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The holiday season provides a fantastic opportunity for small businesses to connect with their local communities. And Social Media has a hugely important role to play.

I detailed in a previous post some of the ways that small businesses can leverage their role in the local community to counter the deep discounts offered by retail giants and big food chains. In that post I talked primarily about actions you could take offline – using themed sales, localized gift baskets and hyper-local decorations and language to emphasize your ‘local-ness’.  In this next in our series on local business holiday success, I address some of the best tools you have to really sell that local message.

We often shudder when we hear the words “social media”, as it seems like everyone and their grandmother has a suggestion for the best strategy these days, but the fact remains – it’s a fantastic and free way to reach a wider audience of people than window displays or traditional advertising mediums like leaflets, radio or newspapers. Seven out of ten consumers say that they are more likely to shop at a local business if its information is available on social media. Additionally, people spend considerably more time on social media looking at pictures of loved ones and catching up with old friends during the holidays. The best thing about this captive audience is that from Thanksgiving onward, they’re looking to make purchases for family gatherings. Here are a few ways that you can capitalize on that opportunity:

Host and Promote an Event

The holiday season is an ideal time to explore using social media in hand with event marketing. It’s all to easy to spend your time and money constantly talking about your product on social media but the stats show this kind of content just isn’t engaging – and won’t be shared. Instead of pushing discounts and competing with the ‘85% off’ offered by Best Buy, put your time and your marketing budget into promoting an educational event or party hosted in your store or restaurant. Think about it – are you more likely to share an advert for festive cupcakes or an invitation to a free festive cupcake making demonstration? Promoting an event and not your product is a great way to get more bang for your buck on social. Click to Tweet

And once you’ve got people to your event, you have a great chance to drive some sales and generate further goodwill amongst those in the local community. Provide giveaways and discounts on the day and make sure to share photos and updates to your social media accounts. Why not offer a 10% discount to anyone who tweets or facebooks about your event? Not only will this increase sales on the day (people love a discount) but it will raise the awareness of your brand online – and hopefully encourage people to return for their holiday shopping.

The really good news? If you get this right, you’ll have a captive audience of email addresses and social media followers to communicate with on an ongoing basis throughout the year.

Do Good

Now imagine that for this particular event, you charged non-participants a nominal entry fee to enjoy and judge the holiday treats. You could then donate that to a holiday charity and raise even more good-will in the community. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are ideal venues to document your event and announce its success! Photos and hashtags will help those who didn’t make it, still see the enjoyable event and enjoy and perhaps contribute to your store’s charitable efforts. The holiday season is about giving back and if you work to make sure your business is doing its part, your customers will thank you in the long run. Click to Tweet

Avoid hyperbole

Keeping a level head during the holidays is not as easy as it sounds. If you don’t believe me, then go search the internet for videos of Black Friday stampedes into retail stores. Even as a retailer or restaurant owner, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the season and overstate the importance of what you sell. Social media posts that claim “THIS IS THE MUST HAVE ITEM!” or “NO HOLIDAY TABLE IS COMPLETE WITHOUT THIS DISH!” are easily overlooked. These trite and bland messages won’t move sales – an they’ll dilute your brand making you sound just like the big-box retailers plastering advertisements across our TVs and websites. Embracing your role as the genuine, local business that people know will go a lot further. Click to Tweet

Use Pictures

Regardless of the medium (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.), images speak louder than words. So if you’re a bakery, posting photos of your holiday cookies will remind people of the festive twist that you can bring to their table. Boutiques posting photos of new winter lines can draw people in to buy their latest fashions. This rings true across any business type; it’s easier for consumers to process and act on a visual cue than to read copy, comprehend what it’s saying, and decide to come into the store or restaurant. Click to Tweet

Use Hashtags

Using hashtags (#hashtag) on social media is a great tool that allows users of that site to track a theme or conversation and become engaged. Say for instance, you run a bakery and make killer challah bread: Posting pictures of it and encouraging your customers to take pictures with their loaves including the hashtag #challahfortheholidays is a fun way for people to participate and actively engage themselves with your business. Maybe even offer a giveaway for the most creative photo!

Social media is a great, free tool to communicate with your existing customers and introduce your brand to new ones. With over 20% of consumers reporting that they purchased something because they saw a Facebook post or comment about it, building your social presence for the holiday season has never been more important. Click to TweetGood luck and happy holidays.

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