Social media can be an essential tool in reopening your business.
Social media can be an essential tool in reopening your business. AFP / DENIS CHARLET

You're bouncing back. Will they come back?

With states easing stay-at-home orders and allowing nonessential businesses to reopen under new safety guidelines, small businesses are eager to ramp back up and revive their revenue. But after more than two months of physical distancing and countless scary stories about how the coronavirus spreads, many customers are rightfully afraid to visit stores, restaurants, and other indoor establishments. Will the business be taking the right precautions to protect me? they wonder. And even if the business is following the rules, what will other patrons do?

Fortunately, social media gives small business owners a free platform to communicate and interact with customers. The five ideas below can help you launch a successful reopening campaign, especially if you're willing to try a few things you may not have done before.

1. Advertise the News

First things first: Do your customers know you're open? Don't assume they do. If you don't tell people you've resumed operations, they might assume your business is classified as part of a later reopening phase that your county hasn't reached yet. Or, they might think that the pandemic has forced you out of business, or that you're choosing not to reopen yet for personal or health reasons. So if you're open, get the word out.

Where should you be communicating with your customers? Wherever their eyeballs are. If you have Gen Z customers, get on TikTok already. Baby boomers? They're still on Facebook. Somewhere in-between? Instagram. Moms? Pinterest. Note: A business account may give you advanced features, like analytics, that you can't get with a personal account.

For customers who have opted into direct communications from you, send out a text message and an email. Try a newsletter service like Flodesk, Mailchimp, or ConvertKit. Newsletters are a great way to stay in regular touch with your customers, especially ones who aren't active social media users.

What if you don't know how to use all these platforms or you don't feel like you have the time with everything else you have to do to reopen? One idea is to dive into that deep pool of unemployed young people who already know how to make TikTok videos and enlist their help. Find a way to pay them for a few hours of help per week.

If you can afford to do more, hire a part-time social media manager to create campaigns and reply to questions and comments. If you're the type who's afraid to relinquish control, then hire someone to teach you how to do it, at least. For example, check out the monthly strategy plans for personalized, one-on-one help offered by Beautiful Detour, a digital service oriented towards SB owners and entrepreneurs looking to increase traffic to their sites.

2. Use Safety Precautions as a Selling Point

Once-mundane activities have become tinged with anxiety over catching a serious virus. How have other brands made consumers more comfortable with a risky daily activity to get them to buy their products? By doing what brands like Volvo and Subaru have done and advertising their safety features.

If you're a restaurant, coffee shop, bar, or store owner, you're not used to having to do this. But here's another area where it's time to try something new. And social media is the ideal format since it's heavy on videos and photos. It's one thing to list the safety precautions your business is going to be taking in an email newsletter. It's another to show those precautions in action.

Let's say you own a cafe. Instagram and Facebook are perfect platforms to use photos to showcase how your servers are all wearing face masks, how far apart you've spaced your indoor tables, and how you've expanded outdoor seating. Ideally, photos of your revamped seating areas will have customers in them to show that you're open for business and people are actually coming in and behaving themselves.

Take It a Step Further with Video

Do a walkthrough of the new experience of visiting your reopened establishment from the customer's perspective. How will they be seated without getting too close to a host or other diners? How will they order and pay? What about using the restroom? Do you still have curbside pickup for people who aren't ready to dine in? Do you have signs prominently displayed about your mask policy?

The text accompanying these posts is a good place to tell customers what rules they'll need to follow on their next visit. Make sure to include your business hours in all your communications.

3. Survey Your Customers

What do your customers need to feel safe and comfortable when they enter your establishment? You might think you know, but you don't really know unless you ask. You can get this information through informal requests on social media: for example, by creating a post and asking for feedback in the comments, or by using built-in polling tools like the ones in Instagram and Facebook stories.

You can also use more formal tools like Survey Monkey, whose basic plan is free. Getting feedback from customers after they've visited you and experienced your new setup can help you make sure that your employees are upholding new protocols and your customers will be happy to return. Offer a coupon or promo code as a thank you for completing the survey.

4. Build Community

People patronize small businesses, in part, out of a sense of community. In a time when we're feeling isolated due to our mandated distancing, you can boost your customers' spirits, generate positive publicity, and earn money with community-building events that revolve around your operations.

Maybe you've heard a story about a business that's done a promotion for grads, like Krispy Kreme's free box of a dozen specially decorated donuts. The promotion trended on Twitter and made a great marketing campaign for a special product that could be purchased for the next week after the promotion ended. Of course, you'll want to be mindful to not create a stampede that compromises health guidelines.

If you're not in a position to give tons of stuff away right now, partner with another local business to do a smaller, joint giveaway. "Post a creative shot of yourself enjoying your favorite dessert from our bakery and tag us plus two friends to enter a contest for a week's worth pastries on us and a $30 gift card to the coffee shop next door." These types of contests existed in the before times, but they're extra important for generating visibility now.

The Next Level: Social Media Management Platforms

Finally, when you're ready to take things up a notch, consider using a social media management platform like Hootsuite, Sprout Social, SmarterQueue, Tweetdeck, or Planoly.

These third-party programs let you manage one or more of your social media accounts in the same place and schedule content in advance. Using a content calendar is another great way to do social media efficiently by batching all your planning tasks.

The Bottom Line

Social media can be an essential tool in reopening your business. It's a great time to learn the basics of social media platforms you've never tried, learn new ways to use the ones you have, and ask for help with things you don't understand. Because we're in this together, people are more forgiving about learning curves and more willing to help.

The tools you develop to market your business during this pandemic could help keep your business alive now -- and help it thrive when things return to normal.