Sunday Morning Soliloquy - Musings of an Urbanite: Small Businesses Utilizing Social Media to Drive Business and Better Their Brand

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Small Businesses Utilizing Social Media to Drive Business and Better Their Brand


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If you have not guessed by now, I am heavily taken by Social Media and the impact it has the ability to make. Some might say I am smitten. My background is in Advertising and Marketing and the majority of my life has been spent getting excited about good ideas that work. Over the past few years, I have made a vast number of my friends and business connections online through various social media platforms. I have found that some people really "get" Social Media and, whether they realize it or not, they are able to drive business through their Social Media efforts. The purpose of this entry is to showcase a few small business owners whom I feel are able to utilize Social Media to build relationships with customers and ultimately drive business. I had an interactive Q&A session with four, very different businesses to gain perspective on what has worked for them.

For once, I have left my personal opinion out of the conversation entirely. I simply asked the questions.




The Businesses

Tiffani Kim

Jacklyn Kim, President, of the first medical spa to open in Chicago, Tiffani Kim Institute. Jackie spoke with me regarding how she personally utilizes Social Media. Though I've visited the spa in the past, I met Jackie on Facebook. Jackie is very kind and willing to help others and their efforts without pushing her brand onto people. I wanted Jackie's perspective because Tiffani Kim Institute is a brick & mortar business that has been in business for 10 years and because she is new to Social Media. I thought Jackie could lend a lot of insight for non-marketer business owners.

Gigantic™

Bernard Urban, President + Creative Director at Gigantic™, a digital marketing agency that has been in business for seven years. Bernard and I first met in the mid to late 90s when we both worked for DDB in Chicago. Bernard moved back to NY and we lost touch years ago. Recently, Bernard and I "found" each other again on Twitter. I cannot be sure how this happened, but since that time, we've been engaged in each others online networks via Twitter. I chose Bernard because he has strong understanding of multiple Social Media platforms, he works with clients to better their efforts and he is a veteran professional in the digital marketing space as well a small business owner. I felt Bernard could bring great insight from a personal perspective and from the standpoint of a seasoned digital marketer.

TSS-Radio

Taylor Mitchell, Owner of TSS Radio, a retailer of satellite radio hardware and accessories. Taylor I met via Twitter and later met in person at the Mashable TweetUp. We started our conversation online because of our strong, positive, mutual feelings for Howard Stern and his satellite radio show. I chose Taylor because he is a successful online retailer and a vast majority of his business has been driven by his passion for Howard Stern and his ability to captivate his audience through various Social Media outlets. In addition to Tss-Radio , Taylor has two blogs: www.ILoveSiriusXM.com and www.digitalradiocentral.com

Foiled Cupcakes

Mari Luangrath, Owner of Foiled Cupcakes, an online cupcake business that launched in July of 2009. Mari and I met on Twitter as she was promoting her business and her Twitter presence. Mari and I are connected on both Twitter and Facebook but we have not yet met in person. I chose Mari because she started her cupcake business very recently, she has utilized Twitter for the bulk of her traffic and she is great at gaining "followers" and she truly knows how to engage her followers. Mari also takes her relationships offline, she has donated cupcakes to various TweetUps. Her business has taken off quickly and I am interested in seeing how it grows from here.



The Q & A Session

How many Social Media (sm) platforms do you currently use for both personal and business purposes? And, what are they?

Jackie: We have a Facebook Page for the company and all the directors have their own Facebook pages. Myself and two others are on LinkedIn. Tiffani Kim, herself, has a blog www.tiffanikim.com


Bernard: Personal: Facebook. Business: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Blog, Delicious, YouTube, Scribd, Slide Share, Trip It


Taylor: We started and grew our business based on Forums and Bulletin Boards. Right now we are active in many of those in addition to Facebook, multiple Twitter accounts, and some blogs. So about four different platforms.


Mari: We primarily use Twitter, Facebook, & LinkedIn.


What attracted you to the Social Media space?

Jackie: The internet marketer we use encouraged all of us to have at least a facebook page, a twitter account or be on LinkdIn. She felt the social media was the future of marketing.


Bernard: We have been blogging since 2003. My first company, URBANadvertising, was among the first ad agencies to have a blog. I was interviewed in the New York Times about in Oct, 2004. I started my company in 2002, based on the idea that media was on the verge of some big changes. You might say we’ve been a part of it all along.


Taylor: When we started the term “Social Media” didn’t exist. We wanted a place to introduce ourselves and we began starting posting and interacting on Forums and Bulletin Boards. At first it was awkward but in a short period of time it was a lot of fun.


Mari: At first, wasn’t so sure about it. Turns out, it’s free, a great way to connect with various people you never would have had a chance to meet otherwise, and a continually evolving concept that allows for a lot of experimentation.


Of these sm platforms which do you feel has been the most effective in promoting your business and why?

Jackie: I can only speak for facebook which I really like for business and for personal use. Being on facebook reminds people who you are and what services you provide. How many people do you meet a day and how many business cards do you exchange? And how fast do you discard them and don’t remember who they are? But, if they are your fb friends, you exchange info and you keep in touch. You also want to use their facilities or refer your friends to their businesses because you have a relationship. By introducing some of the services/products I provide at our company, I’ve had really good responses and referrals. I also feel the same way. I am more likely to utilize or refer people I know on fb then others.


