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Archive for 'Success Stories'

success-stories-postlingPostling is a tool small businesses can use to market, listen, and respond to their customers using social media. It launched on August 1, 2009 and recently broke 10,000 users.  I talked with Alexis Lamster, Vice President of Customers, about what Postling has accomplished, what it hopes to accomplish, and why small businesses are their main target customer.

1.) Who is your target customer?

We strictly target small businesses. We are extremely passionate about small business and we really feel we are the only ones with this kind of platform who is targeting the smaller companies.  We have a few customers who aren’t small businesses, but we try to be very, very small business focused.

2.) How do most people use the tool?

There are different ways people can use it. They can hook up Twitter, Facebook, and their blog so they can post to all platforms at once and have one spot to respond to all the comments.

And then anyone who has a premium membership can track Yelp and Citysearch reviews and post them to their social networks. We also have real-time web tracking. So for example, a cupcake shop can search all the entire web for any phrase. If they decide to track the phrase “great cupcake” and run across someone who is asking for a great cupcake place, they can reply to them.

The last way is our newly-launched RSS feed tracking. You can plug in all of the RSS feeds you want, and you can re-post anything you see to your social media accounts straight from Postling. It takes all the information that you find and curates out to your followers what you think is interesting and important.

3.) How does Postling itself use social media?

Postling is on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and all our employees have social media accounts as well. We are all really plugged in, reading things, and talking to people.

We try to be a really heavy feedback company. We use social media to talk with customers, find out if they have a feature they are looking for, etc.

4.) What else does Postling do to promote itself?

We organize Sidewalk Collective. This is a series of events in Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco. We get a sponsor, find a venue, and choose a small business and a topic. An example would be: how to create a cult following using social media. We have the business speak on what is working for them and how they got where they are. We invite other small business to attend and ask questions about social media. But we do not use these events to push our product; we instead try to foster discussion.

5.) What has the feedback to Postling been?

I’ve been with company for 8 or 9 months and a lot of the feedback I’ve gotten is generally along the lines of, we’re the only ones out there who are looking out for the small business. We price our premium package on a level that small businesses can handle — $24.99 a month — which is on par with the cost of Constant Contact.

6.) What are the benefits of the premium package?

Our regular membership allows you to still publish in the smart workflow to all of your social media accounts, schedule posts to publish in the future, and respond to all of your comments. Postling Premium allows you to manage extra brands to organize your social media accounts, in addition to web-tracking, Yelp and CitySearch reviews, and RSS feed tracking. One of our customers is a restaurant in California that has 3 different locations, so they hook up their Citysearch reviews and Yelp separately and track progress by each location.

7.) What’s on the horizon for Postling?

A big thing we are working on is a combination of analytics and suggestions. What we envision is a way for small businesses to get a handle on how they’re doing with social media and to help guide them in ways that can help them get better. Our overall goal is to get businesses to engage and participate in the conversation with their customers. We hope these additions will be in a few months.

8.) Why do you think social media is so important for small businesses?

Social media gives small business such an advantage because they can attach a personality to it. If you’re a bakery around the corner, you have such an opportunity to reach out and brand your company. It gives you the chance to reach out to your customers, making connections, and show you’re part of the community.

9.) Thanks so much for talking with me. Anything else to add?

I just wanted to mention that we also send you a daily email every morning with a round up of your activity from the day before. So let’s say you’re a café, every morning we will send you your latest reviews, tracking results, and all your Twitter @replies and comments. So even if you don’t have time to log into Postling you still have a handle of what’s going on.

Thanks Alexis for taking the time to talk with me. For more information on Postling, visit their website, or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

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The Needle Shop

In this installment of Success Stories I talked with Rachel Epperson, owner of The Needle Shop located in the Chicago neighborhood of Bucktown.  Rachel uses Facebook, Yelp, and Flickr to promote her business.  She is also expanding into a blog later this month.  Read below to find out how she uses social media to grow her DIY sewing school and fabric store.

1.) Why did you first start utilizing social media for your business? How did your store change from before Facebook, Yelp, Flickr etc. to after you started using them?

