How to Humanize Your Brand Through Social Media

Sometime around the close of the 20th century and the dawn of the 21st (but prior to the advent of Web 2.0), many companies began implementing a relatively new technology: complex phone systems.

The idea was that customers could help themselves to the information they sought by navigating tele-menus from their touch-tone phones.

Almost every major corporation and even many small ones reduced the number of customer service agents that they kept on staff and barricaded the few that remained behind a labyrinth of automated recordings.

What followed was years of consumer frustration.

If you wanted to dispute a discrepancy on a phone bill or question an item on a bank statement, the average American customer would have to first prepare mentally to do battle with the brainless robot that would answer on the other end of the line.

Discussing the aggravation caused by these phone systems became something of a pastime during these years.

Occasionally, you would meet someone seemingly grounded by a new type of Zen, who was always able to get through to a live human agent or even find a solution to their problems using just the automation without any hiccups.

However, a much more common species for the era was the screamer. This was the guy or gal who would instantly begin yelling things like “Operator!” or “Customer Service!” before even choosing between English and Spanish, as if there were still real people on the other end of the line who were just really far away.

Then there were the zero pushers—the people who would advise that if you simply pressed the zero button an untold number of times the phone system would go into a kind of cardiac arrest and an actual human would come to your aid.

All the different companies that used these systems were fully aware of the angst with which the populace regarded them. However, rather than revert to the good old days of human customer service, the companies doubled down on the technology, thinking that what we didn’t like about it was its less-than-humanness.

So, instead of giving us what we really wanted (an easier time), they gave us slightly more convincing robots. While the recordings were “improved” with a bit more synthetic humanity in the programming, the upgrades just caused us to become even more enraged.

It was somewhere around 2005 when most of this consternation began to blow over as more and more companies moved the bulk of their self-serve options to the web. Finally, we could all remain calm and just point, click, and read our way to the answers we sought.

For the most part, this is how things are still going. 

Now, on the rare occasion that a more complicated matter springs up where we really do need to talk to an actual human, there’s almost always a live chat option. Through the live chat you can type back and forth with another entity that passes the Turing test with so many flying colors that there’s no way they’re not just as alive as you. It’s really not too bad. In fact, it’s almost kind of fun.

Sadly, as a species it seems we have transcended our need for each other.

What started out as a demand for a return to one-on-one communication that evolved into a tele-dystopian nightmare eventually solved itself with the least human option of all.

And most of us like it this way.

We prefer surfing the web to having a conversation with a salesperson. A typed chat is superior to a phone call with a stranger. Texting with a friend is more comfortable than ringing them up.

The pandemic of 2020 and the various ramifications of social distancing and lockdowns have only served to exacerbate this condition.

Around the globe, humans realized that we could successfully work from home in far greater numbers than ever imagined.

More items, both necessities and luxuries, became fully deliverable than at any previous time in history. And for now, barring any further complications from supply chain shortages, we seem kind of okay with this new status quo.

But with the rise of automation, where does this leave businesses that rely on customer interaction?

The historically extreme turbulence of the economic climate over the past two years has seen many different businesses both succeed and fail. For now, staying relevant and competitive is dependent in part on making and maintaining a human connection to your clientele.

The modern customer is a highly complicated animal that loves new technology and expects constant improvement and increased convenience but shuns any tech that smacks of Big Brother by intruding on privacy or disturbing anonymity.

The modern customer has also grown accustomed to 24/7 online access to detailed information, pictures, and videos from their favorite brands. They also demand, when reasonable, the ability to buy the wares of said brands and to have them shipped at any time of day as well.

What the modern customer has grown weary of is the sterility and lonesomeness of it all.

While it’s not true that mall shopping or main street window shopping is a thing of the past, it’s definitely not what it used to be.

Some brands that were once extremely prevalent in physical brick and mortar locations have significantly decreased in number. Others have moved from storefronts to online only models. Some beloved brands are now completely out of business and are ostensibly gone forever.

Other brands were born into these conditions, however, and have managed to find success regardless of the roadblocks in their way.

One of the ways these brands have pulled this off is by humanizing themselves, finding their customers, and making human connections with them.

One of the best ways to humanize your brand is through social media.

There are a number of social media methods that you could employ that will help you humanize your brand.

6 Ways to Humanize Your Brand Through Social Media

Develop a personality (and stick to it).

While hiring a loveable spokesperson like Flo from Progressive Insurance and having her do all the talking for your company certainly isn’t a bad idea, it’s not what is meant by develop a personality.

You should decide ahead of time what your company’s social media voice should sound like and consistently stick to it.

It depends on what your product or service is and what kind of voice would be appropriate to accompany it.

Take Rolex, for example.

The copy that Rolex implements to advertise their watches sticks to a relaxed but serious, high-brow tone that complements their elegant photography and matches how the company wants you to regard their high-quality, high-priced products.

If Rolex were to suddenly introduce a watch-wearing cartoon character that cracks a lot of jokes about bodily functions, it would be completely off-putting and ridiculous.

