Tuesday, August 26, 2014

6 Reasons Why I Love Hobo Days

I’m going to veer off the topic of social media for this post and talk about Hobo Days. For those of you who have never heard of this celebration let me inform you. Hobo Days is an annual celebration held the second weekend of August in Britt, Iowa (my hometown). It is officially called the National Hobo Convention and was started in 1900 and as far as I know the only hobo celebration in the world. Other than Hobo Day at South Dakota State University, which is where students dress as hobos for their homecoming celebration to try and scare the opposing team. Never really understood that one, but they've been doing it since 1912.

What is a hobo? 
A hobo is a migratory worker, some with a special skill or trade, others ready to work at any task, but always willing to work to make his way.

The tramp is a traveling non-worker, moving from town to town, but never willing to work for the handouts that he begs for. A bum is the lowest class, too lazy to roam around and never works.

How did Hobo Days start? 

Before I tell you how hobo days started I have to give you some background information about Tourists Union No. 63. In the mid 1800’s several hobos found they were being repeatedly kicked out of towns and off train yards because they had no visible means of employment or any money. Law enforcement was becoming stricter on enforcing vagrancy laws, and there was nothing to help the migrant hobo worker. However, if one was the member of a Union then the unemployed person would not be persecuted for vagrancy while in any city attempting to gain even a few hours of employment.

And so these few hobos drew up articles of confederation for a Tourist Union for any hobo nationwide to join and avoid persecution for vagrancy. Finding that the hobos present numbered to 63 this Union was labeled Tourist Union #63. In August of each year Tourist Union #63 held a National Hobo Convention to renew friendships, collect annual dues, sign up new members, and honor the most deserving of their union to the temporary positions for King and Queen. The convention moved to different cities each year to appease the workers, but in 1887 the members voted to hold the 1888 convention in Chicago and it stayed there for 12 years.

In 1889 three Britt men named Thomas Way, T.A. Potter, and W.E. Bradford read a report in the Chicago paper that Tourist Union No. 63 has just elected new officers. They wrote to Charles F. Noe of Sycamore, Illinois and invited him to bring the Hobo Convention to Britt. Their desire was to gain some attention for the small town to “do something different to show the world that Britt was a lively little town capable of doing anything that larger cities could do.” Noe wrote back and said he would come out to Britt and see if the grounds were large enough. He must have liked what he saw, because he agreed to hold the convention in Britt August 22nd, 1900.

Next, check out the 61 things this man learned at Hobo Days

6 Reasons Why I Love Hobo Days:

1. Hobo Days is unique. Like I said earlier, there is no other type of celebration like this in the entire world that I know of. Sometimes the residents of Britt tend to forget this. You hear people say, “there is nothing to do in Britt” or “why would anyone want to come to Britt for Hobo Days?” I absolutely hate when someone complains about Britt or Hobo Days, because in the end you’re bashing yourself. Why do people travel hundreds of miles to learn about the hobos? Because it’s interesting. It’s unique. It’s weird. It’s different. It’s no different than the world’s largest strawberry in Strawberry Point or the National Hollerin' Contest held in North Carolina. People love weird and Britt residents need to embrace it.

2. Hobo Days brings the community together. Whether you own a business on Main Street, have a float in the parade, or just walked uptown to see the crafts you were involved in Hobo Days somehow. I almost can’t describe it, but it’s the feeling of belonging to something bigger. It’s the feeling that our town can gather once a year and rally behind this celebration. We’re celebrating the hobos obviously, but at the same time we’re celebrating Britt. What this town has accomplished in the past year, how far we've come in the past 100 years, and how bright our future looks.

3. Hobo Days is humbling. Even though nowadays some people choose to live the hobo lifestyle; the idea of living free and traveling where ever the road will take you. It’s important to remember that the hobo lifestyle didn't start out that way. Hobos first appeared on the railroads after the Civil War in the 1860’s. Many discharged veterans returning home began hopping freight trains looking for work. The number of hobos dramatically increased during the Great Depression when people, who had no work, decided to start traveling to find work. It’s not that people wanted to live this way, they were forced to. It’s important to remember that today, with all our technology and money, life as we know it could come crashing down someday. I’m not saying people will be forced to travel on the train to look for work, but there is always a possibility.

4. Hobo Days is hard work. Believe it or not, the carnival and vendors don’t just randomly show up the 2nd weekend of every August because they feel like it. It’s from many hours of volunteered time that Hobo Days is able to exist. With the help of the Hobo Days Association and countless other people in the community Hobo Days had one of its greatest years to date this year. It’s important that we thank these people for their hard work to put on this great event, but it’s also important to thank the hobos. I know that sounds strange, but without them attending every year what would we celebrate? It also goes back to this great quote from Linda Hughes, the Hobo Foundation President, “We celebrate what the American hobo did for this country. They built railroad systems, they built the courthouses, they worked the fields, they did any kind of job they could find, and we honor them, and we celebrate that lifestyle.”

5. Hobo Days is Tradition. Families have a lot of traditions. For my family our traditions include eating Grandma’s apple crisp on Christmas Eve, boating in Clear Lake over the 4th, and being in Britt the second weekend in August. Other than Christmas, Hobo Days is the only time of year my family is able to regularly get together. Friday nights we walk uptown to check out the crafts, Saturday morning I ride through the parade with Miller & Sons. In the afternoon we eat, talk, and drink a few beers and then head uptown to see everyone that came home. Its tradition and I love it.

6. My Grandma is a Hobo! Yes, she really is. She never rode the rails in her younger days, but she was "knighted" as a hobo by the Hobo Queens. Hobo Days 2010 my Grandma Bettie and I attended the Hobo Ladies tea. The Hobo ladies host it for the women of Britt every year. This particular year  was special because the hobo ladies were hosting a contest. Whoever attended the tea with the most decorated walking stick would win a prize. Well, of course, my Grandma won. The prize turned out to be that the winner would become an official hobo. So all the past and present Hobo Queens gathered around her and knighted her a hobo with their walking sticks. It was all very similar to how they do it in Britain I assume. So that's how Boxcar Bettie was born.

So now you know. Now you know what Hobo Days is, why it's important, and why I love it. Thanks for reading!

Sources: http://www.hobo.com/home.html 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Twitter: The Sarcastic Step-Child Nobody Wants to Take to Family Gatherings

What is Twitter?

Many people understand Facebook, or at least they think they do. But nowadays businesses can’t just be on Facebook. They have to tweet, pin something to a board, and create a Google+ and LinkedIn pages. It’s overwhelming. So let’s start slow.

What the hell is twitter and how do I use it? Twitter is an online social networking site. When you post something on Twitter it is considered microblogging. Instead of calling it a post like on Facebook, on Twitter you call it a “tweet.” The biggest difference between Facebook and Twitter is the size of your posts. On Facebook people can babble on forever and ever about their cat, job, or mother-in-law. I read that the character limit on Facebook is 63,206. I have never tested it out, nor should anyone. On Twitter though you are limited to 140 characters, which is why most Moms or adults could never have Twitter, because even their texts are three pages long. I almost wish my Mom did have a Twitter account though, because if she tweeted half the things that came out of her mouth she would be famous.

Linda Johnson 10:46 a.m. on 8/5/14 “Just told my co-worker I was going to open a can of whoop ass on him, and he knows I will. #SwearWord #OtherSwearWord"

Which brings me to my first and biggest point about Twitter:

1. Twitter is like the sarcastic step-child nobody wants to take to family gatherings. Why? Because people say things on Twitter they would never say on Facebook or any other social media platform. I’m not really sure why either. Maybe because of the illusions that since less people have Twitter, no one important will see it. There is also this feeling that people judge you more on Facebook versus Twitter. People are more willing to post pictures of a new boyfriend/girlfriend or a somewhat embarrassing photo of them drunk. It’s almost as if Twitter allows people to relax and be themselves without judgment.
2. Twitter is funnier. Hands down, no doubt about it, tweets are funnier than Facebook posts. Once again, I have no idea why, but Twitter is funnier. I think it goes back to this feeling of no judgment and being able to be yourself. If you don’t believe me read 21 of the most hilarious tweets of all time.
3. Because Twitter is laid-back and funnier, so are the businesses. I’ll be honest, the only time I follow a business on Twitter is because they’re funny, local, or giving out deals.

What does hashtag mean? A hashtag is a word or an unspaced phrase prefixed with the number sign ("#"). Hashtags make it possible to group such messages, since one can search for the hashtag and get the set of messages that contain it. A hashtag is only connected to a specific medium and can therefore not be linked and connected to pictures or messages from different platforms (Meaning just because you hash tagged something on Twitter doesn’t mean it will show up on Facebook).

The biggest times when hashtags come into play are events. Anytime you have an event like the #SuperBowl, #Grammys, or even TV shows like #TheVoice you will see that hashtag. Events, TV shows, movies, music artists, and anybody semi famous wants you to hashtag their name. By doing this you’re helping that event or TV show measure how many people are talking about or tweeting about them. It’s similar to word of mouth, except now you can actual measure it and collect data. The hashtag phenomenon is becoming very popular. Hashtags were mentioned in 57% of all the Super Bowl ads this year.

Twitter has had its struggles though. As of now Twitter has 271 million users, but this is nothing compared to Facebook’s 1.3 billion. For some reason, Twitter just has a hard time motivating people to actively participate. It could be the layout, the misunderstandings of “tweeting”, or maybe people just don’t have anything to say. Whatever the case may be, you will find that users of Twitter are more likely to engage with a business on Twitter versus Facebook. They are more likely to mention, retweet, or favorite brands than they are on Facebook. Why is this? For one, it is easier. To engage with a business you don’t have to go to their page, write on their wall, and then wait for feedback. With Twitter you can just tweet about a good or bad experience and the business will see it (If your tweets aren’t private). And second, I think it goes back to that judgment I was talking about earlier. If someone complains about a business on Facebook everyone will weigh in and either joins their complaint or stand up for the business and complains about the person who posted it originally. It can become very catty. With Twitter the conversation is usually between the business and the customer.

Next time, I’ll discuss the proper ways to tweet to increase engagement and all that good stuff. As for now, sign up for Twitter and start tweeting! Have fun!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How I Got a Job Without a Degree

Some of my friends and family may have noticed from a few tweets that I’ve officially become an “adult.” You’re probably wondering how this may have happened since I didn’t graduate college this past May. Two weeks ago I officially started my new job as a Social Media Coordinator for Impact Marketing & Technology in Waterloo.

How did this happen? Here’s the story of how this blog helped me get a full-time, big-girl job without a degree. It all started back in January when I started my Digital Advertising class with Matthew Wilson. I had heard from other marketing/PR students that it was a great class, and even though it would be a lot of work, I would learn something in the end. During the entire semester each student is required to write a blog about something they’re passionate about. I thought social media would be a great topic to write about. From my internships, classwork, and general research I've felt that small businesses usually don’t have the man power or money to invest in social media. Or they just plain don’t get it and can't see how it will benefit their business. So I chose to interview small businesses in the Cedar Valley who I felt were doing a great job at promoting their business through social media. If I was able to show examples of businesses doing it right, then maybe other business owners could see how it’s done. Throughout the semester I interviewed Social House, Miss Wonderful, and Life by Lisa (LBL). I also wrote posts about Facebook and how to create an engaging post.

So where did this job come from? At the beginning of March our professor sent out a job opportunity for a part-time social media coordinator at Jerry Roling Motors in Waverly & Shell Rock. I immediately applied. I had my interview on April 4th. I was encouraged to look at their websites and Facebook pages and bring any ideas, thoughts, and creativity to the interview. The interview lasted almost two hours and I actually had two separate interviews. Roling Motors has two stores so I interviewed with both General Managers separately. I was nervous to say the least. I thought both interviews went really well though and I was confident that I would get the job.

