The financial burdens of COVID-19 have put many SMBs in search of affordable ways to market their business. The good news is that more people are spending time online than ever before, and there are plenty of simple ways to reach your customers digitally without spending a dime.
Here, I’m sharing 11 free strategies to expand your reach on four popular online platforms:
Reaching your audience on Google
One quick note before we begin this section: As of writing this post, Google My Business profile editing capabilities are varying from day to day as Google suppresses and adds features in response to COVID-19. If you get stuck on any of the below suggestions, skip them and be on the lookout for capabilities to return.
1. Update your Google My Business profile
Your Google My Business profile is the free listing that appears for your business on both Google Maps and Google Local Search results. Due to special hours, physical closings, and limited travel, consumers are performing even more “near me” and “open now” searches on Google during COVID-19. They’re also searching for specific criteria such as delivery and online payment options. That being said, you should make the following updates to your profile to continue reaching your audience on Google:
- Verify your hours (or mark your business as temporarily closed).
- Modify your description (a.k.a. “From the business”) to include relevant COVID-19 offerings.
- Have a category selected, as this will allow you to indicate industry-specific attributes, such as curbside pickup, drive-through and delivery for restaurants.
- Create posts (more on this next).
Note: Google is using blanket labels right now such as “hours and services may differ,” but you can still set your business up for success for when they lift this label.
2. Create Google posts
Just like with social media platforms, you can publish posts to your Google My Business listing for free. But unlike social media platforms where users are leisurely scrolling, consumers on Google are actively seeking. GMB posts enable you to get your updates and special offers in front of consumers who are ready to engage, making this is a great way to reach and retain customers during COVID-19.
This salon is temporarily closed, yet its online store is reaching a vast Google Maps audience through this GMB post.
And with GMB’s new COVID-19 post type, you can be even more effective at reaching your audience at the right time. This is a great alternative to the Q&A section (“Is your business open during COVID-19?”), which is temporarily not appearing on profiles.
3. Write relevant blog posts
The internet is saturated right now with COVID-19 content, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still strive to show up on the first page of a Google search. The trick is to target long-tail keywords highly specific to your niche. For example, a chiropractor could write a blog post “At-home Lower Back Exercises” or “Avoid Neck Pain While in Quarantine.” This content costs nothing to create other than your time, which you might have more of at this point, anyway.
The very first results for “prevent neck pain during quarantine” is none other than a small PT business in Cambridge, MA.
You could even tie in your geographic area for more effective targeting, like with a list titled “Best Places to Walk Your Dog in Bethesda.” These coronavirus-relevant pages will garner traffic in and of themselves right now, but they’ll also boost your overall website SEO for the long term.
Reaching Your Audience on Facebook during COVID-19
Social media is key for building relationships, and with usage increasing during isolation, you can reach more of your audience on Facebook during COVID-19. Here are three ways to do that.
4. Hop on Facebook Live
More people are watching live videos right now than ever before. In fact, Facebook Live viewers have increased by up to 50%. There are many obvious uses for this free Facebook marketing feature, such as answering COVID-19 customer questions, providing relevant advice, or leading a quarantine workout. But remember also that Facebook Live videos can be saved. With viewership at an all-time high, this is a good time to run live sessions on your traditional and evergreen topics, which you can repurpose down the line once the coronavirus has passed.
This non-coronavirus-related DIY tutorial is helpful now but can also be repurposed later on down the line.
5. Do a lucky draw giveaway
If you’re open and delivering, it’s a good idea to add some extra delight to your deliveries. It’s an even better idea to add some mystery to the mix. As with the Facebook example below, you could run a giveaway where all orders placed within a particular time frame qualify for a free treat—and one lucky winner gets a gift card. Not only can this encourage more audience engagement, but it will boost their spirits, as well.
6. Check in with your community
There’s a plethora of COVID-19 posts on social media, but that doesn’t mean you need to come up with an earth-shattering post to stand out to your audience. A simple, heart-felt post with no intention other than to wish your community well can go a long way. After all, genuinity is authenticity.
Reaching your audience on Instagram during COVID-19
Instagram is great for storytelling, and everyone has their own unique COVID-19 stories to share. Here’s how to reach your audience for free on Instagram during COVID-19.
7. Use COVID-19 hashtags
Hashtags are a free and yet powerful way to expand your social media visibility.There are, of course, many trending COVID-19 hashtags circulating around. But broad Instagram hashtags like #COVID19 aren’t going to give you much visibility. The key is to use location and industry modifiers. For example:
- Instead of #COVID19, try something like #covidfashion #covidpetsafety or #covidhomeschooling.
- Instead of #wereinthistogether, try something like #portlandstrong.
Some other ideas for COVID-19 hashtags you can use or modify for your business are:
- #DIY (think #diyhomedecor or #diyhaircut).
- #athome (like #athomeworkout or #athomelearning).
- #quarantine (Including #quarantineparenting, #quarantinecrafts, #quarantinerecipes).
Of course, if you’re just looking to sprinkle in some friendly and uplifting hashtags, that’s fine too! Try COVID-19 hashtags like #wereinthistogether, #wellgetthroughthis, #allinthistogether, #thenewnormal, #alonetogether, #stayhome, #saferathome, and #sixfeetapart.
8. Write COVID-friendly captions
There are a number of purposes your COVID-19 Instagram posts can serve. Here are some writing guidelines for Instagram captions to appropriately reach your Instagram audience:
- When boosting morale: Keep captions light and not too specific; everyone is experiencing it differently.
- When offering health and safety tips: Check captions for accuracy.
- When providing updates: Keep captions concise with essentials only.
- When promoting pivoted offerings: Include words like “curbside pickup”or “still available.”
Reaching your audience on Twitter during COVID-19
Twitter takes on the conversational nature of Facebook but the quicker consumption pace of Instagram. Here are three free ways to obtain visibility and resonate with your audience during COVID-19.
9. Repurpose reviews
Part of Roger Smith Hotel’s Twitter strategy is that of taking quotes from positive customer reviews and creating tweets out of them. They have continued this tactic throughout COVID-19, and I must say, it works. The tweets don’t ask you to leave a review or book a stay, but the positive words and attractive images do leave you feeling pretty good.
Create tweets out of your most uplifting customer feedback as a way to reach followers during COVID-19.
10. Take up #supportsmallbusiness offers
There are plenty of consumers on Twitter right now who are offering to promote local businesses in their area. Run a hashtag search like #shoplocal, #supportsmallbusiness, #shoplocal[yourcity] or #smallbusiness and see if you find any offers.
11. Support other local businesses during COVID-19
In the example below, Connected Kent offers to share five different local businesses for every one tweet about their services. Why not try this strategy for your business? It’s a great way to reach new audiences on Twitter while also helping out other local businesses struggling during COVID-19—all for free.
These free methods of digital marketing are great strategies for reaching your audience and alleviating economic hardship during COVID-19, but they can be adapted for use even after the pandemic has passed. Try them out and how knows, maybe you’ll come out of this pandemic with a stronger online presence than ever before.