Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Small businesses connecting on social media

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Within minutes of sharing a bright, colorful photograph of a freshly decorated champagne-flavored cupcake on Facebook, customers were lined out the door of Buttercups Cupcakes to get one or a dozen.

The bakery in Shreveport is using social media as its primary method of advertising and getting near instant results.
Small businesses such as Buttercups are opting for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and online coupon vendors to advertise more frequently and for less money than ever before.
“The impact it has is amazing, and it’s free,” Buttercups owner Kim Hand said of her favorite marketing tools.
About 11,000 people are in touch with Buttercups on the three social networks, led by Hand, who before she started her business five years ago had never had much use for social media.
“An employee who was much younger than me had to show me how to use Facebook. We were so excited when we had 50 followers. Now it’s amazing the following we have,” Hand said.
Followers get updates daily, and they seem to appreciate the posts.
She only uses traditional advertising about once a quarter, and yet “business is great” due in large part to cultivating social media, Hand said.
Volume increases significantly year over year, and followers are opting in themselves and interacting.
Facebook is Buttercups’ venue to advertise a finished product, and Instagram is a behind-the-scenes look into the bakery kitchen where workers demonstrate finishing decorating touches through videos or photos.
Hand has figured out on her own that her followers would rather have different views of what’s going on at her bakery rather than being subjected to the same message on all platforms.
Bistro Byronz, locally owned in Shreveport, Mandeville and Baton Rouge, posts to Facebook several times a week — sharing specials, photographs of a packed house and coupon deals from Groupon and GoWaiter.com.
This Christmas someone behind Bistro Byronz the account jumped on the Elf on the Shelf bandwagon, pairing photo posts with short poems written by the elf himself: “Our famous bread pudding and heavenly hash. When it comes to desserts we’ve got quite a good stash. Save room if you dare for some Saturday glee. Because tonight every table will get one for free,” read a holiday post from the elf.
It’s impossible to know how that poem directed related to cash sales, but those Facebook posts garnered hundreds of likes.
“Social media is a huge part of our business,” said Shreveport manager Brandon Candler.
Groupon and GoWaiter work best for attracting new customers, Candler said. The offers are shared on Facebook.
“I can’t go a night without doing 10 or 12 Groupons,” he said. “It gets people in the door for us.”
Candler said social media is the way the business communicates directly with customers, providing them with attractive visuals and updating them on what’s new at Bistro locations.
The bistro’s latest post announces a second location in Baton Rouge and an opening date paired with a photograph of an inside view of the empty new restaurant. The post has about 400 likes.
Bistro Byronz uses some traditional advertising, but social media and coupons give the best returns, Candler said.
Rhino Coffee in Shreveport also has success with Instagram and Facebook. Will McGrew, the man behind the Rhino Coffee accounts, keeps an eye on the Rhino hashtag, #RhinoCoffee, a tag added to Facebook and Instagram posts that aggregates a list of other social media users who’ve contributed to a feed of Rhino specific updates and photographs.
“Under that we see a lot of in-store photos, people taking pictures of their stuff, what they buy in the store,” he said.
Using a hashtag, the café executed a contest that required students studying in the coffee shop’s dining areas to take selfies and tag them with #Rhinostudy.
The posts entered them into an ongoing contest to receive free drinks each week or a $50 gift card monthly.
“That was a huge success because it got people engaged in the product. It really put out name out there even more,” Candler said.
Buttercups Cupcakes again had a line out its front door and several doors down when the bakery announced on social media the first 50 customers in line on the business’s 5th anniversary would receive a free cupcake each month for a year.
Customers lined up at 8 a.m., but doors didn’t open for a couple of hours.
“The only way they would have known about that was Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We didn’t advertise it any other way,” Hand said.
Part of Buttercups’ success isn’t quantifiable through social media analytics — the same is said by Bistro Byronz and Rhino Coffee, which from time to time break for meaningful updates about philanthropy, their own employees or the “regulars.”
Small business owners are using the tools to build relationships.
“It’s a neat way to connect with your customers. A lot of the time I’m in the kitchen or in my office. I don’t get to see them everyday. As a business owner, it’s a great way for me to get to know them,” Hand said.
Hand said social media in small business is a necessity – especially when the upcoming generation of customers is spending their time on social networks.
“Every business, led by the young or old, needs to be on social media,” she said.

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