For years, small business owners have been encouraged to adopt social mediastrategies as a way of engaging their customers after they leave the store. And they listened: 90% of small business owners in the U.S. are active on social media, and many consider social media the easiest and most cost-effective way to have anonline presence.
But recently customer engagement rates on Facebook and Twitter have declined to the point where only paid promoted posts can create meaningful results. Here’s a look at why, and what small business owners should do instead.
THE RISE AND FALL
I joined Facebook in 2010 as the Head of Global SMB Marketing. Facebook started heavily promoting Facebook Pages, urging small businesses to create a business page, generate as many likes as possible, and to frequently post content. This opportunity was exciting to local merchants who didn’t have the resources to engage their customers after they left their stores, and they signed up in hordes. At the most recent count, there are 30 million small businesses with active Pages globally.
But in 2012, Facebook announced that small business Pages organically reached only 16% of their audience. Small businesses had difficulty understanding why they couldn’t reach all of their fans, but Facebook was watching out for their users and trying to make the newsfeed as engaging as possible. Small businesses were frustrated because many had also paid to get more Likes for their Page and now couldn’t reach all of them.
Facebook created Promoted Posts to help small businesses deal with their low organic reach. In January of 2013, Facebook announced that 500,000 Pages had used Promoted Posts, but compared to their total global small-business audience, this was still pretty small penetration. Most small businesses continued to try their luck at engaging their customers through posting for free with mixed results.
Facebook recently announced that it would further reduce the reach of posts from businesses to their fans that it deems “overly promotional.” Fast Company also published an article discussing new research which suggests that businesses that make Facebook and Twitter the center of their customer engagement efforts may be wasting their time. The article cites a recent Forrester Research study that showed top brands on Facebook and Twitter are reaching only 2% of their fans, and only 0.07% of followers actually interact with each post.
So if a small business owner is willing to use the paid advertising options on Facebook, then they may see engagement on their posts, but the cost may not be what they’re willing to pay. Facebook has also introduced new, more sophisticated, advertising tools to directly target any user on Facebook in their newsfeed, but for the most part, these tools are used by savvy direct marketers at mid-sized or larger companies and not small businesses.
WHAT CAN SMALL BUSINESSES DO?
My observation from talking to many small businesses is that their owners are now confused. Most still believe that they should posting regularly on their Facebook Page or on their Twitter feed, and sometimes they even ask their staff to do it on their breaks. However, most don’t know if these efforts are driving anyone into their stores.
The declining organic reach of Facebook and Twitter means that small businesses should be looking elsewhere to engage their customers outside of their store. Facebook can still be a place to build a free online presence, but it is no longer the way to drive meaningful engagement with customers. The Forrester study suggests that going back to email might be the way to go—after all, typically over 20% of the recipients of your email will open it, which is far higher than the organic reach of a social media post. I agree with this general recommendation, but the email channel is also being challenged with Gmail filtering a lot of promotional emails out of the main inbox. There’s also the additional burden of building a big enough database to reach as many customers as possible.
Small business owners might look to the success of companies like Starbucks and Panera Bread who have now built customer databases of millions of customers using their rewards program. Moreover, now there a number of startups including my own that help small business owners build their own digital rewards program that can reach customers using push, SMS, and email. The key in picking the right loyalty platform is to find the one that will help you build the biggest database with the least amount of work and one that can engage customers where they are increasingly to be found—on their mobile.
SHOULD SMALL BUSINESSES ABANDON FACEBOOK?
But what about Facebook? Should small business owners abandon it completely? I don’t think so. The posts that are still getting reach on Facebook are the posts that are generated by customers. This is very different from content generated by the small business owner. If you can get customers to check-in or tag your business on their posts, this can still generate a ton of reach and word-of-mouth.
Social media in the form of getting followers and posting to engage them is rapidly becoming irrelevant for small business owners, but the overall goal of customer engagement is not. Small business owners should focus on building their own customer database through an attractive rewards program, so they can keep engaging their customers after they leave the store and then reach them with channels like push, email, and SMS at the right time with the right message. This will produce the type of engagement that small business owners have been craving and haven’t been able to get with social media, and will result in more return visits and more profits for small businesses everywhere.
