The way of conducting a successful business has changed. From the days of the Yellow Pages salesperson who went store-to-store, to responding to email and voicemail day or night, we have become a 24/7 society where we want and need information immediately, and if it’s not available, we know where to find it.
It’s at this point where Social Media (SoMe) plays an integral role. Through the contacts you’ve made, via Facebook, Twitter, Blogs or LinkedIn, you can rest assured that if you can’t find what you’re looking for, someone you know will have the information or at least point you in the right direction.
A good example of this point is how the resources for this article were culled. If it were not for the input of the business owners we talked to, whom we met through SoMe channels, then this article would have no real value to our readers. SoMe has evolved from being perceived as frivolous to something that is key to the vitality and longevity of your tile-related business.
Lee Harris Nicholson, Founder of Filmore Clark tile showroom in West Hollywood, CA, says she feels like a novice of SoMe, but adds she has found both support and inspiration through Twitter. “As a small business owner, one can sometimes feel alienated and not so inspiring on an everyday basis. Meeting other professionals (designers, artists, contractors etc.) on Twitter has really expanded my network both in Los Angeles, as well as nationwide. Being connected to your local scene is so very important, but also keeping up with what is going on across the U.S. and Europe is invaluable.”
Several years ago, Sara Baldwin, the founder and Creative Director of New Ravenna Mosaics became aware of several things. She realized her customers didn’t know her well, they didn’t understand the labor-intensive process of creating mosaics, and they didn’t feel connected to the source of the design inspiration. Sara decided to start a blog two years ago because, “I wanted to give the company an online ‘personality’ - to show that we are people and not machines who make the products that they pay so dearly for. Humans are innately curious creatures, and these days, everyone researches the companies they patronize, so I wanted to share a bit about our history and philosophy. Certainly, it was a stretch for me to imagine that anyone could possibly wonder what is going on in my head at any point in time, but our customers do, and for me, the exercise of writing is stimulating. I really enjoy it, oddly enough. My blog is an attempt to weave a story around our existence. The story exists, but if nobody knows about it, then does it really?”
“Success in social media largely relies on consistent use of the chosen platforms and the creation of a dialogue between the artisan/manufacturer and the design-focused communities,” said Veronika Miller, Founder at Modenus. “With our help, artisans can enhance their existing social media efforts by engaging with Modenus on its social media platforms on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest, thereby engaging community members in a conversation and building relationships.”
In addition to using SoMe networks, many have started their own blogs (short for Web log) where one can freely log events, thoughts, processes, step-by-step information, and more. The blog can either be hosted on your website or through various blog networks, such as WordPress.
“I have been using social media for about two years and started blogging in 2008. In that time, social media has allowed me to improve my knowledge about the products I sell, connect with industry leaders and experts, source new material or vendors, and provide new opportunities and channels for increased sales,” says Bill Buyok, Owner of Avente Tile. The company blog, Tile Talk, has been effective at increasing traffic to our e-commerce site, AventeTile.com, through referrals from the blog and via online because of improved ranking on specific keyword search phrases. I negotiated better vendor pricing by blogging about specific products. I’ve received leads for commercial projects from my blog and connect with architects, builders and designers by following their blogs and through guest posts. Most importantly, it provides another way to find and connect with customers and build their trust by sharing my knowledge and listening to their feedback.”
The power of blogging and the knowledge shared through it, recently came to fruition with Modenus’ recent event, BlogTour2011, which brought bloggers from the U.S. and the UK together, first at London Design Festival in September of 2011, and then again during the upcoming New York Design Festival in March of 2012. “BlogTour2011 has shown that sponsors who were involved in the online buzz created by the team of bloggers that had been selected to travel to London for a week, saw about 50% more social media impressions than those that did not,” says Miller. “So, if you’re going to embrace social media, embrace it for what it is. A tool to reach, meet and connect with people.”
“Blogging has helped to build my brand and create an online presence for my niche,” add Buyok. “My blog topics often answer frequent questions or misconceptions. But, I also try to share, enrich, and educate my readers. For instance, our YouTube videos show how each hand-crafted tile is made. This helps customers understand the value of this unique product – in a way that words alone couldn’t. When customers tell me they are excited about their completed tile installation, I share that on the blog. It is a way to share their excitement and a powerful testimonial.”
Echoing Buyok’s sentiments about customer service and satisfaction, especially the much-wanted testimonial, is Nicholson. “The PR has made many out-of-state sales possible, taking my local showroom national, which is something I never knew was possible with SoMe. So, if you are on the fence about Twitter or Facebook, I say do it! People buy from people, not companies.”
But is taking the time to understand and fully utilize the potential of SoMe worth it? You bet, says Buyok. “This year, our business targeted an increase in the sale of cement tiles over the previous year. We have achieved that goal primarily by blogging about new designs, sharing installation photos, providing design ideas and explaining how and where to use the product. We did not spend one dime on paid adverting; but, sales have increased!
Moreover, says Buyok, “Blogs allow small businesses to build their brand and establish themselves as experts by sharing knowledge. A few years ago this didn’t matter; but, now most purchase decisions start with an online search.”
