The Coronavirus pandemic has plunged the entire nation into an unprecedented situation, and small business owners are struggling to keep their customers informed during a situation that seems to change moment by moment.
With as fluid as everything is right now, there is a lot of bad information and rumors floating around out there. Every few minutes someone has a new announcement about whether a business is open or closed, or will be closing soon. As a business owner or manager, you are in the best position to provide accurate information. The challenge is getting the information out there in a way that makes it easy for people to find.
Brentwood Visual has been helping customers with digital marketing and communications for nearly two decades. In this article, we will highlight the techniques that we think are most effective and important to help your business survive - and even thrive - during this crisis.
Your website should be the authoritative source of information about the status of your business. Post a prominent statement on the homepage of your website, detailing your current hours of operation, modified business services, and precautions you are taking to protect staff and customers from COVID-19.
Keep in mind that not every visitor looks at the homepage. Many visitors will enter your website on other pages that they reach through search, so it's important to have current information available throughout the site. You can do this using a modal pop-up, or integrate a notice into the template section of your web page. These notices can link to the full statement on the homepage or news section.
Many customers will be using Google Maps or Google Search to check if your business is open.
Currently, Google does not offer a “temporarily closed” status for a business, although we are hoping that is coming soon. Your two best options are your hours of operation, and/or a Google post. Note that you need to have control of your Google Business listing as either an Owner or Manager to provide these updates.
UPDATE: Google has now added the option on the Info tab to mark your business as Temporarily Closed. You should only use this option if you are completely closed during the COVID-19 crisis. If you're still open with modified hours or services, update those through the posts or business description.
If your business is currently operating under modified or reduced hours of operation, update those through your Google Business listing. You can access the listing management tool at business.google.com.
Google also offers a feature called posts. A post will display on your business listing for two weeks. It is a great way to provide real-time updates. Be sure to let everyone know that up-to-date, authoritative information is available through your website. (Posts are great way to communicate information even when we're not in the middle of a crisis!) One minor drawback to posts is that they are not immediately available to mobile users unless they click to the news tab of your business listing, so the hours of operation can provide a clearer indication of whether you are open or not.
Information posted to Facebook is easily shareable and available to the community at large. And believe it or not, right now your customers are very interested in helping you get the word out.
Whenever you have a change in the status of your business operations, be sure to post it to the Facebook page after you have posted it to your website. Share that post into community groups and other online communities. Take advantage of Facebook's pinned post feature to lock your statement to the top of your page, saving users the trouble of having to scroll down and find it.
If your business offers a service that can help people get through these times, you might consider Facebook ads. Facebook ads are a low cost and highly effective way to spread your message beyond your existing circle of influence. Typically we see that ads created through the Facebook Ads platform work better than promoted posts, in addition to providing more robust setup and targeting options. You can access the ad platform at ads.facebook.com.
Email notifications are the most direct method to ensure that your existing customers get the word. Send out a copy of your statement through an email messaging service, and be sure to include that the information will be updated on your website as necessary.
Don't try to send out messages like this through your personal or business email account. Mass emails will almost certainly get flagged as spam, and can cause some providers to permanently terminate your email account. Instead, use a commercial mailing service such as Constant Contact or MailChimp. If you already have a list of subscribers, then you’re ready to go. If not, see if your business management software can export a list of email addresses that you can use.
For compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act, your email should include your full business name and physical address. If you plan to continue using this email list for future marketing, you’ll need to ask your recipients to opt-in to the list in order to remain compliant.
The times may be unprecedented, but the tools and techniques which allow you to communicate with your audience are not. The daily changes are presenting new challenges to business owners, but implementing consistent communications guided by a solid strategy will allow you to weather the storm.
As always, the team here at Brentwood Visual is available to help, regardless of whether you need advice or assistance with hands-on implementation.