I didn't get the job. I got an email the beginning of May saying how they had hired someone for their Waverly location, but they were building a new location in Shell Rock so they would hold my resume until they were able to accommodate more employees. I was pretty bummed about it because I felt I really had that job. So I moved on. Until finals week when I got a phone call from Amy Roling, the Communication Director at Roling Motors, whom I had interviewed with a month before. She informed me that their marketing agency, Impact Marketing & Technology out of Waterloo, was looking to hire a social media coordinator and asked them for referrals. She wanted to give them my name, but wanted to make sure I was okay with it first. Of course I was okay with it!

The following week I had my first interview the owner James White. When I spoke with him on the phone I asked if I should bring anything and he told me to bring some writings pieces from my portfolio. Four out of the five pieces I took to the interview were blog posts from the past semester. Long story short…..after a couple interviews and a few long weeks of waiting, I woke up June 12th to an email with a job offer. My Dad said it was the best Father’s Day present I could give him.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from my story. I didn't just write this blog post to brag about my new job. Here is what I’m hoping you take away from my story:

1. A job opportunity can come from anywhere or anyone. I applied for a job at Roling Motors and ended up at a marketing agency. If I hadn't impressed Amy Roling during my initial interview, she never would've given Impact Marketing my name. This type of opportunity doesn't happen often, but it is possible. My advisor at Kirkwood, Rose Kodet, always told students to never burn your bridges, because you never know when might need them. Yes, Roling Motors didn't hire me, but in the end they helped me get another job.

2. Just because you don’t have a degree yet, doesn't mean you can’t get a career. I still have about 15 credit hours to finish before I get my degrees. So I will be going to school part-time and working as much as I can. Impact Marketing said upfront in the initial interview that school would be my first priority and they wanted to see me finish my degree. Many employers will see that you’re getting close to graduation and they might be willing to work with you. That being said, if you do get a full-time gig, make sure to finish that degree. That little piece of paper will be very important if that job ever falls through.

3. Experience, experience, experience. I can’t tell you enough how important experience is. During my freshman year, my Dad gave me the book All Work, No Pay by Lauren Berger. The biggest lesson I learned from the book is that I should have 4-5 internships during my college years if I want to get an awesome career someday. Well I made it to three. During my interview with Impact Marketing they asked me why I left Bill Colwell Ford (my 2nd internship) for Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area (my 3rd internship). I simply told them it was because I wanted to gain more experience. I was working in the for-profit car industry so I thought I would do a total 180 and work in the non-profit tourism/agriculture industry. And if Impact Marketing had never came along then this summer I would have been looking for my fourth internship. I also was very involved with the UNI American Marketing Association this past year by being on the executive board. I know it sounds like a lot to handle. But trust me, in the long run all of that experience will pay off.

4. Every student at UNI should take Matthew Wilson’s digital advertising class. Any major from accounting to political science should take this class. Not really for the digital advertising aspect of it. Biology majors don’t need to know how to run a Google AdWords campaign, even though maybe they should. I feel that every major should take it for the self-promotion aspect of it. In this class I had to pick a topic, write multiple blogs, and then promote it myself. The success of the blog was in my hands. You’re forced in a way to put yourself out there on the internet, which can be scary at times. At first I felt like I was “bothering” people with my little blog posts asking them to read it, but then I realized all the other annoying things people put on social media and I didn't feel so bad. I was able to overcome that fear and put myself out there. And as I mentioned before 4 out of the 5 writing pieces that I took to my interview with Impact Marketing were blog posts from Matthew’s class. This blog played a big role in me getting this job (Wise words for any future UNI digital advertising students).If you’re able to communicate verbally and through your writing; any employer will want to hire you.

Before I end this post I want to thank a few people first. Thank you to Amy Roling for giving Impact Marketing my name, it worked out quite well for me. Thank you to Matthew Wilson, Kathleen Porter, Tiffany Siebel, and Blake Colwell for giving recommendations, I’m not sure what you said, but I’m assuming all good things! Thank you to my internships: Opportunity Village, Bill Colwell Ford, and Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area. Without the experience I gained from your organizations I wouldn't be where I’m at today. Thanks to the businesses that let me interview them for my blog: Social House, Miss Wonderful, and LBL. And lastly, a big thanks to my parents. Without their guidance and support I wouldn't be the person I am today. They never stopped believing in me and that’s one the best gifts parents can give their kids. Lastly, I plan to keep blogging on various topics including marketing, social media, and whatever trips my trigger! I'm really excited for the future so stay tuned! Thanks!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bridging the Generational Gap with Social Media

Lisa Richter, Owner of Life by Lisa
You’ve seen how social media effects local bars and vintage stores, but what about women’s clothing. In May of 2013, 74% of women were users of social networking sites, compared with 62% of men (PewResearch). This is part of the reason why I feel LBL (Life by Lisa) has been so successful, women love social media. The other night I was able to sit down with Lisa Richter, the owner of LBL. Lisa lives and breathes everything fashion. She was practically born and raised in a fitting room. Lisa’s mother, Mary Lou Richter, owned Saxony in Charles City. After attending Hawkeye Community College for a year, Lisa decided to start her modeling career and moved to New York City, and then shortly thereafter she moved to Milan for five years. She learned so much about fashion and the business, which is reflected in her store. After Lisa’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and her father had a massive heart attack, she moved back home to manage her mother’s store, where she fell in love with the business aspect of fashion. In 2009, after her father passed away, she decided to take $4,000 and open her own business.

Lisa’s goal when opening LBL was to give people fashionable, affordable, goods, keeping the cost under $50. She wanted to bring the big fashion world that she worked in for so many years to the Cedar Valley. Small towns like Cedar Falls should be able to keep up with the big cities, and not have to spend a fortune. She gave the example of a jacket they had in the store, which looked very similar to a Coach jacket. The Coach brand cost $1,500; the jacket in LBL cost $35. Lisa also kept the tradition that her mother started in 1967 of selling wigs. LBL is now the largest wig retailer in Iowa.

