He sets to work, with sweeping pen strokes. In the center, he writes “message” and circles it. Next to that, he scratches two more bubbles, each overlapping the first: “website” and “blog.” He circles both of these, a sort of triad, the center of a company’s digital presence online. More circles and more labels, this time in a halo over the first: “search engine,” “Facebook,” “Twitter,” “email,” “Location/foursquare.”
“It blends with traditional marketing,” he explains.
The way the Schauers see it, a digital presence is a must for any business in 2011. But more than a stogy and stiff presence, it should be interactive, alive and dynamic, says the Vancouver couple, both 41, who started the business 1 1/2 years ago after creating and then selling two web-based businesses – one that hosted websites and another that helped bands connect with and market to fans.
With Digital Marketing Department, the Schauers are locally focused, helping area businesses with digital marketing and training. Training sessions, which help businesses build websites without a Web guru, run $997. A web audit is $900. Consulting to develop a website runs between $1,500 and $5,000.
The first time the Schauers sit down with a new client, they hone a business message. Once that’s solidified, everything else flows from it. A website can be crafted that delivers the message, with a blog that does the same. From there, it’s a matter of using online vehicles that further distribute the message and connect with customers. That could be via email, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare or a host of other social networking sites.
The key, according to the Schauers, is to develop the core message, have a presence that can be managed and then have spokes that reach out to whatever the “it” social networking sites of the moment happen to be. Once it was MySpace. These days, it’s Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. And who knows what it will be in a few months to a few years from now. But the website and blog are core components to deliver the message with spokes reaching out to other connection options.
In the Schauers eyes, the Internet is likely the first stop before a visit or telephone call, especially for those who have a think-local and buy-local bent. Not too long ago, only national chains popped up in web searches. Now, not only are local companies present in searches, but a map pops up along with them, showing exactly where businesses are located.
“A lot of businesses will get a website up and think, ‘Great! I’m done,’” says Kimberly.
But a website is just the beginning. That site needs to have a call to action, according to the Schauers, providing meaningful content and standing out from competition – all while engaging potential customers.
Some businesses fear creating and engaging in public forums (places like Facebook, Twitter, etc.) because the content – including complaints – can be viewed by anyone with an Internet connection.
“It’s better to be out there and engaging with customers,” Roman says.
The Schauers say engaging is necessary, especially these days. If a customer has a criticism or complaint, it’s probably going to be out there. By providing places for customers to engage with your business, not only is there the opportunity for positive dialogue – learning what customers like and want – but it’s an opportunity to address complaints, too, as opposed to rants that might happen elsewhere and that are less likely to be addressed positively.
If a prickly post isn’t factual and is just a blasting of hot air, a business’s fans on a Facebook page are likely to jump to the business’s defense, Kimberly points out. On the other hand, if a public complaint has validity, it’s best to address it – and quickly.
“Try to do your best to make it right,” Kimberly explains.
Unlike the business climate of just a few years ago, when most businesses offered communication routes with emails, forms and telephone numbers, customers drive engagement now. And they may not choose to call, visit in person or even email. Instead, a customer may choose to engage via Facebook, Twitter or other sites. The best strategy for success, according to the Schauers, is to be flexible and open to several means of communication with customers – even if, on occasion, the feedback is less than stellar.
“The point is your customers are going to engage with you on their terms,” Roman says.
With a finger in the digital wind to forecast the future, Roman points to smartphones. And he’s got a question for local businesses: When was the last time you looked at your website on a smartphone? If the answer is never, you might want to reconsider that.
With the increase in smartphone popularity, consider how your site looks and engages with customers on a palm-sized screen. Roman estimates roughly ten percent of web traffic to local websites comes via hand-held phones. And that number, he says, is definitely expected to rise.