Local businesses are the lifeblood of any community. Yet too often, they are overshadowed by larger retailers. Too often, online shopping and big box stores end up driving smaller retailers away. But through social media, you can take a big step towards keeping things vibrant and bustling.
A big box retailer establishes itself in a small town. Over time, the town’s charming main street starts to lose its identity, its uniqueness gradually fading into a string of chain stores. It’s a sadly familiar story and one that’s a little ironic.
For all that local businesses are the heart and soul of main street America, people seem to be unwilling to support them. For all that people are drawn to small towns for their charm, an influx of residents inevitably seems to spell death for local businesses. And for all that we praise and laud small businesses, we’re all too often willing to pass them over in favor of online shopping or chains.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. You’re in a unique position to empower and revitalize small business owners in your community. And all that’s necessary is for you to spend a bit of time on social media.
Here are a few ideas to get you started, and a bit of guidance to ensure you’re focusing your efforts in the right places.
Put Your Community Front and Center
In a lot of ways, your social accounts can act as a sort of guidebook for residents as much as tourists.
What sort of attractions does each community offer? What’s unique about the local grocer on the main street? In short, why should people visit a location you’ve featured?
Maybe there’s a park that’s close to transit and features a ton of great public art. Maybe there’s a butcher in one of your town’s suburbs that provides cuts of meat you can’t get anywhere else. Maybe a particular street features beautiful, old-style architecture and is incredibly pedestrian-friendly.
Visit each community and see for yourself what’s attractive about it, then focus on promoting those elements through social.
Go Beyond Facebook
When the topic of social media comes up, a lot of people think exclusively in terms of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But there’s so much more you can tap into beyond those platforms. Not that I’m saying you shouldn’t leverage all three – you definitely should.
Through Instagram, you can create a visual narrative to attract people to small businesses. Leveraging Facebook Live and Instagram Stories, meanwhile, you can highlight and Livestream events such as local festivals, sales, and markets. And with Twitter, you can help people keep a finger on the pulse of current events in your town.
There are others, though. Nextdoor, for example, is a neighborhood-focused social network that allows people to discuss their community with one another, sharing business recommendations, and generally promoting a sense of togetherness. You can create a business profile on Nextdoor, and encourage your members to do the same.
Alignable, meanwhile, is a social network designed specifically for small businesses. You can use it to connect your members with one another and to help local business owners forge partnerships that benefit everyone.
Weave Stories for (and About) Community Members
Particularly where smaller communities are concerned, there needs to be an aspect of personalization to your social media efforts. Don’t just pump out photos without context and try to drive sales. Instead, create a narrative.
Rather than focusing on a local ceramics shop, talk about the history behind the shop. Who are the owners? How long have they lived here? Where and how did they first discover their love for their craft?
Don’t just tell stories about businesses and business owners, either. Anyone who’s devoted to and involved in their local communities is a potential focus for your social feeds. Community leaders who are driving new initiatives, young people who are trying to change the town for the better, locals volunteering their time for the betterment of their neighbors — you get the idea.
As physical retail declines and small outlets continue to struggle against larger retailers, social media is critical for driving foot traffic and keeping local businesses top of mind. By using it to highlight the strengths of your town and community, you can take a huge step towards making things better for both businesses and community members.
Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site with high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts.