Monday, April 30, 2012

Create a Social Media Strategy for Your Business

The third step in effectively integrating social media into your business is to design a strategy. Social media is a long term commitment, not a quick fix or a jump-on-the-bandwagon strategy. Try to avoid the impulse to rush to use the tools without designing a formal social media strategy. 

Thoughtful planning and analysis is needed to create a social media strategy which can then be used to guide you and your organization in the ongoing use of social media tools – whether you choose to implement a few key tools or expand to include a broad array of tools. By formalizing your social media strategy – including gaining buy-in from your management team – you can prevent misunderstandings about social media’s purpose and what it can and cannot do for your business. There is a definite experimental nature to social media and making everyone clear on that fact is important to the long-term success of your strategy.

One of my favorite social media blogs, Social Media Examiner, offers seven key points to consider when designing a social media strategy:

  1. Determine your goals and objectives: How do your social media goals and objectives fit within your overall business goals?
    Here are four common objectives, but there are many more:
    a. Improve brand presence across social channels
    b. Increase positive sentiment about your brand
    c. Develop relationships for future partnership opportunities 
    d. Increase traffic to your website
  2. Research, research, research: Test the waters. Start by developing a list of social media sites where you can potentially engage with relevant people. Check out each of the social media sites on your list and search for your brand name, your competitors and your target keywords.  This research helps us determine how relevant each site is to our objectives.  By listening (hmm, I seem to remember a helpful blog post about listening ), we get a sense of who our target audience is, where they are and what is important to them.
  3. Create a Digital Rolodex of Contacts and Content: Get to know the influencers who are relevant to your business.
  4. Join the conversation and develop relationships: Post comments on blogs and forums, answer questions on Yahoo! and LinkedIn, join groups related to your industry and join Twitter chats. Begin fostering relationships by following influencers and others in your industry.
  5. Strengthen relationships, when possible, with face-to-face interaction at industry events. While so much can be done with a keyboard, nothing beats the offline, in person conversation.
  6. Measure results: Constantly return to your objectives. Choose the metrics that make the most sense, but stay open to considering others as your use of social media evolves. You may find, down the road, that different metrics help assess your success even better than the first few you chose. For example, measuring the increase in your followers and fans may take a back seat to measuring your brand’s positive mention ratio, as your brand emerges and grows.
  7. Analyze, Adapt and Improve: Analyze your social media campaigns, adapt any new findings into your current processes and improve your efforts. Returning to what was mentioned in the introduction to this post – testing and experimentation are ongoing and help you fine tune your social media efforts.
Thank you Nick Shin, author at Social Media Examiner, for your guidance.

Relationship building is the overall purpose of social media. Be patient as your social media efforts gain traction. You are in it for the long haul! Use your well-designed, unanimously accepted social media strategy to help guide you as opportunities emerge and to ground you when it gets overwhelming.

What have you found helpful or difficult when creating your social media strategy?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Getting Pinned Never Felt So Good: A Pinterest Story

I have been passively curious about Pinterest, but have to admit that I didn’t visit the site until this past weekend when my neighbor had an unexpected, wild experience as a result of being “pinned” on Pinterest. I decided it was time to see what the fuss is all about.

The best way I can describe Pinterest is to ask you to visualize a bulletin board of things you might clip out and pin to it if the Internet were a big multi-subject magazine. Recipe, craft and travel ideas abound on Pinterest, enhanced by beautiful photos. The social networking side of it kicks in as people, whose pinning activity you follow, add more pins and others, seeing those interesting pinned items, request to follow the pinners. So even if you don’t pin anything (me, so far), you can find your friends (like my friend Maria, fabulous quilter/artist who invited me to Pinterest) who do pin and find complete strangers who pin on topics you enjoy, and follow them.

Now my neighbor’s story: I live in a micro-hub of interior, web, jewelry and graphic designers. One of the talented graphic designers is Nancy Bradham, the creative owner of; a terrific site for inspired gifts and gear. The momgoodz motto is “Cheeky gifts for overextended moms.” If that doesn’t get you smiling, the subtitle is “Why? Because I said so!” Whether we’ve said that because we were quoting our moms, or because we absolutely meant it with every stressed fiber of our being, we’ve all said it! Nancy promotes her brand locally, on her websites and on – a virtual marketplace for handmade goods, art and supplies.

Last Tuesday, someone discovered one of Nancy’s mugs on her website and pinned it on Pinterest. It was then re-pinned 272 times in five minutes! In the next hour, Nancy received 40 sales orders! She and her husband spent a “crazy-fun night printing orders, packing mugs and thanking the social media gods!” Sales have continued to be high in this terrific example of the power of social media in the small business world.

According to a new study by Experian Hitwise, Pinterest is now the third most popular social networking site in the US, behind Facebook and Twitter.

Web traffic to Pinterest jumped 50% between this past January and February, enabling the invitation-only site to overtake LinkedIn, Tagged, and Google+ in total monthly visits.