In a mere five years, LBL has gained 4,482 likes on Facebook and 65 followers on Twitter. When I asked Lisa about her social media tactics, she stated that it was very strenuous for her. “I’m in a generational gap,” said Lisa. “I’m 38 and didn’t get my first cell phone until I was 21.” Even though Lisa finds posting to the LBL Facebook page stressful, it has definitely been working. She mentioned that Facebook is their best platform. Lisa will post a photo of a new item, along with the price, and it blows peoples mind how reasonable the prices are. Girls from all over the country will call the store asking about an item and how to get a hold of it. LBL does not have a webpage, but will hopefully have one up and running this fall. Lisa stated that there is a lot of time and money that goes into having an e-commerce presence, which is why she will be having someone manage it.

LBL sells to women of all ages. The ages range from the young teenage girls to the little old ladies looking to buy a wig. Since their audience ranges in all ages, Lisa still does print advertising and radio commercials. “People read in the winter and drive their cars in the summer, so we do print in the winter and radio in the summer,” stated Lisa. They also do a lot of advertising during the holiday season. “I would also love to do commercials, but the cost is too high and there are so many channels,” said Lisa.

The cost of traditional advertising is one of the reasons why Lisa uses social media so much. She finds that whenever she takes pictures of girls in clothes, it drives the most engagement. “People love seeing real people in the clothes, rather than a model,” said Lisa. “Girls also love having their picture taken.” People get a sense of what to expect in the store just by looking at the LBL Facebook page. Lisa always makes sure to ask a girl if she is okay with any picture being taken to be put on social media, and she hasn't had anyone say no yet. “We had an instance where a girl came in and tried on two dresses,” said Lisa. “We took pictures of her in both and posted them to our Facebook page. She bought one of the dresses, but the one that she didn't buy got 40 likes on Facebook. She came back in the next day and bought the dress.” That type of story shows the power of social media, especially on the consumer and their buying power.

Lisa is a chameleon when it comes to learning about social media. She has been to a bunch of Google meetings and seminars on social media. She mostly learns from her eyes and past experiences. She also checks out other stores Facebook pages, like Nasty Gal. She will also carry around a notebook to write down a one liner that she sees and may someday want to use in a post. Lisa is a strong believer in internships and hands on work, and believes that is the best way to learn versus a classroom setting. Lisa’s husband, Nathan, is eight years younger and helps her quite a bit with social media as well, especially Twitter. “Twitter is just hard for me to grasp, I mean I remember when faxes came out!” laughed Lisa.

Promotional items on Facebook are hit and miss for LBL. For every 1,000 likes she will send a $25 gift certificate to that person. They had a promotion over the holidays to where if you bought $100 in gift certificates you received a free $20 gift certificate, but you had to mention it. Only three people claimed that offer. She has found that the “buy one, get one” offers work a lot better. No matter what Lisa posts on Facebook, someone is bound to come in with their phone, bring up a picture and ask where that item is. “It happens on a daily basis, girls take a lot of screenshots,” commented Lisa. She also prefers direct mail pieces over email. “I personally don’t like to read emails, and I don’t want my customers to feel that way, which is why I send out coupons,” said Lisa. “Girls will remember a coupon; it’s no different than the free panty coupon that Victoria Secret’s send out.”

A big thanks to Lisa for letting me interview her. Make sure to stop by LBL located at 321 Main Street, Cedar Falls. They're open Monday-Friday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Comments, Likes, & Shares....Oh My!

My last post was discussing what exactly helps make a great post that people will actually like, comment, share, etc. But if anyone is like me, I want to see examples. So I've searched long and hard for a few great Facebook posts. Some met the guidelines from my last post, some did not.

My first Facebook post is from the Quinebaug Valley Veterinary Hospital, LLC out of Danielson, Connecticut. Their Facebook page is already impressive with over 1,600 likes, but this post is great. Why?
1. It's short.
2. It has a photo.
3. It asks a question at the end. 
The post had 14 likes, but the impressive part is that it had 62 comments with people guessing this dogs name. The more people comment, the more likely it will show up in their news feed to their friends, and then they will comment as well. You can see at the bottom that over 1,600 people saw this photo. Great exposure!

This is one of the simplest Facebook post I've ever seen. And I know, this is Coca-Cola, they only have 81 million fans on Facebook so it's easy for them to get shares or likes. Not exactly, people don't trust those big corporations like Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, or Target. But they do trust a small town, locally owned business. And they are way more likely to share something you post, than a corporation. Do not think that just because you are a small business that you are a underdog when it comes to social media. All Coca-Cola did was throw two pictures into a collage and tell people to share it, and over 1,500 people did. Very Simple.

What about actual local businesses in the Cedar Valley? Well here is a post from Miss Wonderful last week. They're advertising their latest furniture pieces in the store. 19 likes, 1 share, and 3 comments is not too shabby for a picture of a couch and chair. And if you remember from my blog about Miss Wonderful, Tara mentioned that once people see an item like this on their Facebook they have to come in and buy it immediately before they get "vintage regret." So yes, it is possible to actually sell your products on Facebook, but it's all about the approach. You can't seem pushy, the post must seem genuine. 

What about campaigns? One of my favorite social media campaigns are photo contests. People love sharing their lives, and other people love to look at those lives. Social House asked their fans to submit a photo of their own Halloween costume. The top three photos with the most likes received a bar tab courtesy of Social House. This is a great campaign because you then have fans promoting themselves by sharing their photo with friends. This contest received 963 likes, 8 comments, and 44 shares. Those numbers are huge for a small business. Any company could do something like this and just change the prize to fit your company.

Great Facebook posts do not take hours of planning, just a little creativity and promotion. And once again, it is all trial and error. Sometimes a post of campaign will succeed, sometimes it will flop. Just keep learning! Good Luck! Stay tuned for my next blog, an interview with the owner of LBL, Lisa Richter

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How to Create a Great Facebook Post

After reading a few blogs from Constant Contact, Social Media Today, the Social Media Examiner, and from my personal experience, I've been able to come up with these "guidelines" as to what makes a great Facebook post. Keep in mind that these are guidelines, every business is different, and you must cater your social media to your customers. This is why you must experiment and find out what works for you business and what doesn't.

