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These online tools and social media initiatives championing small businesses could be the boost you’re looking for.
Last updated: 27 Nov 2020 5 min read
As the UK continues to feel the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, many small businesses are leaning more heavily on social media to engage customers and keep money coming in.
Major social and selling platforms have responded to this increased reliance by introducing handy features and initiatives that help small businesses make the most of their time online. Here are some new resources that could help give SMEs a boost.
Facebook has arguably been the busiest with its reaction to coronavirus, launching various SME support initiatives. The most notable is Shops, a service that allows users to display and sell products directly on the platform. Unlike 2016’s Marketplace introduction, which targeted individual Facebook users selling personal belongings, Shops is being aimed primarily at businesses. Useful features of the new tool include the ability to tag product listings in normal posts on both Facebook and Instagram and in-built customer service messaging.
Shops is free to use and is being rolled out to users in stages, so if you haven’t heard anything yet, look out for an email or page notification.
More from Facebook: Gift cards and grants
Less publicised are Facebook’s Small Business Grants and Gift Cards programmes.
For the former, the company pledged $100m (£86m) in cash and advertising credit to help its SME users stay strong and reach customers through the pandemic. It says that 30,000 businesses in 30 countries will be eligible for a share. To be considered, you must:
Lastly, Facebook has partnered with a handful of voucher platforms to allow business users to sell digital gift cards directly from their Pages – ideal for hospitality businesses that have had to close bricks-and-mortar premises. Once again, you can register with a chosen partner through the Facebook for Business website.
Instagram recently launched the Small Business Sticker – a virtual sticker that users can place in their Stories posts to shout out and share info on their favourite independent businesses.
Once someone uses the sticker and tags their chosen business in it, their post will be added to a shared Instagram story, where followers can see all their friends’ recommendations together. Adding the sticker also pulls through a preview of the business’s profile, so that viewers get a quick snapshot of what’s on offer.
“The key lesson we can learn here is that the tired excuse of ‘social media doesn't work for us’ is no longer valid – it’s vital for all businesses right now” Jamie Love, CEO, Monumental Marketing
This one’s down to your audience – the more they share, the more likely it is you’ll be seen, so be sure to publicise the feature to existing followers.
Shortly after lockdowns were implemented, Etsy announced that it would invest $5m (£4m) to “drive sustained business for sellers”. This has been spent mostly on allowing users to advertise their stores and products for free.
The company also introduced one-month grace periods for sellers who need extra time to pay their fees, and then launched the wider “Stand With Small” campaign. This campaign aims to highlight to consumers the importance of supporting independent traders, even as many are forced to keep their bricks-and-mortar stores closed.
How is it helping? The platform is working hard to champion small-business commerce by sharing sellers’ stories online, and encouraging its community to spread their own support using the #StandWithSmall hashtag. By using the hashtag in your own social media posts, you may be able to reach new customers who are eager to support businesses like yours.
At a time when in-person interaction is likely limited if not impossible for your business, it’s worth considering video content as a way to keep your audience connected with your brand.
For those that don’t have the tools or budget to make videos from scratch, YouTube has introduced Video Builder: a free tool that allows users to quickly build high-quality content from their own images, text and logos. You can also pair your visual content with music from YouTube’s own library, to create something engaging for new or existing customers.
Head to Google’s support pages and search ‘Video Builder’ to get started on your own video content.
“It is no surprise that social media usage has increased,” says Hollie Tudor-Smith, PR and marketing executive at Cardiff agency Dragonfly Creative. “With our everyday routines, work lives and social lives changing due to coronavirus, it’s become the number-one tool for communication and interaction. And while most major platforms are updating their features to help business users, it is a more competitive landscape than ever – so it’s vital that businesses optimise their social strategies.”
Tudor-Smith recommends starting with a formal plan that considers your target audience and their current situation carefully: “Think about what will be useful for your audience at this difficult moment – how can you or your products help?” she says.
Jamie Love, influencer and CEO of Monumental Marketing, adds to this by suggesting businesses consider how their online audience may have changed or shifted during the lockdown. “We’ve seen engagement and the general use of socials spike, creating unique opportunities for businesses to not only get creative but to thrive doing so,” he says. “What’s more, we’ve seen an increase in the adoption of digital platforms by older generations. The key lesson we can learn here is that the tired excuse of ‘social media doesn't work for us’ is no longer valid – it’s vital for all businesses right now.”
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