WINCHESTER — Effective branding and impactful social media have become essential business tools during COVID-19, according to business professionals.

That was the focus of Tuesday’s Winchester Area Society for Human Resource Management’s Small Business Day event.

Meredith Hancock, owner and creative director for Hancock Media, and Jeff Nicely, a social media coach with the Lord Fairfax Community College Small Business Development Center (LFCC SBDC), each led discussions on how to utilize branding and social media.

Focusing on branding, Hancock said having a recognizable brand and online presence while more and more consumers are shopping online this year has been critical for business owners.

She told regional business owners attending Tuesday’s virtual event that there are “Five C’s” to effective branding — compelling, clear, cohesive, consistent and captivating.

“The underlying ingredient that every sustainable brand has is a compelling brand story. What makes you unique?” she said. “We’re not talking about your elevator pitch. We’re talking about what conveys the heart and soul of your business.”

Hancock said your brand story is “a melting pot of answers to all those important details and deep-rooted questions about your business and what you stand for. It’s a foundation for providing a way for your audience to connect with your business. It’s what brings truth and authenticity to your brand and identity.”

Going through the list of advice, Hancock said it’s also important to know your ideal clients, look and feel cohesive across all channels, build trust through consistency and to inspire curiosity.

Nicely also echoed Hancock’s sentiments during his presentation on social media by piggybacking on the importance of knowing “your why.”

He used a client, Mattie’s Soft Serve, as an example, noting that when you visit the business’ Facebook page the first thing you see is a video of how the business was created. That video details how Mattie’s Soft Serve, which is an ice cream truck, started after a young woman lost her battle with an illness.

He also detailed how a recent post on Mattie’s Soft Serve’s page — that wasn’t boosted with money on Facebook — garnered 684 engagements, 94 comments, six shares and 109 likes

“This is the result of an engaged audience,” Nicely said. “These folks respond.”

Nicely said the biggest key to maintaining successful social media is to be engaged with your customers and visitors to the page.

He asked those in attendance what they would think if they visited a social media page that hadn’t made a post since March or hadn’t responded to messages.

Nicely suggested businesses post on their social media accounts two times a day.

He shared statistics from a survey that showed what brands can do on social media to encourage customers to make purchases: 42% said being responsive, 46% said offering promotions, 42% said posting educational content, 27% said posting behind-the-scenes content and 26% said “being funny.”

“Social media is a fantastic place to stay top-of-mind with consumers, especially in this day of technology and the pandemic and Zoom meetings and working from home,” Nicely said. “People are on social media, so it’s an important place for us to be as well.”

Nicely’s advice for steps to success included finding the best social media platform for your business where your clients are likely to “hang out,” planning your content and your posting schedule, creating and scheduling your posts.

Nicely also provided some updates from the LFCC SBDC that included joining the SBDC’s new Shop in the Valley directory page as well as taking advantage of a new Small Business Resiliency Team program sponsored by GO Virginia that allows small businesses that meet certain requirements to receive help in financial management, social media, website design and other services through grants.

— Contact Matt Welch at mwelch@winchesterstar.com

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