Is responsive design necessary?

Aaah, the good old days.

It was a much simpler time… Websites were straight HTML. Screen sizes were about the same size and ratio. 640 x 480 at 72 dpi.

search engine optimization ted360

Wow, have things changed, and for the better. It has caused me pain and angst seeing perfectly good Websites become obsolete before my eyes. With the introduction of smart phones, tablets, and wide screen displays on both the laptop and desktop, the challenge is to make sure your Website looks good on them all. While not an easy task… it is a necessity to say the least. Because now more than 51% of activity online is from smart phones and tablets, just seven years ago it was 12%.

So now we at least know the challenge we are dealing with. Make your Website look good on all devices at the same time. And here’s the kicker. Now Google will derank your site (push it down in the search results) if it is not mobile friendly. They are doing this because they now how much traffic is from mobile devices and they want to make sure the experience for the end user is the best it can be.


Small Business and the Web

2015 Digital Marketing Survey

How are small businesses adapting to the digital marketing realm?

[source: Clutch] An online presence is increasingly significant and small businesses can immensely benefit from a digital marketing strategy. Clutch conducted a survey to determine the digital marketing tendencies of small businesses, including digital marketing budget, Website creation and updates, mobile application creation, search engine optimization, online advertising, and social media. We then took the survey results to digital marketing experts for their insights.

Digital Marketing

We found that almost half of small businesses dedicate only 20 percent or less of their marketing budget to digital marketing. Small businesses have been slow to adopt digital marketing strategies, even though these strategies can be highly advantageous. Ted Risdall, chairman and CEO of Risdall Marketing Group, addresses small business’s lack of adaption to the Web and to digital marketing as a marketing tactic.

“For the biggest human communication revolution ever in mankind’s history, it’s still surprising to me the adoption rate to really get going on digital marketing. Seems to be 20-plus years now of having Websites out there on the planet that we continue to slowly embrace these different, new ways to do things.”
— Ted Risdall, Risdall Marketing Group

A digital marketing strategy can vary depending on the business. Some small businesses solely want a Website that customers can easily find to learn more about their services. Some businesses want to build a strong online following that can generate leads and conversions digitally. Others are fully committed to an online presence and rely on diverse digital strategies to completely run their business. There is an abundance of options for a business to develop a successful digital marketing strategy, starting with a Website.

Small Business Web Presence

A Website is the fundamental core of an online presence and digital marketing strategy. A Website introduces a business, providing an in-depth description of employees, services, and products. It offers informational substance that is searchable online and is ideally available from any device with an Internet connection. The availability of the Internet on mobile and portable electronic devices increases the need for Websites to be available on these devices. Thus, responsive Websites, mobile sites, and sometimes mobile apps are important for a business’s online presence on any device.

Ted Risdall clarifies the significant relationship between digital marketing and an ample Website.

“We’re seeing a lot more clients start with digital marketing as a foundation. A Website is absolutely a store front online where you have to have to be present, and that’s shifting towards being mobile friendly, too.”
— Ted Risdall, Risdall Marketing Group

We asked our survey participants if their business has a company Website.

  • A substantial 74 percent of respondents said that they have a company Website, however over a quarter of respondents reported that they do not have a Website.
  • Of the businesses that said they do not have a Website, 9 percent said that they have plans to build a Website in the future while 10 percent said that that they are unlikely to build a Website in the future.

ted360 Digital Solutions for Small Business

The high percentage of small businesses with a Website exemplifies the importance of having an online presence, a point that Andrew Ruditser, lead technology coordinator and co-founder of MAXBURST(link is external), emphasizes.

“I don’t know how anyone today can realistically be in business without having a proper online presence. It’s kind of as important as having a professional looking business card. In my opinion you cannot effectively compete or market yourself without a Website, you must have one.”
— Andrew Ruditser, MAXBURST

Even though the overwhelming majority of small businesses in our survey have a Website, 26 percent still do not have a Website and 10 percent claim that their company is unlikely to have one in the future. Joel Swanson, president of public relations at Risdall Marketing Group, attempts to depict who this 10 percent might consist of.

