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.