I am not here to write paragraphs or prose about the current state of digital marketing during a global pandemic. Coronavirus is real, stay home and wash your hands, nothing is as important as your health.
However, if you are looking for some easy, fast, free ways to help keep your customers informed the tips below are what SMB's on the cutting edge are updating as a part of their digital quarantine. There are a few things that you should do on Facebook and Google to make sure your customers are in the know of what is going on.
Update your Google My Business
Hopefully you (or your agency) have access and have claimed your Google my Business (in the biz we call it GMB). This is one of the easiest but most important steps for you to take and during a quarantine or shelter in place situation these updates can help you keep your customers informed and engaged. After quarantining these tips will help you be on the cutting edge of local search.
- Update Hours Regularly - It doesn't matter as much what your hours are or how often you change them as much as it does that a customer knows what to expect. Especially if you have a physical location that is still open in some capacity it's important that your customers know when you are open. It's also good to update your hours to closed if you've been mandated to close which will put a banner on your GMB and let your customers know. You can also include when you will reopen in your update as well.
- Update Your Photos to Include Products - GMB photos is still the wild west. My guess is that if I went to your GMB right now I would find the most random and poor-quality pictures. Probably some that you would be upset that your customers can see. Google aggregates this from the web and allows users to upload them as well. Now is a great time to update your GMB with some great photos of your products or services. This will allow your customers to see your products or before and after images of your services. This is something that isn't just great for quarantine this is a great best practice for eCommerce in general.
- Avoid Penalties While Making Updates - This is a crucial time to avoid getting your GMB suspended. There's a full list of what will get you suspended here (https://support.google.com/business/answer/3038177?hl=en). The most important things to avoid are:
- Using a URL that redirects to your website's URL, rather than the actual URL itself.
- If you're thinking of building a Coronavirus landing page don't put that page on your GMB as tempting as it might be!
- Trying to awkwardly add keywords into your business name field
- This is not the time to be opportunistic or try to keyword optimize any part of your GMB. Google is on high alert for scams during a crisis and will tend to suspend accounts and ask questions later if they are suspicious
- Having multiple local listings for the same business location
- You should ALWAYS keep an eye on your duplicates but especially during a crisis it's important that you have claimed your business and then claimed and merged
- Using any address for your business that isn't a physical storefront or office space where you meet with customers
- If your business has a physical location and you're able to provide some services at home during quarantine (if that is allowed) don't change your businesses physical address your GMB will get suspended
- Stay Informed - Be sure you keep up to date with Google's help center. They have a COVID-19 specific page that can be found here . They also have an entire GMB resource section you can find here.
Be Cautious About How You Use Social Media
Social media is a major source of information and misinformation in times of crisis like the one we're experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some social media considerations.
- Pause and Evaluate All Social Media - Stop publishing immediately and look at your content calendar. During a crisis social media is the number one source of misinformation try to be sure that you're not adding to the noise.
- Help Don't Sell - Now is not the time to focus on pushing out sales focused content. This will likely be poorly received at best and creates more noise in social media that doesn't add value during a time when most are looking for very specific information
- Update Your Listing Info - Many small businesses don't even realize that they have business listing info on Facebook. Facebook has the ability to showcase hours as well as pricing information, contact info, product categories, and a brief description. You may have set this up when you started your page and forgotten about it since then. Now is a great time to update it!
- Be Careful What You Share - We talked about misinformation and you don't want to be a part of them problem and cause more confusion. My recommendation is not to share anything that doesn't come from a reliable source (CDC, WHO, etc.). When posting about your business only post necessary information about operations. If you're offering special services to support your customers during the crisis you can communicate those but be careful not to be opportunistic or appear predatory. Remember, help don't sell.
- Engage Your Customers - Even if you're not posting your customers are looking for information be sure that you are monitoring your pages during a crisis and responding if you are able. However, it's important that you don't try to answer questions you're not qualified to answer. If you're not a doctor and it doesn't come from the CDC, WHO, etc. DO NOT POST IT. Misinformation is the most dangerous thing we can spread now.
- Check to See if You Qualify For a Facebook Advertising Grant- Facebook is offering $100 million in grants to 30,000 small businesses around the world. That may not be much given the number of businesses they are targeting but during a global pandemic if you qualify it could help give your business just enough momentum to continue to grow. Make sure to sign up for updates.
These are stressful and trying times for all of us both personally and professionally. In a largely and increasingly digital world there's hope for savvy businesses. The tactics I've laid out here will not cure COVID-19, guarantee your business is successful, or even sell your products. You, the business owners still have to create value and differentiate your business. What these tips will do is make sure that you don't alienate your customers, that they can find you online, and that they know when, how, and why to do business with you.
Update: Google has release some new insights on ThinkWithGoogle that show how search behaviors have changed.
What I think is most interesting is that 85% of consumers still want to hear from brands and think that brands communicating is okay. I would highly suggest you think carefully about your message though. Now is not the time to sell products now is the time to solve problems.
Google also said that over 25% of Americans can't find the products they need. Ease of access is a new key way to differentiate you product or service. Simply being easy to find and do business with will go a LONG way right now.
Limited retail availability is also forcing trial of new brands for some consumers. 3 in 10 customers are being forced to buy a brand they don't normally buy. Again, if your product is available, high quality, and you make online, no-touch, and delivery as frictionless as possible you can actually grow your sales and retain some of the forced switchers post quarantine. If you've been slow to embrace digital transformation you're going to have to adapt quickly or you will likely continue to see your revenues drop even post quarantine because there will be a new consumer expectation of ease of access.
More than anything how you communicate with your customers is crucial right now and I highly suggest you adopt a model I have been using my entire career. HELP DON'T SELL. There are three components that Google talks about as well that support my mantra.
- Transparency is more important than ever. Now is not the time for elaborate offers with tons of fine print disclaimers. For example, be very careful and extra transparent if you plan to offer some sort of assistance connected to the purchase of your products. If you're making shields or face masks or anything really make sure that you clearly communicate that you will be using the funds from the sale of products to pay for making the supplies you are donating. Businesses cannot afford to be seen as predatory or opportunistic right now.
- Empathy must be your new brand. It's essential that you consider the full worldview of your customer right now. More so than ever before every purchase they make is not only interconnected but for many what they buy is a statement in what they believe in. Ask your customers what they need and find ways to solve problems. The businesses small or massive that survive and thrive this crisis will be those that solved problems instead of selling products. HELP DON'T SELL.
- Adapt or die. Now is a time of forced innovation. The good news is that a large portion of innovation is actually focused more about how a customer accesses or pays for your products. Some great considerations are flexible payments vendors like Bread or Paypal credit for larger purchases or to defer costs. Integrating those could help you continue to generate revenue. Ease of access and making things available virtually is obviously also a great pivot. If you can't deliver a service for a example a great idea is to teach your customer how to solve that problem or get the same result themselves. While this seems like a great way to put yourself out of business it's actually a great way to retain customers. Pulling back the curtain provides both transparency and a solve for a real problem that provides value. Most people won't change their own oil forever for example but right now you teaching them how could both help you sell an accessory and win a customer for life by HELPING NOT SELLING. 🙂