But a different yet entirely serious and successful company could do that very thing and get away with it as long as it makes sense on a human level.

It’s possible that The Duluth Trading Company knows its prime customer better than any other company out there marketing themselves today.

Duluth’s main customer base is male, slightly larger than average, works with his hands, spends a lot of time out of doors performing skilled labor, does well for himself, is willing to spend more for quality and durability, and has a great sense of humor.

They maintain a tradition of combining hand drawn depictions of their clothing alongside clear photography and they broadcast humorous commercials that are in line with what their ideal customer finds funny.

Like an actual human being, Duluth’s social media presence reflects these various elements of a real personality and combines them all together evenly and appropriately.

Whether Duluth is being its usual funny old self or if it feels the need to be serious for a bit, the customer base accepts, believes, and appreciates the message because it connects on a human level.

Engage in conversation.

If you want to humanize your brand, you’ve got to speak human.

The use of common, everyday language is key to connecting to your customer base; they’ll appreciate it and subconsciously let their guard down.

Sonic Drive-In is a good example of a large company that rarely hesitates to converse in the language of the common folk.

Sonic also reaches out to their customers and simply asks them to share their pro-Sonic content through hashtags and callouts. The company then shares the best entries on their own page.

Reaching out to your customers and actively asking them for responses isn’t a practice limited to large companies with large followings either.

The Parkview Animal Hospital in Passaic, New Jersey, is a tiny veterinary outfit with a passionate fan club.

The only social media platform they maintain is a Facebook page, but the fun and friendly posts they regularly publish on it are enough to keep their clients feeling engaged.

Parkview is so respected and sought out in their area that they are often closed to new patients and the waiting list is a long one.

Whenever possible, show off your happy customers!

Ask for permission to include their stories on your social media accounts. You’ll be surprised by how often they say yes!

Acknowledge mistakes.

Putting your company out there into the social media world undoubtedly puts you at risk of receiving some very public criticism, but don’t hide it and don’t hide from it—own up to it.

If a customer decides to use the comments section on one of your social media accounts to vent about how one of your products disappointed them, listen!

You should appoint an employee to regularly monitor and respond to social media comments like this.

An unattended complaint looks bad. A deleted post looks bad. But nothing looks worse than a company arguing with a commenter, so don’t do that either!

The best approach is to apologize for their less-than-ideal experience and offer to make it right via a direct, private message.

Other potential customers browsing your posts will see the engagement and know that you take such matters seriously and are willing to do what’s needed to make things right.

Highlight your employees.

If humanizing your brand is your goal, it never hurts to remind your customers that you are a company of humans for humans with real live humans working for it!

Crutchfield, a purveyor of home and vehicle stereos and electronics, practiced this technique long before social media even existed.

Back when Crutchfield’s main mode of communication was their home catalogue, the company would regularly profile their own employees and highlight the individual’s personal car or home stereo system.

With an actual employee also acting as a spokesperson, it gives the customer the impression that your employees are happy (they better be!) and if they enjoy the products that they sell, a regular customer would too.

Crutchfield continues this practice to this day with nearly every one of the posts on their Instagram page.

It’s safe to publicly share company culture with your customers as well.

If you are celebrating a particular milestone, awarding a sales team for reaching a certain goal, or promoting a single staff member for a job well done, feel free to share the news online.

In the minds of your customer base, your company will come across as a positive work environment where hard work is rewarded. In turn, you’ll build more trust with your clients.

Tell stories. Sell the lifestyle.

Your social media accounts shouldn’t be reserved for just product placement and further advertising.

Depending on the focus of your business, you can allow your social media pages to act as forums for the greater lifestyle surrounding your products or the industry you’re engaged in.

If you sell running shoes, alert your customers to upcoming marathons in your area.

If you sell cooking equipment, document an impressive meal that one of your employees prepared at home.

If you are managing a record store, post a picture of a favorite musician and reminisce about a beloved album. It doesn’t always have to be about what you have in stock, how much it costs, and why they should buy it.

Have fun! Use emojis! Get into beefs?

https://images.pexels.com

The little pictograms known as emojis that became a huge part of our lives with the introduction of smartphones are here to stay.

Their use in social media descriptions have become so commonplace that it’s now rare to see a caption that doesn’t include at least one.

Embrace them, have fun with them, and test yourself to see how creative you can get with their use. But don’t get hung up on how much time you think you’re wasting scrolling through them—apparently social media posts that feature emojis get 48% more engagement!

Another idea to consider is that of a public, social media rivalry with a competitor. 

If you have a good sporting relationship with another business in your area or industry, it’s fertile ground for a lot of potential comedy that your mutual customer bases might enjoy. It can double as a cross-promotional opportunity.

Wendy’s and Burger King famously spar with each other from time to time in an ongoing social media troll war.

And sometimes it can get downright nasty.

But the “beef” between the two fast food giants never seems to generate any negative press.

It does generate a lot of laughs for their fans, though.

