Search is most used resource for local business onlineWherever you look online you are faced with icons to “Like” something on Facebook or to “Tweet” the page you are reading. In the printed media you cannot move for mentions of social media and advertising hoarding posters are full of Facebook logos and the ubiquitous “Find us on Facebook” tag line. It is almost as if the business world has forgotten that Google exists. We are swimming in an ocean of social media sharing and swapping. There are dozens of seminars telling us that “social is essential” to our business. And it is – after all, word of mouth is fundamental to every business – so social media cannot be ignored. But have we gone “overboard” with our wish to be social online?

Research suggests we might have done exactly that. In a recent study of where people get information about local businesses, the highly respected Pew Internet group found that social media was only responsible for a small proportion. In fact only 3% of people relied upon social media as a source of finding business information. The bulk of people who used the Internet to find local business information relied on – you guessed it – search engines. But even that was only 38% of people. The biggest proportion of people who wanted local business information – 49% – did NOT USE THE INTERNET AT ALL….!

In other words, this research shows us two things. Firstly, if you are trying to promote your business online, then search engines are almost ten times more important than social media. But, secondly, the single most important way of getting people to find out about your business is using OFFLINE promotional methods – particularly public relations because it creates word of mouth.

Many businesses seem to believe that the online world is the ONLY place to promote their business. True it is an important place, but you neglect the offline world at your peril. Equally, if you are using the Internet to promote your company, the current pressure to use social media should not be allowed to force you into doing less work with search engines.

What you need, of course, is an integrated marketing approach where your online and offline activities are interwoven. If someone sees your poster on a local advertising hoarding they should only need to type in the headline phrase they saw on the advert to find you as “number one” on Google for that.

The Pew Research was specifically about local businesses, so perhaps the results might have been different for international business. However, most business is local; even big brands need local customers. So even though the Internet may take on more importance for global brands than for smaller businesses, ultimately local marketing is essential to gain sales. And the research from Pew Internet suggests you should concentrate that in two areas – offline media and search engines. Social media is the least of your worries; if you concentrate most of your promotional efforts on social media you could be wasting your time, losing business as a result.

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