Small businesses might struggle to bring in customers. What you might need: a little local love.
If you’re a small business owner or employee, you might have tried the ‘a little bit of everything’ social media marketing strategy, or perhaps the ‘throw a few options up and see what lands.’ If that’s you — that’s cool, it’s many of us — but there’s a simpler and more purposeful approach to marketing: targeting your social media efforts to connect specifically with local customers. Social media is a fantastic, democratizing marketing tool. It’s free, and you can make your mark even as a tiny or new business. Putting up posts for general view is a great start — but finding ways to reorient your social media marketing strategy towards your local community can have wonderful snowball effects. One small way of doing this is to follow your city or neighborhood hashtag on Instagram. When you’re scrolling through your feed, you’ll also see a rotating assortment of local users. “Like” and occasionally comment on these (specific comments are ideal, so you don’t look like a “bot” saying ‘Love this!’)
As a customer, there are many reasons to support local, independent businesses over chains or online shopping. Some are obvious: spending money at local shops keeps 2–3x more money circulating in the local economy than shopping at corporate-owned stores. But did you know that small businesses tend to be more charitable, donating 250% more to non-profits and community issues? And shopping small can actual have positive equity impacts, since over 25% of small businesses are immigrant-owned, 25% are minority-owned, and 40% are women-owned.
As a business owner, there are even more reasons to lean into your community. Family-owned businesses that are engaged with their community report higher revenues. Many customers want to support local businesses and buy locally made products. It’s very helpful for small businesses to have a presence on social media (especially Instagram and Facebook) with a clear, simple brand and consistent posts. Not only does this act as your “home page” for many younger customers, it’s the easiest way for people to provide “word of mouth” — simply by tagging you in a post or forwarding your content to a friend. Lastly, having a good relationship with local customers is critical for receiving positive online reviews (e.g. Facebook, Yelp, Google reviews), which significantly impact customer trust and decision-making.
Beyond marketing, businesses can engage with their communities in several inexpensive ways. For example, consider your business expenses: where, and on what are you spending money? If you’re buying coffee beans for the staff coffee pot, can you support a local café? If you buy lumber, see if you can get it at a local hardware store rather than a chain. If you outsource work, — even if it’s online via Fiverr — can you find someone local to do the work? Businesses can also examine their waste (yes, waste!) to see if there’s a way to benefit the local community. If you get a lot of boxes with bubble wrap, post on a local bulletin board or Buy Nothing group and set up an ongoing relationship for another business to take and reuse them. If you have excess folders, envelopes, kitchen supplies — pass them on! Sometimes these tiny interpersonal connections can mean a lot to a business — bringing in referrals for years to come, and likely greening your supply chain.
Reorienting your marketing and purchasing to local might take a little time and effort — but it can mean the difference between feeling supported and feeling isolated, or business success and business closure. The magic of social media is that it increases trust between you and your customers, and allows them to get to know you in a deeper way than was possible a decade ago. Reorienting your mindset to “local” can have positively impact your community for years to come.