Photo from Perry Manku, Social Media & SEO Consultant
Click Here for Photo

-Keep it short. It has been proven that people don’t read anything over 140 characters. Last month on the Constant Contact Facebook page, posts with less than 140 characters received an average of 215 percent more engagement than longer posts (192 percent for the last 8 months.) When posting focus on what is the most important aspect or what will grab people’s attention that they will want to click on it. If you want to check how many characters you are at paste it into Twitter or Microsoft Word first.

-Pictures, Pictures, Pictures. Facebook has reported that photos, photo albums, and videos get 120 percent, 180 percent, and 100 percent more engagement than links and text-only posts. This is crucial. Instead of just posting a link, you need to post a photo first and then add the link. People love pictures and are more likely to engage versus links or text. Let a photo do the talking.

Tip: 403 x 403px is the perfect image size for Facebook Timeline BUT Facebook recommends that you use higher quality images that are 600 x 600px. You can always re-position a photo though to show the best part.
Tip: You can also use http://www.picmonkey.com/ to create collages and Facebook cover photos.

-Tell your fans what you want them to do. Posts that ask fans to…
Comment = 3.3x more comments
Share = 7x more shares
Like = 3x more likes
Caption this photo = 5.5x more comments
Think beyond literal calls-to-action. Try asking fans to fill-in-the-blank, give you a “thumbs up,” or answer a true or false question.

-Have conversations with your fans. To have a successful Facebook Page, it’s absolutely critical that you genuinely care about your fans. You need to comment back or respond to their tweets. The more engaged a business is with their customers, the more a customer will engage with them. 

-Post at Times Ideal for Your Fans. The optimal time to post on Facebook is between 1:00 pm and 3:00
pm, when Facebook traffic peaks. Links posted between 1 and 4 pm get the highest click-through rates, with Wednesday at 3:00 pm being the best time to post all week. Links posted before 8:00 am and after 8:00 pm are less likely to get shared. Engagement rates are 18% higher on Thursday and Friday.

-Make sure you post enough content to stay visible in the news feed without annoying your fans. The average Facebook post lifespan is 3 hours, although this varies by page. A post is considered “alive” when it’s occupying the news feed or is a Highlighted Story and receiving a continuous stream of engagement. A post is considered “dead” when its engagement stops growing more than 10% per hour.
How do you find your average post lifespan? http://edgerankchecker.com/edgerank/gopro

-Use the Right Words for Higher Engagement. Buddy Media found that action keywords like “post,” “comment,” “take,” “submit,” “like” or “tell us” are the most effective. Be direct in your request, and fans will listen. Softer-sell keywords such as “winner,” “win,” “winning” and “events” will make fans excited rather than feeling like they’re being sold to. Aggressive promotional keywords like “contest,” “promotion,” “sweepstakes” and “coupon” will turn them off.

-Ask Questions. Questions placed at the end of a post increased engagement by 15% over questions placed at the beginning. “Where,” “when” and “should” drive the highest engagement rates, with “would” generating the most likes. Avoid asking “why” questions, which have the lowest like and comment rates.

So there you have it folks, the secrets to creating great Facebook posts. I really hope that some of these tips help your small business succeed! Good Luck! 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Social Media Success of Miss Wonderful

The other afternoon I was able to sit down with Tara Pickering, Manager at Miss Wonderful, a vintage store located on Main Street in Cedar Falls. The store is owned by Barry and Ann Eastman. They had been collecting antique pieces and vintage items for about 25 years, when they realized that their storage units were starting to get full. So they decided to open a store and start selling some pieces, this is where Tara came in. Ann had heard of Tara through the grapevine and knew that she had some technology experience, but it wasn't until Ann saw Tara’s Pinterest page that she really decided to meet her. And yes I’m completely serious. I’m not saying it was the Pinterest page that got Tara the job, but it did play a small factor. (Here’s a link to my Pinterest page by the way, for any inquiring future employers)
L-R: Ann Herman and Tara Wilson-Pickering,
at the Miss Wonderful vintage shop

So after Ann and Barry hired Tara, the three of them set out to build a store. In the summer of 2012 they completely gutted the place and Tara started organizing their storage units. This was the first time she had really been exposed to mid century modern. For anyone wondering what exactly mid century modern is, here is the Wikipedia definition:

Mid-Century modern is an architectural, interior, product and graphic design that generally describes mid-20th century developments in modern design, architecture and urban development from roughly 1933 to 1965.

They re-created the space so that it was very open. They didn’t want the space to draw you away from any of the pieces. “We wanted to leave it open for re-arranging at anytime. Everything in here is mobile and that’s what is fun about Miss Wonderful,” commented Tara.

As of right now Miss Wonderful has 2,233 likes on their Facebook page, 375 followers on Twitter, and 54 followers on Pinterest. They also post some items on Craigslist and Ebay. As the manager of the store Tara runs the social media platforms as well. In the beginning one of her goals was to create awareness for people who hadn’t heard of the store yet. She needed to get beyond the doors of the store and she was able to do that through social media. She emphasized while we were talking that Miss Wonderful is a visual experience, which is something that she tries to carry over in her social media tactics. “Stepping into the store is an experience, and I try to share a small part of that through social media using pictures,” commented Tara. She wants the public to have an idea of what to expect when they step in the store. Depending on how old the
customer is, they may just walk into another world. If they’re an older customer they could be walking back in time to their life fifty years ago. Many of the items in the store can be connected back to a memory of the past for customers. Part of the philosophy of Miss Wonderful is creating that emotional reaction to a piece. If Tara posts a picture of an item on their Facebook, many people will comment saying that they remember that from when they were a child. Back then people became so used to seeing the objects around them, and when they don’t see until twenty years later, it will bring back memories.