Honorable Mentions

Sometimes it’s not what you do on social media that gets you the most positive attention, but what you do as a business in real life that then ends up on social media that makes the biggest impression.

Chewy is an online retailer of pet supplies and food. They are a subset of PetSmart, run by executives from Amazon, Wayfair, and Wholefoods. They have decent prices. Their website looks a lot like Walmart’s.

From a distance they don’t seem like much to write home about—just another big box warehouse that has what you’re looking for.

But then Chewy’s customers started getting the letters.

Eerily specific thank you notes started arriving in the mailboxes of customers who had made purchases from the website that really really looked like they were handwritten.

Fake handwriting on junk mail was nothing new, but these notes, as neat and legible as they could be, really had an authenticity to them. They were so intriguing to so many people that Chewy’s customers began reaching out to one another online to see if they weren’t alone. They weren’t, and that’s how it eventually came out that Chewy really does employ an entire staff dedicated to sending out handwritten thank you notes to each and every customer.

They also send out holiday cards.

Oh, and sometimes they send you hand painted portraits of your pets, too.

Going the extra mile for your customer is basic, age-old, business advice—and it’s still good advice—because even in this modern era there are modern benefits to enjoy from the practice.

Taking the time to perform classy gestures for your customers without publicizing it, without asking for anything in return, without patting yourself on the back for having done it—can lead to exponential organic growth through social media.

JHS Pedals is a small company that manufactures guitar pedals in Kansas City.

The brainchild of founder Joshua Heath Scott (JHS), they have been in business for well over a decade, but over the course of just the past three years they have exploded in popularity by exemplifying every social media technique mentioned in this article.

One of the biggest contributions to their increased visibility is their creation of The JHS Show, a weekly YouTube show hosted by Joshua and his assistant Nick that drips with equal parts charm and comedy. During the show they discuss guitar centric electronics and demonstrate their capabilities through jam sessions. The final segment of each show is called Record Time, where Joshua offers up listening recommendations from often little-known recording artists.

What sets the show apart from others like it on YouTube is that JHS’s own products are the least likely to ever get featured.

In what would traditionally be considered an act of self-sabotage, Joshua eagerly tells the viewer everything he loves about his competitor’s products and demonstrates them for the camera.

Rather than directing potential customers away from his own products, Mr. Scott’s actions have seemingly had the opposite effect. Viewers have become loyal fans, endeared to him and his company. He has become known as an honest entrepreneur and a truly passionate advocate for an industry that was said to be on its last legs only a few years ago.

Thanks to the efforts of Joshua and others like him, the guitar industry has enjoyed a complete rebound.

By adopting some if not all of the practices discussed in this article, you’ll be well on your way towards humanizing your brand and winning over the hearts and minds of your customers.

If you could use some help getting your social media presence up and running, reach out for a quote today!

How to Write Business Emails that Sound Friendly

In today’s technologically advancing world, email has become the official choice for communication within businesses. The lack of face-to-face communication can cause a lot of issues and misunderstandings, though. Because of this, it is important that business emails convey a clear message, elicit the desired response, and, above all, not offend in any way.

But how do you write emails that are both professional and friendly?


Identifying Good vs Bad Email Etiquette

Before we tackle how to write friendly business emails, we must first identify what a good friendly email looks like, vs. a not so friendly email. Take these emails, for example:

See the difference?

In the first example, the author seems to take a bit of a hostile, negative tone. Reading this email may leave the recipient feeling like they have been attacked, and will, therefore, immediately put them on the defensive.

In the second example, though, the author was able to communicate exactly the same information, but in a much more positive and empathetic way.

Emails that are friendly and positive are much more likely to be received well and will illicit the response that you are hoping to get.

So, now that we have established what a friendly business email looks like, let’s discuss how to write one.


The Basics

When you are writing business emails, keep in mind that the recipient(s) probably already has a lot on their plate, so they are not going to want to have to read through a bunch of fluff. Keeping your emails clear and concise will ensure that they are not only read in their entirety, but that your intended message is understood.

Effective, yet friendly, business emails, should be brief and punctilious while conveying professionalism and affability.

While emails will vary, depending on who they are being sent to and the intended message, ideally, business emails should follow this format:

A Subject Line of No More Than 6 to 10 Words

Your subject line should be direct and spam-proof. “Workshop Date Changed” will immediately alert your recipient that there is information in your email that they need to read. You want to avoid things like ‘Urgent’ or ‘Reply Needed,’ though, as these subject lines might send your email straight to spam. You want the recipient to get and read your message. Check out this handy free tool that highlights phrases or words in your email that might trigger a recipient’s spam filter.

An Appropriate Greeting/Salutation

Every business email should start with an appropriate greeting. When you are writing to another professional—even to someone you may already know—be friendly and respectful, while not overly casual or laid back. Starting the email with a simple ‘Hi,’ followed by the person’s name sets a friendly tone, but does not sound stiff or too formal. When you are addressing someone by their first name, be sure that you have the correct spelling and are not using any nick-names (unless you have previously been directed to do so). The last thing you want to do is start your email off by offending someone.