In addition to these stats, visits to Pinterest reached nearly 21.5 million during the week ended January 28, 2012, almost 30 times the number of total visits recorded six months earlier. That is explosive growth. seems to be experiencing a similar growth explosion! Just in time for Mothers’ Day, I highly recommend for the overworked mom in your life! I’ll go over and help Nancy bubble-wrap if she gets overloaded with orders.

Keeping calm and growing the business!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Discovering Yourself in the 1940 Census

Have you had a chance to stop and think about what you might find hidden within the 1940 US Census?  Or maybe you have already taken a look. What a marvelous snapshot of our country in the throes of the Great Depression, teetering on the brink of World War II. In fact, some questions were added which reflect the stressed economic conditions under which Americans where working then; such as a person’s usual occupation, not just what they were doing the week of March 24-30, 1940.

The US Census Bureau teamed up with the National Archives to stage a great social media campaign to build interest in the April 2nd first-ever online release of US Census records. They so successfully used Twitter (#1940Census), Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, YouTube, and blogs (NARAtions and Prologue: Pieces of History) that followers' queries overloaded the servers shortly after release, followed by sincere apologies as the administrators realized they did not have the capacity for the interest they had generated. It was definitely a disappointment to those who had anxiously awaited the big release. Over the weeks, months and years to come, we can all satisfy our curiosity of how our ancestors, communities and country were reflected in those records.

The house on W. 74th Street
One of the amazing elements of this Census, for me and for many of my contemporaries, is that this is the first time our parents appear in a Census. When I look at a digital copy of the census document, I can imagine the census-taker, standing on the porch of my great-grandmother’s house on West 74th Street in Cleveland, talking to my grandfather, who was home during the day from his job as a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. This census includes an indicator of which household member answered the census questions. The census-taker was undoubtedly male, wearing a bowler hat and, most likely, a tie. My grandfather would be giving him the names and ages of his household: besides himself, my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother (almost 3 years old) and my uncle (almost 2 years old).

Timmy & my mom
Although the handwriting of the census belongs to the census-taker, it was written in the presence of a grandfather I barely remember, recording a conversation so full of information, I wish I had been there to gather those facts, and more, myself. The facts the government collected are pieces to the puzzle I long to complete – the family tree on the side of my family known more for record-burning than record-keeping. I admit the 1940 Census has no new news on this little family: I know that my maternal grandfather’s parents were born in Ireland and that my grandmother’s mother was born in North Carolina, her father in Ohio. But there are other paths for me to explore that, I know, will give me countless hours of pleasure: Find my great grandparents in Columbus and see who was living with them then; find my father (3 ½ years old) and his family and see whether they were living in the house I came to know so well; Find the McCarthys in Findlay and the Learys in Cleveland; find my father’s cousins in Ashtabula and see if Great Aunt Winifred was still alive; find my step-grandfathers’ families; find my North Carolina relatives and see how the 10 years since 1930 treated them in births and deaths; find everyone’s occupations and incomes to put together an image of their lifestyle; the list goes on and on.

Aunt Winifred, my dad & his sisters
I am a map lover, and the census data across the decades are a rear-view map of the life journey we are on. We are products of our ancestors. Even generations ago, their experiences weigh heavily on our station in life, our view of the world, the foundation of our soul. 

Time to do a little time-travel.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What Can a Blog Do For My Small Business?

As a small business owner, contemplating the dive into the social media pool, you may have asked yourself this exact question. Numbers and stories help me understand the effect a well-executed blog can have on a business. Here are some statistics and an example to help understand why the pool is so popular. A recent study reported that:

  1. Nearly 40% of US companies use blogs for business purposes.
  2. Companies that blog have 55% more website visitors than those who do not blog.
  3. B2C companies that blog get 88% more leads per month than those who don’t.
  4. B2B companies that blog get 67% more leads per month than those who don’t.
These statistics are courtesy of HubSpot’s Ebook, “Introduction to Business Blogging.” And although the study did not focus specifically on small businesses, the numbers – especially point #2 -- should give every business strong reasons to focus their attention on their blog, or lack thereof. A separate study, referenced in this same Ebook, indicated that 71% of those polled say blogs affect their purchasing decisions. Hmm, that's a lot of people looking at blogs to help them make up their minds.

Use your company blog to earn trust, to become a thought leader, to be a problem solver and to stay in the forefront of your customers’ minds. Through a relatively small investment of resources and creativity, you can build a blog to engage your customers and prospects and drive traffic to your website. Ultimately, this traffic will translate into business. Using the power of social media to leverage the word of mouth effect that is so critical to small business success, you have the potential of doubling the number of visitors to your website! 