Mobile is not just another channel. It is arguably one of the best ways to reach potential customers through content marketing. But understanding consumer behavior is even more important.
Unlike desktops or laptops, mobile devices are with consumers at all times and in almost every situation: Most people check their mobile phone before brushing their teeth and 90% of people have their phone within reach 24/7. This presents unprecedented access to these always-connected, voracious content consumers.
It also means that there’s no one-size fits all approach that will work for content marketing on mobile. However, there are some things to keep in mind that cut across all types of businesses, consumers and content that will make your mobile content marketing efforts more effective:
1. Make sure it is content to go.
While the majority of activities people do on their phones revolve around communication (texting, email and, yes, making calls), mobile devices are the ultimate immediate gratification device–and that creates a content opportunity. From apps and push notifications to directions and other “just-in-time” information, mobile provides the optimal place to connect with consumers exactly when and where they need you.
Research shows that as many as 81% of consumers research a product on their mobile device before they buy it–even from inside retail outlets. This provides an opportunity to do more than offer point-of-purchase discounts or promote your products. If someone is researching a home theater system and you provide information on the requisite cables while they are still in the store, you add value to their shopping experience, win their esteem and maybe even their business. Increasingly, content can be targeted to their in-store activities by using beacons–indoor low-energy Bluetooth connections–so the opportunity to be there with content when you are needed is growing every day.
And retail outlets are far from the only place people are using mobile devices and are receptive to quality content marketing. Consider the situations your customers find themselves in and be there with just-in-time content: Serve up recipes in the kitchen, essential competitor information on the way into a meeting, rainy day activities on vacation, how to build a toy on Christmas Eve. The possibilities are endless.
2. Format matters.
Though texting is an incredibly popular activity on smartphones–and Short Message Service (SMS) can be effective for content marketing–mobile consumers do not live by text alone.
Images make it easy to glance at a page (particularly on a small screen) and to quickly understand the content on offer. Images can be processed faster by the consumer and drive a faster decision to click. Images also evoke emotions, which drives action for many consumers.
Video was once the domain of the lean-back, relaxation time of day: evenings on-the-sofa time. Today, people consume video anytime and anywhere. According a Nielsen study, 28% of online consumers watch video on their mobile devices at least once a day. From how to change a bike tire on the side of a mountain or how to knot a scarf on the way to a party, video is a great way to deliver valuable content and to market your products and services in the process.
Optimizing your site and content for mobile delivery is essential for content marketing. However apps offer an even more engaging possibility for some content experiences. That said, apps aren’t easy or inexpensive to create or to keep stocked with fresh content so it is important to consider whether you have enough of a high-value proposition for your consumer before you start down this path. Increasingly, retailers are experimenting with apps that not only serve customer’s research and purchase needs, but provide added features such as purchase tracking and even tools to increase utility and engagement. A tool can also work as a standalone app if you can identify an ongoing need your consumers have (that aligns with your marketing objectives) and get to work solving their problem and reinforcing your brand in the process.
3. Time is of the essence.
Mobile consumers want convenience. While they use their devices throughout the day and in a multitude of contexts, mobile use is still dominated by short bursts of activity and found-time throughout the day. It is important to consider what these opportunities look like for your market target and to create content accordingly: Is your consumer a mom in line at the store trying to decide if a toy is age appropriate or safe? Or is your customer a salesman on the way into a meeting who needs up-to-the-minute information on his client?
The time of day that people are seeking out your content also matters. Will they be looking for what you have to offer during those busy daytime hours? Or might they be more likely to look for it on a tablet, later in the day when they are ready and willing to consume longer form content?
Not to be lost in all of this is that most people use multiple devices for the same task, often sequentially, for instance starting to research a product on one device and continuing the research on one or more other devices throughout the day. Thus, it is important to create consistent experiences across devices, both in terms of things like responsive design, but also in terms of your marketing campaign so that it engages across multiple touch points and is ready to meet your customers with content whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself.