The Body

Try to keep the text of your email short and to the point. When possible, one or two paragraphs of one to two sentences each is best. Your email should have a clear introduction that states the purpose of the email and a conclusion that is forward-leaning. Ensuring that your text is spam-proof is important here as well.

Your Signature

At a minimum, your signature block should include your full name, title, the company name, and your contact information, including a phone number. This will make it easy for your recipient to identify who you are, what your position is, and how they can best contact you if needed.


The Friendly Part

So, how do you write business emails that are friendly but not too casual? Recall the tips above on appropriate greetings and tone, and then consider the real-world experience of Brittany Cooper, Project Coordinator for The Writers For Hire (TWFH).

Brittany, who has years of sales and customer relations to her credit, has mastered the knack of communicating in a professional but friendly way. She deals directly with clients at the beginning and end of each project, and she checks in with them along the way. She is often the person clients feel most comfortable talking to if problems crop up.

Brittany describes her communication style as “upbeat —always upbeat.” She confesses to using lots of exclamation points to express “lots of gratitude.” It’s her way of communicating to clients that TWFH is excited to work with them and values the relationship.

Another way to convey a friendly and upbeat tone is to add a personal touch to the beginning or end of your email. Starting out by saying “I hope you are having a great week,” or signing off with “Have a fantastic day!” immediately gives your email a positive tone.

Brittany also makes it a practice to seek feedback—usually via email—on every project, following up to see if everything went smoothly and asking if anything could be done to make the process better.

Of course, things don’t always go smoothly.

There are times when clients need to be gently reminded of hard and fast approaching deadlines. In those situations, it is important to keep a friendly and non-accusatory tone. Simply reminding them of the approaching deadline, and asking if you can assist in any way, will help ensure that the deadline is made (without making the client feel like they are being scolded or blamed).

Even in the situations where a deadline is actually missed, it is important that you avoid using any kind of language that comes off as negative and harsh. For example, instead of saying “When you missed the deadline, you caused our project to be pushed back,” use something more neutral, such as “With the missed deadline, the project was pushed back…” and then follow it up with a positive suggestion for how to rectify the situation. 

And as a rule of thumb, everything you write in an email should be read and re-read before you hit “send.” Try to read each email from the perspective of your recipient. If anything sounds like it could be possibly taken in an adverse way, then it is safe to assume that it should probably be re-written with a more positive spin.


Other Helpful Tips to Keep in Mind

  • Use traditional fonts such as Arial, Calibri, and Times New Roman; these fonts are not only classic, they are easy to read. Stick to the color black, use 10-12 pt., and keep the font and size consistent throughout the email, including in the signature block. As much as you may enjoy playing around with different fonts and colors, business emails are just not the place to get creative.
  • Never write when upset. An angry screed defeats the purpose of conveying important information or soliciting the desired response. Chances are high that your anger will come across in the words you choose, and the recipient of your email will be able to sense your agitated tone.
  • Be cautious when using language such as “but” and “unfortunately.” Adding those words to your sentence tends to negate what is said in the first place, and can also come off as being condescending. “I apologize for the delay. I will have the completed document to you by the end of the day” will be received much better than “I apologize for the delay, but it couldn’t be avoided. Unfortunately, I can’t get the document to you until the end of the day.”
  • Do a spell-check but also proofread. Spell-checkers are our friends, but they can be fickle at times. Pay close attention to each suggestion you click on and re-read the entire text after you spell-check. It’s hard to be taken seriously when you send an email full of spelling and punctuation errors.
  • Think twice before hitting ‘reply all.’ The sender may have wanted a dozen or more people to see their email to you, but all recipients do not necessarily need to see your reply. Consider carefully. Is your reply important for everyone to read? Is the content of your reply appropriate for everyone to see?
  • Don’t use humor unless you know the recipient well—make that very well. What may be funny in a social setting among business acquaintances might not come across as funny in writing. Written communication is easy to misconstrue, so it’s always best to just focus on the point and leave humor for in-person conversations.
  • Don’t overuse the word “please.” This does not mean that you shouldn’t be polite and write please when it is appropriate. You should just make sure to reserve it for places where it sounds natural. Saying “Please find the attached document and let me know if you have any questions” does not sound natural, and frankly makes for an awkward sentence. Instead, consider saying “I have attached the document. Please let me know if you have any questions.”
  • Be sensitive to cultural differences. In some cultures, it may be considered rude to address someone by their first name. In others, discussing certain topics over email may be offensive. Before sending an email, do some homework on what may and may not be appropriate for your recipient.

Finally, remember that every email leaves a trace. Don’t write anything that will reflect badly on you or others should your exchange become public.

How Email Marketing Can Improve Your Business

In today’s business world, online competition is fierce! Between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it seems nearly impossible to keep up.

Yet, some businesses seem to be thriving in the world of social media. So, what’s their secret?