For Miss Wonderful, Facebook is the most successful social media platform for the store. Their audience is 89% women and the ages range from junior high to the elderly.  Many of the elderly customers are looking for the highly collectible pieces, while the young professionals are more interested in smaller pieces. At the end of day though, word of mouth is still their biggest advocate, especially in the antique/picker world. The people who travel all over the country looking for those rare items talk, and it helps when they talk about Miss Wonderful.  Facebook has been the most successful in selling items as well. Tara mentioned that a majority of the items she posts will sell. “People feel a sense of urgency, when they see an item they want to buy. It could be the only item, so a customer needs to buy it fast or end up with “Vintage Regret”. “This is a one of a kind store, we don’t mass produce,” said Tara.

Tara has found that Craigslist and EBay have been the least successful platforms. She’s able to post more furniture items and to reach a larger audience in different states, but there can also be a lot of spam. The store has sold a few things on EBay, but it can be very time consuming and shipping furniture is complicated and costly.

Tara has done some advertising on Facebook, mainly just to promote the page or the post. She’ll pick a small budget and go with it. She also does some advertising in the local newspapers. She hasn’t spent a lot of money on advertising, because great content will generate buzz on their pages.

She also doesn’t have any sort of routine or schedule when it comes to posting things on Facebook. When she has something fun to share she does, she doesn’t stress over posting something every day. She feels that social media is fun and loves being able to build those online relationships. The con of social media is missing that face to face communication. She loves being able to see someone twirl in their new dress or see someone trying on a new suit for a job interview. The relationship built on social media is slightly impersonal.

Tara is a self taught social media guru. She never took any classes; she just learned everything at home from trying it out. She dabbles in all the platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and blogging. She asked a few people for their insight, and is very happily surprised that Miss Wonderful’s social media is doing so well. “I believe that you can teach yourself, if you really want to know you can teach yourself,” commented Tara. She also taught the owner, Ann, how to engage on social media. Both women are creative and have an artist eye, which once again carries over onto their social media presence.

In the future one of Tara’s goals is to help the items in the store extend their reach. She wants to extend their customer base outside of the Cedar Valley to Chicago or Minneapolis. She also wants to establish their website and blog. Miss Wonderful has been open a little over two years now and I feel their social media presence is doing great, when I asked Tara as to why their social media was succeeding she couldn’t think of one specific reason. “I love creating spaces and experiences, and I think that drive carries over to Facebook,” said Tara.

Miss Wonderful is located at 216 Main Street, Cedar Falls, IA. They're open Monday - Saturday 11 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. For more information visit their Facebook or call 319-529-7293.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Is Facebook Ripping off Small Businesses?

Many small businesses are feeling the push to develop a social media presence. Unfortunately, quite a few businesses just don't have the time, money, or resources to dedicate to social media. So a lot of businesses will set up profiles, post a few things to get started, and then realize they aren't getting the likes or engagement they had been hoping for. So they put a little money into Facebook advertising to promote their page. Giving Facebook ten bucks to promote their page compared to the thousands of dollars some businesses spend on TV commercials or newspaper ads is chump change. I used to believe this was a great idea. It was cheap, simple, and fast.

And then I watched this video....... (Please do watch, its a little long, but absolutely fascinating)

If your attention span didn't last the full 9 minutes, like a lot of people these days, let me try and sum it up for you. Facebook is ripping you off. There ya go, simple as that. Here's the end of my blog....just kidding! Many people were starting to wonder what is the value of a like on Facebook? Which if you are spending $100 to promote your page, it's a good question. So a man named Rory Cellan-Jones from BBC, set up a Facebook page called Virtual Bagel. This is a page where they would send you a bagel via the internet, you then download and enjoy. Quite the ridiculous page, I know. 

Before we move on, it's important to recognize that you can buy likes in two ways; the wrong way and the right way. The wrong way is to go to a website like Boostlikes.com (I tried to link it, but my Virus software actually blocked the page) and then literally buy likes. Sites like these use Click Farms in India, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal. What is a click farm? This is what Wikipedia says a click farm is:

"A click farm is a form of click fraud, where a large group of low-paid workers is hired to click on paid advertising links for the click fraudster (click farm master or click farmer). The workers click the links, surf the target website for a period of time, and possibly sign up for newsletters prior to clicking another link. For many of these workers, clicking on enough ads per day may increase their revenue substantially and may also be an alternative to other types of work. It is extremely difficult for an automated filter to detect this simulated traffic as fake because the visitor behavior appears exactly the same as that of an actual legitimate visitor."

Sounds like a great internship right?

This type of practice is obviously forbidden by Facebook. Instead, they offer the right way. Which is giving them money to advertise your page. That is how Virtual Bagel received its likes. Jones paid $100 to Facebook and the likes started rolling in. Within a day he had around 1,600 likes, mainly from developing countries like the Philippines or Bangladesh. He noticed two things: 1. The profiles of the people who had liked his page were suspicious, mainly because they had usually liked close to 800 pages. 2. Even though he had all of these likes, there was no engagement. 

So if you're getting likes the right way by paying Facebook and only targeting people in your local area, why are you not receiving more engagement from your fans? In a stunning article from The Next Web entitled, "Like or Lies? How perfectly honest businesses can be overrun by Facebook spammers," they revealed that those click farms we discussed earlier aren't just liking pages they are being paid to like. They're liking other random pages so Facebook doesn't pick up on them. Because if they liked a lot of pages in the same place in a short amount of time, that would be suspicious, but if they like pages all over the world it is a lot harder to track. 

Facebook could be nice and actually delete the fake likes, but then they would actually lose money. Because right now a small business could be paying to promote their page, but then when they don't see any engagement they pay again to promote the post. So Facebook is actually making double the money. 

So what can small businesses do? Nothing. Unfortunately, until Facebook starts to receive a bunch of complaints they probably won't do anything. So I recommend saving your ten dollars and just invest your time in quality content that real people will actually like and share. I know it's not easy, but it's better than completely ruining you Facebook presence with fake likes! 

