05/03/2012 04:22 GMT | Updated 04/05/2012 06:12 BST

Retail Businesses: Finding a Home Across Social Networks and the Web

The below recommendations are equally as applicable if a brand is not new to the web, but is looking to explore individual destinations for product ranges and/or services.

After discussing brands can best prepare for a digital presence (regardless of stature) and the value in securing relevant domain names and matching social assets, this article will review some of the options are for businesses that don't have a main website.

The below recommendations are equally as applicable if a brand is not new to the web, but is looking to explore individual destinations for product ranges and/or services.

Making a start

All businesses need to start somewhere on the web and with so many different platforms and resources it can be a minefield to determine the right approach. In some respects it may be rather daunting to venture out and embrace technology and the digital culture, but it also brings enormous advantages.

Not only are there more people using the web than not, the number of transactions is rapidly increasing with more options for consumers to research, discuss and purchase. It can be quite an investment, not only financially or time-wise if businesses are looking at this a fresh, but it's also an opportunity that can reinvigorate and reenergise a business. Businesses owners have a chance to review how they build its brand locally, national and internationally - perhaps with the added bonus of seeking additional revenue models that web and related technologies can potentially offer.

A bricks and mortar business that may consider venturing onto the web could review how its stock could be made available online addressing both audiences resulting in serving dual off and online audiences (clicks and mortar). For example, a small business that sells arts and crafts and trades in a small shops, trade fairs has a limited reach, this could be enhanced by establishing a digital presence either on social media and/or creating a website which ultimately allows more flexibility and potentially an international audience. Of course this could be managed via a third-party or even a personal social media account (but doesn't look professional and inspire buyer confidence), but this immediately removes control that small businesses desperately require.

Build and they'll come

However, the romantic 'build it and they'll come' analogy hasn't applied for many years. Not only will business owners need to consider the impact across the brand, managing cost for design, build of a site, maintenance, web hosting and so on; marketing in a competitive arena has to be factored in. In effect a new website could and should have an impact upon the whole business, how it operates - factors that should be carefully reviewed.

The main options are to build a digital presence from scratch across social media a microsite, or a full website. Building a presence within social media (such as Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, newly celebrated Pinterest, a number of dedicated promotion oriented social network e.g. BT Tradespace et al), certainly provides flexibility in that there are not any costs to host content and manage a profile there, apart from the time to do so. Given the fierce competition, they're striving to develop technologies that appeal to the demands of audiences as their expectations grow, e.g. mobile and tablet device compatibility. However, if the terms and conditions of the resource/s is breached, if the site inadvertently deletes content, changes it policies or experiences fatigue and isn't a viable option anymore - the business owner has to find a new home.

A microsite or site offers more control in that the business can manage its brand more easily and even elect to extend it's presence within social environments. For many, this may be the better option particularly if they are able to use many free resources that are available, which can be used to create a microsite or website.

Although the temptation may be to go hell for leather and immerse the business within social media environments without a port of call for the brand, it would be prudent to exercise prevention before cure again. In doing so, the business creates a platform in which it can build affinity and a lot more besides more notably loyalty with its audience.

In summary, business owners should consider the following if in the position to review a website, microsite or a social media presence.

Top tips for considering a digital presence across social networks

  1. Research and get a feel for where your customers currently reside and the presence of competitors in social environments
  2. Review the longevity of social assets and social networks that may be relevant to your business
  3. Some have suffered fatigue or even moved into obscurity - which may work for the brand now, and in the future?
  4. Less is more, don't spread the business too thin, focus on limited resources, investing time carefully and responsibly
  5. Maintain brand consistency across the social networks, but create and publish content specifically relevant to each. Avoid duplication and auto-posting
  6. Consider ownership of content across social networks and a contingency plans if the chosen networks delete data
  7. If building a new site, ascertain how it may work seamlessly with social networks and adapt as they change (or even come and go)
  8. Review various options for microsite or website build, consider free options. Also, be aware of the limitations that may be associated with them
  9. If a new site build is a possibility, ensure that is multi-device ready and future proofed where possible, budget allowing
  10. Above all, assess the overall impact on the business (the pros and cons) and build scenarios

Although social networks may offer an alternative for retail businesses to host their presence if they do not possess a website, using this as long-term solution isn't the best way to successfully nurture a brand.

Tim Gibbon is the founder and director at communications consultancy Elemental.