Grassroots Fundraising Campaigns: How we raised funds to surpass our goal for the Pura Vida Fundraiser 2013 Kaylee Brown, Copywriter – LoudMouth Strategies Date: 11/6/2014
The idea to throw a fundraiser stemmed from a casual interaction around corporate responsibility and how important it is to give back to the communities that need it most. I quickly told my team about this exceptional non-profit Abriento Mentes located in Costa Rica that I had volunteered with in the past. We discussed the invaluable impact organizations like Abriendo Mentes have on developing countries by providing opportunities that enhance economic growth through education, social, and technology programs. This casual conversation blossomed into the brilliant idea to host a fundraiser to help raise awareness and funds for the non-profit. And so, the brainstorming began…
Step 1. Finding the Venue
Finding a venue for your fundraising event is critical to hosting a fundraiser and should be your number one step in planning. Our group was able to partner with a local restaurant in San Diego, the Salt & Cleaver, for the space to host the event. The restaurant was eager to get involved and agreed to give their space for an evening to host the fundraiser. In addition to providing the space, the restaurant created a select menu, including a special “Pura Vida” inspired cocktail that would be served to our guests. The Salt & Cleaver also donated a percentage of all food and drink sales for the evening which contributed to hitting our monetary goal for the night.
Step 2. Getting Attendees and Sponsors
We used our individual contacts to create an initial list for potential sponsors and attendees. To draw sponsors and attract attendees, we promoted the event as an opportunity to expand social networks while giving back to a great cause. Establishing a purpose for the event is necessary to attract sponsors; confidently relaying the purpose and having a solid outline of how the fundraiser directly benefits a cause will motivate the potential sponsor to contribute. Our team put together a detailed informational sponsorship package that we were able to send out to potential sponsors to include the non-profits mission, details about the event and the various sponsorship levels and opportunities they could contribute too.
For example, informing our sponsors that their donations would go directly to programming that would help empower small Central American economies through the enhancement of education and social programming was our key messaging. However, it is as equally important to relay to them how their company will benefit from contributing to the event. For instance, some of our sponsorship benefits included free promotion of the sponsor’s company through social media marketing, featured logos on Pura Vida Fundraiser’s imagery/signage, marketing collateral for attendees, email campaigns to invitees, and shout outs at fundraiser.
Step 3. Planning and Marketing the Event
The evening’s total revenue came from multiple sources including; RSVP Ticket Donations through targeted email campaigns, all drink/food sales, raffle ticket sales, out of pocket cash donations, and corporate sponsorships. Through this strategy, we created a solid foundation of key sponsors to donate goods, services, or money. All of our sponsor’s donations allowed us to successfully design a dynamic experience for our supporters and attendees – HAPPY HOUR! FUN PRIZES! GAMES! FREE GIVEAWAYS! LIVE MUSIC! Having a solid marketing strategy in addition to setting/reaching goals were essential components to increasing attendance for the fundraiser:
“It takes a lot of organization and team work to plan a fundraiser. It’s important to have a clear strategy and set objectives going into any event, especially a fundraiser. Understanding how to strategize, plan and market your fundraiser is instrumental in achieving your events target numbers. Setting goals and milestones, understanding your budget and building a solid marketing plan is instrumental in planning a successful fundraising event. Simple marketing activities such as branding your event, setting up social media platforms to organize and promote, and planning out a series of email blasts with designated content to engage your audience in supporting your fundraiser.”
– Georgette Kakridas, Pura Vida Marketing Director – Founder / CEO of LoudMouth Strategies
Creative development is also a key component to planning a successful fundraiser. The theme and image should correspond with the non-profit’s mission in order to preserve the fundraiser’s core function – to expand the positive impact of the non-profit’s cause. For example, Abriendo Mentes is a non-profit based in Costa Rica with a focus on youth education. We used a tropical beach theme as the backlash for all social media outlets, a howler monkey Abriendo Mentes logo for imagery (signs, T-shirts, gift bag prizes, flyers) and we used pictures of local Costa Rican children in Abriendo Mentes’ classrooms for the event’s PowerPoint show, email campaigns and social media updates. The creative development of the event plays an essential role in capturing your supporters’ interest, attention, and hearts in order to reach the goal of funds raised.
Our inspiration to host the event was derived with the goal to expand Abriendo Mentes’ cause, but the benefits of planning, marketing, and hosting the fundraiser far exceeded the monetary donations gained. The fundraiser resulted in an immensely rewarding experience: we surpassed the goal of funds raised, cultivated professional relationships through the event’s social network, exposed/promoted small to medium size San Diego companies, and created a fun way for people to contribute a great cause!