Stay tuned for my next blog post where I interview Tara Pickering the Manager at Miss Wonderful in downtown Cedar Falls! 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Social House: The Social Media Bar of The Hill

In the spring of 2013, UNI students started noticing that many of their friends had started liking or sharing content from the bar Social House. The bar hadn’t even opened yet and it had hundreds of likes from people all over the Cedar Valley. Social House had become the talk of the town and no one had even had a drink yet. How did Social House become such a popular place without even opening its doors yet? A huge part of its success should go to Kyle Dehmlow, manager of Social House. I sat down with him the other night to ask him about his social media philosophy.

Kyle Dehmlow
Manager of Social House
Kyle grew up in Denver, Iowa and attended UNI for theatre. During college he worked in the bars doing entertainment, promotions, and acted as an MC a lot of nights. Kyle worked at Club Shagnasty’s, which was one of Cedar Falls first night clubs. After making a move to Cedar Rapids for a few months, Kyle moved back to Cedar Falls and was offered a management position at a new bar opening on the The Hill.

Before Social House even opened Kyle had the vision of a social place. “The bar is specifically set up so social interaction is easy. We wanted people to come out, meet people, and hang out with friends,” said Kyle. Promotion for Social House began before the doors even opened, but it happened in slow stages. To build curiosity they released pictures of drinks and the bar. They made sure not to release too much information so people wouldn’t judge it too early. As they got closer to the opening of the bar they stopped with the visuals, until a week before the opening they released a quick 50 second Youtube video giving an overview. The organic marketing worked very well, because there was a line outside the bar on opening night.

Since Social House opened almost a year ago, their main social media platforms have been FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. As of today, they have 1,252 Facebook likes, 889 Twitter followers, and 323 followers on Instagram. Kyle is the voice of Social House’s social media. He is the only person who posts on all three platforms. He prefers doing it this way so the voice stays consistent. He does have Facebook and Twitter connected, which is usually the biggest no when it comes to social media, but this way it’s easy for the twitter followers to read specials that are over 140 characters.  Kyle doesn’t like to post on Facebook more than twice a day. The hardest part is changing up his ways to post the daily specials. He doesn't want to bore everyone, so he tries to post visuals to help. In the beginning, he did use some Facebook advertising before they opened and it did okay. The biggest advantage of their Facebook likes is that they are people who have actually been to the bar, they’re not paid likes. 

Twitter has actually been the most successful platform for Social House. The biggest reason is because they are so responsive. “I do a lot of stalking,” laughed Kyle. He does a lot of searching to see what exactly people are saying about the bar. “If people are having a good time, they want to promote where they are. It works out well for us,” commented Kyle. He has found no point in using traditional marketing because he can’t factor the return. “We could put money into local television commercials, but then how do we determine that those commercials are what brought them in the door? The only money I put into social media is my time. I would rather reward my customers with a free drink than a commercial that says we’re cool. I would rather promote true experiences,” stated Kyle.
On a personal note, I know from experience that Social House will respond if you tweet to them. My roommate, Sarah, graduated from college in December and to celebrate she went to Social House to have one of their signature drinks, a social bear. It’s interactions like the ones to the right that keep people coming back to Social House.

On the bright side, Kyle said there haven’t been a lot of negative tweets about the bar. He spoke of an example of where someone tweeted that Social House sucked, and it turned out that dart board was broken. A simple fix. There was also a time when a customer tweeted that the drinks at Social House were watered down. Kyle was able to track down the customer and found that they were drinking a vodka water. So he bought the customer a new drink, and then the customer’s next tweet was about how amazing the bar was. The fact that Social House will actively seek out an unhappy customer and try to solve the problem, shows the commitment they have to the success of the bar.
Instagram has also been a successful platform for the bar, mainly because the bar itself is so stimulating and so are the specialty drinks. A lot of times the post is a collage of all the drink specials or even a collage of various customers. Nowadays, pictures are what seem to generate the most engagement. Kyle tends to focus more of his time on Twitter and Instagram, because no matter what he posts it will show up on all his followers news feeds. Unlike on Facebook, who tends to be selective on what will show up in your news feed.
When it comes to promoting events, Kyle said that it can be tricky when using social media. Sometimes a tweet can’t encompass everything you want to say about an event, so he has to link it to Facebook. Before he would try to plan ahead weeks before the event, and then it would lose its buzz. Nowadays, he can give the event a couple days of promotion and it will be a success, because attention spans don’t last as long anymore. Their events also help them to give back to their customers. They've held a couple parties for reaching goals, such as 1,000 Facebook likes. They also do a lot of raffles where they give away party buses or concert tickets to Justin Timberlake. There are some events that didn't do so well, such as opening the Sunday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (They’re usually not open on Sundays) Kyle said that Friday and Saturday of the weekend went really well, but Sunday was somewhat of a flop. He stated that events can’t be held too closely together otherwise it just becomes too much for people.
One of the biggest issues with social media is privacy. They are some people who don’t want to be in pictures taken at bars, especially when employers seem to be looking at everything nowadays. Kyle said that when they first opened and did the Tag it Tuesdays, he would make sure to ask people. Tag it Tuesdays was a promotional event where they would post pictures of people who were at the bar on a Tuesday, then that person would either tag themselves or a friend would. The person would then be entered in a weekly drawing. But, it was important that he asked people if they were okay with their photo being posted because not everyone wants to be out and promoting drinking. There are also certain lines that Kyle won’t cross such as calling people out, talking down about other businesses, or utilizing their customer base to bad mouth something. “It is not our job to worry about everyone else; our job is to worry about our bar and our customers. We don’t want to demean our customer base,” commented Kyle.

As far as the future of Social House and their social media, Kyle said he is always looking for the next platform to use, but you won’t be seeing Social House on Tinder anytime soon. He will keep progressing with the times with signature drinks and events that create buzz. The goal is to get a good drink at a good price. Kyle always knew that the bar would be active in social media, but it has definitely helped the success of the bar. He didn't intend for Social House to become a social media bar, but because he used social media wisely and engages with his customers, it has become one of the hottest bars on The Hill in Cedar Falls. 