According to this interesting article from Hostgator, if you’re going to have any chance of getting and keeping your audience’s attention, you have to develop a relationship with them that goes beyond the products or services you offer. And the best way to build those relationships is by giving your clients opportunities to interact with you regularly and directly through email marketing.

In their article, Hostgator explains how email marketing is vital for building and maintaining customer relationships. They also go into the specifics of how to start email marketing campaigns and give tips for the best ways to get (and keep) your customers’ loyalty.

Our Writers’ Favorite Podcasts For Your Listening Pleasure

Break up the drive-time monotony with these entertaining alternatives to local FM

If you’ve ever spent a lot of time sitting in traffic, you know that local radio can get pretty monotonous.

How many times can you listen to “Meant to Be” before you find yourself wanting to scream, “Let it go! It is NOT meant to be!”

And talk radio? That can be even worse!

So, what do you do when you’re stuck in the car on that tedious drive to and from work? What’s the alternative to mind-numbing bubblegum pop or talk-radio arguments?

Podcasts! That’s what!

We at TWFH have some “go-to” podcasts that we highly recommend.

Here is a list of our personal favorites for your listening pleasure:

Image by Please Don’t sell My Artwork AS IS from Pixabay

Incredible True Stories, Told Live

This inspiring podcast is brought to you by Flori Meeks.

https://themoth.org/podcast

The Moth’s mission is to promote the art and craft of storytelling and to honor and celebrate the diversity and commonality of human experience — and they’ve done an amazing job at accomplishing that mission!

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Hollywood's Secret and Forgotten History

Keeping to the theme of incredible stories, Stephanie Hashagen has introduced us to “You Must Remember This,” a fascinating podcast full of stories about the forgotten and/or secret histories of Hollywood’s first century.

http://www.youmustrememberthispodcast.com/about/

Image by DarkmoonArt_de from Pixabay

Re-interpreting History

If you’re a history buff, you’ll love the Podcast that Jessica Stautberg has brought to us!

http://revisionisthistory.com/

Revisionist History takes stories, people, and events from the past, and re-examines them to see how they may have been misinterpreted or misunderstood. This great podcast will make you question everything you thought you knew about history!

Photo by kat wilcox from Pexels

True Crime

Are you obsessed with true crime? If so, you’ve just found your new obsession, thanks to Kathy Rinchiuso:

https://www.truecrimeobsessed.com/

True Crime Obsessed is the go-to for all True Crime related things!

The hosts of this podcast have a brilliantly funny way of diving into the latest true crime stories, while still presenting the honest and true facts of real criminal cases.

Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay

Light-hearted Fun

If those other podcasts seem a bit too intense for your drive home, check out Barbara Adams’ pick: Ask Me Another.

https://www.npr.org/programs/ask-me-another/?showDate=2018-03-09

This fun and energetic live Podcast from NPR combines comedy, brain teasers, trivia, and music all into one! Who said that a long commute can’t be fun (and funny!)?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Learn to Habla

As long as you have to be stuck in the car, you might as well use that time to learn a new language!

https://radiolingua.com/coffeebreakspanish/

Jennifer Rizzo’s recommendation from Radio Lingua, gives you the opportunity to learn French, Spanish, German, Italian, or Chinese while you drive!

¿Qué más podrías querer?

Image by Azmi Talib from Pixabay

While these awesome podcasts are sure to make your commute a whole lot more entertaining, they are not only reserved for long car rides. A good podcast can keep you entertained (and informed) any time and any place.

Happy listening!

Social Selling Her Way to $250,000

It’s often said, “If you’re not online, then you essentially don’t exist.” According to a recent survey by Enquiro, 85.3 percent of buyers use the Internet before making a purchasing decision, and 77.7 percent of buyers say their research starts with Google. With the ever-growing population of businesses online, more specifically on social media, it can be hard to stand out from your competition.

So is it still possible for a small business owner to find success on social media? Absolutely!

Jessica Gordon, the owner of Three Little Darlings Designs, turned her custom bow business into a company grossing over $250,000 in less than three years primarily using Facebook.

 

Bows1

 

Like many businesses, Gordon’s company was conceived out of necessity. “When I found out I was pregnant with a little girl I knew I wanted to dress her up as girly as possible, especially after having a rough and tumble little boy. After she was born, I started purchasing hair accessories for her that were terrible quality! That’s when I decided I could make them myself. After making a few and having her wear them out, I was astounded at how many compliments we were getting and how many people were asking where I purchased them. That’s when I decided to start making and selling them,” she shared.

Despite her busy schedule running a growing business, Gordon took the time to provide us with some insights about her experience and the strategies that helped lead her to such success.

Did you start with a few products or offer a large variety right away?

I started off small, but then after the first month, I realized I needed to increase the inventory and started making/selling about 100 new pieces each week. I knew I wanted to make ONE-OF-A-KIND pieces, but after a while, more and more people wanted the same items, so I then began making similar pieces to keep up with supply and demand. I pride myself on creating unique, one-of-a-kind pieces while still offering custom orders where people can make them however they’d like.

