Dowagiac businesses turn to social media to boost business

DOWAGIAC — Social media has been an integral part of advertising and marketing for small businesses in the 21st century.

Now, more than ever, local businesses have turned to Facebook and other social media to engage customers as they fight to stay in business.

“If I didn’t have social media, I probably would not be in business right now,” said June Nemeth, owner of Yarn on Front, 122 S. Front St. “I rely heavily on Facebook and Instagram for advertising and they are my primary way of communicating with my customers. I think that in this day and age, it’s a requirement that you be savvy with technology and know-how to market yourself.”

Laura Odenwald, owner of Odenwald Strategies, LLC, spoke to small business owners and professionals about 2020 social media trends in January, before the pandemic impacted the country. In the months since, she has seen local businesses adapt to and embrace social media during these times.

“I have been keeping track of a lot of businesses in town,” Odenwald said. “Local businesses have been putting more emphasis on social media. Some have set up online stores using social media. I’ve seen businesses do curbside pickup, where customers shop online and pick it up. This pandemic has forced a digital transformation, for better or worse. Many businesses have set social media as more of a priority.”

Cathy Franz, owner of The Marshall Shoppe, 138 S. Front St., created a Facebook account for her store long ago but did not use the platform as much as she uses it now.

“More than I’ve ever used it just because it gives me the ability for people to see what I have here,” Franz said. “They can either come in or call me if they’re uncomfortable coming in. I’ve also offered private shopping appointments for anyone that’s uncomfortable coming in but pretty much everyone does come in and you know and shop and we always do gift wrapping and like right now.”

A social media conference Franz attended three years ago in California opened her eyes to what social media can do for businesses.

“Three years ago, our jewelry company sent me to California, and they had classes for us to attend,” she said. “They said by far the best way to get advertised is by using social media because it’s really the way things are going. It’s the way of the future.”

Nemeth has used Facebook’s “Live” tool to host giveaways for customers. For Nemeth, apps like Facebook, Instagram and Messenger allow her to interact with customers who do not feel comfortable entering the store.

“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve done business using direct messages, whether it be through Instagram or our Facebook business page,” she said. “I’ve taken pictures and video with my iPhone or laptop to send to customers. It gives us a way to contact almost everybody because everybody’s got a cell phone. They may not have an iPhone but if they have Messenger or Facebook, we can communicate. For me, it’s the biggest marketing tool. I can’t live without it.”

According to Odenwald, more than 50 percent of people are saying they are spending more time on social media during the pandemic. She encourages businesses to continue to engage consumers on social media even when the pandemic ends.

“The pandemic has forever changed the way our workforce looks and behaves,” Odenwald said. “Remote work will continue past the pandemic and businesses can expect that changes in consumer engagement will continue. Brick and mortar stores will always have in-person consumer presence, but I encourage them to continue to utilize social media going forward.”

Nemeth said she has seen more people show an interest in social media since the pandemic hit.

“I was just having a conversation with a friend of mine who’s looking at developing her own business next year,” Nemeth said. “She’s not tech savvy at all. She can barely even get around Facebook, so she’s gonna be coming to me to learn how to use it all because it’s gonna be a big part of her marketing herself.”

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