**A big thanks to Kyle for letting me interview him for this blog!**

Social House is located at 2208 College Street, Cedar Falls, Iowa. They're open Monday-Saturday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. For more information visit their website or call them at (319) 266-3662.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

No Budget? No Problem!

Many people view social media as a joke. They feel it will eventually fade away and people will go back to paying attention to traditional marketing. Unfortunately, this won't be happening anytime in the near future. Before I jump into the blogs about how the Cedar Valley is using social media, I want to tell a social media success story. A couple of weeks ago I attended a social media seminar hosted by the Central Iowa Tourism Region. At first, I thought the seminar was going to be someone telling me how Facebook worked, but it turned out to be a great example of how social media can be beneficial to organizations.

Leslie McLellan from Tourism Currents
The speaker was Leslie McLellan from Tourism Currents. She referred to social media as winning the lottery, because when you use social media properly, and you don't take any shortcuts, it can be like gold. Leslie was able to successfully market and promote a tourism destination for two years without spending any money on advertising. The destination wasLake Arrowhead, California, which is about 90 miles east of Los Angeles with a population of around 13,000. The main thing Lake Arrowhead was known for was their amazing summer events. Leslie was in charge of the marketing department for promoting Lake Arrowhead, and she was also the only person in the marketing department. The main source of income for the marketing department came from the Bed Tax, which is a tax on every hotel room rented by out of towners that goes back to the local governments.

In the fall of 2008 the economy took a turn for the worst. Many small businesses in Lake Arrowhead were closing their doors and all the sponsorship dollars for any events stopped
. So they had to decide what to do with the marketing budget. They had around $7,000-$10,000 to either spend on traditional advertising to get people to town or they could spend it on the sponsorships and bring back the great events. They decided to sponsor the events and give people a reason to come to Lake Arrowhead.

Lake Arrowhead's Twitter Page
This is when Leslie immersed herself into social media for the next six months. She decided that Lake Arrowhead needed to make their social media debut at their film festival, which was in April of 2009. So she grabbed a few of her friends, had them set up a twitter account, and start tweeting about the upcoming film festival.They tweeted for three days before the event, and it lived on for three weeks after! Next was the antique & classic wooden boat show. From Leslie's tweets they were able to gain coverage from two national boating publications who picked it up. They were able to gain national coverage for free! The third big event is Lake Arrowhead's summer concert series that runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. At the first concert Leslie went up to the DJ and encouraged him to ask the audience if they're on twitter and if they are, to please promote the concert using #LakeArrowhead. At first there wasn't much success, but the 4th of July was a turning point. Between TweetDeck and Hootsuite, Leslie was able to track 15,000 people talking about Lake Arrowhead on Twitter. The summer turned out to be a great success, they even had to close down their town a couple times because the concerts got so big.

Even though all the publicity through social media seemed to be working, the real success would come when the county gave them their bed tax for the year. This would tell them how many people had come to Lake Arrowhead and actually spent money in their town and rented a hotel room. And if fact, they actually had earned more in the summer of 2009 than they had the previous five or six years. It wasn't a significant increase, but it was the fact that they were able to raise the same amount of bed tax without spending a single dime on advertising. Her story was so successful the Social Media Examiner even wrote an article about her and the use of social media.

Lake Arrowhead, California
After winter ended Lake Arrowhead was back to their annual film festival again. This time they held a Twitter contest before, during, and after the festival. In May, the Social Media Examiner story came out and Lake Arrowhead, along with Leslie, started receiving a lot of attention. People were starting to realize the potential of social media. Unfortunately though, the management changed and the summer concert series was cancelled. Leslie was forced to take a different approach. Instead she promoted the quality of life and what Lake Arrowhead had to offer. Fortunately, when the fall numbers rolled in again Lake Arrowhead's social media was a success for the second year. They had only earned $300 less than the year before, which was insane considering they didn't have the summer concert series.

Leslie's social media strategy is a success story. Many people have not been able to find a return on their investment when it comes to social media, but her story proves the if used properly social media can be great asset when your budget doesn't allow for a lot of spending. Stay tuned for future blogs about Leslie's advice on how to create successful posts that will generate interaction.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How Sex & the City Influenced my Life

I thought I would take the time to introduce myself before I start creating this masterpiece of a blog. My name is Whitney Johnson and I'm currently a senior at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. When I started college almost four years ago I knew that I wanted to pursue a degree in Public Relations. My reasons for declaring a major in public relations were kind of all over the place though.

  1. My first reason was because I knew that I was good at talking, or as we like to say in college, "a great communicator." To be honest, my skills at communicating mainly came from the fact that I liked to talk a lot. In sixth grade, my teacher informed my Mom that I was a "social butterfly." In sixth grade though that means I talked too much in class and she wanted me to shut my mouth. Eventually, that turned into a skill and all of the sudden I'm a communicator. 
  2. My second reason was because my writing skills weren't too shabby. I liked to write, it came easy to
    me, and multiple people told me I was good at it. Writing and reading were always my favorite subjects in school, while math and science were definitely not my strong suits. 
  3. My last reason for deciding to major in public relations was because of Sex and the City. My junior year, I fell in love with the show, and I absolutely loved Samantha. Not because of her sexual habits, but because how strong and independent she was, and I wanted to be that someday. She ran her own public relations firm and was very determined. I envied her career.
 So my decision to major in public relations took me to Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids to complete my Associate of Arts degree and then to Cedar Falls to finish my bachelors degree. When I started at UNI I decided to minor in marketing because I always thought it was an interesting field, but I had no idea I wanted to pursue a career in it until after a few classes. Fast forward to the spring of 2014.....I now have a second major in Interactive Digital Studies with emphases in digital advertising and digital imaging. I want to pursue a career in digital marketing after graduation next December. Which leads to the reason I'm writing this blog. The main reason is because it's required for my digital advertising class, but I'm also very interested in social media and how it effects our lives. My focus for this blog though will be social media in the Cedar Valley. I want to explore how small businesses utilize social media or how they aren't utilizing it. Thanks for listening to my life story. Stay tuned for more posts!