Online is becoming more and more important for local businesses and it will only continue to grow as a means to attract new customers and keep the ones a business already has.
Online is not just about individual businesses however, there is a collective advantage to improving the overall online presence and reputation of a group of businesses in a localised area.
Improving the online presence of the businesses in a local area will not only benefit those businesses but the community around them and will likely have many other benefits.
Local Chamber of Commerce are a great example of organisations that should be embracing the Online Presence of their constituent businesses. However, there are many other groups that can benefit from a stronger focus online.
When I talk about raising the collective online presence & reputation of a local community I mean things like:
- getting a large proportion of local businesses to be listed on major online services
- making sure their profiles are accurate and complete so they rank better
- ensuring profiles stand out more by including photos and videos
- managing reviews and trying to have reviews on as many sites as possible, trying to manage negative reviews
- ensure ratings are as high as possible
- ensure photos and videos are inviting and properly showcase each business.
1. Attract a bigger share of surrounding business to the area.
When people search online for a service or product they tend to get results for businesses close to them and quite often this spans out to include businesses in neighbouring areas. By creating a stronger presence for businesses in your area a bigger percentage of these consumers will choose businesses from your local area. This brings more business to your local businesses helping to create a stronger business environment locally for everyone.
2. Provide flow on business to other local businesses from people coming to the area.
When consumers visit businesses in your area they are likely to use other businesses in the area while they are there. This might be purchasing fuel, a magazine at the newsagent or lunch at a local restaurant. Even if they don’t patronage other businesses while they are there they may discover a business they will return to in the future.
3. Keep local consumers using local businesses.
When local consumers look online they are far more likely to find the product or service they are looking for from local businesses, this then stops them helping to build stronger business communities elsewhere.
4. Allow local business to better compete with national brands.
Local small businesses are not renowned for having great presences online, this is one of the reasons large national brands can outcompete local businesses because they have the ability to be seen online by consumers. By increasing the presence and especially the reputation of local businesses they are better able to compete with these national brands and give consumers more reasons to choose them.
5. Allow local residents to get better information and have more ways to interact with the businesses close to them.
With a strong online presence among local businesses the local community will have much better access to information about the businesses around them and will have more and easier ways to interact with those businesses. Local residents will have more reasons to stay with local businesses and more reasons to recommend them to other consumers. Some examples of this might be, making it easier to contact businesses, better information on when businesses are open, more information on their products and services, the ability to book online or see accurate menus, the ability to ask questions and get timely responses.
6. Better inform the community about local businesses’s events and deals.
Once the local community starts to trust the online presence of the businesses in their community and see it more as a reliable resource there will be a big opportunity to better inform consumers about events and deals that are local. There are many sites that allow events to be promoted online but very few small businesses take advantage of these services.
7. Build a stronger local business community.
A local business community with a focus on online reputation will organically support better businesses and build a strong base of local businesses, this will effect the community as a whole in many ways. As the combined reputation of an area increases the better businesses will thrive and the problem businesses will either have to improve or or will lose business.
8. Improve each business.
Each business that participates in the process will see an improvement in their ability to compete online and take advantage of consumers move to online when looking for businesses. Each business will also be better placed to take advantage of new opportunities online as they will now be better prepared to engage online and understand the process and benefits more.
Some practical examples of this would be:
- A person is looking for a place to host a family dinner and chooses a restaurant in your area over closer options because of the high rating, detailed information and inviting photos of the meals on urbanspoon.
- Someone looking for a doctor after hours chooses a medical centre in your area because they are open and have their opening hours clearly available.
- A family are looking for something to do on the weekend and a local event is well represented on event and things to do websites.
- A person is looking for a venue for a party on a venue website and decides on a local bar because all of their questions are answered due to their profiles being up to date and complete and other party hosters left great reviews.
- A mother wants to find a dance school for her daughter and chooses one in your area because of the great reviews .. she does the shopping locally while her daughter is in class.
- A tourist is using an iPhone app to find things to do around them, when they look at the map there are a lot more things to do in your local area because lots of relevant businesses have a profile, they choose to spend the day in your area.
- A local restaurant promotes the opening day of a new bike store on their facebook page and twitter feed, they help attract some people who are looking to buy a bike and some stop in for lunch.
If you are part of a local business group or chamber a focus on your collective online presence and reputation can benefit all members and your community at large. When next discussing strategy with your members including a plan to improve online presence and reputation would be a valuable addition to your agenda.
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