The Local Business Online Marketing Checklist: Coronavirus Edition
An SOP to help your business survive a public health crisis.
There are times when silence is golden. This isn’t one of them.
Whether you know it or not, your community is watching your business as their world gets turned upside-down from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some brick-and-mortar businesses are going above and beyond to serve their customers virtually. For many others, this isn’t an option due to CDC recommendations and government policy.
The good news is that you can still be present in the lives of those who fuel your business even if your doors are closed.
By showing up online, even in small ways, customers are more likely to remember you when things level out. And the businesses that are a rock for their communities will reap the benefits when the cash starts flowing again.
As someone who is on social media 40 hours per week and then some, I’ve seen some not so graceful and in some cases nonexistent communication about the coronavirus’s impact on business. Not only is this uncalled for, but it’s also a reflection of your unwillingness to bend to meet the needs of your community.
On that note, a word to the wise. This is not the time to lean into messaging about personal beliefs about conspiracies or belittle the dangers of the coronavirus. The fact is that kids aren’t in school, people are out of work and no one alive today has been through anything like this before. This is challenging for everyone regardless of what you believe about the likelihood of contracting COVID-19.
Even when it’s business as usual, it can feel like a big undertaking to make all the updates to your digital marketing collateral. Add on the mental weight and any personal struggles you, your employees, and your loved ones may be experiencing at this uncertain time, and it can feel downright crippling.
Why a Checklist?
When under pressure, a checklist can literally save lives. That’s why as a copywriter and digital marketing specialist, I took it upon myself to put together a comprehensive marketing checklist for local businesses during this public health crisis.
This list is bootstrapper friendly, meaning you can execute it all yourself and it can be done for $0.
I chose to make this resource completely free and easily accessible because we all have enough to worry about right now.
If you would like to show some support, share this article with others.
How to Use This Checklist
If you’ve got a wealth of digital marketing savvy, you can use the headers of each section as your guide.
For those who find keeping up with the digital Joneses a struggle, you’ll find helpful tips and instructions in each section.
Pour yourself a big mug of something caffeinated, let the kids have their TV time and let’s get to work.
Write Down How the Coronavirus Has Changed Your Business
This is for internal reference, but it will save you time if you write things out the way you’d like to share them in your marketing materials. Copy + Paste is a serious timesaver.
Consider it your emergency health crisis press kit. If you create this in a Google Doc, you can easily share it with your team.
Start with the basics and list out:
- Changes to business hours or closure status.
- Changes in operations (ex: curbside pickup instead of dining in or online classes).
- How can people get in touch?
Then you have the option to go deeper are share:
- Why you decided to/were forced to make these changes.
- How do these changes make you feel? Don’t be afraid to get real.
- How are you and your staff affected?
- Spell out the various ways people can continue to support your business.
With the second part of this list, you might feel like you’re asking for charity or putting pressure on people with your feelings. But don’t. This is a tough time for everyone, and sharing your human-ness is only going to help people remember you. Swallow any timid habits and get raw and real. Okay? Kay.
Create Graphics or Images for Your COVID-19 Business Updates
There are two options for visually representing COVID-19 updates for your business.
- With photos that represent any changes to your business, such as to-go items or curbside stands. Here’s a great example. You may already have these handy.
- With custom graphics. Here’s a great example.
You don’t have to be a graphic designer to utilize Canva’s ready-made templates. They even have designs for COVID-19.
I would highly suggest taking the extra minute to make sure you’re using your brand colors and fonts to match your aesthetic. There are all kinds of reasons for sticking to your branding, but that’s a whole other article.
There are tons of Canva tutorials out there, so I won’t waste your time going into too much detail about how to use this free tool. I will say that you can create one graphic sized for Instagram posts that can also be shared on Facebook.
However, I do recommend creating a separate graphic for Google My Business that is 583 x 305 pixels. Otherwise, your graphic won’t look great and part of it may be cut off when we get to that step.
Pro tip: keep any text on the graphic simple so you don’t have to create a whole new one as COVID-19 policies change. And boy, are they changing quickly. Something like “COVID-19 Business Update,” or “Take Classes Online” will do just fine.
While you’re at it, create a new folder on your computer or in a Google Drive for COVID-19 to keep all this stuff safe. Oh yeah, and save your image(s) and documents to that folder. Let’s stay organized, folks.
Update Your Hours on Google
Facebook, Instagram, and anywhere else you and your customers hang out online are important to update.
But if you take nothing else away from this article, let it be this: update your business hours on Google.
If anyone is searching for your local business on Google (which is the vast majority of people), having your business hours updated there is key. If you don’t know how to update your hours, here’s how.