Volante Farms is a great example of a small business utilizing its blog to stay connected to its customer base, especially during a transition period when its business traditionally goes dormant. Volante Farms is a family owned and operated farm, headquartered in the Boston suburb of Needham, MA, with obvious seasonality to its business year. Within the past year or so, the farm rebuilt its greenhouses and tore down its large farmstand (envision an indoor farm stand with electricity, plumbing and attached greenhouses) to rebuild a new, larger farmstand offering a much wider array of products and services. Neither of these "farmstands" remind me of the ones I see back in my native state of Ohio, but they do display the glistening, fresh produce in deep wooden shelves and the exposed beams tell me I'm not at the grocery store -- the similarities end about there. It is a major business, backed by some entrepreneurial ingenuity developed at nearby Babson College, and a mainstay in the community. The new farmstand, which opened on March 31st, now includes “a seasonal garden center, produce market, local-centric grocery, bakery, deli and prepared food kitchen, flanked by a state of the art greenhouse offering home-grown annuals and locally hardy perennials.”

Volante Farms used its blog to keep its community updated on the new farmstand’s progress -- before the old one closed down, but also during the cold months when the shuttered farm is not usually top-of-mind among its customers. By highlighting its chef search, providing commentary on design decisions, various owner opinions of the progress, seasonal planting updates, recipes, Grand Opening plans, descriptions of new products and new store hours, the blog kept its community well informed and maintained interest in the closed farmstand which resulted in a terrific turnout at its opening celebration last weekend. If they can generate that much interest while they are closed, imagine what they will do now that they are open! 

No one buys anything online from Volante Farms, but they have learned to blog about what interests their community and to make their customer community feel like part of their family. And with the help of WordPress's great features, their blog acts as their website - very efficient!

Fresh, local and reaping the benefits of blogging!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Origins of the Red Cupboard

Since I launched my business, many people have asked me why I chose “Red Cupboard” for the name. I thought I would take a minute to explain what inspired the name. But if you are looking for the name’s origin to be attached to a strategic business decision, I have to warn you that you will be disappointed!

In a rock-solid colonial, in the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River, Ohio, with an enormous, 100+ year-old oak growing out of the center of the front lawn, whose roots eventually entered every underground piece of pipe attached to that colonial, is where the original red cupboard lies. Off the kitchen, in a small hallway with a small half-bath on the left, a white-curtained window straight ahead, and a broom closet on the right, was a floor-to-ceiling wooden cupboard, painted bright red.

I think the original owners of the house painted the cupboard red to bring out the red fleck in the multicolored, spotted, linoleum floor. The rest of the cupboards and drawers in the kitchen were white and metal. For the 40 years my parents owned that house, the red cupboard was home to an eclectic collection of things that could only be described back then as necessities; and treasures now. They weren’t items we used every day, but often enough to be kept nearby. The doors opened with metal latches and the contents inside the red cupboard were generally pretty big and bulky, such as:

  • the electric frying pan we used every Friday for fish fries,
  • the wooden salad bowl set that came back from a rare trip to Hawaii,
  • the Waterford pitcher that came out on special occasions,
  • the onion bin in which the onions found a cool, dark place to sprout,
  • crayons, paper and scissors piled haphazardly into one of the two drawers with metal cup pulls,
  • the rotating three-way condiment caddy, and
  • cheese trays and platters, most notably, the Spode platter that righted our ship as my sisters and I struggled to cope with the loss of our parents.

The upper and lower doors of the cupboard were separated by a wide shelf, a little over 4 feet high, which housed my mom’s cookbook collection and canisters of flour, sugar and tea. 

It seemed like there was always a reason to look for something in the red cupboard. None of the other cupboards in the kitchen were red, so we always used its full name – never “look in the hall cupboard,” or “try the tall cupboard,” or “it’s in the back cupboard.” “It’s in the red cupboard” was such a natural part of our kitchen conversation -- especially when we returned from college and had completely wiped from our brains where everything was stored. 

My mom renovated her kitchen while she was in her “Monet Period” and painted the red cupboard lavender, along with the bench and chairs in the adjacent nook. She picked this color to complement the dappled, pastel, watercolor-like wallpaper she chose for the kitchen walls. But the “red cupboard” remained. We all still referred to it by its original name. Even my mom never made the change and continued to direct us and her grandchildren to the “red cupboard.” Snacks eventually migrated to the red cupboard and it became a little hang-out spot for my dad as he tried to sneak a snack in the shadowy hallway.

Despite the cupboard’s makeover, you could always see the red when you opened the doors – the permanent little drips that had dried as they were running down the inside of the door during its original paint job. By the time my mom sold the house, little red nicks could be seen here and there on the exterior, as if its true color continued to try to peek out from under its cover. 

Memories of that house and the childhood I spent in it are anchors to me. And for its steadfastness and quirkiness, that red cupboard brings a smile to my face. So I picked it as my business name – not because a client will “find everything she needs in the red cupboard” but because it represents where I came from and reminds me of the dependability, persistence and humor I need to take this business where I want it to go. 

This post is a tribute to my mom whose 75th birthday would have been today. And especially for her, I made sure I used “its” and “it’s” properly throughout the post!