I was on Facebook like everyone else and it came up a lot in class.  I friended a few students and they would ask me sewing questions via FB.  Or, when they posted pics on Facebook of stuff they made I could see it too.  Then, it seemed logical to make the Fan Page so we could all wow over each other’s projects and share tips.  Now we just feel a lot more connected to our customers/students and in turn can know more about what they’re looking for.

2.) Do you use social media primarily to connect with customers you already have or to also draw in new ones?

I’d say to connect, but I’m always happy when someone chimes in who I’ve never seen before.  I do think students post pics of projects and their friends see and want to join in too.

3.) Which is your favorite social media application that you use?

Right now, Facebook.  It’s kind of catch-all.  It funnels right into Twitter, so we get 2 birds with one stone.  I’m really looking forward to the blog as well.

4.) How does Etsy play into your social media usage? How does Flickr?

We link to our own Etsy pages a lot through FB and in our newsletter, so folks can see what’s new in the shop.  I have a few complaints about Etsy, but overall, it’s been a HUGE bonus for us and saves us a lot of time selling fabric online, not to mention exposes a ton of people to our stuff.

5.) What are the biggest challenges to your social media usage? And what are your biggest lessons learned?

Hm.  I’m not sure it’s been challenging.  It took a while to see what posts had the most impact and figure out what info people are interested in, but it was a natural learning curve.  I think it’s fun, so it doesn’t seem like hard work.  My job is always more fun when I’m connected to my students.

6.) What are your tips for a small business owner who wants to start using social media?

Really consider who you’re talking to before you start.  And listen carefully to their reactions.  It’s such a give and take that you can’t get too many preconceived ideas about what to do.  The point is to give them a voice, so you actually want to hear them!

7.) It looks like you are about to launch a blog. Why did you make that decision? What are you hoping to accomplish by attaching a blog to your business?

In our industry, folks love tutorials.  There are just an endless number of tricks to share that we can’t get them all into classes.  I think our readers will always be excited to learn more stuff.

8.) What are your social media plans for the future?

The blog, of course.  And, I’d love to get more students posting pics on our Facebook fan page.  I encourage them all the time to show off and remind them it’s how we all get inspired.  They’re getting less shy, slowly, but surely.

Thanks Rachel for talking to me!  To learn more about The Needle Shop visit their website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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Foiled Cupcakes owner, Mari Luangrath

In this installment of Success Stories, I interviewed Mari Luangrath, owner of Foiled Cupcakes, about her social media usage.  Foiled Cupcakes sells cupcakes exclusively through their website and delivers them all throughout the Chicago area.  Mari is a champion of Twitter and Facebook and estimates 90% of her business comes from social media.

1.)  How did you begin using social media?

I started using Facebook a few years ago, just for personal use. And I hopped onto Twitter totally by accident. Over dinner, a friend said, “Hey, Twitter might be really good for you to launch your new business. Have you heard of it?” And I said, “I think Twitter sounds like Facebook status updates on steroids. Who would care?” But after a few days of tinkering around on Twitter, it seemed like people were responding, and ended up being a great way to network with people I had never met before.

2.)  You have gotten a lot of press for your use of Twitter, but are there other social media applications that you find are just as important and effective?  Which is your favorite social media application?

We use Facebook and our blog. One that’s overlooked a lot is LinkedIn, which I use quite a bit for strategic professional networking and for partnerships.  LinkedIn has been really useful from a B2B standpoint. A lot of our clients are businesses, so we’ve used LinkedIn to network with corporate gatekeepers: HR, administrative professionals, in-office catering networks, etc. We also connect with others in the hospitality space and network with event/wedding planners as well, referring business to them. Inevitably, because of the relationships we’ve built, they refer business to us, so it’s always a win-win.

3.)  What are your plans to expand on your use of social media?

I’ve dabbled in Foursquare a bit, but I’m still not totally sure how we could apply it since we don’t have a storefront and all of our cupcakes are personally delivered. I guess we’ll just see what inspiration hits us with regard to all of these social media platforms, and see which ones are actually viable, and then go with it.

4.)  How do you integrate your personality into your social media use for your business?  Do you think putting your own personality into social media helps to grow your brand?

To a fault, I integrate my own personality (perhaps too much). How do we do it? I’m not totally sure. We tweet pictures of crazy things we see that may not have anything to do with cupcakes. We respond to everybody on Facebook and throw questions back at them. We connect on LinkedIn with professionals and then follow through with the personal connection. I don’t know how brands can’t NOT put personality into their social media strategy. It’s what relationships are built on.