“Maybe some just have one gigantic customer, like the government is their only customer, something like that would make some sense to me. For the vast majority of companies or organizations in general, even if they’re not using a Website to generate leads, like a consumer product might do, Websites are still where people go to vet out a company or organization, find out more about the leaders, and what’s happening in their company, just to gauge whether they want to do business with them, whether it’s a company or organization that fits with who they’re looking to partner with.”
— Joel Swanson, Risdall Marketing Group

Furthermore, Garry Kanfer, Vice President of Big Drop Inc., offers insights on the type of small business that would not have a Website.

“The 10 percent that don’t have a Website, they’re probably old school companies, that don’t believe they need a Website. The only companies that we feel don’t have a Website are startups that are just opening their company. We hardly see any companies today that don’t have Websites.”
— Garry Kanfer, Big Drop Inc.

Overall, we found that those businesses without a Website probably do not rely on any online activity to educate their customers or to generate leads for new customers. These companies are most likely finding their success through traditional methods of marketing or client references and connections. On the other hand, we concluded that businesses that have a Website are finding ways to make their Website adaptable to different devices beyond the standard desktop computer.

Website Improvements and Mobile Presence

We further surveyed the respondents that said their business has a Website, and inquired on how they expect spending on their company Website to change from 2014 to 2015. This includes spending on Web design, Web development, and hosting. Of the small businesses with a Website, almost a quarter expect to increase spending on their Website in 2015.

ted360 Web Design for Small Business

Ted Risdall describes some of the common Website improvements that they have been addressing in the past year.

“One thing that we’re seeing a lot of is wrapping marketing automation efforts and lead tracking efforts into Website improvement efforts, so more on the back-end. We also see a lot of clients now moving towards more compelling types of content, such as video and infographics that take a little bit of resources to implement and create.”
— Ted Risdall, Risdall Marketing Group

Ken Braun, the founder and chief creative officer at Lounge Lizard, explains some of the Website improvement requests that Lounge Lizard have been getting recently.

“We have been getting a large amount of sales leads from companies that want to convert their old Website, which is just for desktop, and make it compatible to the tablet browsing platform as well as the mobile browsing platform.”
— Ken Braun, Lounge Lizard

Andrew Ruditser also clarifies some of the Website improvements that MAXBURST have been responding to, most notably making Websites responsive.

“Most business owners generally understand the importance of a mobile Website strategy. Websites must work across all different platforms and devices that are used in today’s market and they have to work seamlessly. We’re getting a lot of interest and work with companies contacting us and saying, ‘We have this outdated Website. We need a redesign. We need it to be mobile optimized, responsive.’ So that’s a big shift I’m seeing right now with business owners upgrading their online presence.”
— Andrew Ruditser, MAXBURST

For a Website to be user friendly on a mobile device, or on another handheld device, it must either have a separate mobile Website that is built specifically to work on a mobile device or it must have a responsive Web design. A Website with a responsive design is adaptable to the platform that it is prompted to appear on, it is able to change the size of elements on the Web page to fit to a specific screen size.

The respondents that said their business has a Website were also prompted on whether their Website has a responsive design.

  • Of the small businesses with a Website, 56 percent said that their Website has a responsive design.
  • However, 31 percent of respondents revealed that their Website is not responsive, and 10 percent claimed that they are unlikely to make their Website responsive in the future.
  • Moreover, 17 percent of respondents said they have plans to make their Website responsive in the future.

ted360 Wed Design for Small Business

For the small businesses that do not have a responsive Website, but plan to in the future, the time for an update is imminent. The immediacy of this update is of instantaneous importance alongside Google’s new algorithm update, set for April 21, which favors mobile optimized Websites. A Website that is not mobile friendly will suffer in mobile searches and interactions, and small businesses must be aware of how this can affect their mobile presence.

Garry Kanfer comments on the increase of Web traffic from mobile devices and on the need for businesses to have a responsive design Website.

