This choice can have an important impact on how a business is perceived affecting customer relations, branding and reputation.

According to a study of 529 small business in the US the preferred communication channels are social media and email (67% and 57% respectively), with 47% preferring a website or blog. Only small numbers now use direct mail and press releases to communicate with customers although many will use a combination of methods. So how should a small business decide what channels to use when seeking to connect with their customers?

Use multiple channels

Online platforms like email, social media, websites and blogs allow for rapid communication. For example, if a business wanted to make sure their customers were aware of a promotion these would all be perfect for grabbing their attention almost immediately. Using many channels improves visibility and reputation. However the number of available channels can cause confusion

So a strategy is needed to decide which ones to use.

The most basic starting point is customer preference. It is pointless posting on social media if the customers are not using it, so the company needs to combine methods to capture the attention of more people, for example:

  • Text.
  • Emails.
  • Social Media posts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).
  • Yelp.
  • Google My Business.
  • Online Ads, websites and blogs.
  • Direct mailing.

This is a huge choice but some channels are more suitable than others. For example, sending a direct mailing may mean the business really stands out from the competition. Using Instagram if the company produces something that is better experienced visually eg, a cake baking or florist business.

Direct mail is only used by around 5% of small businesses but this is a good way to stand out in an increasingly digital world and personal ‘thank you’ cards give the customer a warm glow. All of this affects their perception of the business.

Website Content

One of the preferred communication channels for small businesses is their website but in order to be successful the content must be up-to-date, relevant and useful. Customers can be directed to websites using email and then encouraged to look around using internal links. Keeping the content relatively short is another way to engage the customer, avoiding long bodies of text and providing plenty of images and other items to add interest and maintain focus and engagement.

Emails are often used to send people to a website so these must also be relevant and the email lists kept up to date. This can be a challenge but it is worth the effort for the benefits to ROI.

Communication channel integration

One communication channel can be used to promote another. For example, a newsletter sign-up option on a Facebook page, or using an email to promote an online event or customer forum.

Picking the communication channel is easier if the business is focused on what outcome is required.

A knowledge of the customer base allows for properly targeted communications.

There are multiple needs that the customer base may have – knowing what these are is the first step towards developing an effective communication strategy.

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