How did you decide what your marketing plan was going to be?

Honestly, I didn’t have a marketing plan at all. I knew I would have to promote the business, but relied HEAVILY on word of mouth at first.

Despite not having a marketing plan, Gordon knew from the beginning that she wanted to sell her products online rather than at festivals and craft fairs. In fact, she reported that 95 percent of her business comes from online sales.

I initially started with a Facebook business page, expanded to Etsy, closed the Etsy after I realized how costly it was to sell on there, then moved most of my sales and business exchanges to a private closed business group on Facebook.

Gordon’s Facebook page has over 28,000 likes and her Facebook group has over 5,000 members. Sales are made primarily via Facebook. To order, customers browse through photos of design options and comment on a photo with their email address. They finalize what they want to purchase by conversing with Jessica directly on the post, and they receive their invoice via PayPal.

Did/do you use online ads? If so, what range of a budget did you start with? How did you learn to do them correctly?

I didn’t do much in the form of online advertising other than paying to promote posts on the Facebook business page. In the beginning, it was hard figuring out exactly what Facebook wanted me to do in regards to advertisement. Facebook business pages are tricky. The more people who like or comment on a photo or post, the more Facebook allows that post/photo to reach your entire audience. Sometimes, I would only reach about 100 people out of my 28,000 fans, which is how Facebook gets you to pay to promote. For me, paying Facebook to promote my posts was a big waste.

Once she discovered that promoting her posts wasn’t the answer, Gordon made two major moves that had an incredible impact on her business. She participated in large group giveaways, as well as started a closed Facebook group to accompany her Facebook page.

 

ThreeDarlingsFB-cropped

 

What helped a ton was being a part of massive group giveaways on Facebook. Giveaways were my biggest tool for increasing my online presence. People would have to “like” my page to be entered in the giveaway. After they had liked the page, I strived to “reel” them in and make them want to buy items [with discounts, rewards for purchasing or entrance into another giveaway as a ‘thank you’ for purchasing]. Budget-wise, I started with $400 – $500/month, and I now budget only about $150 a month for advertising.

Gordon initially split her budget between the product costs for the giveaways and about $100 for advertising on Facebook. Giveaways are easy to implement into your own online ventures. You can find group giveaway opportunities such as the ones mentioned here and here, or you can run your contest on your own social media profiles or website. Be cautious, though, because there are several new Facebook rules and federal laws involved in running giveaways. Take the time to make sure you understand them. Texas blogger Taylor Bradford of Pink Heels, Pink Truck offers additional tips and suggestions for making sure you’re staying on the right side of the law with regards to giveaways.

Gordon addressed the recent Facebook policy change and how her move to a closed group allowed her a way of getting around the restrictions: Up until last year, Facebook would allow LARGE group giveaways through Rafflecopter. One business would promote the giveaway and get TONS of other online boutiques to “give away” items, store credits, etc… Then, when the giveaway contest opened, if people wanted to be entered, they would have to “like” every page via the Rafflecopter giveaway form in order to have their name submitted into the drawing. When the giveaway was over, Rafflecopter would randomly choose a winner for each prize. The winner would contact us and then they would get their prize. Once this method was banned from Facebook, we had to get creative and do giveaways another way. We still do big giveaways, but we have people join our Facebook groups (via a link in Rafflecopter or manually) rather than having to “like” a Facebook page to enter.

Below is an example of one of the large group giveaways Gordon participated in through Gleam. She posted about it on her Facebook page and noted that readers must follow the link in the comments to enter.

 

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Once someone followed the link, they were instructed that the way to enter the contest was to join Gordon’s group as well as to participate with the requests from the other businesses that were part of the giveaway. (Entry options are visible below the contest photo only when a giveaway campaign is open.)

 

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In addition to group giveaways, Gordon also does her own individual giveaways.

When I conduct personal giveaways, it’s much more laid back. I just mention it on my page, and promote it in my group. For example, I just ran a giveaway in my group to celebrate reaching 5,000 customers – I gave away a $50 store credit and all people had to do to enter was make a purchase that week. I placed everyone’s name into random.org, created a randomized list, and the top person was the winner. I also do giveaways where I will ask people to “invite” their friends to the group to win a certain prize. This helps generate more customers.

 

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How do you make sure that people actually see your product and giveaway posts?

This is one of the beauties of a group. Once I moved my business to a closed Facebook group, it made it so that EVERYONE sees my posts if they’re members, and I don’t have to worry about posts NOT being in people’s Facebook timelines like I would if I just had a page.

Once someone joins a group, they automatically start receiving notifications of new posts to the group. So, they never miss a post. Members can choose to stop receiving notifications, but this opt-out option is something they must do manually. On a side note, Gordon mentioned that there are additional benefits of having a group rather than just a page. I can be very selective with who I allow in my group, which helps me avoid any people trying to phish for my customers, steal my ideas, etc.

