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Plant City Observer Thursday, Jun. 28, 2018 4 months ago

Creating a virtual community

Business owners gathered together on Tuesday to discuss how to use social media to boost sales and create a virtual following.
by: Breanne Williams Staff Writer

Utilizing online resources like social media and websites can launch a business to success. Local business owners gathered at Krazy Kup for the June Main Street Hot Coffee Topics meeting on Tuesday morning to discuss online tools to expand sales.

Without an online presence, it can be difficult to attract new customers to a brick-and-mortar store. Social media connects communities and allows potential shoppers to take a peek into what is offered at their hometown establishments.

Some in Plant City have zero online engagement, relying on their long-standing reputation to keep their doors open. Other have fully adopted the shift toward online marketing and do live events, giveaways, photos and more on their websites and social media accounts.

“The very first people you have to engage is our own community,” Yvonne Fry, owner of Fryed Egg Productions, said. “The goal is to get them to see your business, to see our downtown through fresh eyes.”

Part of this engagement comes with establishing a recognizable brand for your business. Loyalty is essential to developing a following. If customers feel like they know you and they know your business they are more likely to stop in than they would be if they were simply strolling by.

Making one’s website SEO (Search Engine Optimization) friendly, using words and phrasing to make it easy to find online, will help draw traffic to the site. Social media then comes into play to bridge the gap between businesses and visitors. Vicky Saunders, owner of Instagramers of Plant City, is in charge of multiple local businesses’ social accounts. She said they are most effective when the site is used to form a virtual community.

Consistency is key. If a business is going to create an online presence it is crucial they post three to five times a week.

“Look at the post’s insights as you go to figure out what time or format works best,” Saunders said. “Social media is forgiving for experimentation. Play around and figure out what schedule works best for your community and then stay consistent.”

Typically the best times to post are early in the morning, around noon and then around 5 p.m. This allows people to see your content immediately when they check before and after work and during their lunch breaks.

Researching what competitors and similar brands are doing is a great way to come up with innovative ideas to add your own spin on a successful tactic. It also isn’t necessary to have a presence on every site. If your business sells things that benefit predominately from photos, use Instagram. If you’re more geared toward customer service or customer interactions, consider Twitter. Facebook is a great middle ground and offers a mix of both text posts and photos/videos.

Videos are an often underrated medium. According to Locowise, a social media performance measurement company, videos have become the most effective way to reach audiences. The average video on Facebook in April 2017 reached 12.05% of the total page audience. Photos reached 11.63%, links reached 7.81% and status updates reached 4.56%.

Brick City Bricks has made live videos to display new LEGO collections, announce sales and show off special events. Jordan Williams runs Brick City Bricks’ social media and said, though he has no background in online marketing, he has quickly learned how to engage viewers.

Whenever people come into the store for special events take photos and post them to drive more views, follows shares on the site. Stay up to date on the algorithms for each respective site so you know the ideal ways to post to encounter the most views.

At the meeting, all those in attendance agreed Plant City was in the midst of a movement. Revitalization is at the forefront of business owners’ minds and they said using online marketing to increase the number of bodies walking through downtown and getting hooked on “Plant City’s culture” was crucial to continuing to help the city prosper.

They strategized on partnering together for events, offering discounts if customers go to each other’s businesses, using a unified hashtag so all local businesses can be easily found online and making sure their collective brands showcased the diverse and blossoming culture found in the strawberry town.

Social media is a virtual community so many successful businesses use the platform to share not only their own content but that of neighboring businesses, customers’ posts, news that is relatable to their industry and more.

Saunders said simple steps like making sure your posts are short and concise, having good art and interacting with people who visit your business can make a huge difference in establishing your brand. Keep social media neat and tight and send people to a website or blog for more information.

“There’s this analogy that using social media correctly is a lot like dating,” Saunders said. “Don’t just talk about yourself, relationships take time, don’t overdo it, don’t under-do it, be yourself, it’s OK to be funny sometimes and never be hateful or ‘diss’ on anyone. Make it a conversation, not a lecture and you’ll soon have great interactions with your community.”




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