When Melissa Maker looked critically at her Toronto-based cleaning business in 2006, she knew that with the internet and social media cementing itself in people’s daily lives and with YouTube being recognized as more than just a platform for musicians, she could leverage what was happening in this brave new world of technology to increase her brand visibility and ultimately, her success.
Ten years later, in 2016, it’s not just YouTube and Facebook that are such dominant forces in most of our lives. There’s a plethora of social media platforms that we can use not only to stay connected socially, but also to also enhance and expand our professional lives and our businesses. There’s Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Periscope, SnapChat and more apps and programs being released every day.
Maker completely understands that if you are not under 30 and thus not a digital native, then the social media scene will most likely be daunting and possibly even be downright scary. But she also knows through experience that if you are going to survive in today’s business world, then you need to ensure that your business is being promoted in all the right ways, and that includes being on social media. Note that you don’t have to do it all yourself—but as a business owner and/or leader, you need to make it happen.
Maker’s favorite social media platform at the moment is Instagram. “We all love beautiful visuals, and Instagram really makes you think about how you frame and convey products to a potential consumer,” she says. “It’s all about beautiful pictures, and you can also interact with an entire community – it’s a microcosm of fabulousness. Just like stores present their products—how a retailer sets up a group of products—it’s the same thing, translated into the scheme of social media. It’s all about: how do you, as a retailer, get the bricks and mortar experience across to a customer, online, and more specifically now with everyone using these apps on their smartphones, into their actual palm?”
She is really excited about Snapchat as well. “I’ve seen some really clever ways that businesses are using Snapchat already,” she enthuses. “For example, a business might do a Q&A on Snapchat and that’s a wonderful way for a brand to interact with its followers or fans. The fans ask questions and the company answers them. Then those Snapchats are gone within 24 hours. They are not trying to bamboozle people with their brand – they are just giving it a voice on social media.
“And it becomes a very personal message,” she adds. “There might be people Snapchatting photos of someone using a blender for instance, and then that’s shared and it encourages others to share photos of themselves with their favorite kitchen utensils. And then a brand might say, the first person to send us an email wins a particular prize. All of these things get people interacting with the products and with the brands. It creates excitement and loyalty.”
Maker believes wholeheartedly that the first step a retailer who wants to get into social media should take is to find out where their demographic is. Where they are interacting on social media?
“It’s easy to get this information now,” she explains. “You can find out where the mothers are online, where the grandparents are, where the pet lovers and foodies are. Then you need to choose a platform and really nail it. Get really close to it and involved daily with it. But always remember that if you’re creating content for one platform, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the content is going to translate well on another platform. You have to understand the appropriate type of content for each platform, and that means working out what type of tone you need, what kind of photos, hashtags and everything else. It’s a learning curve, but it can be a fun one.”
If this all sounds daunting, don’t worry, because Maker’s biggest piece of advice to any business owner when it comes to social media is to hire a young person in their 20s who lives social media and have them create a social media strategy for you.
“I’ve done that myself, to help my business,” she says. “We decided that we needed to be nailing it, 10 times better than we are now, so we hired a woman in her early 20s and she’s killing it. It’s about hiring the right person to do these things for you. They’ll create an entire social media plan, and some of the stuff they come up with, you never would have thought of in a million years.”
Maker stresses again that you need to do thorough research before embarking on a social media quest. “You need to know everything about your audience—you need the rich analytics. You need to know their age, their habits, what phones or tablets they use, what books they read and everything that they like. All of this kind of information can be accessed these days if your customers are online,” she explains.
“We studied this to begin with and we realized very quickly that even though we started out on YouTube, our main audience, between 25 and 65, was also on Facebook and Instagram. We have a Twitter account, but we don’t use it as much because our audience is not really there either. At first I resisted, because I, like everyone else, didn’t want to learn another platform, but when we found that our audience was elsewhere, we literally had to re-learn social media. Things move fast and you have to keep up. Now, every time a new social platform comes out, the first thing we do is register an account with our business name on it. You need to do that, as you’ll never know which platform will become the next big thing and you need to secure your business identity.”
Maker also cannot stress enough the importance of listening to your audience, at all times. If you set up a platform, you need to be active on it and to speak to and answer your customers just as you would in a brick and mortar store.
“You have to be responsive. You have to be really careful of what you do and what you say online so that you don’t upset your audience. You need to keep them happy. So always be very careful, and honor your audience, just as you would do to your loyal customers in your physical store. You need to build up that same kind of rapport with your audience that you do with physical customers, as that’s the thing that keeps them coming back. It’s exactly the same – online and in-store.”
Maker believes that the social media phenomenon has broken new ground for retailers and that it’s something all business owners should celebrate. “For the longest time, many brands with a brick and mortar presence have not had a real voice,” she says. “The only connection they could make with their customers (if they didn’t have the money for TV or radio advertisements) was conversation when they were in the actual store. Sure, they’ve had email and brochures they can send out, but that often lacks a real voice.”
Maker uses a boutique down the road from her as a great example. “I follow this little boutique on Instagram and Facebook. Not only do I know it’s a nice, stylish store in its physical presence, but the owner is cute, the store is cute and she always posts great photos of the new outfits when they come in and it gets her followers excited. She’s doing a great job of personalizing her brand. People relate to people—it’s very obvious that it’s easier to relate to a person than to a product. That’s how the world has always been. It might feel odd or scary at first putting yourself out there on social media for all the world to see, but you need to.”
So where to from now, you might ask? Well, if we are taking advice from Maker, she is utterly sure that social media is here to stay. “I cannot imagine we’d create all of these connections online and that it wouldn’t keep evolving,” she says. “Social media is here to stay, and it will definitely keep evolving. We are now all connected.”
If you don’t want to be left out, Maker’s advice is like the advice of many CEOs during any era: hire the right people for the right job and you will succeed as a business. “Remember that you cannot always be the smartest person in the room. Hire someone who is an expert in their field, bring them in and let them rock and roll. If you are out of this sphere and don’t understand it, don’t worry. Talk to people you know and find someone who can do your social media for you. You won’t look back, and it will take you forward.”
For more information on Melissa and Clean My Space, visit http://cleanmyspace.com.