“Everybody wants their site to be responsive due to the fact that, as of today, close to 35 percent to 40 percent of the visits come from mobile devices and tablets, which even a couple years ago was 20 percent. Since small businesses see an increase of visits from mobile and tablets, they understand that it’s mandatory for their site to be responsive. We didn’t take one job last year that wasn’t responsive. When we consult our clients, we explain to them what responsive is, and we explain to them that all of our sites and all of our jobs are responsive.”
— Garry Kanfer, Big Drop Inc.

Ted Risdall expounds reasons that a business might have for building a separate mobile site instead of making a current Website responsive.

“Sometimes it’s not just the site itself being responsive, it’s a whole separate mobile site. Some Websites are so complicated that just trying to make it responsive isn’t going to work. Some of the businesses that say their Website is not responsive might fit into the category, where they’re actually creating a mobile site instead.
— Ted Risdall, Risdall Marketing Group

Instead of updating a Website to be responsive, some businesses might have reason to build a separate mobile Website or a mobile application. A mobile app is a downloadable application that is easily accessible on different devices. Certain types of small businesses might have the need for a mobile presence in the form of a mobile app, either in addition to their Website or as their main presence.

We compared our survey results on whether a small business has a Website and/or a mobile app, and found that the results are heavily skewed towards having a Website. However, there are still some small businesses that find value in having a mobile app.

  • There is a noticeable difference between the two categories, 74 percent of respondents have a Website, while only 15 percent have a mobile app.
  • Of the businesses that said they do not have a mobile app, 18 percent said they have plans to build one in the future while 40 percent said they are unlikely to build one in the future.

ted360 Marketing Design for Small Business

Joel Swanson responds to the lack of small business owners that have a mobile app.

“For a small business, they really need to have a really specific need or engagement type need to justify building a whole separate app. It’s just too big of a budget item otherwise.”
— Ted Risdall, Risdall Marketing Group

Andrey Gabisov, digital director of GLOBAL POINT NY, explains what small businesses would choose to build a mobile app.

“We don’t see our clients invest a lot in mobile apps. Small business, big business, they’re trying to avoid this right now. Except for small businesses that have the application as the cornerstone of their business model, but this is an outlier.”
— Andrey Gabisov, GLOBAL POINT NY

There is a high percentage of small businesses that is unlikely to have a mobile app in the future, an obvious obstacle is the high cost of developing a mobile app. Unless a small business has a distinct need for a mobile app, spending on this high budget item is not of immediate importance. A small business will probably benefit more from updating their Website to be mobile friendly than from building a separate mobile app.

Overall, a good portion of small businesses that have a Website are seeing the benefits of increasing spending and in updating their Websites so they can be available on different devices. It is important for a Website to be available on any device, especially when different digital marketing strategies lead customers back to a company Website.

Digital Marketing Strategies

There are several different digital marketing strategies that small businesses can use to increase Website traffic, to obtain leads and conversions, and to gain loyalty and trust from other businesses and customers. We asked survey participants if their company actively works on search engine optimization, online advertising, such as Google AdWords, and social media.

  • Comparing the three categories, social media has the highest usage, 53 percent of small businesses said that they have an active presence on social media.
  • A similar amount of small businesses said that they actively work on SEO (45 percent) while only 25 percent said that their company does online advertising.
  • Furthermore, 24 percent said that they are unlikely to work on social media in the future, 25 percent said that they are unlikely to work on SEO in the future, and 42 percent said that they are unlikely to work on online advertising in the future.

ted360 Web Design for Small Business

Although each category shows that almost a quarter or more of participants are unlikely to work on one or more of the strategies in the future, respondents are most resistant to online advertising.

“[Online advertising] kind of has a stigma where people feel like paid ads are less likely to be looked at. When done correctly it is extremely effective. It’s not a set it and forget it event. A really effective paid strategy involves proper tweaking to the ads message, budget and target landing page. Trends and other metrics change frequently so you must keep up to date with the campaign. When a PPC strategy is done correctly it can be highly effective.”
— Andrew Ruditser, MAXBURST

Online advertising, such as Google AdWords, allows companies to track analytics and results on a day-to-day basis. Companies are able to look at immediate results and change parameters if they are not acquiring their desired results. Conversely, SEO is a more long-term strategy to increase the organic search reach of a business Website. SEO is important for search results and for getting a business recognized for associated search keywords. By using online advertising alongside SEO tactics, small businesses can be more successful in their digital marketing strategy.

