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Using social media to grow your brand: A case study

Last week, She Inspires hosted a seminar with small business owner, Angela Vithoulkas. She spoke about using social media to brand her cafe. Here’s what she had to say. 

I walked in through the doors of the seminar space and was warmly welcomed by Belinda Stinson, owner of She Inspires. I saw men and women chatting, giggling and nibbling away on the snacks. It was all about networking with fellow small business owners before the seminar began. The turn-out was impressive, given the Small Business Idea Exchange Centre only launched a couple of weeks ago, and it was easy to tell everyone was enjoying themselves.

The beginnings of social media as a marketing tool

The star of the seminar was Angela Vithoulkas, award-winning owner of VIVO cafe. She presented a personal encounter of her journey as a business owner through thick and thin, and how social media allowed her business to recover after Australia was hit by the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2006, during which she lost hundreds of customers.

“In an act of desperation when you lose hundreds and hundreds of customers, you look for the very tool that is free, and hot and happening … and Twitter was obviously the way that was all happening a few years ago now,” said Vithoulkas.

“I loved Twitter, I loved having 140 characters, being able to be short, sharp and sweet. I will always describe Twitter as foreplay, because that’s what it is. It’s a teaser of something more to come and it’s the possibility of having real, sharp and sexy conversations with people you’ve never met.”

One of greatest advantages of using social media to market a business, Vithoulkas realised, is its ability to attract people from different geographical locations.

“This was a whole new avenue for me because suddenly, instead of my shop being limited to its geographical location, it was suddenly a possibility of being a destination, a place where people could meet besides where they worked. This was my civilian marketing strategy,” she said.

When Vithoulkas started using social media more frequently, she discovered something important – that social media was not just about delivering a message to the receptor. It’s a two-way conversation and both parties need to benefit from it in some way.

“I discovered that I can have conversations on Twitter and make friends, real genuine friends, but to a point, because there has to be something in it for them. In social media, that is the conversation. You can talk, you can chat, you can follow and you can like, but there has to be a give and a take. There has to be a reason for that relationship on both parties,” said Vithoulkas.

The power of social media

She then shared a story that reinforces the power that social media can have when used effectively. She talked about an incident that occurred a few years ago, where founding director of OzHarvest, Ronni Kahn, tried to get Coles on board to donate the food that would otherwise go to waste to help feed the homeless and hungry. Coles came up with hundreds of excuses and ultimately refused to donate.

As a blogger for Commonwealth Bank, Vithoulkas posted an entry that explained the situation; and within two and a half days she reached over 1.5 million people around Australia. The exposure had a huge impact and led Coles to rethink their decision to ignore OzHarvest’s efforts to help those who are less fortunate.

“We changed Coles’ attitude and we created a movement. And this is one woman, one iPad, two and a half days in Byron Bay and they saw a result. There was no money in it, but there was a give and take, because what we created was a momentum, an outrage and it gave people a purpose to join in,” said Vithoulkas.

“There were women saying ‘I’m not going to shop at Coles’ and then there were men saying ‘why aren’t we feeding the hungry?’ And there were other Coles employees jumping in and saying ‘how much wastage is there every afternoon or every week and where is it going?’ So when you hear of these amazing differences and when you know the power that social media has and how much it can grow, as a small business owner you think ‘now, how can I make money?’”

The importance of engagement through conversation

Later on in the seminar, Vithoulkas provided valuable advice about engaging with customers via social media. She said that while many think that ‘liking’ a post on Facebook, or ‘retweeting’ a Twitter update classifies as engagement, it’s actually not. True engagement with customers requires conversation, and the job of a business owner is to engage with customers to grow the brand.

“You need to take another step. If you liked what that person said or if you liked their picture or you liked their post, then say that. Yes, people appreciate the like but if you get that alert if someone liked your post, you go ‘well, how much did you like it? what did you like about it?’ Where’s the feedback from the customer? Engage. A click is not engagement, take the time to comment. And when you retweet something, care about what you’re retweeting,” said Vithoulkas.

The point of social media is to engage with other people, but when social media became more and more popular, it became lesser and lesser about engagement. People started to concern more about what devices and software they could use to log onto their accounts, and how much it will cost.

“There’s Twitter … Facebook … and now we have Pinterest and Instagram and every other invention known to man, and suddenly it’s become about what software you can get to manage your platforms and how much it will cost. We move away from where it all started and it becomes about the strategy. It doesn’t become about the point and the conversation and we start to lose our innocence which got us in there to start with and our authenticity that got us the followers to start with,” said Vithoulkas.

“So we need to come back to basics and say ‘Why are we on social media? What is the point?’ Can we make money? Probably not. You probably will never see a return on investment for the time you invest in social media in the way that you and I understand it, which is a dollar-for-dollar exchange. Most of you have an hourly rate of some kind. Most of you expect that if you spend 10 hours a week on social media, it should at least give you something. It should. At the very least, you should learn because you will learn something. You will get so much free information that no doubt you will be inspired to do something else. Whether that’s a non-for-profit or a profit idea, that is what social media is all about.”

Putting in the effort

Over 80 percent of Australians, whether directly or indirectly, use social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest, so the opportunity to engage with customers and potential customers in a deep and meaningful way cannot be overlooked, even if it extends your working day.

“Social media has torn apart the walls of retail, it has gotten rid of the door that closes at a certain time and we are now online 24 hours a day. Of course, that adds to the workload of a small business owner. That extends your working day, that extends your unpaid working day,” said Vithoulkas.

“But for the small business owner who says ‘well, I’ve got a website, I’ve got a Facebook page, I’ve got a Twitter handle, now what?’ Google is not your friend if you say ‘now what’. SEO is not your friend if you say ‘now what’ because your content must change.

“Your conversation that you have with your customer on any platform must constantly change. And in my world, as a cafe owner, that’s tough – because the menu is the menu, the location is the location. Not a lot really changes. A lot of my content is going to be static, that is not good for optimisation. So if you have to find other things to put on your social media platforms, whether it’s your website, whether it’s your Twitter, whether it’s your Facebook page, you have to find new and original content.”

When a business is attacked by social media users

All businesses have to face negativity on social media sites from time to time, but the way you respond to negativity is what’s important. Vithoulkas advises that you can’t fight fire with fire, because it will hurt your business.

“There is not a firm, business, company or person who hasn’t been attacked on Twitter. What is memorable is the way they deal with it, not how it started. As with most bullying tactics, it’s all in the way you handle it. It’s not the original accusation that matters anymore, it’s the ongoing conversation,” said Vithoulkas.

“You need to think about it before you have a dummy spit online because it will hurt your business, it will hurt your brand and it will hurt someone else. And you need to care about that other person, regardless of what they’ve said and how they’ve treated you. You need to care about that other person, because they may have a thousand other followers, fifty of which follow you as well, and the way you treat them is the way they will judge you.”

She Inspires has a great line up of seminars sharing expert skills to help small business owners make social media marketing work for their business.

To find out more about upcoming seminars or to book tickets online, visit www.sheinspiresbiz.eventbrite.com.au.

Tasnuva Bindi

Tasnuva Bindi

Tas is a journalist at Dynamic Business. She has a passion for visual and performance arts, feminist politics, and animal rights. In her spare time she likes to paint, write poetry, and read courtroom drama novels.

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