I was recently included in a list of people who make social media better. It was incredibly humbling and I am honored. Not just because it was created by a professional content creator and marketer, but because it is really a message about social media and what makes it work. Especially for small brands. The secret sauce? Just Be Social.
For real. That is it. Seems simple right? I mean the thing is called SOCIAL Media. But yet it is not simple. I see so many struggle. Let me break it down for you & get real. Ready?
Social Media is not a broadcast radio network. It is not a television channel for you to just run ads and broadcast content. It is full of noise from blind random contributors. Post & run is NOT a strategy. Sure you CAN do that. But there is minimal payoff (if any) and that is not what it is about. It is about people. Period.
Social Media is an amazing thing and yes there are lots of strategies and marketing perspectives out there. I may or may not agree with some of them. But for me? For my brand? I look at it slightly different than most. Yes, it is marketing. Yes, it is a way to reach new audience. But most important, it is a way to CONNECT. Let me take it to you from a different perspective. The Grandpa Small Business owner perspective.
My hero is my grandpa and my small business, 144 Stitches, is named after him. When I was a kid, one of my fave things to do was skip school and hang out with my him. I spent most weekends with him as a toddler and he became my best bud as I grew up. In fact, looking back, I probably learned more applicable life lessons from those days with him than in any classroom!
He was a cool dude let me tell you. He had swagger before swagger was even cool to have! Somewhat older in years, he was a businessman in New York City. I did not really know what that was, a "businessman", but knew someday I wanted to be it too because I wanted to be as much like him as humanly possible.
One of the businesses my grandfather owned was a paper goods company. No, this isn’t glamorous, but we never ran out of napkins or plates so there’s that bonus. This business stood out to me, not because of the products but, because of the people.
I used to go with him when he would stop by stores who carried his product on those days I skipped school to hang out with him. Grandpa gave me a nickel or dime to go play at “the machines” and he would go about his business talking to store clerks, shopkeepers and owners about business, their families and life in general. It always seemed like these were his friends, not customers. He knew their families and I played with their kids. Some came over to the apartment for poker games or dinner.
I also distinctly recall when we would ride down the streets and Avenues of Harlem and the Bronx, where he worked and had his warehouse, in his silver Cadillac with his custom tags, that people would yell out his name and wave as we passed by. They knew him and they knew his car. “Hey Mr. Al” or “Yo, Mr. G” they would say. It made me feel proud because he was clearly loved by so many.
I always thought it was interesting just how many people knew him.
Was he famous? No.
Was he a hero? Only to me.
Was he a politician? Nope, not even close.
He was a neighborhood businessman and that was his turf. Those were his people!
I always wanted that. Not for the fame and money - I wanted those connections. It left an impact and imprint on me.
When I started my business as an online store I was crushed a little bit inside. I knew I would never have what he had. Without a cash register or storefront how would I make those neighborhood and customer connections? Who would I have a cup of coffee with or bring flowers to for their wife after birth of a child? How would I achieve those relationships? I had achieved only a small piece of the dream by starting my business.
Then I had an epiphany. I CAN HAVE THAT! Just different.
When I started managing my own brand I decided to do it differently than the norm and make it what I had thought I missed out on and social media became my store front. My “neighborhood”. I can go days on twitter without mentioning my products. Just interacting with people and building those connections.
It is not an easy task and I will tell you it takes work for sure. You can't force it. Just like opening shop in a neighborhood, starting out on social media is a slow build. But it can be done. I am in fact creating an updated modern online version of the connections and relationships like my grandpa had.
My platform of choice is Twitter, though I thoroughly enjoy Instagram as well. Each is different and gives me different audiences. It is like having two store locations!
While I do post and share my links to products and special sales events, I do not use social media to spam people with my offerings or as a broadcast channel. I have seen small businesses with twitter accounts that are merely link farms or post only products and sale info. Sell. Sell. Sell. Look at this product. And now look at that one. Look at this celebrity client endorsing me. And now look at this. That is broadcasting and not connecting.
It isn’t really the social media experience I wanted for my customers, or for me. I want something with meat on the bone. So I deliberately made an effort and started tweeting about NON business related things. Let that sink in for a minute.
Seems to go against the purpose right? Nope. It IS the purpose! I use social media as a relationship builder to get to know people. I use it to JUST BE SOCIAL. Revolutionary right?
If there is a television show I enjoy, I tweet with people about those shows. If I need a break in my day I join a twitter chat. I like fitness and am a FitFluential ambassador, so I tweet about that. I tweet about things that interest me and engage with others who have interests like mine. In doing so I have developed and cultivated relationships, friendships, and yes, customers too.
When people I tweet with or interact with on Instagram come to meet me at my shows it is so incredibly awesome. These are just a few special moments out of many many more when I get to connect offline with my online neighborhood.
I love when I do events and people come to see me not just to shop but also people who I have connected with on social media. It is still surreal. I think to myself, "You came just to see ME" and I am so grateful. I have met amazing people. And yes, some jerks. But hey, the world is a big place and there is an unfollow button available to us.
Social media is what we make it. I have decided to make it my neighborhood.
I have met some of my closest friends via social media. I have a group of women I mentor, all met through social media. I have connected with other small businesses for partnerships through social media. I have launched a campaign to give the homeless hats and scarves, through social media. and yes, I have made sales. In 2016 ... ONE THIRD of my sales traced directly back to social media somehow. So yes, I AM building that business but also building so much more.
If you are looking to use social media as a broadcasting tool then I have no advice for you. If you are looking to use social media to connect, grow and engage with people then I say pull up a chair and join the conversation!
When I spoke at an Etsy event on turning Twitter into my shop storefront people were amazed and so many noted how it never occurred to them. They wanted to know how to use Twitter or Instagram as a marketing channel. I wanted to teach them how to use it as a SOCIAL channel. Those two are related for a small business. At least, my grandpa would say they are.
So what is the secret to social media? Just like my friend Joel Renner says: #JustBeSocial