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Coronavirus and Small Business Marketing: 6 Ways to Do It Well

16.03.2020
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The coronavirus pandemic has launched businesses across Europe into a situation that’s largely unprecedented (to this generation at least). Lockdowns across the continent – and the world – are already having huge effects within the travel and airline industries, whilst the uncertainty and disruption to everyday life in the UK brings its own challenges.

But how should you manage this situation when it comes to the online marketing platforms you use for your small business? I’ve seen a whole range of online responses to the pandemic from businesses of all sizes – some fantastic and thoughtful, and others substantially less so.

Here’s a few tips for how to manage your online response to the crisis:

1. Maintain communication and transparency

If your normal business services or activities are affected, or likely to be affected, by the virus – keep in touch with your customers to let them know what to expect. No-one can predict quite what will happen in the coming days, weeks and months – but social media gives us a fantastic opportunity as SMEs to keep people up-to-date in the moment, both with what’s currently going on as normal and any changes we’re making in the near future.

One of the big challenges, particularly with supermarkets, has been overcoming the stock issues caused by panic buying. If you’ve got something sought-after in stock, then let people know – they’ll be glad to not have to trawl around every shop to find it. Equally if you’re out of stock on particular items, you can save shoppers the disappointment (and your staff the challenges of dealing with frustrated customers) and let them know before they come in. Keep an eye on your competitors – they might be out of stock on items you can still offer to customers.

Whether it’s an update on social media or your website, try to keep the language and information as obvious and easy to understand as you can. Some of the less-great examples I’ve seen were businesses who weren’t upfront in their statements and referred viewers to a policy to read. Linking to a relevant policy is fine if it’s really required – or a useful ‘extra’ – but try to pull out the necessary information and word it in a friendly format as part of your initial statement too. This benefits both readers who are short on time and those put off by the more formal writing style of a policy.

2. Update opening hours and information on relevant platforms

Alongside social media updates, try to make any relevant information easily accessible to your customers. Google My Business is prompting business owners to alter their opening hours information if it’s changed due to the virus – allowing customers to quickly find accurate information. You might consider adding a page to your website to act as a hub for information, such as changes to business activities or to answer FAQs from your customers. Social media ‘about’ sections, such as the twitter bio, can also be used to quickly direct your audience to updates – whether it’s a short bit of information in the bio itself or a link to the relevant page of your website.

3. Review any scheduled content

Scheduling – both for social media posts and blogs – is a tactic used by many companies in order to batch-process work. It saves time and helps to ensure a consistent presence online. The downside is that the posts will go on appearing unless you pause them – and with things changing so quickly, posts written a few days or weeks ago may appear tone-deaf.
Look at your feeds and consider whether you need to pause any of your content because it’s badly timed or no longer correct. If you’re looking for something to replace it with, aim to share content that’s positive or helpful – people’s feeds are full of doom-and-gloom at the moment, so see if you can put something in there to brighten things up.

4. Provide increased customer service online if you can

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With plenty of confusion and fast-paced changes going on, it’s likely your customers will have questions about how services are affected. You might find that you’re getting more online queries than usual – and all these people will be expecting a quick and effective response.

There are a few options here. If you’ve got the staff capacity to offer increased levels of customer service online, do it. If you’ve got a smaller team (or it’s just you!) consider setting a friendly auto-responder to social media messages, which links to relevant information, such as the webpage ‘hub’ suggested in tip 2, along with an idea of when the customer can expect a personal reply from you.

5. Adapt your offerings if you’re able

One of the benefits of being a small business is the flexibility and speed with which you can change things. Without a whole host of external stakeholders to get approval from, there’s a possibility to quickly ‘pivot’ to match demand.

Times are, of course, looking incredibly hard for small businesses. But depending on what your business does, you may find ways to alter your offerings in order to better meet customer needs at the moment.

Some examples I’ve seen include a small independent shop offering deliveries to elderly, vulnerable or ill customers, and a hotel restaurant in locked-down Italy switching to offering its menu as a takeaway service.

There may also be opportunities to take aspects of your business online or alter how you deliver services to reduce face-to-face contact.

6. Wherever you can – do good.

The current difficulties going on in the world give us a great opportunity to ‘do good’ in our communities. There have been notable examples of big gestures across large companies – such as those offering free access to online teaching platforms for schools, or remote access for teams. These gestures may win companies long-term customers – or they may just create a positive brand association – either are a great outcome for the company, but equally what they’re offering is of great value to business and school communities in a time of need.

As a small business, particularly with concerns about the impact on incomes and sustainability, you may not be able to do something this big. But there are small things you can do to give something back to your community.

I’ve seen some great examples – from teachers offering online advice and support to pupils other than their own, through to companies posting advice on a range of related subjects such as mental health, managing isolation with kids and video conferencing. A personal favourite is Sport Planet Gym in Urbana, Northern Italy, who have been creating and posting daily workout videos for their clients to complete from home whilst in lockdown. There are many more businesses just like these providing great value and support for their customers during current challenges – is yours going to be one of them?

What have you thought of the marketing you’ve seen during this period? I’ve love to see some examples of the marketing you’ve loved – and maybe that you haven’t! – you can send any ideas via twitter or LinkedIn!

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Hannah Wade

Founder of HeyYou! Digital. Avid drinker of tea.

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