“Paid search advertising should be implemented at the start of an organic SEO campaign. Getting high-ranking organic search listings on the first page of Google takes time. Having paid search results during this ramp up period is more expensive, but at least there’s exposure. As the organic search listings start moving up the ranks, cut down a little on your pay per click. There is more value eventually, at the end of the day, on organic search listings. Potential customers are more likely to click on a natural search result vs. a paid one.”
— Ken Braun, Lounge Lizard

“SEO is a long-term strategy and is extremely important for every business to perform, but results do not happen overnight. If a company needs immediate results, then I typically do a combination of organic SEO and PPC. Paid Ad campaigns, like Google AdWords, provide the business owner with instant gratification. They put a suggested amount of money into the campaign for ads to begin to display to prospective customers. These ads will potentially draw prospective customers to your Website.”
— Andrew Ruditser, MAXBURST

Ted Risdall brings up a valid point, emphasizing that small businesses must have a sufficient Website to cater to the leads from digital marketing strategies like paid advertising and SEO.

“PPC ads are only as good as the Website page that you send them to, once they click through. If those smaller companies have a template Website or a weak system of landing pages to help convert those folks that go to the Website, they-re not going to see as strong of a return. It’s hard to make money on PPC if they don’t have a good place to send them.”
— Ted Risdall, Risdall Marketing Group

For more details on how small businesses are using SEO and PPC see our recent article on╩SEO and PPC in 2015.

Social media is the most widely used digital marketing strategy in our survey, with over half of small businesses saying they have an active presence. However, a quarter reported that they are unlikely to use social media in the future. Garry Kanfer explains the importance of having both a Website and a social media presence.

“I feel that in today’s industry, 25 percent of businesses that are unlikely to use social media is a very big number. When consumers look at your business, most of the consumers want to see who you are. So, in order for them to see who you are and what you’re about, your Website is good, but they also want to look through your social media pages, and they want to look through review pages. Social media pages explain who you are, help you connect with consumers, and help you to gain repeat business.”
— Garry Kanfer, Big Drop Inc.

Social media can be a source for general information and news about a company, a way for a business to interact with its customers, as well as a way to improve organic search results. Small businesses can greatly benefit from social media, allowing them to reach potential clients that they might not have been able to interact with otherwise. Social media and a company Website can be mutually beneficial to each other, as social profiles link to a company Website and a company Website offers customer interactions and news with links to their social profiles.

SEO, online advertising and social media are digital marketing strategies that help Website recognition and traffic. Small businesses have been lagging in their adoption of different digital marketing strategies. Even though 74 percent of respondents have a company Website, overall, small businesses are not utilizing different digital strategies to help grow their online authority. Ultimately, SEO, paid advertising and social media can uniquely benefit a small business’s digital marketing strategy.

“When you start to talk about digital marketing campaigns, they’re often a lot less expensive than other types of campaigns. So the costs in general are going to be a lot lower to do paid search, or content marketing, or other digital campaigns. I think that it actually lowers the entry point for a lot of small businesses that want to get into it in the first place and want to start doing something meaningful. That first something meaningful is having that store front online and being there when people are searching for the kinds of things you do.╙
— Ted Risdall, Risdall Marketing Group


Digital marketing success depends on a business’s goals and on the strategies they use to meet those goals. An ample digital marketing budget is essential, if a business is not allocating enough of their total marketing budget to digital marketing then it is very hard to use certain strategies effectively.

The strategies we included in our survey ideally overlap and complement each other. A Website is crucial to an online presence, and it must be updated to remain user-friendly alongside new technology. SEO, online advertising, and social media are all strategies that point back to a company Website.

Our survey only included some of the main strategies for digital marketing, there are other strategies that we did not address, and there will continually be new strategies that develop. As many of the experts we spoke with pointed out, small businesses can greatly benefit from many of these strategies, yet there is still a delay in adopting them. An online presence is crucial for a small business, as the Web continues to accelerate its influence, online accessibility continues to enable more customer interaction.

