IT’S TIME FOR LABS TO STEP UP…THEIR ONLINE PRESENCE

By Cathy Ives

“We don't do that.” “Our customers don't care.” “Who has time?” “It's too expensive.” These are frequent remarks I hear as to why a lab's Website has not been updated and why participation in any Social Media platform has been relegated to back burners and/or not kept up-to-date. As much as I understand the hassle, the time and the expense, it’s time for labs to step up their online presence.

There are several reasons for this:

1. Your customers are there.

2. The lab business is increasingly more competitive.

3. Your reps need it.

4. Your customers and future customers are looking for solutions and resources ONLINE.

5. It helps to get found in search engines (very important).

6. All optical professionals need to work together to bring the consumer back to brick and mortar shopping.

Your Website and Social Media are top marketing tools and will continue to gain in importance in the future. Increasingly, Websites and social media will become the source of communication and knowledge for everyone.

The first thing that needs to happen is to evaluate your Website. Take the time to look at every page, click every link and see what is there. As tedious as it is to do a full evaluation, it is worth it. If you don't pay attention to your site, does it say you aren't paying attention to your customers?

•Is it up-to-date? Do you have all the current information? Do you have old products listed? When you click on a link such as newsletters, does it actually say anything? Are your promotions listed from 2012?

•Do your links work? Google punishes Websites for broken links. Those Error 404's are not good for Website and do not help to get found on page one.

• Is it Mobile Friendly? Eighty percent of Internet users are using Smart Phones and forty percent are using tablets. Google is also 'punishing' Websites, meaning your site will not show up in a search if your site is not mobile friendly.  Here is the site you can visit to see if your site is mobile friendly https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/.

• Can people order from your site? Is it easy to place an order?• About Pages: The more text you have, the more bots (spiders) can read, the better it is to be found in a search. People love pictures. Put your pictures up and give a history of who you are.

• Products you carry: List all the products you carry and any catalogs.

• Specialties: Do you do slab-offs, glass, custom work, diving masks. Have sections with articles or links about these types of products.

• Location with a locator, hours of operations, phone, fax, email.

• Trade Affiliations to which you belong.

• Trade Shows you attend.

• Vendor Resources: Many of your vendors have wonderful resources, videos and education to which you can link to help your customers.

• Charities and charitable events and any give-back programs in which you participate.

• Resource Links: local trade organizations, The Vision Council, health resources, trade press, education, buying groups

• Careers

• Testimonials

• Privacy Policies (a must)

• Education, Optical Dictionary, Dispensing Tips

• LOTS and LOTS of pictures.

Have you installed Google Analytics (FREE) on your site? Analytics will tell you how many hits a day, unique visitors, what they are clicking on and how long they are on the site. You can track demographics, what Web browser they are using, what type of device they are using and even how many mobile users have accessed your site. This is all great information that will help you in your web development and your social media efforts. If you haven't done this, it is possible your Web server has that information. GoDaddy does not, but Blue Host does offer analytics called awstats.

If you are looking to change your Website consider a blog format. You can also install a blog into your current site. Platforms such as Wordpress.org (FREE) are easy to use and update. If you are blogging set up a feed from your Wordpress blog to automatically go to Twitter.

Next decide what social media will be good for you. We suggest starting slow with a Facebook Business page, not a Friend page. Facebook is the top social media platform and your customers are there; it just make sense.

You can always add in other social media later when you determine what will work for you.  The top social media sites are: Facebook, Linked In (Business Page), Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest (Business Page), YouTube, Google+. Make sure you get the social media buttons up big and loud in a predominate position on your Website.

Tip: the button should open to a new page so they don't leave your site.

 Where you place the buttons is a matter of personal preference. We use Addthis.com to get our buttons (FREE) and it also track our shares and click throughs.

Tip: Make sure every page has a Share button and it is easy to find.

Another way to get more followers and good SEO is putting in a Twitter Feed on your site. You can either put your own post from your blog or Facebook. Other options are to pick sites from some of you favorite resources or you could just use a #hashtag search. https://blog.twitter.com/2012/embedded-timelines-howto

Automate and schedule as much as possible. You can do both with sites such as HootSuite. Both Facebook and Pinterest (via Tailwind) allow you to schedule in advance your posts on a business page. Going on vacation, take 20 minutes and schedule on Facebook for the time you are gone.

Top Social Media Platforms

Twitter? With 316 million active users, why waste an opportunity. You can have Facebook do an automatic Feed into Twitter. You can have Pinterest do an automatic feed into Twitter. How easy is that?  Twitter also has analytics some of which are FREE.

You can also put your Twitter followers into 'groups' for easy sorting. For instance, want to see what is going on with your customers put them into a group. Review it a couple times a week and Favorite It or RT (ReTweet) it. They will love you forever!

Just an FYI the average number of Followers on Twitter is 208. As with anything it is not about how many followers you have, it is the quality of the followers, such as those who share, and those who favorite.

