Claire can’t remember the last time she picked up the phone to call up a business.
The 26 year old almost always first turns to Google and then looks up the business on Facebook.
“I like using Facebook so I can see if the business has any reviews up,” said Claire. “Like when I was about to try a new hairdresser – their Facebook page had good reviews and I was also able to send them a message to ask about prices. It’s so much easier than using the phone.”
She isn’t unique in her attitude. Many people would much rather text, or chat online, than actually talk on the phone. Fortune magazine has gone as far as to say that the phone call has gone the way of the Dodo when trying to get business leads.
And it’s not just millennials. Gen Xers and Baby Boomers too are turning to messaging apps like Facebook’s Messenger to communicate with businesses.
Dan Levy, Facebook’s VP for small business, says small-business owners are getting more sales leads over Messenger than over the phone. Every month, 1 billion messages pass between people and businesses on Facebook Messenger alone.
It’s not just Facebook Messenger. Instant messaging apps like Whatsapp, Skype and Viber are also incredibly popular, with over 1.5 billion users between them.
That’s a huge chunk of the world’s population. As a small business, if you aren’t actively using instant messaging apps then you are potentially missing out on a vital position in the flow of information.
If you haven’t set up a Facebook business page, then you should do it now.
The platform has become one of the first places customers look to check up on a business. Setting up a Facebook business page has a number of advantages, including being able to send and receive private messages from customers. This allows you to directly communicate with your customer base and answer queries almost immediately.
But it’s about more than that.
Facebook allows you to view personal details of the person messaging you including details on where they work and the area they live.
This sort of information is incredibly useful to a business especially when creating a profile of your typical customer. It means you can gear your products to suit your customer base. It also means when you create a marketing and social media strategy you are catering it to the right target market.
Millennials tend to be the first to use emerging platforms, and once they become popular other age groups join in. This is why it is important to keep up with the latest digital trends.
Millennial Marketer” Suzie Nguyen advises businesses on how to tap into the millennial market.
“Millennials are the first wave of digital natives,” says Nguyen. “They live and breathe digital and wake up to their smartphones.
“For small businesses to stay ahead of the curve and receive business leads, they need to know two things. Firstly, how best to employ emerging technologies (such as Snapchat and Instagram) and then to work out what Millennials are doing with them.”
Her advice is to get comfortable with using various social media platforms and then getting creative with how you use them to sell your product.
“Millennials love brands that provide them with experiences that are personalised and context-sensitive,” says Nguyen.
“For example, an American frozen yogurt chain, 16 Handles, used Snapchat to send discount codes to customers, and in response the customers sent snaps of themselves eating their product.”
Her tips include keeping up with best-practice social media marketing activities and then venturing forth yourself.
“Organise a flash sale for your business. A snap sent to “My Story” (on Snapchat) will quickly inform your followers within seconds. If your follower base is relatively small, consider sending it directly to all your fans. Just be careful though, because you don’t want to come across like you’re spamming them.”
“Both Instagram Stories and Snapchat can be used to increase direct engagement with your customers,” says Nguyen.
“These platforms are great for creating product previews and interesting brand narratives. Having regular incentives, such as giveaways, can help you build a loyal follower base interested in receiving future offers from your business.”
All this shows that while small businesses still very much rely on their phones for day to day business activities, the phone can no longer be the only way to get business leads. Social media and instant messaging apps are gaining traction, especially with young people, who are now increasingly using these technologies as their main form of communication.
Businesses need to become comfortable with using these platforms for marketing and communication or risk being left behind.