Facebook groups can be set up by anyone and for almost any reason. It’s easy to learn how to set up a group properly, but keep in mind some Do’s and Don’ts of Facebook groups. For example, a major pet peeve for many users is when someone adds them to a group without their permission. Doing so could cause you to lose a potential new customer.

So, if you don’t just automatically add people to groups without their permission, how are you able to get people to join your group?

One way Gordon incentivizes people to join her group is to post about a prize via her Facebook page, which requires joining the closed group in order to enter the contest. Because she made the Facebook group a closed group, this means that you must be a member in order to see things that are posted in the group. So, if you’re not a member, you miss out. You won’t see what the current giveaway or sale is. Here’s an example of one of her recent incentive posts:

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To further emphasize the sense of exclusivity offered by joining the group, Gordon uses almost every post on her Facebook page to remind her audience that joining the Facebook group will give them access to new items and exclusive sales that aren’t visible on the Facebook page.

 

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She admits that it takes a bit more time to do separate posts, but that it’s worth it to spend the extra time trying to get people to join the group since you know they’re more likely to see your posts once they join.

Speaking of time, how much time do you spend per day on social media promoting your company, engaging with customers, and providing customer service?

Now, I spend about 2 hours a day promoting, engaging customers, answering emails, and discussing design ideas.

She posts at least once a day on the page and multiple times per day in the group. Posts include giveaways, new product photos, and fun posts that illicit engagement, such as the light-hearted post pictured below.

 

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Do you outsource any of your business?

I do EVERYTHING myself – design, production, shipping, invoicing, advertising, etc. It’s a lot of work, but I love it. I do have an administrator who has recently started advertising for me on Instagram and helping to promote my page on Facebook. What tool do you use to create your posts? I use PicMonkey for collages, images, and designs. It’s a great online photo-editing tool. For a small fee each year, I can create virtually all of the graphics I need for my business without the hassle of Photoshop. It’s VERY user-friendly and allows me to edit photos quickly and easily.

Have you dealt with competitors being nasty online?

Oh, let me tell you: When you’re at the top, you have some haters, sadly… I’ve had to deal with my fair share of competitors, copycats, and even customers-turned-business-owners, who not only tried to steal my customers by inviting them to their new business page, but also tried to sell my hair accessories as their own. You name it; I’ve dealt with it. But I pride myself on running a topnotch business and strive to have an open line of communication with my customers – so when things like this happen, they are normally the first to message me to let me know. They have my back. Watermarks also help a ton, so people don’t steal my pictures and use them as their own!

What is something you wish everyone knew?

Developing a successful online business takes a lot of hard work and dedication. In just three years, I have seen countless other businesses begin and end because of the amount of time it actually takes. Often, people forget that there’s a person behind the computer – like a real person, mom, wife, etc. who doesn’t spend every waking minute on the computer or checking their phone to answer messages or make a sale. Having a supportive family/partner is key and setting a schedule for when you are going to work is extremely important and beneficial to the success of your business. I’m a work-at-home mom and have a six-year-old and three-year-old. My six-year-old just started kindergarten this year, and I enrolled my daughter in preschool three days a week (just for 2.5 hours) so I get some extra time during the day to do some work. I also work after my children go to sleep until all hours of the night. It’s not ideal, but it allows me to be with them during the day/evening and still bring in a substantial income for our family’s needs.

Gordon has certainly done a great job bringing in that substantial income for her family and has great advice to share. She is a prime example of the amount of success that can come along with determination, hard work, great customer service, and a willingness to learn and adapt along the way.

Brand Yourself as an Industry Expert Using AuthorRank

This fall, Google rolled out a major change to search rankings: Google Authorship, also known as Author Rank. Basically, Google wants to make it easy for users to find content by a specific writer, and use those authors as elements for ranking websites and pages. Google search will interpret which authors are relevant sources with good content, and give them better SEO.

In a nutshell, the best content creators will be rewarded with higher rankings – but only if they set up their Google profiles correctly.

Who Benefits from Google AuthorRank?

I took AuthorRank for a test drive by searching for “SEO Author Rank.” These guys popped up in my search pages #1 and #2 spots:

Google Authorship
As you can see from my screenshot, Mark Purtell and Dave Ashworth have their Google AuthorRank set up. Now, their photos, names with clickable links to their Google+ profile, and number of Google+ circles are all visible from the search page. Even better, I can click on the “More by…” link and perform my original search inside the author’s content. That means when I click “More by Mark Purtell,” I get two articles written by him that match my original search.

But how did Google decide that these two authors should have higher rankings than others?

  • They create relevant, informative content.
  • They are active on Google+ (Ashworth is active in over 300 Google+ circles!).
  • They’ve set up a Google ID, like Google+, that links to their content.

If you’re not on Google+ yet, it’s time to finally set up that profile. Don’t worry – it’s easy! Just go to Google+, register, and build your profile using the tutorial. Then you’ll be ready to set up authorship.

Setting Up Google AuthorRank

In order to reap the benefits of AuthorRank, you must first become a “verified author.” That means that Google can link your content to an online Google ID like Google+. Basically, they want you to prove that you wrote the content.

