Businesses trying to reach a local audience on the ’Net often turn to social networks, and for good reason.
Social networks offer unique tools that when leveraged properly, can help small and big businesses alike reach targeted audiences. Although Google+ is leading the pack when it comes to local tools for businesses (make sure to check out August’s feature story, “Local Biz in a Google World”), the rest of the socialsphere also offers plenty of features that can help local businesses succeed on the Web.
To get started growing a local audience base on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, consider leveraging the following features:
First and foremost, it is important that businesses optimize their profiles to include their most important information, like description and location, as well as categories, hours of operation and contact information when possible. This is especially important on Facebook, as the social network’s Graph Search feature can be used to find businesses in specific categories and locations. For example, consumers can use Facebook’s search bar for queries like “pet stores nearby.” In this scenario, only the pet stores who have selected the local business and pet services categories, as well as included their address information, will be displayed in the search results.
Hashtags are a great tool for increasing visibility within the socialsphere, and businesses can leverage local hashtags to reach a more targeted audience. The challenge, however, can be finding local hashtags that are already being leveraged by customers. Typically, it is a safe bet to use city hashtags (e.g. #chicago), but businesses can also leverage tools like TagCandy, which helps marketers discover the best hashtags for promoting their businesses online. It is also important to note that hashtags are supported on most social networks, including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram, which means that this strategy can be implemented across social profiles.
On Google+, businesses can leverage Communities to connect with both niche and local audiences. On Facebook and Twitter, however, businesses can use Groups and Lists, respectively.
Facebook Groups, for instance, enables users to create a private space where members can connect by posting updates, sharing content or participating in polls. Groups can be kept secret, made public or reserved as “closed,” which means that all Facebook users can see the group, but only members have the ability to see posts within the group. For brands, creating a public or closed group enables them to interact with a smaller, more active audience. Moreover, brands can target local consumers by making the group specific for that customer segment, such as a “Local Customer” group or a “Get to Know Your Neighbor” group.
Twitter Lists, on the other hand, give users the ability to create a curated group of Twitter users. By viewing a list timeline, users will see a stream of tweets from only the users on the list. That said, Lists are quite different than both Google+ Communities and Facebook Groups, as users can only read tweets from a Twitter List and not interact directly with members of a list. Nonetheless, brands can use this feature to create lists of their local or most valuable consumers. In doing so, the brand will increase brand awareness with the members of its list, as well as have quicker access to those members’ tweets, which will make it easier to network with those people.
Facebook’s Graph Search feature makes it easy for consumers to search for local businesses, which is why it is important for merchants to optimize their business listings (as mentioned above). In addition to maintaining an optimized profile, however, merchants should also focus on growing their audience base and increasing engagement on the social network. This is because businesses with more fans and/or a high rate of check-ins are likely to rank better in the search results. For example, a business with a lot of likes is prone to show up for results when someone searches for “restaurants my friends like,” while a local pet supply store with a lot of check-ins is more likely to show up in results for “pet stores my friends have been to.”
Fortunately, there are a few ways that merchants can increase their fans and engagement levels on the social network. For starters, merchants can cross-promote their Facebook presence on other social networks or launch social contests, as both strategies can result in an increase of fans. Conversely, brick-and-mortar merchants can incentivize customers to check in to their venue by offering a discount to fans that check-in. For more tips on how to rank higher in Graph Search, check out Website Magazine’s 8 Steps to Higher Facebook Graph Search Rankings.
The most effective way to reach a local audience on Facebook and Twitter is through advertising. This is because both social networks enable users to target consumers based on a variety of things, including location.
With Facebook advertising, for instance, merchants can target audiences based not only on location, but also demographic data, interests, behaviors, connections and more. (Seen an example of “boosting” a post below.)
Plus, there are a variety of Facebook ad types, including Facebook Offers, which is ideal for local businesses. With Facebook Offers merchants can create and promote a special discount or sale that consumers can claim. Once an Offer is claimed, consumers can also choose to share the Offer with their friends, which increases the visibility of the promotion. It is also important to note that merchants can create a barcode for their Offer, which can be scanned and tracked in-stores.
Twitter advertising also enables merchants to target based on geography, as well as other factors like gender, language, device, interests and keywords. Although Twitter doesn’t offer as many ad formats as Facebook (yet), merchants do have the ability to promote their account, specific tweets or trending topics. In doing so, they can increase their visibility with local consumers, thus, obtaining more local followers in the process.
A version of this post originally appeared on the Website Magazine.
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