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My customers don’t use the internet

This blog post is my entry to Congregation 2015, a social media gathering that takes place in Cong, Co. Mayo in Ireland every year. This year it is happening on November 28th and has expanded to become a three day gathering where social media professionals come together to share their experience, ideas, hacks and war stories in the beautiful surrounds of Cong. The cost of entry to the event is a blog post which is published on Congregation.ie. I’ve previously written about my favourite WordPress Plugins and promoted posts.

I was talking to an acquaintance recently who had just completed a half-day course on blogging. He felt it was a waste of time. He said to me, “My customers don’t really use the internet.” The fact that he included the word “really” made me realise that he wasn’t 100% sure about what he was saying. He doubted himself and added that qualifier. Had he said outright, “My customers don’t use the internet.” I would have been very concerned. A harder person would have written him off as a poor business person at best and a complete eejit at worse. But that “really” saved him. It also got me thinking about how I could help him be more certain, one way or the other about his customers’ use of the internet.

Let’s get one thing straight. Everyone in Ireland uses the Internet. The pedant in me must point out that the internet is a network that passes packets of information using specific protocols. It is NOT Facebook, it is NOT even JUST the web. It is also email and file transfer and on demand television and connects to the cloud and other magical places and it is all the devices and the Things (fridges, thermostats, cars) and maybe Ray Kurtzweil can tell you what it will be tomorrow because he’s making sure he lives that long.

If you don’t believe me here are some boring stats which you may skip if you so wish. (Or bookmark this to whip out next time you are speaking to a luddite/ boss/ potential investor in your internet breaking app.)

  • At the end of June 2015, there were 1.70 million active internet subscriptions in Ireland (P.30 Irish Communications Market: Key Data Report – Q2 2015, ComReg.ie)
  • At 80% household penetration of broadband we are 2% above the EU average of 78%. (ibid.)
  • There are nearly 5m mobile subscribers in Ireland according to ComReg’s report. (pp. 52, ibid.) This is a 105.2% penetration rate. (pp. 54, ibid.)
  • “In Q2 2015 there were 3,594,077 mobile voice and data subscribers using 3G/4G networks in Ireland. This figure can be taken as an indication of the number of smartphone users accessing advanced data services such as web/internet content, online multiplayer gaming content, Video on Demand (VoD) or other equivalent advanced data services (excluding SMS and MMS). This represents approximately 73.7% of all mobile subscriptions (excluding dedicated mobile broadband and M2M) in Q2 2015. ”  (pp 52, ibid.)

  • Ipsos MRBI publish a quarterly report on Social Networking in Ireland and produce the results in infographic form. This picture speaks a thousand words.

    Ipsos MRBI Social Networking Quarterly May 2015

    Ipsos MRBI Social Networking Quarterly May 2015

  • If we are interested in age groups the Central Statistics Office can assist us. They have charts that tell us that in 2012 (their most recent dataset) 46% of Irish people had made a purchase online in the previous 12 months. This chart shows how that has trended upwards over the preceding years and how it breaks down by age.
    Shopped online in the last 12 months by age

    Shopped online in the last 12 months by age

     

 

I’m a sucker for those numbers but I understand if you are not. However let me put it like this:  when these engaged, searching, researching, enquiring and buying customers go looking would you prefer to be there or not?  Even if your customers fall into one of the smaller groups of users by age in Ireland are you going to let a competitor be there waiting for them with open (virtual) arms when they Google “traditional Irish furniture”?

There is no doubt that face to face interaction or at least telephone interaction remains important especially for big purchases. However research online/ purchase offline has become such an everyday phenomenon that it even has its very own acronym, ROPO. You know you’ve made it etc  This phenomenon also has a “cool” verby noun “webrooming” which I hope to never write again. It’s the idea of using the web as a showroom. Before you panic about how on earth you will “showroom” your products and services online remember that most of the searches start with keywords and phrases. While certain apps by a certain global ecommerce player do have an object recognition function especially when it comes to, ahem, book covers, most research will begin with a Google search. If your site content is optimised to respond to those searches and fulfils the myriad parameters of the Google/ Bing algorithms then your clients should find you.

