Is your business ?invisible? online?

Being online offers unprecedented potential for growth, which can be exploited by businesses of all sizes.

Widespread accessibility to the internet has created a huge number of opportunities for businesses to promote themselves. The flip side is that those not online are really missing out, as increasing numbers of customers are logging on to find, compare and assess businesses before they commit to a purchase.

Some small businesses often make the mistake of thinking that they are ?too small? to justify creating a website or actively engage in social media. This shouldn?t be the case; in fact social media can act as a great leveller, allowing your business to compete favourably against larger, corporate businesses that require dedicated marketing departments. 

All businesses have much to gain from being online ? they can reach a wider audience, draw in new customers and grow customer loyalty ? but what?s particularly crucial for small businesses is that they?re not ?invisible? online. We?re at a point where customers almost expect a business to have a website or social media presence they can find quickly and easily, meaning they are less likely to engage with those who don?t.

Some firms are, in fact, switching on to the need for having a strong digital presence and making tentative steps into the space. However, even those using the platforms already aren?t necessarily exploiting them as effectively as they could. Working with the IOD, we recently found that seven in ten small businesses update their website less than once a month, and almost half still don?t have a Facebook or Twitter presence.

What?s very clear is that they appreciate just how important it is to get noticed online. But while it?s one thing to be online, it?s another to get noticed online. Recent research we conducted actually found that 99 per cent thought that social media could benefit their business. The problem is that some business owners aren?t investing enough time or simply don?t know where to get started.

Take Twitter, for example. Twitter is a great place to get started as it?s low cost and doesn?t require any complex skills in website creation or maintenance. Twitter?s own research has shown that 72 per cent of customers who follow or interact with a small business on Twitter are more likely to make a purchase from those businesses in the future. 

What?s more, over a third of customers interacted with a small business after seeing an ad with their Twitter handle advertised, and a third also said they were more likely to visit a firm after seeing a promoted tweet from them. Obviously this demonstrates how important Twitter is as a marketing tool, but it highlights how anyone who isn?t using it could be ?invisible? to prospective customers.

The research also shows that perhaps all businesses have something to learn: even if you currently have a website and social media presence, it?s worth thinking about what you could do differently. Could you update your content on a more regular basis? Could you use it to offer discounts or limited-time promotions? Essentially: what can you do to engage your customers more and keep your business front-of-mind?

Increasingly, a business?s online presence is effectively its shop window and it plays a key role in driving customers to use your services. Businesses that aren?t online could be completely passed over by tech-savvy customers who are. So, take some steps to get online and give your existing and future customers compelling reasons to come back.

Paul Lawton is head of Small Business at O2.

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