“The single most important thing you can do to prepare for any fundraiser is ask for help. Don’t talk yourself out of reaching out to your contacts because you think they will say no, people will surprise you! While the fundraiser is going on, work the room – thank people for their support and let them know how their contribution will impact the fundraiser’s beneficiaries.”
Follow up when all is said and done. The best way to get support for your next endeavor is to show your supporters they real impact they made. Publish photos, comments from beneficiaries, the organization and supporters on the event’s social media channels. Help people tell the story about their experience and everyone will want to become a part of it!”
– Diana Farias, Pura Vida Event Coordinator & Project Manager for Center for Creative Leadership
Our team has been hired on to help in a two phase approach to developing Alpha Green Energy’s website. The first phase of the project was to re-design and re-brand the entire company’s image. Our creative team helped to develop a new clean and crisp logo and engaging, modern website design. In addition to re-branding and re-designing the company’s website, our team worked to refine the company’s message through copywriting. We designed a more modern business card and produced a their marketing collateral layout. Our team is excited to move into the second phase of the website project which will include an e-commerce component so that customers can purchase products directly off the website. We are Alpha Green Energy’s marketing agency of record and support them in ongoing graphic design, copywriting, marketing strategy, SEO/SEM and website maintenance work.
“Know your audience” has stood as a fundamental marketing principle since long before the web. When advertising online, you need to take into account one of the most basic factors of the audience you are reaching: what devices they are using.
The most popular online advertising platform, in use by marketers of all sizes, is Google AdWords. Up until early 2013, AdWords allowed advertisers to set up separate campaigns to target mobile devices. Best practice generally entailed targeting mobile, desktop and sometimes tablet users in unique campaigns.
Then, in a bold move to push the importance of mobile usability (some would say to drive up its own revenue), Google announced it would no longer allow campaigns to target by device, as part of what it called “enhanced” campaigns. Pay-per-click (PPC) managers made outcries about Google’s forced decision to remove control from advertisers, even cautioning people against upgrading immediately as the option became available to do so.
A year later, the dust has settled somewhat as advertisers have adapted to the new campaign format. With the ability create device-specific campaigns gone, they’ve modified tactics with their campaign structure and bidding strategy to best reach people across multiple devices.
Why should you care about who’s using a mobile device and who’s not? First of all, people often behave differently when browsing on a phone versus a desktop. In reviewing data from a site that received just over three million sessions over the past year, users spent an average of 2:42 when coming from desktop and 1:16 from mobile. That shows mobile sessions dropping off after about half as long as desktop sessions. A smartphone user might not care to spend time sifting through an extensive product inventory, instead just wanting a number to call or immediate directions to a location.
Secondly, costs can vary widely by device. A study by Marin Software shows that the average cost per click on mobile was 26% lower than the desktop average in 2013. Also, the average cost per lead or sale might be more or less on mobile. Advertisers who take this information into account will see the need to control bids by device in order to maintain their target costs for leads.
Thirdly, visits from mobile might provide more or less value to a particular advertiser. For example, the owner of an e-commerce website might find that desktop users put more items in their carts and spend more on average.
Fourthly, you might want to drive mobile users to different pages than desktop users. Especially if your website is not responsive, you might have separate URLs for mobile. While a responsive website is ideal, your agency might be forced to work with a client’s existing website when running an ad campaign.
So, how do you build a campaign that targets only mobile devices via AdWords? The short answer is you can’t. However, a number of workarounds are available.
First, let’s look at a couple of AdWords features that focus spending on mobile: bid modifiers and mobile-preferred ads.
AdWords Features To Target Mobile
USE BID MODIFIERS
Enhanced campaigns introduced a feature called bid modifiers, which allow you to increase or decrease bids by a percentage for ads appearing on mobile devices. A number of PPC professionals have suggested using bid modifiers to focus a campaign’s spend on mobile placement. You could set a low general bid and increase the mobile bid modifier to 300%, the maximum percentage allowed.
To set a bid modifier, go to the “Settings” tab in your desired campaign and select “Devices.” You’ll then see statistics broken down by device and the option to change the percentage for mobile.