If you’re a local business and you don’t have a Business Profile on Google, we need to talk.
Create a Google My Business Post
Don’t leave your GMB listing before you create a post. This post will show up if people, well, Google your business. It’s displayed on the right side of the screen under your business hours and reviews.
Here’s all you need to know about Google posts for your local business. You’ll likely want your post type to be “What’s new.”
Your post can be text-based only, like the example below.
Or it can have a photo or even a photo gallery. This is where your prepared photos or graphics will come in handy.
You can probably see why having a photo helps catch the eye.
And for the love of all that is holy, please, please, create a button for your post on Google My Business. Even if you’re closed, directing people to your website or blog boosts your SEO. So please, take advantage of this opportunity.
The “Learn more” button is great if you’re directing people to your website or live streaming pages. “Call now” and “Order online” is self-explanatory. Just keep in mind what you’d like the user to do when they find your post.
Update Your Hours on Facebook Business
Behind Google, people may check your Facebook hours for current information. So update those, too. Here’s how.
Update Your Hours on Yelp for Businesses
I could go down a serious rabbit hole with potential places your business might be listed online. Instead, I’ll recommend that you make sure the “Big 3” — that’s Google, Facebook, and Yelp — are accounted for.
Here’s how to update your hours on Yelp.
Post to Social Media
Sometimes people get stressed out when I talk to them about social media. I think it’s because they think it means being active on every platform. So many experts agree that simply isn’t the case.
Instead, focus on where your business has been consistently active. That one Twitter post wishing your customers a Merry Christmas does not count as active.
For many businesses, this will likely be one or two platforms. So bust out your photos or graphics and start connecting with your audience. Write a caption that explains your current updates. Be sure to use any relevant hashtags.
If you’re closed, you probably don’t need to post every day. But I would recommend posting at least every few days to stay current in people’s feeds and minds.
Keep your messaging positive above all else. You might also take this opportunity to get personal and share some of the things you jotted down in step one. Aren’t you glad we had that little heart-to-heart in step one?
Here are some more post ideas to keep the content flowing.
- Share stories about your staff or yourself as you navigate these changes.
- Highlight your safety and cleaning procedures.
- Walk customers through how they can continue to support you. Example.
- Offer motivation or lighthearted inspiration.
- Promote other businesses.
Send Email Updates
If you don’t have an email list, this obviously doesn’t apply to you. But if you do, take advantage of it, especially if you need to spread the word about virtual or modified services.
Your message doesn’t have to be anything profound. You might even share the same things you’ve shared on social media. The difference here is that you can include links to buy gift cards, order online, join you virtually, read your blog, etc.
If this is the main channel of communication between you and your guests and they’re used to frequent updates, consider keeping the same email schedule to offer a sense of routine normalcy.
Update Your Website
Okay, if you weren’t shaking in your slippers from the above steps, this one might do you in. But take a deep breath, and know that this step is optional.
Yes, it’s true! If you’ve updated your hours on all the major channels, you don’t need to update your hours here. This is why I stress taking advantage of all of the free tools available to you as a local business.
That being said, if you aren’t really present on social media, you don’t have an email list, and for some reason, your local business isn’t on Facebook Business, Google My Business or Yelp for Businesses, you should at the very least update the hours on your website.
You could also create a banner or pop-up creating any changes or update your website copy. Again, this is optional, but it may help reduce confusion.
Write and Post a Blog Article
My intention with this checklist item isn’t to stress you out. It’s to drive home the fact that your customers are going to be online for much longer than usual as they check news updates.
By having a blog article published on your website, you can increase the likelihood of people spending more time on your website. Thanks to the magic of SEO, this improves your website’s ranking on search engines. A higher ranking means more potential customers.
Just like with your email, this doesn’t need to be anything exceptionally long or profound. You could make it a letter to your customers. You can also recycle content you’ve used elsewhere.
A blog post is also another opportunity to get real and connect with your community.
If you don’t have a blog on your website, you can take advantage of this here platform you’re reading this on right now. Medium is completely free to use, and it makes your article look snazzy.
If you take this route, I recommend that you:
- Create a button to link people to your Medium profile on your website.
- Include your website link in each article to encourage website traffic.
We’re All In This Together
I cannot stress enough that this is a unique opportunity for your business to show the world what it’s made of. While you may have no idea what the next month, week or day will look like, you can be a positive resource in the lives of your customers. I invite each and every local business owner to make the collective decision to rise to the occasion and persevere through this uncharted territory. By moving through this with grace together, we can all come out stronger.
If you found this checklist helpful, feel free to leave it some claps and share it with others!