So how do you prepare your website content to respond to this? What content strategy should you put in place? Search Engine Optimisation remains highly important and while there are many keyword planners available online you should also trust in your expertise in your sector. Think about all those phone calls and in person conversations you have had with new and existing customers over the years. Use the questions you commonly get asked to build that content for your site. For example one of my clients, Louise Sliney Architects, was regularly getting queries about the Home Renovation Incentive Scheme. Sliney wrote a blog post that answered the most frequent questions so that the next time someone asked about it, Sliney or her team could access the information easily themselves to answer questions there and then. They could also follow up with an email/ text to the enquirer with a link. This creates a second touchpoint with a potential, new or existing client. As the content now exists on the web and is regularly being shared with people who are searching on this topic or around this topic its authority increases and moves inexorably up the search engine results page.

Similarly if a lot of the queries your company are receiving are about opening hours, location or whether you offer a particular service or supply a particular product you definitely need an improved web presence. Your job is being an expert professional at what you do not an information service. Yes, of course,  you still need someone to answer the phone but the next time you are interviewing for a PA try and find someone who can help maintain your online presence.

Many small businesses have invested in online, maybe commissioning a brochure style site or even a more dynamic one. However, they feel that their “efforts” are a waste of time and money. I say efforts in inverted commas because apart from the initial investment in the site itself, and creating content for that, they never update their site, they have no content strategy, they don’t use social to maintain a presence on the platforms where their customers “hang out”. Even if for some misbegotten reason the business has decided not to update their site or participate in social in a planned, reasonable manner, this company don’t even check their website statistics on a regular basis. They don’t know how many of their customers access their site via mobile devices, what time of day they are accessing it, what the bounce rate is and which pages are keeping them engaged for longest. These are all questions that can be answered by a free Analytics package from Google that every web developer should include in every site no matter how basic.

So if for some reason your company has written off the internet as a waste of time and money I’d like to know how is your company being marketed? How is that working out? Has it brought any new customers? How is it being measured? How often do you review those metrics and tweak your strategy to respond to this?

Some companies will say “We get a lot a repeat business, our customers are loyal.” and this may be the case until the day they are fluting about on Facebook and one of their good friends recommends a competitor who have a gorgeous site where they offer a free trial or consultation or a discount for signing up to their newsletter. So even if your customer, being loyal, never activates that discount or makes that free trial/ consultation appointment, your rival is sending them a regular newsletter chock full of useful ideas, interesting links, arresting images and calls to action with them. They are developing a relationship. Some day all your company will be is the company who sold them that old thing in the corner or who once fixed the boiler or who advised them, years ago, on a straightforward legal matter. They won’t know about your latest special offers but they will know about your competitors. They won’t know about the latest grants for boiler upgrades from you but your competitor will have informed them. They won’t be aware of the fact that your legal firm is expanding and able to offer advice on a greater range of issues but they will know exactly who your firm has recruited and the expertise that new hire brings to the table. How? Because these are exactly the kind of things that businesses are writing about on their site, sharing on the networks and sending in regular newsletters.

No doubt you are so busy you are wondering why you have even spent this time reading my (uncharacteristically negative!) blog post this far. This is another reason I have heard used by business people when they are trying to think how on earth they will fit this other job of maintaining an online presence into their already busy job . This is the one factor that I truly understand from personal and professional experience. We ARE all busy, too busy. The solution is that we need to get organised. Recently I wrote a blog post about creating a content calendar for your business which takes all of the guesswork out of when to write. As to what to write my whole philosophy is based around sharing your expertise from your own online hub from where you can be part of the search and social web by creating optimised, useful and engaging content on a regular basis. It is about forming a habit. In order for a habit to form the creation of an online hub must be a pleasurable and useful experience that you want to repeat. If it is a chore with no results, you will not do it. So get organised, create a strategy, form a habit and soon you will be working the web like a pro!

Remember change is life. And I don’t mean the loose change that you’ll be scrabbling around the office couch for if you remain shut off from the internet…

 



One response to “My customers don’t use the internet”

  1. […] is the second largest lobbying portfolio therein after climate and energy. And yet there are still companies out there who don’t have any technology strategies… You really begin to wonder when you couple this with the earlier factoid from Jason Musante […]

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