Bernard: Blogging combined with Twitter. Blogging is powerful, in that if you have a strong POV and are willing to share your ideas, you can quickly build an audience and create thought leadership through conversation. That’s an innately human thing: conversation. Conversation fuels relationships, fosters connections and creates affinity for ideas. Used correctly, Twitter can amplify a bloggers presence immensely. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire. Twitter multiplied our blog traffic by over 4x and created some great connections that didn’t exist for our business.


Taylor: It’s a toss up between the forums and twitter. At this point we see more of a future for twitter. Surprisingly, the internet has become far less hostile than a few years ago. Twitter seems positive and bright and a great place to casually interact with others based on information. It’s also a place where you can pinpoint people to help out very easily.


Mari: Twitter. I love the immediacy and concise nature of Twitter. I love that we can watch people buzz about our product and get instant feedback on how our cupcakes were received. I love that how quickly and virally anything you tweet can be shared with thousands of people.



What traditional forms of advertising or marketing have you utilized in the past? How do you feel that sm is different (better or worse) than your traditional methods?

Jackie: We’ve used magazines and newspaper ads for marketing prior to the internet. Even before the internet, we found out that most of our clients were referrals by either our existing clients or businesses. We received most success from the articles written about us. People tend to think you can spend the money to advertise, but if a reputable magazine is writing about you, you must be really special to be noticed. For myself, facebook is reaching out to smaller audiences but I can’t quantify it yet. My facebook friends are referring clients to us because they feel more familiar with me. I feel it’s more personal way of doing business. Sort of how it used to be. You trust and like someone and you want everyone to experience what they have experienced.


Bernard: We’re super vertical, so SM coupled with a strategy that includes, DM, email and of course the telephone. SM helps greatly with SEO. Often after leaving a short intro call that leads to only leaving a voicemail message, we can see that our contact has searched us and hit our site or blog. Then we know in a follow up call if there is affinity for our services. If you’ve been to our site and still want to talk, you must have interest.


Taylor: We’ve advertised with online Banner Ads, with Google Adwords, and with Radio Ads on Satellite Radio. They each have their plusses. Someone clicking a Google Adword is likely ready to buy then, but the ads have no personality or soul behind them and it’s a one time deal. Banner ads rarely pay off but can help do some constant branding. Satellite Radio ads can build loyalty amongst certain people and groups based on the association they have with a particular channel or on-air personality. Then social media can combine many of those aspects into one. For example, I can build a reputation by answering a question on Twitter and create a sale and a follower for future business.


Mari: We started out our business strictly using SM. It wasn’t in our initial strategy, but it worked, and it continues to work – so we’re using it.



What do you think has made you more successful on your sm platform(s) any methodology you practice that sets you apart from others?

Jackie: I don’t post about my business every waking moment. I personally think you could do more damage by being too obvious. I make friends by being their friends. This way, it’s easier for them to approach me. I also talk about my company from personal perspective. Ie. "Getting a pedicure today and wonder what color I should use?" followed by my web address. I don’t know if this is necessarily the right way, but it’s the way I would like to be approached.


Bernard: Be human.


Taylor: We’ve been caring and interacting from the heart and not just doing it because someone suggested social media. It will become apparent to people if your only interest is in the immediate sale. Also tackling tougher questions and concerns from people helps set us apart from others.


Mari: We really make an effort to connect with everybody. If someone makes a comment on our Facebook fan page, we respond. If someone new shows up on our Twitter feed and asks a question about our product line or delivery area, we not only respond with an answer, but also find other, more personal ways to connect with them and develop a relationship. If someone on LinkedIn joins a network I belong to, I reach out and find a common interest to develop a relationship with that person.



What advice would you give similar business owners about how to best utilize sm for their businesses?

Jackie: Since I am so new at this, I don’t know if the way I’m doing it is necessary the right way. I can only advise that, although we live in a highly technological world, people still need to feel connected. They need to see a face that represents that company.


Bernard: You can’t be in the modern marketing landscape and not have a working understanding of SM. It’s like claiming to be a chef, but not know how to use a stove burner.


Taylor: Let social media be something fun. Don’t have it be forced or people will see through it. Find the right outlets to do it and don’t wear yourself or your business too thin in a way where you aren’t able to pay attention to your customers' needs and concerns.


Mari: Don’t take it so seriously! There’s something to be said for being genuine and not following all of the rules that “experts” have put out there. Experiment. Test things out. If things don’t work, change it. Track your progress. Reciprocate. And repeat.




What failures or hiccups have you had while using sm to grow any business relationships?

Jackie: So far I have not seen either. Ask me in a year and I’m sure I’ll have some for you.


Bernard: Sometimes our commitment has wavered. It’s not that is it work, per se. It just requires daily maintenance. Sometimes that can be hard, when your time is limited.


Taylor: There are times where being too accessible is rough. We’ve been painted into a corner a few times and we’ve been better at knowing when not to post something. Never do anything controversial unless your business is built on that.


Mari: When Twitter or Facebook are hacked, we get no orders. That’s kind of a problem.






Still not convinced that Social Media is the future, let me leave you with this...




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