Why an online presence is so important during the pandemic

Considering the average person spends 6 hours and 42 minutes a day online, creating a digital presence is especially important for businesses in any sector. Activities that were once exclusive to the real world are now increasingly interwoven with the world wide web, whether that’s shopping, exercising or dating. And when so many consumers are likely to turn to the internet for their needs, competitive businesses have to make sure they can be easily found in cyberspace.

However, an online presence is now more important than ever before. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted how consumers see and relate to businesses for the foreseeable future, and your digital strategy must be as strong as possible to keep up with ever-increasing online demand.

1.    To build a positive reputation

With COVID-19 turning the world upside down, your business’s response could be crucial to its long-term reputation. In an interview with The Telegraph, Giles Robertson, lecturer in digital marketing at the University of Bedfordshire, is adamant that “people will remember the good actions”, as they did for brands like Bovril and Watermans throughout the wars. “Even if your activities make a loss and you don’t have products to sell, supporting and entertaining your customers can ensure the brand comes out of the crisis stronger and more loved,” he adds.

Providing customers with unique content they’ll appreciate will help to earn their loyalty, and boost your reputation. For example, if you’re a hairdresser, videos are a great way to attract attention and offer assistance. As Salon Gold notes: “Think about content that genuinely helps your audience, such as tutorials, tips or advice. This helps establish you as an expert at what you do and shows off your skills to potential customers.” In fact, this advice applies to a number of professions, whether you’re a personal trainer or a graphic designer. And if you’re struggling to be creative, focus on being open and supportive instead. Robertson praised Homebase in particular for “[understanding] that just being there for its customers was important, switching all of its sales online and maintaining frequent and helpful engagement with its consumers via email and social media.”

2.    To adapt to the growth of ecommerce

Ecommerce has rapidly grown in popularity as the high street started to decline during the recession in the late 2000s, and the appetite for internet shopping was hugely amplified when the pandemic resulted in increased safety measures such as lockdown. As physical retailers were forced to shut their doors, consumers had to buy from brands with an online presence — to such an extent that Covid-19 is expected to add £5.3bn to UK ecommerce in 2020. It goes without saying that if more people are shopping online, your brand needs to have an active web presence to capture their attention.

Having an attractive, user-friendly website is obviously essential to gain sales from this market. As well as giving your current customers a more convenient shopping experience — especially since many people may not feel safe venturing into physical stores yet — a website also helps new customers find you. For example, you could use search engine optimisation techniques to increase your visibility within search engine results pages, while a great ecommerce platform will also benefit your social media marketing attempts. If a consumer is interested in your ads and content, they’ll probably follow a link to your website, and if they can easily find all the information they need, they’ll be more likely to buy from you.

3.    To strengthen communication channels

During this time of uncertainty, customers are going to have more questions and concerns that they’ll expect you to alleviate. However, the pandemic has shown that call centres are not always the most effective way of dealing with communications. A recent survey found that 89% of UK contact centre leaders believe COVID-19 has changed the industry forever, and 56% think they should use technology to better manage customer contacts. Having an online presence means that you can create a more flexible and agile approach to communication that benefits you and the consumer.

As well as implementing website features like live chatbots and contact forms, you will have to maintain a strong social media presence, and keep it regularly updated. It’s very common for users to ask questions and leave feedback on a brand’s social channels — in fact, it’s the preferred contact method of under-25s. Therefore, it’s crucial to keep track of comments and messages in order to deliver good customer service. However, you should make sure to reach out as well. In the name of openness and transparency, ensure that your customers are up-to-date with business developments every step of the way. Post news on your website and social media accounts, and send emails where appropriate so everyone on your mailing list is informed. Regular communication will show your customers that you have their interests in mind, and that you care.

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