Covid-19 has affected everybody, in all walks of life, and it is more important than ever for businesses to stay in touch with their customers in order to hit the ground running when the ‘new normal’ we are all hearing so much about kicks in. Social media has really come into its own in the crisis and more and more businesses in the textile care industry are turning to it.

Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram have been used for some time now to help businesses not only boost their profile, but keep followers (current and potential customers) aware of business updates. It is also a great way to interact through DMs (direct messages) or comments on posts.

Social media also gives you the opportunity to inject some fun and personality into your business. Take the Dry Cleaning Centre in Weybridge, Surrey, for example. The business was established in 1954 and is now in its third generation of ownership.

Philip Moir and his team understand the importance of how to get their message across in an eye-catching way, using both Twitter and Instagram to do so. In just under six years, they have amassed over eleven hundred followers on Instagram.

“Initially we just used to have some fun with it, our ethos was, and still is, to show the human face and personality behind the business,” Moir explains. “We don’t have a marketing department and certainly no social media budget, but I’ve had more time during the Covid-19 crisis and have posted much more frequently.

“It’s been essential in helping us promote the fact that we’ve been open, and keep people updated with any changes in our trading hours. We’ve enjoyed some great feedback from our client base, who comment on posts with much encouragement.” Moir has also turned to daily video blogs on Instagram to interact with followers, something he said he had been avoiding for a long time. So what prompted the change of heart?

“I tried one when Covid-19 hit and lockdown started. People responded really well and these have been some of our most successful posts for interactions. I was told seeing the human face behind a small business is a powerful tool,” he says.

Christeyns UK also has a sizeable social media following, and operations director (laundry) Justin Kerslake ensures he keeps abreast of developments. “It could be said that traditionally ours is an industry that has not had massive social media involvement, but recently the engagement has been building and we have seen increased activity, especially across LinkedIn and Twitter.

“Our primary focus throughout the pandemic is keeping our social media readers and followers engaged and up to speed with any news and developments in the laundry industry. We have continued to do this with a similar level of activity as before the pandemic but with a stream of additional content specifically around hygiene and hand washing,” he tells LCN.

It does take time, though, to establish a strong presence and build a following, so don’t expect overnight success. Vicky Whiter bought Peters’ Cleaners in 2016. The Cambridgeshire-based drycleaners has been established since 1963, but was losing money when Whiter took it over.She explains: “There was no website or social media presence so it was a bit of a standing start. Revenues were declining year on year so getting new customers was essential. I started on social media because I wanted to appeal to a younger audience.”

Fast forward four years and Peters’ Cleaners has a professional, easy-to-use website, and strong presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. “At the end of 2019 we launched a new product, automated drop-off and pick-up. We thought social media a better marketing environment as you could show videos. I therefore hired a local media agency in January this year to manage my social media and postings have increased to daily,” Whiter says.

But how much has changed in the way they post and interact online since the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown? “We haven’t increased the frequency of posts but have changed their content and focus. We find our most engaging posts are insights into behind-the-scenes of Peters’ Cleaners and our staff. People are interested in what we are doing,” Whiter explains. Indeed, Peters’ Cleaners is proud of the fact that it has managed to continue operating despite the lockdown, with strict measures in place to ensure staff and customer safety. Social media has been especially helpful in allowing to communicate revised opening and turnaround times.

“We have definitely seen a rise in followers [since the pandemic began] and the number of messages relating to our services has also increased, particularly drycleaning of curtains and other homeware items people are unable to clean themselves.”

However, don’t be quick to abandon traditional forms of marketing such as PR and blackboards as Whiter says these are important tools of information for older clients who may not have social media.

Suppliers also realise the importance of social media. Machinery manufacturer and supplier HJ Weir finds LinkedIn a great platform to connect. “Due to the unfolding Covid-19 situation, we’ve seen a great response to our new product launch and information we’ve shared with clients,” a spokesperson for HJ Weir reports. “We continue to communicate with clients on LinkedIn, but with a change of conversation, to support laundries to adapt and manage changes the industry and world is experiencing. Although we like to be face-to-face where possible, social media, video calling and email really have come into their own over the past few weeks. There’s no fixed rule for each platform, the focus remains firmly on the right channel with the right message for the right people – whatever that may be.”

“Social media across multiple platforms is a considered part of the overall Christeyns UK communications plan and the pandemic has not changed this. However, we recognise that more customers are engaging in this way who would not have done so before. The last few months have seen an increase in the use of technology on all fronts, and with many working from home, social media is an effective communication tool for all.”

So what advice do these social media aficionados have for others looking to interact with customers? Kerslake advises: “Given the level of ‘fake news’ and misinformation that is easily spread on social media, we take care to ensure our messaging is clear, accurate and informative, especially at times such as we have now. We aim to be reactive and respond to developments as they happen – every piece of content that goes out has had careful consideration.”

HJ Weir says: “It’s a great chance to listen to your customers, what’s important to them and what they need. It is because of this we constantly learn and develop our business and product range to meet their ever evolving requirements.”

Whiter explains: “The most challenging thing is coming up with enough interesting and relevant content to post regularly – your pages look outdated and neglected if there aren’t regular postings.

Building up a following also takes time so it is a long-term marketing strategy. I found that by working with an agency I am disciplined to plan ahead and provide content which works for me, and my platforms are more cohesive.”

Moir says: “Personally I’m always disappointed with accounts that just use stock imagery. Yes, it can be informative but it always comes across as unimaginative. There’s nothing for a customer to engage with or remember you by. I ask myself is the subject interesting, will it make someone smile and does it show us and our service at our best?”

There are other ways of using social media, though. You may find it is a positive way to keep the ‘business family’ together and morale up. Phillip Kalli of Ideal Manufacturing believes it has a positive part to play in lockdown, combined with direct personal communcation via phone calls and using Skype, Zoom, Teams, Google Hangouts and even Houseparty. He says:”Our team has been amazing. Truly amazing. They have never communicated with each other so well. It’s been one of the most positive outcomes of this crisis. The very first week of working from home, I was sending regular, surreal all-user company updates to the whole team, from my living room table, with details of our new policy, but we soon realised that these messages could never take the place of seeing and talking to people to comfort or reassure them, or just to share concerns.

“Since then we’ve been sharing regular catch ups (sometimes two or three times a week) – which soon escalated into a Friday afternoon, then evening quiz, which has been running for nearly 10 weeks now – and it’s become a regular fixture. It involves a mix of folks who are hard at work at the factory, those working from home and other team members on furlough (who we desperately hope to be able to bring back soon). It’s amazing that they are all in such good spirits – keeping each other going – keeping the company going – so that we can all get through the other side. I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”