Survey Respondents

Clutch collected this survey data from 354 small business owners or managers distributed across the US. The largest respondent group is made up of companies with less than 10 employees and less than $1 million in revenue. The majority of companies surveyed predict relatively flat revenue growth in 2015.

ted360 Web Design for Small Business


Mobile ready… here’s why!

Marketing & Web solutions for small & midsize businesses.

You Need a Mobile Ready Website and Here’s Why.

In 2015, Google announced two major algorithm changes that will increase the importance on having mobile friendly content.

Starting April 21, Google will increase the weight of mobile-friendliness among their ranking factors. It is worth noting that there will not be varying degrees of mobile readiness, you are either mobile friendly or you aren’t.

Google has also indicated they will start using information obtained from indexed apps for searchers who have installed those apps. The result being that information from apps will become more prominent in search results. This means that business owners should strongly consider adopting a mobile-first (or at least a strong mobile) strategy in all of their SEO marketing and Web development efforts.

Here are some of the major reasons why the time to get mobile ready is now!

Since the new Google mobile-friendly update will affect your rank in search results pages, you need to make sure that your site is fully set for this update. Google has indicated that its spider, Googlebot, must be able to crawl your site’s CSS and JavaScript to be able to access the mobile friendliness of your site. If Google doesn’t know whether or not your site is mobile friendly, it will be treated as if it isn’t.

A Mobile-Friendly Website Will Rank Higher

Since the unveiling of the Google Hummingbird algorithm update in 2014, Google has emphasized the need for Webmasters to build responsive Websites. Building a responsive mobile site will ensure that your Website is displayed on as many screen sizes as possible. For example, the screen width of smartphones and tablets range from 320 px to 1024 px wide. Google favors responsive mobile friendly design because it eliminates the possibility of indexing duplicate content, prevents faulty redirects from desktop to mobile pages, and allows users to enjoy the best user experience for their device.

Did You Know: Mobile Users are Outnumbering Laptop Users?

Throughout the world, Internet accessibility has grown astronomically in the past few years. Many who barely had electricity a few years ago now enjoy 3G and 4G wireless broadband Internet access on their smartphones and tablets. Consequently, there is a rapid rise in the number of adults who are searching for information about products, reading user reviews, and shopping online from their mobile devices. The data you can collect from your Website will show you how many visitors are accessing your Website from devices running iOS, Android, or Windows mobile operating systems. Take the free information that is available to you through Google Analytics and use it to better optimize your site for users, something that Google also strongly encourages and rewards.

Mobile Friendly Means Faster Page Load Times

When your Website is mobile ready, it will download faster on your users’ tablets or smartphones. All design elements such as pictures, buttons, and links will be optimized for mobile users. Remember that mobile viewers don’t have a point and click device. So, all text links and buttons must be big enough for them to use their fingers to touch and activate them. In addition, since most mobile visitors search on the move, they will not wait long for slow-loading Webpages. In fact, Google has stated on their Website that most mobile users will return to the search results pages, if a page takes more than 5 seconds to load. So, you must do everything possible to ensure that your mobile viewers enjoy fast page load speeds when they visit your businesses Website.

Cater to Mobile Viewers for Higher Conversion Rates

Numerous surveys conducted by online marketing and conversion optimization experts show that mobile ready Websites have higher conversion rates. Since they load faster and present information in a simple and easy to digest manner, they are easier to navigate. As a user on the Website, the ease of navigation is a major factor in whether they continue through your sales funnel or click “back” and visit a competitor site.

What Happens if You Aren’t Mobile Ready?

Google is not always forthcoming with information about how they evaluate and rank Websites so when they tell you to make sure your site is mobile friendly, you should not take the suggestion lightly. If you do not heed the warning you are only hurting your business. Here are just a few things you can expect.