However, this technique will not completely exclude desktop searches. In a test across multiple accounts, Brad Geddes found that about 19% of searches still end up occurring on desktop.
CREATE MOBILE-PREFERRED ADS
Another option is to create mobile-preferred ads. When you build an ad in AdWords’ interface, selecting a check box enables you to mark the ad as mobile-preferred. Such ads are an opportunity to customize messaging specifically to people on mobile devices. We’ve improved both clickthrough rates and conversion rates by using phrases like “Call now” in mobile-specific ads, because searchers can click-to-call from a phone.
To create a mobile-preferred ad, just click the check box for “Mobile” under “Device preference” when making an ad via the web interface.
However, even these ads are not guaranteed to appear only on mobile or to prevent standard ads in the same ad groups from showing up on mobile. PPC Hero put this to the test and found that a number of desktop impressions still occurred with mobile-preferred ads.
USE SMARTPHONE-SPECIFIC AD SIZES
When running display campaigns, the 320 × 50-pixel mobile leaderboard ad size will appear specifically in a smartphone browser or app. You can even create animated ads in this format to get more attention. If you want to run them on mobile devices that don’t support Flash, AdWords offers an option to convert the Flash files to HTML5 when uploading them.
This ad size is great for driving branding, because it takes up an extremely visible portion of a mobile screen, often on top. Clickthrough rate tends to be high. In one campaign, I saw an average of a 0.5% higher clickthrough rate on these mobile ads than the standard desktop sizes (a pretty significant difference for display ads). Be aware, however, that people often unintentionally tap these ads on a touch device, especially while playing games. If you are encountering a high bounce rate from these ads, then consider excluding mobile apps. Bryant Garvin has written about a quick and easy way to do this.
We’ve looked at some options available in AdWords to focus on mobile. Next, let’s consider another platform that allows for more granular targeting at the device level than AdWords.
Direct People To Proper Pages
While a responsive website is the ideal option, if you do have a separate mobile website, make sure that users who are coming from mobile devices will see the proper page. One of the worst mistakes you could make is to forward all mobile visitors to a generic home page. I’ve audited campaigns whose ads were set up to very carefully link to very specific inventory items, only to completely lose all of that value because no equivalent pages existed on mobile. Make sure that individual product and service pages forward to their respective mobile versions.
AdWords also lets you use ValueTrack parameters in ad-destination URLs to specify mobile and desktop versions. People who click on ads will be directed to the proper page based on the device being used.
Try Bing Ads
While Google might have removed the capability to target separate campaigns at mobile devices or tablets, Bing still allows you to segment by device; you can still create a mobile-only campaign to reach searchers on Bing and Yahoo. While Bing-powered search accounts for a much smaller volume than Google, I’ve found that allotting a portion of spend to Bing Ads to be valuable for many clients, with less competition, as well as a generally lower cost for leads. For one particular client with a limited budget, we found that the cost per lead averaged about $20 less in Bing Ads than AdWords; so, we shifted money over, resulting in a stronger return on investment from their ad spend.
To set a Bing Ads campaign to serve only on mobile, go to the “Campaign Settings” tab. Under “Advanced Targeting Options,” select “Device” to choose the devices on which to run your campaign. You can also set bid modifiers here, as in AdWords.
We came across this great infographic and had to share. It reflects the positive effects of encouraging social behavior and social sharing on all levels of large scale enterprises. The power of social sharing is unlimited. Take a read, learn and share with your tribe! Remember, every brand has a story to tell, how will you encourage your employees to share your story?
Although this article is a few years old, there is some valuable information take away from it. Getting back to what we tell our clients, you need to choose your social media networks wisely and ensure you are producing original content that is targeted at each audience on each platform. Just because you think you need a Facebook account doesn’t mean you actually do. Research what other’s in your industry are doing and then differentiate yourself from them when creating all your accounts. Branding is key, all of you accounts should have the same cohesive branding so that when you users see them, they know it’s yours. This also creates brand loyalty amongst your customers and followers.
Social media is a whole beast of it’s own, you have to be on top of it every day, monitoring and producing content. In today’s day and age, we are bombarded by messages and content from all angles, all day every day. If your message isn’t different and you are not creating original content on a daily basis, it will get lost in the sea of content already out there. That’s why video storytelling is becoming more important than ever… but that is for another blog post. Content is still King.
