories lie bleached and molding on a million suburban lawns from California to Connecticut.
Online, however, it’s a different story. Online, customers are doing more than paying attention; they’re actively looking for local businesses. Let’s look at the figures:
- 50 percent of mobile searches are now local, says Google.
- 51 percent of adults look online for information about restaurants, bars and clubs, says Pew.
- 73 percent of smartphone owners use them to locate stores, says Nielsen.
The challenge isn’t the customers. The challenge is that local businesses are struggling to connect with customers. A city, chamber of commerce, or a community needs to help their local businesses of all sizes connect with customers through an integrated set of the most important local, viral marketing channels: social media, e-mail marketing, local listings, search engines, PR and content marketing. A city can be a valuable resource if it steps up and provides effective strategies and tactics for connecting businesses with local customers looking for products or services. This can be achieved easily when a city engages a few online viral marketing experts to provide tips and advice with a few case studies on how other businesses have engaged with viral marketing. Civic 180, a non-profit council that guarantees a 180 degree change in business communities, provides a powerful viral marketing program for cities to take their communities out of the Yellow Pages and into the powerful Internet world.
Local viral marketing isn’t just about search. Customers also turn to social media to find out about nearby businesses.
People trust word-of-mouth and recommendations from family and friends, which makes social networks and review sites incredibly valuable to the community and to a business’ marketing efforts. Desktop and mobile accessible apps like Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp! and Pinterest allow customers to quickly see what their social connections and other customers have to say about a business. This makes them incredibly valuable.
Like tiny waves spreading ever farther from a single pebble dropped into a pond, a carefully designed viral marketing strategy ripples outward extremely rapidly. An effective viral marketing strategy will include:
- Give a way products or services;
- Provide for effortless transfer to others;
- Scale easily from small to very large;
- Exploit common motivations and behaviors;
- Utilize existing communication networks;
- Take advantage of others’ resources.
Some viral marketing campaigns work better than others. Below are a few basic elements you should include in a local business viral marketing campaign. A viral marketing program need not contain all these elements, but the more elements it embraces, the more powerful the results are likely to be. An effective viral marketing campaign may include, but not limited to:
Yelp!: Online review sites like Yelp! and TripAdvisor are crucial for location-based businesses. “Claim” your business profiles on these sites to verify your information and be responsive. Try to respond to every new review within 24 hours. Thank customers for their business and attempt to remedy any negative experiences that customers share. This encourages repeat business and shows how much you value each customer.
- Facebook: A new Graph Search feature allows customers to search for businesses according to both location and friends’ recommendations. For example, “Restaurants in Irvine my friends have been to” or “Bike shops in San Juan Capistrano my friends like.” Search results are based on how many people within a searcher’s social graph already “like” your business, as well as how much engagement your posts generate. Cultivate your fan base with engaging content to help search results. Keep your brand page on Facebook updated with relevant information and categorized correctly. Are you an architecture firm? Restaurant or landscaping business? Specify it.
- Foursquare: This allows customers to find, check into and rate local businesses. Keep Foursquare users engaged by sharing offers and tips that they can amplify with their network. Try different offers on different days, occasions and for “milestone” check-ins to keep customers coming back. Offer rewards for the most checked-in “mayor” of your business and consider soliciting feedback from your most loyal patrons.
- Pinterest: This is a social bookmarking site where users collect and share photos of their favorite events, interests and hobbies. One of the fastest growing social networks online, Pinterest is the third largest such network behind only Facebook and Twitter.
Social channels can drive significant new business for location-based businesses. Be present, active and responsive on these networks to grow your fans, customer base and your bottomline.
Crafting a successful viral marketing campaign for a business is more difficult that it looks. It requires careful planning, strategy and research. Viral marketing campaigns are the most effective method of combining all of the powerful Internet resources available today such as:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO): This includes Meta-Tags, Titles, Text, Keyword Density, Image Alt-Tags and more.
- Search Engine Marketing (SEM): Every business should proactively submit their website sitemap to major search engines like Google, Yahoo!, Bing and others every two weeks.
- Local Directory Marketing: There are over 25 major local directories a business should place their company information, complete with contact information, hours of operation, map and directions, products, services, photos, videos and much more.
- Local Coupons: Every business loves to run promotions and promotions need visibility to succeed – a city, chamber of commerce or community should invest to help their members succeed by making it easy to share every businesses’ promotion through the most popular and highly visited coupon marketplaces on the web.