Your Bounce Rate Will Increase

When mobile Internet users come to your site or find you through search engines, they expect to have a fast, smooth and user-friendly experience. But if your Website does not load fast and present information in a way that can easily be accessed on the small screens of most mobile devices, they will leave immediately. Consequently, your bounce rate will increase and Google will lower the rankings of your Website because it thinks that users are not happy with the content you are providing. Simply put, people are going to leave your site and visit a competitor who HAS a mobile friendly site.

Not Mobile Friendly? Your Search Engine Rankings Will Drop!

This is an obvious effect of having a site that is not mobile ready. But it is still worth mentioning because it can reduce sales and profits of your business very rapidly. This is particularly true when your business relies on the free traffic offered by search engines. So you must ensure that your Website passes Google’s mobile friendly test. You should also check the information provided in the usability report so you can tackle issues raised by Google before the April 21 deadline. Simply put, if you do not get your Website up to par, you are going to lose potential customers and revenue.

The Bottom Line: You need to have a mobile ready Website… now.

A mobile-friendly Website can boost your ranking in Google, increase traffic to your Website and increase the conversions from your online marketing efforts.

If you do not implement a solid mobile-first strategy in your business, you could lose a significant market share while your competitors take over your customers.


Digital technology has bypassed many small businesses

Digital and mobile solutions for Kingston businesses.

A recent survey shows that more than half of small businesses don’t have Websites.

Here’s their excuse.

[source: Inc.]

It’s cheap. It’s easy to do. And it can take less than 20 minutes to set up. Yet more than half of all small businesses still don’t have a Website.

“It’s just ridiculous,” says Jim Blasingame, a small business author and radio show host. “Every small business needs a Website. Period. Non-negotiable.”

Small businesses that don’t have one say they don’t have the time, think it will cost too much or don’t want the rush of orders that comes with being online. But entrepreneurs that have jumped to the digital side say their Websites have boosted sales, cut down on time-consuming phone calls and brought more people into their stores.

But not everyone wants that.

Steve Love has never had a Website for the handmade sausage and meat business he’s owned since 1988. He says a Website for LoveLand Farms would boost sales and he doesn’t have any more farmland to raise hogs and Black Angus cattle.

“I don’t want it to grow,” says Love, who sells his goods at a farmers’ market in Bloomington, Indiana, and a store in another town that’s open once a week. “I’m already maxed out. I’m scared it would blow up on me.”

But customers expect one. When they ask him at the farmers’ market if he has a Website, he hands them a card with his phone number and a map to his shop called the Sausage Shack in Nashville, Indiana. He has no plans to start a Website anytime soon. But it could happen in the future if his kids want to take over and grow the business.

“I wouldn’t say never,” says Love.

Some owners simply say they have no time.

Bill Peatman, who writes blog posts, emails and other content for Websites for his corporate clients, doesn’t have one for his own business.

“I’ve just been too busy,” says Peatman, who started his Napa, California, business over a year ago. “I haven’t come up with a plan with what I want to do.”

He knows he needs one. “People don’t think you exist,” he says. “I want to grow. I want to build my own reputation and brand.”

He recently bought a domain name. And he plans to hire someone to build the site, but he thinks it will take him a few more months to get to it.

“At the way I move,” says Peatman, “about six months.”

Fifty-five percent of small businesses don’t have a Website, according to a 2013 survey of more than 3,800 small businesses conducted by Internet search company Google and research company Ipsos. That’s a slight improvement from the year before, when 58 percent said they didn’t have a Website.

Small business owners who want to start a Website have lots of options that make it easier than in the past. Companies such as, Google, and require no coding or technical skills. Users can choose a template, drag in photos and paste in words.

And with more people searching for businesses online and on their smartphones, companies without a site may be missing out on extra business.

“You might as well be a ghost,” says Blasingame, who hosts “The Small Business Advocate,” an online and nationally syndicated radio show. “The customers and opportunity pass right through you.”

Sales at Bad Pickle Tees have doubled since Cyndi Grasman began selling her quirky food-related T-shirts online a year ago. She started the business in 2012, selling shirts with sayings like “Oh Kale Yeah!” and “I Heart Bacon” at food festivals. She launched the site using Website publishing company Weebly, paying $250 a year.

“I’m reaching a larger audience,” she says.

