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For local businesses, social media is the digital version of word-of-mouth – but much bigger! It’s not just about being ‘friends’ with people: customers who use social media are just as likely to follow a business as one of their friends on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. In a study from 2014, Kentico found that over half of all Facebook users ‘like’ business pages, often to show their support for the business or get exclusive offers. Using social media as a business gives you access to thousands of potential customers who are eager to find out about offers, useful information and new products.

Like any of your marketing, how you talk or act on social media reflects on your business. Done in the right way, it can help you form relationships with your customers which go far beyond sales, making sure they keep returning to your business (not a competitor’s) and recommending it to other people.

Research shows how important these relationships are: 90% of customers said they would trust a social media recommendation from a friend, and just under 70% of customers are likely to buy a product or service after reading a positive review online (Socialee Media, 2015). Social media works in the same way as word-of-mouth marketing, so it’s important what you put out on social channels shows your business in the best way.

Although the similarity to word-of-mouth marketing and the positive buzz it creates are two great reasons for a local business to use social media, there are many others.

Hear what people are saying about you

Imagine that you could eavesdrop on any conversation about your business in your local area – that’s exactly what you can do on social media. You can search for your business name on different social media platforms and find out what people are saying about you, positive and negative. You can also research competitors to see what customers are saying about them – and where you could gain an advantage.

Get involved in your community

You can also get involved with the local area in new ways, which is ideal for local businesses and shows you’re a key part of the community. Supporting other local businesses on social media, or offering help and advice, is just the same as doing a favour for your neighbour and will result in the same mutual respect and positive feelings. It will keep your business in people’s minds, so that next time they need your services or are asked for a recommendation, you’ll be the first business they think of.

Manage negative feedback

People use social media to share how they’re feeling – whether that’s happy, or sad. If your followers are unhappy, social media can help you see and manage their feedback. But it’s also a public forum where others can see that feedback too, so it’s important to respond as soon as possible with something that results in a positive outcome and a happy customer. Left unchecked, a disgruntled customer will just go somewhere else to complain and you’ll have missed an opportunity to show good customer service skills.

Dealt with the right way, you might find that the way you handle negative feedback helps you gain even more fans. Remember, you’ll also receive lots of positive feedback, and it’s just as important to take time to respond to and thank these customers too.

Let people know about your business (and you)

Social media is a much more relaxed means of communication between you and your followers, as opposed to something like a letter, and therefore your style and tone can also reflect this. This makes it the perfect place to talk about you and your business in a personal way. Share your excitement about a new product, show your personality through updates about hobbies and interests, and let your customers know how you’re celebrating seasonal events. Social media is a conversation – so find people you’re interested in and talk to them just as you’d start chatting in a café.

For local businesses, social media is a natural next step: you’ve built your reputation on word-of-mouth recommendations, so why not approach a larger audience with a similar technique? Start by exploring popular social channels like Facebook and Twitter (which you can do without signing up) and see what your customers are saying.

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