Check out this link to learn how to publish to Twitter from your Facebook pages: https://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook/publishing-to-twitter-from-facebook-pages/123006872130

Pinterest.... is not just for women. Even if it were, I would bet that most of your customers/opticians are women and on Pinterest. With 72.8 million users, Pinterest is easy to use and easier to reach more people.

Pinterest opened up their Pinterest for Business last year that also has statistic information. You can also schedule your posts and set up to do an automatic feed into both Facebook and Twitter. https://help.pinterest.com/en/articles/share-pins-facebook-or-twitter#Web.

The biggest advantage of Pinterest, if you #hashtag it and use keywords, with the right boards, you can get on PAGE one of Google. How great is that!

Instagram is a wonderful tool if you are using your tablet or smart phone. Easy to use, you see something, take a pic and you can post it immediately on Instagram. For a lab, take pictures of some of the jobs you do, especially the difficult ones. Take pictures of some of your customer’s window displays, the products you use. You can also schedule your postings.

http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/4-instagram-tools-scheduling-instagram-updates/

Linked In is a wonderful networking, tool. Looking for career opportunities, connect with the like-minded people, join some forums. To set up a company page on Linked In is easy to do as well go to:  https://business.linkedin.com/marketing-solutions/company-pages/get-started

Once you start scheduling and automating the process, working with social media gets a little easier and more functional.

We took a look at what labs are doing and how they are using Social Media.

Midwest Lens in Lenexa, Kansas, (www.midwestlens.com) has been engaged on Social Media for the last five to six years. They have a simple Website with lots of resources and links. Links are good, Google likes links. You can order online. They are on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Of special note is their Blog. Everything on their blog is a cut and pasted from press releases (FREE). Once it is posted on the blog, it automatically is set up to post on Twitter and Facebook. They blog consistently and they often show up in our Google Alerts.

The Laramy K Website from Indianlo, Iowa utilizes a slider and a blog. Their focus is education and independence.

They are active on both Facebook and Twitter. Janet Benjamin participates in various Facebook Forums and on her own Facebook Page. It is not all serious, lots of fun, interesting news, words of wisdom, and all of it gets lots of shares.

Richard Wilhelm of Luxe Laboratory  (www.facebook.com/LuxeLaboratory) in Anaheim, CA uses Facebook to promote his lab business. He is very active on various Forums, posting his 'successes' and creations online. Richard specializes in repair, restoration and custom lab work. He prefers Facebook over his Website and it works for him.

Scott Balestreri is the outspoken optician/lab owner/frame collector of Bad Ass Optical in Oakland, CA. Scott challenges everyone to learn and grow on both his personal Facebook and his Bad Ass Facebook pages. (https://www.facebook.com/badassoptical). Scott went so far as to start his own Forum on Facebook, Ask The Lab Guy, where anyone can ask questions about any number of subjects. He does have a Twitter account as well.

FEA Industries in Morton, PA, has a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/feaind/ and they are using it for testimonials and to communicate with their customers. They are also on Linked In, and Twitter.

Rochester Optical Lab (Rochester, NY) has https://twitter.com/RocOptical, Facebook and Even Google+. They don't post a lot on their Facebook page, but their Twitter rocks.

Now comes the two big issues....TIME and Who is going to do this?

We recommend you start slow in social media. Start with one platform and take 15 minutes a day to post content, review comments, visit your customers’ pages, share and “Like” their posts. As you get more involved and add in more platforms, set aside at least an hour a day to working social media.

The quality of posts you do is more important than the quantity. But you must be consistent. Consistent, meaning 3x a week. #Manic #Monday, #Wellness #Wednesday, #Friday #Funday for example. If other news comes up, you can post in-between or even more on the same day. What you don't want to do is put up 10 posts a day. What you do want to do is post 'Engaging Topics,' ask questions and get the conversation going, or be shared or LIKED.

Who is going to do this? If you are not going to dedicate yourself to work the social media, hire someone or pick a trusted staff member, who understands social media, has the time, the wherewithal and the willingness to make it work and be consistent. This someone should be someone that understands your brand and what you are trying to achieve.

Someone had asked me, “What do I say?” The content is limitless and is the easiest part. “Follow” your customers, trade press, vision charities, The Vision Council, local companies, your sales reps and news and you will have more content that you know what to do with.

If you don't have a Website, get one. Hire a professional to do it right. Your relatives might be proficient on a computer, but that does not mean that are proficient at setting up a Website that will work for you. FREE does not always mean it is good. Your Website is a reflection on you and your business. It should be a valuable resource.

You can hire someone to do your social media for you too. But you still have to communicate with them to let them know what to post.

Social media is not about egos. Who doesn't want to be “Liked” and “Shared.” While it is important, when you are starting out, look at what is being liked and shared and continue in that vein. Don't be afraid to be weird or funny, people like that. Have some fun and share some good stuff, the “Likes” will come.

Last Tip: You are either in Social Media or you are not. Unless you make a commitment to spending time every day, don't do it. It is a waste of your time and resources. A Blank Facebook page with 4 entries from 2014 looks bad. An old Website, looks like old news. Start slow and build it either by yourself, with a trusted colleague or a professional.


CURRENT ISSUE


May/June LabTalk 2017