There are two methods for verifying AuthorRank, and neither one is super difficult. Before you set it up, however, go to your Google+ profile and make sure you love your profile picture. That photo will appear next to your content in search results, so a professional headshot works best.

Next, you need to link your content to your Google+ profile. There are two ways to go about this:

Method 1: Email Verification

The easiest way to set up Google Authorship is to have an email address on the same domain as your content. For example, our blog is on the domain “thewritersforhire.com,” so an email address might be [email protected] If you want to use this method for verification, just go here and sign up.

Next, make sure you use a byline on all of your content, such as “By Author.” That byline should match the name on your Google+ profile.

Method 2: Linking Your Content

If you don’t have an email address on the same domain as your content, you can link your content to your Google+ profile using these instructions from Google support:

  1. Create a link to your Google+ profile from your webpage, like this:
  <a href="[profile_url]?rel=author">Google</a>

Replace [profile_url] with the your Google+ profile URL, like this:

  <a href="https://plus.google.com/109412257237874861202?
   rel=author">Google</a>

Your link must contain the ?rel=author parameter. If it’s missing, Google won’t be able to associate your content with your Google+ profile.

  1. Add a reciprocal link back from your profile to the site(s) you just updated.
    1. Edit the Contributor To section.
    2. In the dialog that appears, click Add custom link, and then enter the website URL.
    3. If you want, click the drop-down list to specify who can see the link.
    4. Click Save.
  2. To see what author data Google can extract from your page, use the structured data testing tool.

Method #2 requires you to have a little website coding knowledge – or a webmaster that can help you out. But once you’re done linking your content to your Google+ profile, you won’t have to do it again unless you change your domain or email address.

What’s Next?

After you connect your Google profile to your content, your name and photo will start appearing next to your blog posts and articles in search results. But the work isn’t over quite yet – keep cranking out high-quality content for the best SEO. The nice thing about Google AuthorRank is that good authors still come out on top.

Software That Helps Small Biz Owners Use Social Media To Stay Connected With Clients

Created by Sean and Wintress Odom, Socialot is web-based software built specifically for small-business owners who are struggling to efficiently use social media to engage their customers.

Sean Odom notes, “You don’t have to be a social media marketing guru to use it. You don’t even need a marketing department. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection.”

The software is unique in the marketplace because it helps business owners use social media to stay connected with clients — even if these owners know little to nothing about social media.

The inspiration for Socialot came directly from small business owners. “We knew we could use social media to connect with customers, but it was difficult to find time to do it efficiently,” says Wintress. “We wanted a way to centralize our activities and quickly use social media for lead follow up, marketing, and branding — then move on with our daily activities.”

Socialot provides several tools that allow social media novices to leverage social media. Users can:

Keep engaged with clients through a contact/lead management system featuring a social media interface.

Monitor the Internet for mentions of their company name (such as reviews or news).

Share promotions, news releases, messages, pictures, or videos to multiple social media sites at once.

Schedule posts to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn — days or months in advance.

“”

Share positive reviews across multiple social media sites.

Socialot gives business owners a quick and easy way to manage multiple social media accounts — such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube — from a single site. With one click, a small-business owner can post updates, share news, and monitor their online business reputation.

A flagship feature is Socialot’s Contact Management System (CMS) with built-in social features. Socialot’s CMS has many of the features of a standard CMS: keeping track of follow-up notes and allowing a business owner to set follow-up reminders, for example. Yet, the system also integrates social media. This feature makes it easy for owners to use social networking sites for individualized promotions or friendly touch points.

“Socialot lets you stay in touch with past, current, and potential customers in a non-salesy way,” says Wintress. “Say you haven’t heard from a past client in a while and you just want to remind him that you’re out there. Or you made contact with a prospect a few weeks ago. A call or email might seem like you’re fishing for a sale. But if you use Socialot to ‘like’ his Facebook post or comment on his Twitter feed — you’re connecting without being pushy. It’s a great way to follow up without really ‘following up.'”

Other Socialot features provide more ways to keep owners in touch with clients and prospects on a daily basis. Call for information.

Socialot.com goes live on July 17, 2012. For more information about Socialot.com, please contact Wintress Odom at [email protected]

Example of a successful blogger outreach campaign

A couple of months ago, I received an email from a writer looking to promote her client. It started something like this:

Hope you’re keeping well. I’m just getting in touch to ask if you’re open to accepting content from freelance writers at The Writers For Hire – if so, I’d love to put together a high-quality article written
specifically for the site.

I’m sharing this here, because I responded, and in turn received the blog post entitled, “Secrets for a Successful Blog Outreach Campaign.”

Her efforts to reach out to me benefited us both: We got free content, and she got a link back to her client.

For all those seeking to run a successful blogger outreach campaign, our exchange provides a good example for aspiring Internet networkers everywhere.

I’d like to thank Isabella Woods at wiki-bee.com for reaching out to me and for the great blog post.