5.)  What are the biggest challenges to your social media usage?  And what are your biggest lessons learned?

Biggest challenge = getting way sucked in, time-wise. I have to learn to turn off Tweetdeck and shut down Facebook. It’s a struggle when you’re having a great conversation with someone!

6.)  What are your tips for a small business owner just starting out in social media?

Jump in! It can be a lot of fun. Everybody says, “I don’t know what {insert whatever social media application here} is all about.” I said it. And my opinion is you won’t find out unless you just jump in and give it a shot. If you say something that’s “wrong,” it won’t be the end of the world. Just try it and get a feel for it. See which ones work for you and your brand/product/service. And once you find a good thing that seems to click, roll with it!

7.)  On a typical day, how much time do you actually spend using social media?

I wish I could say I’m regimented enough to hop online every day and manage our social media on a regular basis, but that’s just unrealistic. There are so many varying demands on my time that social media sometimes gets pushed to midnight or gets ignored for a few days. But you know what? It’s not the end of the world. So I guess the answer would be… as much time as I can squeeze in. In reality, that probably adds up to around 30-45 minutes a day, averaged out over a week.

8.) How much of your business comes from social media?

If you could trace it all back to one source, it’d be social media. 90% or so of our leads come from direct or indirect links to social media.  That also stems from blog articles, videos, press, etc. – and those people heard about us through social media.

Thanks Mari for talking with us!  To learn more about Foiled Cupcakes, visit their website or follow Mari on Twitter @foiledcupcakes

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Vive La Femme owner, Stephanie Sack, modeling new merchandise

My second Success Stories interview is with Stephanie Sack, owner of Vive La Femme, a clothing store in Chicago which offers the latest looks and trends for Chicago’s stylish women of size.  Stephanie uses a blog and Facebook to promote her store.  Read below to find out how.

1.)  Why did you first start utilizing a blog for your business?  How did your store change from before the blog to after the blog started?

The blog was born after I pared down the entire marketing concept for the shop.  I used to have a very elaborate wesbite, really jazzy and snazzy, but it was a pain to keep up.  As a result, the blog format seemed far better suited to the new, more streamlined vision for the boutique.  Happily the intimate and chatty nature of blogs translated perfectly to my wacky sense of communication!

2.)  Do you use the blog primarily to connect with customers you already have or to also draw in new ones?

Primarily to stay connected but many new customers have mentioned they found the blog and subsequently signed up for the weekly updates online.

3.)  How has the use of your blog evolved since its birth?  Are there any other applications (Twitter, Facebook, FoursSquare) that you’ve considered utilizing as well?

The blog has become very predictable in its layout, tone, and delivery.  Every Friday the blog is updated with pictures and descriptions of our newest shipments, and I have also added our latest arrivals at my new shoe store.  I also make event-driven posts here and there.  Twitter is something I dabble in but it simply does not have the intense effect as the blog postings do…when the email goes out for the latest blog entry, I literally get responses from customers asking to hold items that they see on the blog, and Twitter cannot match that direct impact.  Facebook, however, has quickly blossomed into a major marketing tool for my concepts, and without a doubt contributes positively to sales.  The staff takes turns modeling the new inventory, and I also keep the readership updated on promotions, sales and events. Every now and again I run Facebook-only sale announcements or promotional offers, and people always respond. It definitely adds vibrancy and legitimacy to the vive la femme “lifestyle”.

4.)  What are the biggest challenges to your social media usage?  And what are your biggest lessons learned?

A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND DOLLARS.  Everyone loves pictures and images, so I create a continuum of clothes, shoes, and wording to manifest an exciting perception of how I think life should be.  This confidence and clarity is something my customers have come to expect.  I LOVE doing it, and it shows!  I get tons of compliments on my kooky writing style, the cute pictures, and the overall tone of the posts.  Posts have to be done consistently and always go back to a “call-to-action”…you want to make customers excited and eager to come in and buy!

5.)  What are your tips for a small business owner who wants to start a business blog?