Baldwin’s blog posts are infused with her candid, witty, personality, and are read and enjoyed by the people who discovered them. However with the popular advent of Twitter and Facebook for business, entirely new communication tools are now available. Blog posts could be promoted to a wider community of readers with viral results. “SoMe became the tool for leveraging every single effort and achievement of the company and perhaps even more importantly, it allows New Ravenna to listen, learn and participate in conversations with interior designers, architects, developers, editors, and bloggers throughout the world. It is a tool that intimately connects New Ravenna Mosaics to current and future customers.”
“When implemented correctly, Social Media may be the most profound communications tool we currently have at our disposal,” says JoAnn Locktov, writer and owner of BellaFigura Communications. “It offers businesses the ability to converse, to learn, to share, and often to laugh together with a community of people who have the potential to substantially contribute to growth. It is a tool that thrives with authenticity and creativity. It requires a determined plan, a consistent investment of time, an appreciation of etiquette and a smattering of curiosity.”
The time has come to take action on increasing the visibility and viability of your business. With well-thought out plan of execution, it can be done.
A Social Media Primerby JoAnn Locktov, Blogger (“Tileista”) and owner of BellaFigura Communications
- Learn: If Social Media is new to you read a few books on the subject, two of my favorites are Engaged by Brian Solis and The Zen of Social Media Marketing by Shama Hyder Kabani.
- Chart a road map: Decide why you are going to use Social Media, what content you are going to provide that is unique to your company, who is going to manage the journey, and when.
- Listen: Research several businesses you admire on each Social Media platform and listen and observe their conversations, their content and their immediacy.
- Ask: By its very nature, the community on social media is just that, social. My own experience has been to receive unbelievable support, kindness and generosity. If you have a specific question about how something works, ask.
- Patience: Social Media takes time to evolve. You are building a new community; it is a slow and organic process. Go for quality over quantity.
- Consistency: The only thing worse than no Social Media is neglected Social Media, so this is critical. If you are going to start blogging or a business FB page or a Twitter account, make a commitment you can live with. Decide on how often you are going to post or participate and stick to it. Make it manageable. Be creative. If writing a blog post three times a week does not suit your goals or schedule, use your business Facebook page as a micro-blog instead. When I wanted to share my passion for artisan tile, I only wrote one post a month, but I syndicated it on seven outstanding design industry sites. It would have taken me years to create the kind of audience I was able to achieve with my first post.
- Have fun! The discovery of fascinating people that share your interests is truly an enriching experience. Your business will grow and so might you.
- Nearly 4 out of 5 active Internet users visit social networks or blogs.
- Social networks and blogs dominate Americans’ time online, accounting for nearly a quarter of total time spent on the Internet.
- Close to 40% of social media users access social media content from their mobile phones.
- Internet users over the age of 55 are driving the growth of social networks through mobile Internet.
Number of worldwide users of the top three social networking sites
Facebook: More than 800 million active users
LinkedIn: More than 116 million users
Twitter: More than 100 million active users
Things to keep in mind when using Social Media
- Manners count: Never forget to thank someone for mentioning you or your company, or if your post(s) are retweeted.
- Resist sending Direct Messages: Unless you know the person, don’t send direct messages (DM) to people. DMs are usually sent by spammers or salespeople.
- Make your bio work for you: You bio is your calling card. This is what people will read before following you on Twitter, Liking your page on Facebook, or connecting with you on LinkedIn.
- Connect on all levels: Make sure to include your SoMe accounts in your email signatures, business cards, VCards, and anywhere where it can be seen.
Glossary of Social TermsApp: Short for smartphone applications
Avatar: The identifying image people see next to your user name
Bit.ly: A URL shortener (bit.ly.com)
Blog: Short for “Web log”
Checking-In: Used on apps that run on location-based platforms
Direct Message (DM): Often frown upon, it can be considered as spam
Facebook: A social networking service that connects individuals, organizations and businesses
FB: Shortcut for Facebook
Flickr: An online photo management and sharing application
Follow: To follow someone means you are interested in what the person, or business, has to say
Follow Friday (#FF): A twitter event that occurs on Fridays where you tweet the names of Twitter users you’d like others to follow
Foursquare: A location-based mobile platform that utilizes a smartphone app to “check-in” to places and/or events
Forums: Similar to a bulletin board, it is an online discussion site where messages are posted and answered in a conversational format
Instagram: A free photo sharing app
Hashtag (#): Used to simplify topic searches on Twitter, such as #tile, #installation, etc.
Klout: A measurement of your online influence
“Like”: A Facebook feature that applies to comments by friends or the content of page
LinkedIn: A business-oriented social networking platform
Lurker: Someone that follows topics, chats or forums but doesn’t comment
Mashable: A web-based news blog that offers the latest information on the latest technology (mashable.com)
Pinterest: A virtual pinboard that allows users to organize and share items found on the web. Especially useful to architects and designers
Podcast: A digital audio file that can be downloaded to a computer or portable media player
Retweet (RT): On Twitter, it’s the reposting of a tweet
Spam: Internet junk mail
Tile Tuesday: The tile community of Twitter has set Tuesdays to acknowledge and recognize each other
Tweeps: Short for Twitter + people. In essence, tweeps are followers
Tweet: A Twitter post that is sent in 140 characters or less
Tweetup: A meet-up at an event organized via Twitter
Viral: Something that gets rapidly shared between social networks, especially YouTube
Vlog: Video log
WordPress: A blog publishing application
YouTube: A video-sharing website where users can upload and view videos, as well as subscribe to various channels