by Gary Dickens
Note from Lisa: Gary generously allowed me to repost this. Please read on how one very skeptical business owner learned to embrace the power of social media.
Jerry’s Flowers & Twitter
For those of you who see me around the community, it might come as a surprise that by nature, I am very reclusive, not out-going at all. The out-going facet you might see is me getting beyond my comfort zone, doing that which needs to be done.
So I was very much a late adapter of social media as a marketing tool for our small business, Jerry’s Flowers & Gifts, here in Leesburg, Va. I thought Facebook was simply an easy means for girls to talk about boys and Twitter, the most ridiculous thing on the planet. Who needs to say something in 140 characters or less? But a recession that hurt the ad budget and a revolt half a world away was about to change all that.
The (almost) Iranian Revolution in 2009 was probably the first popular uprising fueled by Twitter and was at the grassroots level, incredibly successful. In my opinion the only reason it failed was that the United States didn’t support the rebels. We’ve seen the impact of social media most recently in the successes of the Arab Spring.
In the 1980s’ book “To Inform or Control: The New Communications Networks”, my Aunt Gladys and Uncle Osie practically predicted that the VCR would help bring down the Iron Curtain. In the summer of 2009, deep in the recession, I wondered, “If Twitter can nearly bring down a dictatorship, what power might it have in growing a small business”.
Thus the @jerrysflowers Twitter account was born. (“@” prefixes all Twitter account names)
And very quickly, nothing happened.
@jerrysflowers started by “tweeting” (posting) tips of the day. Now the goal of social media is to have someone listening to what you have to say. We had, say maybe, 10 followers at the end of the first month. Hoping for osmosis to bring in new followers just wasn’t working.
So we followed some Twitter advice and looked for others interested in the same things we were, which oddly enough were florists. So @jerrysflowers started following florists. But guess what, florists aren’t our typical customers!
Folks who live in, and have connections to Leesburg and Loudoun County are.
By doing a Twitter search on Leesburg and Loudoun @jerrysflowers found dozens of relevant local businesses and organizations to “follow” (Twitter accounts whose postings you want to read). And to our surprise, many of those accounts followed us back.
Then we discovered “Twellowhood.com”, a website that geographically identifies Twitter accounts. By searching “Leesburg, Ashburn, Purcellville, etc. @jerrysflowers was soon following hundreds of local accounts, some of whom followed us back.
By the end of August, it was clear something was happening. Traffic to our main website, jerrysflowersonline.com, was up by some 40%! Typically, our website traffic goes down July-to-August, as folks go on vacation, simple as that.
Now, 30 months later @jerrysflowers has 1075 followers from Leesburg, Loudoun and around the world, truly helping us become an international company. We don’t do those tips anymore and while we’ll occasionally tweet sales and specials, mostly we try to interact with people conversationally.
Because, at its core, social media is best a conversation…not a bunch of carnival barkers along the midway.
Jerry’s Flowers & Facebook
We didn’t get started with Facebook until the following year, 2010, when we started to use it to showcase our wedding work on the page named “Jerry’s Weddings”. Twitter was a more intuitive platform for me than Facebook and also seemed to help us connect with new businesses, very valuable accounts in our trade. So we didn’t push Facebook so hard.
Twitter’s greatest downside though from a marketing perspective, is that a tweet has the lifespan of a fruit fly. Facebook posts are much longer lasting and you can post photos and photo albums, a feature vital to a florist. (You can tweet photos too, via services like Twitpic, but again, lifespan of a fruit fly.)
And as Twitter seems to be stronger at business-to-business customer development, Facebook is clearly the business-to-consumer champion. It was designed to bring people together.
As a full service florist, Jerry’s quickly found that the specialty page “Jerry’s Weddings” was too limiting and started a second page “Jerry’s Flowers & Gifts”. I ran into my friend Grafton deButts from the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce, told him we had two pages going to which he responded, “dude, two pages is the kiss of death, you have to consolidate” (or something like that).
We took his advice and killed off the Jerry’s Wedding’s page.
I’d love to report to you today that like Twitter, we now have a thousand fans on Facebook. Alas, that is far from the case, as of this writing we only have 70. I’m not sure why we’ve not been more successful on Facebook. We have great images, always doing something cool. It may be that I view life from a testosterone laden perspective, frankly a bit of a handicap when selling flowers.
But, if the first rule of social media is not to talk about yourself too much, then the second is to never give up if at first you don’t succeed. Unless your last name happens to be Streep or Pitt it’s going to take time and lots of posts.
So, like any small businessman (or woman) worth their salt, we don’t quit.
So what does this mean for your business?
(Note: I also employ social media for my online publication Leesburg Magazine.)
Social media should be part of a balanced marketing plan that includes a well-produced website, print advertising, press releases email and direct mail, radio and TV if you can afford them, then finally plain ‘ole meet ‘n greet/shoe leather networking. Social media is free but definitely a sweat equity proposition.
Within the world of social media there are numerous options: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest to name a few. I’ve listed them in the order I feel they are most relevant. Right now, Jerry’s Flowers and Leesburg Magazine are only involved with Twitter and Facebook.
If you’ve decided to get in the pool, I’d suggest launching a Twitter account first, get a bit of experience then follow soon thereafter with a Facebook account.
In naming your Twitter account, try to make it short and memorable so that it’s easy for others to remember and type. @jerrysflowers serves us well and @leesburgmag also reflects the magazine’s domain name.
In naming your Facebook account make it precise. The Facebook page name for our flower shop is Jerry’s Flowers & Gifts, for the magazine it is Leesburg Magazine.
You can link you Twitter posts to automatically post to your Facebook page and vice versa. My opinion is to link Facebook posts to post on Twitter, but not Twitter to Facebook. Facebook posts tend to be more durable, detailed and information that you want your Twitter audience to see too. But Twitter posts tend to be more “stream of consciousness”, conversational, and perhaps even highly opinionated, and frequently you’d not want them clogging up your Facebook page.
If you are posting on behalf of your employer or organization, remember you are representing them not you. It’s best to keep your opinions close to the vest when working for others; you can be as snarky as you wish on your own time and account.
Remember the Golden Rule of Social Media: at its best it’s a conversation with friends, not a time for you to channel Billy Mays.
Take time to retweet postings you find interesting on Twitter and to comment on other’s Facebook posts. That little bit of recognition and affirmation can be very satisfying to the recipient.
On Twitter, don’t be afraid to engage with celebrities, athletes and politicians, you’d be amazed at how often they’ll respond. Local news media (meaning DC) tend to be very good at responding.
As a business owner should you contract out your social media work to others because you are too busy? Well, Martha Stewart does her own posts and Governor McDonnell does most of his. Are you busier than Martha or the Governor?
Finally, this could go on and on with how-to tips but let me end with this. Remember that social media is a very powerful thing. It is a great way to build your brand or start a revolution, just think twice before you post once.
Gary Dickens is an international business development specialist
with experience in the automotive, heathcare, construction and
publishing industries. His current project, Leesburg Magazine,
uses the power of the web and social media to share this historic
Virginia town with the world. You can connect with Gary on Twitter or Facebook.