Make sure your blog reflects not only the products you carry, but the vision you manifest.  That will keep clients interested and engaged. Post on a regular basis, and absolutely post pictures of new inventory or what is on sale.   Most of all, get behind your concept and promote it with awesome images, unflagging enthusiasm, and well-written vigor!

6.)  You post a new blog post once a week.  How did this strategy come about?  How did you develop your blog guidelines and find what worked best for your company?

I used to work for an arts and entertainment paper than came out once a week, so I am very habituated to that schedule. Clothes come in every week, so I post every week!  Emailing/blog updates go out on Friday to prep for Saturday, the busiest day for boutiques.  Also, I looked at some other fashion/style/boutique blogs that I liked and more or less copied their posting schedule and format.  Why reinvent the wheel?

If you want to learn more about Vive La Femme visit their website, or else visit the store which is located at 2048 N Damen Chicago, IL.  Stephanie also opened a new shoe boutique which carries shoe sizes 9 and up along with fall boots in wide calf widths.  You can find the shoe store at 2031 N Damen Chicago, IL.

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Berry-Chill-LogoWelcome to the first post of a new series: Success Stories. I am interviewing businesses that are using social media as all or part of their marketing plan.  My first interview is with Michael Farah, owner of Berry Chill, an all-natural yogurt store with several Chicago locations.  Berry Chill has a constant social media presence, and exclusively uses social media to market themselves.  Just how does Farah use social media for his business?  Read below to find out.

1.)  How did you begin using social media?

I started out in the social media world through personal use and decided to start using it for my business too.  Friends of mine had turned me onto Twitter, so I started using it as a personal tool, not too much, just playing around with it.  But once it started to pick up steam last year, that’s when we started using it for Berry Chill.

2.)  Which is the most effective social media application?

Twitter is better than Facebook for business.  It’s easier to become more viral.  When we post something on Twitter we’ll get around 50-100 re-tweets.  Facebook users aren’t as likely to share.  They may “like” it, but sharing is a different story.  I find that people on Twitter are more viral users than on Facebook.  Facebook is more information gathering, not as much sharing.

3.) How do you find your Facebook and Twitter followers?

We find our followers through other people.  We will see a Twitter user who doesn’t follow us, but who posts a Tweet about Berry Chill.  We monitor that and when they mention us, we’ll follow them and respond to them.  Usually, they’ll start following us back.

4.)  What are your plans to expand on your use of social media?

We don’t have any active plans to expand right now.  We try to be doing all we can at all times.  For example, we were one of the first companies to use FourSquare.  We give people 10% discounts at the register if they check in.

5.)  How is your company different from others?

There are a lot of little things we do differently, and using a mascot (Yogi Jones) is one thing we do to build the brand.  Yogi Jones is how we communicate via Twitter with our customers.  We didn’t want our customers hearing from a business, we wanted a different way to communicate.  So Yogi Jones was born.

Also, the way we do promotions makes us different.  We have our customers participate in focus groups.  Additionally, we do not do any traditional advertising.  I think traditional advertising is past its time and not something our customers read or look at.  Just take into account my own habits.  I don’t know the last time I watched a live television show or read a newspaper that wasn’t on my phone.

6.)  What are the biggest challenges to your social media usage?

I haven’t really found a challenge.  It’s been a really great experience overall.  There’s no downside to it.  It’s very organic.  For example on Twitter, if what you post is worthwhile, people will re-tweet it.  If not, it’s forgotten.

7.)  On a typical day, how much time do you actually spend using social media?

I’ll spend about an hour a day.  It’s a living part of my day.  I check it four or five times a day just to see what’s going on.

8.)  Do you have a company wide social media policy?

There is no company-wide policy on social media.  We encourage everyone to use it, but not everyone is into it.  As for our company branded social media, nobody is allowed to use Twitter of Facebook besides a select few.  You have to keep it controlled.

9.)  What are your tips for a small business owner just starting out in social media?

My only advice that is worthwhile is to tell them to just do it and spend 30-60 minutes everyday on it whether they like it or not.  There’s no class you can take on it.  It’s one of those things that once you start using it, you’ll see the benefits of it.  There are people who are stubborn and don’t want to use technology and that’s fine, but their competition is using it, so eventually they will have to.

If you want to learn more about Berry Chill visit their website at www.berrychill.com or follow Yogi Jones on Twitter at @yogijones.

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