Small businesses find success, challenges with social media

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 58 views 

The “omni” approach to social media includes a blend of several facets including establishing brand advocates in the blogosphere, social media platforms and, where applicable, developing an app.

So in a world where the small business owner is also the marketer, the bookkeeper, the artisan and most other roles that are part of running a business, how can small businesses possibly succeed in social media?

The key, many small business owners agree, is developing a real relationship with customers that is enhanced and developed through the online experience, not just located in that space.

Large companies like Wal-Mart Stores and Duane Reade recently shared about their social media success at the Collective Bias-sponsored SoFabCon, a conference for bloggers and brands to learn together.

There were several companies there that are not so large; they were part of the “Local Love” expo that invited local vendors to share their handmade items including jewelry, soaps and home décor. The City Wire spoke with several of those companies about their own approaches to social media.

“I do everything from my iPhone, and have basically conditioned myself to constantly take photos and post them to keep my business on people's minds,” said Olivia Trimble of Sleet City Décor.

Trimble said she uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine and would be willing to try other social media channels as they are developed. Ultimately, developing relationships online or in real life is about how a person treats their customers, she said.

“I think that the bottom line is that you have to be good to your customers, whether it's in person or via social media,” Trimble said. “Maintaining an active online presence and using platforms that allow customers to comment or leave feedback seems like one of the best ways to develop positive relationships with customers.”

Lauren Embree of Lauren Embree Jewelry said she actively participates in most social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and working with bloggers.

She’s found challenges and success with social media.

“My challenges with social media seem to develop as the platform does. Facebook, for example, has made it increasingly difficult to connect with fans,” she said. “It's hard to combat these challenges, I've just learned to go with the flow so to speak, and adapt as they roll out new changes.”

Embree shared a story of how her jewelry being discussed on a blog resulted in her brand receiving national attention.

“A few years ago, my work was featured on an eco-friendly fashion blog out of LA called Eco Stiletto. It was a short mention in their jewelry section, but the very next day I received an email from an editor at Martha Stewart's Whole Living magazine interested in featuring my jewelry. Just a short week later, I was emailed by none other than VOGUE magazine's Accessories Editor also requesting samples of my work for photo shoot in NYC,” she said. “Several of my pieces were featured in the January 2011 issue of Whole Living, which brought new customers from all around the world. After that kind of national attention, most of the local publications were eager to feature me. It was a great launch for my collection.”

Social media is a tool that helps small businesses do what they do best, develop relationships with individual customers.

“Strong relationships lead to trusted recommendations and your business blooms because of it,” she said.

Stacie Bloomfield owns Gingiber, which offers handmade illustrated home wares and paper goods. She uses her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

“I feel like the most important aspect of using social media as a small business is to be authentic in your message and to not overwhelm your audience with ‘self-promotion,’ she said. “I use Twitter to interact with fellow creatives, fans of Gingiber and other online businesses. I use Twitter more for conversations. But it is still effective. My Facebook page I use more to announce new products or poll fans for ideas. And Instagram gives a behind-the-scenes look at the business. All work together to create a cohesive brand.”

Bloomfield recently had a major success story when she used social media to establish a fundraiser to help her friends Amber and Jonathan Perrodin, who own Perrodin Supply. Jonathan lost one of his fingers in a woodworking accident and Bloomfield, with several other small business owners, wanted to help the family with medical bills and while Jonathan was unable to work. They joined together with artisans from across the country to sell their wares in the “Four Finger Fundraiser,” which raised $5,000 I in a week.

“I spent a few weeks organizing the shop, spreading the word via social media, and telling the Perrodins’ story prior to the opening of the Four Finger Fundraiser shop. The community locally and online shared the story with one another and told how people could help support our cause,” she said. “I feel like the fundraiser was a success because first and foremost we focused on introducing the Perrodins to readers. We told their story. And people could relate to a husband and wife team striving to run a quality handmade business. That coupled with an overwhelming show of love and support from local media and radio resulted in an amazing fundraiser. The use of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram spread the fundraiser all over the world. People donated from as far away as England.”

The Perrodins have their own success story when it comes to social media. Their company, Perrodin Supply, features handcrafted artist supplies and goods. They use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. They agree that each platform has a different function and reaches a different audience. They cater their message for the audience that is found on each platform.

“It’s about being aware of our audience,” Amber said. “These are real people that we depend on.”

They also agree that sometimes the toughest part of managing social media for them as small business owners is that social media never “turns off.”

“Twitter doesn’t turn off at 5 p.m.,” Jonathan said. “If you don’t follow up, you lose sales.”

The Perrodins have found that establishing “brand advocates” is really about being good to their customers and fellow artists, which they believe is the right thing to do regardless of sales.

“We try to exceed at customer service and treat them as though we are their fans, not that they are our fans,” Amber said.

Jonathan said they rarely push products and they focus on establishing relationships with both their customers and fellow artists who often refer customers to them and vice versa.

“Our goal is to build relationships. It’s a little longer route but it’s less obnoxious,” he said.