As I’m writing this, we’re currently in a worldwide pandemic that has had a huge impact on the world and its economy. Businesses have had to change and adapt to a shopping climate that suddenly looks way different than it did a year ago. For local businesses, digital media and marketing has never been more important, so I’d like to spend some time today looking at how local businesses can use their social media platforms during an uncertain time.

One thing I’ve noticed in the wake of the pandemic is that people have moved to digital spaces to form connections and adapt to this new normal. We’re more willing to be flexible and try new things, and there’s a general sense that nobody has anything entirely figured out. Think about restaurants adapting to a delivery-first culture, or suddenly needing to implement curbside pickup. Consumers are hesitant in the face of all these changes, but they’re remarkably willing to try, which is a special and unique economic climate.

In light of all those huge influences on consumer behavior, we see that social media is a really good way to reach these consumers. Your customers digitally active, looking for new ways of getting information and resources, and eager to support struggling local businesses. This is a great opportunity for you to grow and improve your digital footprint.

1. Start with Your Differentiator

The most important part of your business is what we call your Three W’s in the Savvy Social School.

  • What do you sell?
  • Who is it for?
  • Why does it matter?

For social media purposes, this boils down to: what’s different for your business and why should people care? If you’re a local accountant, what makes your business different from the H&R Block on the corner?

I was working with a local butcher shop here in Fort Erie, and we were able to pinpoint that their value proposition was that they had won tons of awards, they cared deeply about their clients, and that they could provide the best quality meats to a community that suddenly found itself not going out to eat the way they used to. That value statement had a lot of impact and clearly showed what the shop brings to the table; it’s a lot more than “we sell meat.”

Know your W’s and start with your value.

2. How can you connect to your local community?

When I ask that, I think a lot of you might think about sponsoring a little league game or putting an ad in a diner, but when it comes to social media, connection is really about learning to speak the local language. What are your customers looking for? What do they want you to say? That’s the thing that you need to post.

Connecting with your audience will look different for everyone, and it can honestly be very simple. There’s a local restaurant here that posts a daily Facebook post with the specials. Couldn’t be simpler, right? It might even seem like it would get overly repetitive, but that’s the genius of it: what her local community wants to know is when their favorite burger is back on the menu, and they don’t mind getting the same type of content (a menu update) every day if it adds value to their lives. It’s local, it’s relevant, and highlights what you’re offering.

3. Don’t worry about repeating yourself

One thing I love about working with local businesses is that they’re passionate, hardworking people who want to do a good job. So sometimes it confuses them when I tell them that it’s a good thing that they feel like they’re repeating themselves a lot.

Social media timelines move fast and attention spans are short, so if your business has something like a brunch special every weekend, don’t be shy about posting it every weekend. And in this pandemic culture, you seriously can’t post about your hours and availability too much. Information moves at break-neck speeds these days, so reassuring your audience with the most current information will make them more confident. Plus, only a small portion of your followers will see each post, so if you’re worried they’re going to be annoyed, don’t be.

4. Attracting new customers looks different these days

Digital networking is a lot different than in-person networking, but during these socially distanced times, it’s a great way to represent your business in the community.

Join local Facebook groups and engage with your neighbors and customers. If you’re publicly known as the ‘face” of your business, you can just log in on your regular account, but if not, you can join Facebook groups using your business Facebook page. As an example, if your local community center posted about an upcoming event, you could represent your business by leaving a comment about how excited your business is for the town.

What I like about this tactic is that all it costs you is time. I recommend spending between 10 and 20 minutes a day connecting online with your local community. Some of my students at the Savvy Social School spend more time when they get going; it’s a really fun way to stay in touch.

5. Consider paid advertising

If you want a more advanced tactic that doesn’t require as much day-to-day effort, paid advertising works really well for local businesses.

Because digital ad platforms can target by location with such accuracy, you can put in your target zip or postal codes and show your ads only to people who are local. This means your ad is a lot more efficient and costs a lot less than someone marketing to a bigger area.

My husband is a real estate agent, and because he’s taking out ads in the local area only, his costs are much lower than mine, since I’m marketing to people across North America as a whole. There are tons of great resources available to help you get up and running, so don’t be daunted at the thought of taking out paid ads if you’ve never done it before.

To sum it up, there’s never been a better time for local businesses to start social media advertising. In today’s uncertain climate, social media helps you stress your differentiators, connect with your community, and communicate important information about your business.