Local businesses rely on social media to stay connected with consumers from a distance

As COVID-19 spikes in Johnson County, businesses are strategizing new ways to engage with their customer base according to social distancing guidelines.


Jake Maish

The front of the store Revival is seen on June 30 in Iowa City’s Pedestrian Mall.

Molly Allen, News Reporter

As increasing numbers of COVID-19 in Johnson County have prompted some businesses to close their stores again and caused others to see a decrease in visitors, local business owners say one obstacle of many is staying connected with customers that spend most of their time at home.

Rob Miller, social media and content manager at Big Grove Brewery, said that customer engagement has increased online in the last four months, especially on Instagram. The restaurant’s marketing has recently begun to focus on producing content for Instagram Live, he said.


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“With more time at home, we’ve found that our followers are more likely to enjoy and engage with video content,” Miller said.

The restaurant has implemented new features to give customers a socially-distanced experience, he said. Social media has been crucial for getting the word out on these new tactics, Miller added, like the Big Grove Drive-Thru Burgers & Brews.

“We’re here if you’re ready to dine out,” Miller said. “And if you’re not ready to dine out, that’s okay too — we have a range of options for you as well.”

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Sheila Davisson, owner of the Iowa City clothing store Revival, said her business has utilized its social media channels “1000 percent more” than it did prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Her customer base is primarily on Instagram, Davisson said, so that is where the store is focusing its efforts.

Davisson added that Revival uses Instagram stories to feature one-of-a-kind items and direct messaging on Instagram has allowed her to have one-on-one conversations with customers.

“There is a definite correlation,” Davisson said. “Without posting we don’t get nearly the traffic we do when we post.”

Revival was in the early stages of reopening before it shuttered its in-person store again, due to the recent spike of positive COVID-19 cases in Johnson County. The store is currently online-only, she said.

“It’s a hardship, but we’re doing the best we can,” Davisson said.

Niki Neems, the owner of local stationary business RSVP, said customers can no longer enter the store but can opt for curbside pickup or mailing options.

Because customers cannot browse through the store physically, Neems said she has increased her use of social media to spread the word about a new greeting card subscription service called The Letter Writing League.

“While I am a devoted snail mail gal, social media has proven very effective at encouraging new folks to subscribe,” Neems said.

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Membership of the Letter Writing League spans across 23 states, which Neems said is due to social media’s ability to reach beyond Iowa City.

“It has been nice to reconnect with folks who were in-store shoppers while living in Iowa City,” Neems said.

Neems said that when customers promote her business on social media, it can drive sales. Customers often make encouraging posts about their subscriptions on their personal social media accounts, she said.

Although many local businesses have begun to reopen their doors after months of closure to mitigate the virus, Neems said RSVP is holding off.

“The intimacy of our shop, while charming during normal times, is now a social distancing disadvantage,” Neems said.