Just a few years ago, the landscape of doing business in North America experienced a radical shift with the arrival and explosive growth of the internet. Major corporations scrambled to establish a presence on the web, a trend which filtered down through the economy until every establishment, both large and small, had registered their very own ‘dot com’, and set up a homepage.
With a few notable exceptions, those sites were set up in a very static fashion, operating as a kind of digital business card, a pixelated yellow pages ad. Over the years however, many of those larger companies evolved along with web technology, and their sites became increasingly interactive spaces. Some offered direct ordering, allowed clients to maintain user accounts, or even chat with company representatives.
In more recent years, another shift has occurred in the online space – the social networking explosion. While most business owners are familiar with social giants such as Facebook and Twitter, they are only two big fish in an ocean of sites and services which provide end users with a wide array of inter-linked access to reviews, recommendations, interaction, and feedback.
But how does this impact the small-to-mid-sized business? Unfortunately, despite these tools emerging and taking over the recreational space, the business world has been slow to incorporate these into their business strategies, particularly the small business sector.
Many such organizations still view their online presence as a tool to point people toward the telephone, despite growing evidence that end users, clients, and customers increasingly prefer to interact online. Convenience is perhaps becoming one of the primary driving factors in this shift, and the primary benefit of upgrading your online presence to incorporate these components.
However, what we would like to highlight is the relationship benefit of developing a social and interactive online front to your business. Providing product and service updates to your target demographic through their social feeds can foster a sense of your companies’ continued presence in their daily life. The relationship becomes less “business” and more personal.
Allowing an increasing level of access via an online customer portal reinforces trust, particularly if customers are able to track their own orders and agreements and open tickets for issues they may be having. The greater the access level, the greater the trust, and sense of control.
Twitter becomes a great tool for getting information out to a large number of people who may or may not be on a mailing list, and sites like Yelp! provide great feedback on customer experiences, as well as cached reviews on Google Maps from around the web. These and other tools also have great potential when used internally, fostering a similar trust, convenience, and sense of transparency.
While there are a myriad of services and options available out there, the most important thing is to simply avoid the trap of maintaining the static page. As tempting as it may be to design a site and then forget about it, consider revamping your companies’ approach to the online space.
Rather than greeting potential online customers with a glorified advertisement, invite them in, get their names, and make it easy for them find what they need. Who knows? You may find them coming back.