Marilyn Caskey says her Website has cut down on time-consuming phone calls with customers. The owner of The Garment Exchange launched a Website for her San Antonio consignment shop two years ago using a Google program. The store, which she opened in 2008, used to get calls all the time asking which clothing designers the shop resells.

“I’ll be trying to ring up a sale and someone would call,” says Caskey, who would read through a list to the caller of all the designers the store does and doesn’t buy. “Now we refer them to the Website.”

Amy Gilson hopes to be able to do that soon.

She hired a company to build a Website for her Oklahoma City snack food business Healthy Cravings. She is paying $4,500 for it, but she hasn’t been able to find the time to take photos and give them other information needed to finish. All customers see on is a message that the site is coming soon.

“Right now, I do everything,” says Gilson. “I am the accountant, the marketer, the sales associate.”

When she sells Healthy Cravings’ zucchini brownie bites or chia cookies at farmers’ markets, shoppers ask about a Website. One customer, who was looking for the fat content of the snacks, took to Healthy Cravings’ Facebook page to ask if it had a Website with more information.

“I can’t wait for my Website,” says Gilson, who also plans to sell treats from the site. “I can just send them there.”


Customer Service via Social Media

Digital & marketing solutions that help grow your business.

Adding customer service best practices into your social media strategy is essential.

No matter how prominently you display your customer service email address or phone number, customers are still likely to ask questions, share success stories, or file complaints on your social media channels.

[source: Forbes] Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+ or Pinterest, consumers are interacting more and more frequently with brands via social media. Even if your marketing team and your customer service team don’t currently overlap, incorporating customer service best practices into your social media strategy is essential. Here are a few tips for offering exceptional customer service via social media:

Be fast. Social media moves at rapid-fire pace and functions 24/7. Establish standards for how quickly social media inquiries should be answered. Have a company-wide policy of responding to all social media inquiries and customer service emails within two hours during normal business hours.

Be thoughtful. If a customer has a question or expresses a concern via social media, a caring, thoughtful response goes a long way in establishing that your brand has both character and personality. Dry, boilerplate responses read as such. They can obstruct an opportunity to build a real connection with the customer.

Always respond to problems. Customers appreciate being acknowledged by brands. No matter how big or small the issue is, it’s essential to recognize the person and the problem, and to let them know that you’re listening and you care. You can always move the conversation on to email or private messages if necessary — just don’t ignore an unhappy customer. The interaction also lets other customers know that you’re able and willing to fix problems, and sends a message that they can trust the integrity of your product and service.

Send customers to where you want them to be. If it’s an issue that can’t be solved in 140 characters, give customers a direct email address, and be sure that they are responded to as quickly as they would be on social media. If it’s a press inquiry, direct them immediately to the person who manages public relations.

Share success stories. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. If you have happy customers, share their stories. If a customer shares a gorgeous product photo or has a great comment about your service, let potential customers know.

Cultivate brand advocates. If you find that there are people who are constantly interacting with you on social media and always have something great to say, move the relationship beyond social media. Rewarding brand fans with a feature on your company blog, a “thank you” promotion code, or just a note expressing your gratitude for their support goes a long way in building relationships. Happy customers are the best advocates your brand can have.

Double-check spelling and grammar. You don’t have a lot of room for error on social media posts: most limit you to a sentence or two, along with an image. People will judge your brand and the competence of your customer service professionals in those few characters, so make sure they perceive you as quick and capable.

Be proactive in sharing product and company updates. Do you have a product that’s back in stock after a backorder? Introduced a new person to the team? Are you switching warehouses, or performing inventory counts that will result in a shipping delay? Let your customers know ahead of time, and be prepared to respond with answers to frequently asked questions.

Go beyond the product. Be a resource for your customers beyond just the products you sell. Become a resource and place of inspiration for our customers — even after they’ve made a purchase.

Although social media often falls into the “marketing” bucket, it’s also a key means of providing excellent customer service. When executed well, customer service offered through social media can help turn brand fans into buyers and establish an ongoing relationship that leads to additional sales and unbeatable word of mouth exposure.