Often, we think of our offline lives as distinct from our online presence, but social media is real life. Look no further than the hotels you stay in, the restaurants where you dine, the airlines you fly on and the theme parks you take your family to for proof. More often than not, there’s a Twitter and Facebook account — possibly even a Foursquare presence — behind the venue in question.
Because social media is a platform for the customer’s voice — and that voice can be heard by anyone in the world — the hospitality industry as a whole has embraced social media in a huge way.
Hospitality businesses of all sizes — from the biggest hotel chain to the little neighborhood cafe — have found their own unique way to harness the power of Facebook and the distribution possibilities made available via Twitter.
Personalizing Customer Service
Customer service is the most obvious way for the hospitality industry to use social media, and Twitter is the perfect vehicle for resolving customer issues or making a guest’s day with a simple “thanks for visiting” tweet.
But the best in the business are going above and beyond in the customer service arena. For example, the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore hotels use social media sites like Twitter and Foursquare to improve their customer service efforts and better meet the needs of their guests.
As the E-strategy Development Manger for the hotels, Jade Bailey makes sure that her team greets and caters to guests who check in there on Foursquare or tweet about being somewhere on the property, both on social sites and in person. The team has also seeded Foursquare with numerous tips inside the hotel, enlightening guests on the fascinating stories behind some of the more lustrous decorative embellishments.
Smaller businesses are going the extra mile as well. CoffeeGroundz — an independent coffee shop in Houston, Texas — uses Twitter as a way to make its customer service more personalized than its bigger competitors.
The store’s general manager is credited with making CoffeeGroundz one of the first businesses to take to-go orders via Twitter, an effort that began in October 2008. In addition to to-go orders, the boutique coffee spot now also accepts table and event reservations via direct message on Twitter.
At the Roger Smith Hotel in New York, social media has become immersed within the hotel’s unique culture. At its core, the Roger Smith Hotel is about storytelling — with a focus on art and people — and social media has become the way in which the hotel can share these stories and create new ones.
In fact, Brian Simpson, the hotel’s director of hospitality, says that while the hotel certainly attempts to connect the dots between social media and sales, ROI is not the focus of the team’s social endeavors. “We’re less concerned about how many rooms are booked because of social media, and more focused on telling stories and connecting people … you can’t pay a marketing firm to make those connections.”
It’s this type of open thinking that keeps The Roger Smith at the forefront of the social media curve.
Simpson primarily relies on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the hotel blog to distribute and collect stories, but also recognizes the value of location-centric social networks like Foursquare and Pegshot. He approaches each social site with a different strategy, saying, “We take all of these stories and figure out which social media networks support them best.”
Simpson points to an event back in 2009 as a catalyst for some of its creativity. The artsy hotel then hosted a Social Media Breakfast, which led to interest from other social media and web groups, and ultimately inspired Simpson to actively immerse himself in the social media culture.
Because The Roger Smith is independent, Simpson found ways to bend the rules for groups and startups, making the hotel inviting to all types of social media event organizers. For Simpson, exposure is key and hosting these events helps get the hotel’s name out there. Today, the hotel is essentially the social media-friendly hotel of New York; events are booked for each night of the week and its become the official hotel of many a New York web conference.
“We’ve made social media a part of the hotel,” says Simpson. “If we stopped doing social media, the culture wouldn’t change, but the stories that get told about us would change, and that would change the perception of the hotel.”
With storytelling at the center of everything the Roger Smith does online and off, Simpson is also looking for the next great way to engage current and potential guests. He says, “now that everyone’s on Twitter, and everyone has a Facebook Page, our objective is to find out what’s next and stay ahead of the curve.”
The hotel is also being extremely avant garde with its approach to installation art. They’ve commandeered an art studio on Lexington Avenue outside the hotel and turned it into an experimental space where art meets social media. The space is dubbed the RS Pop-Up Shop, or RS POP, and it’s open to up-and-coming designers and artists who want to showcase their work with social media flair.
Each selected RS POP participant is heavily supported with social media exposure, so artists and designers are featured both in the art studio and online via the hotel’s social media channels.
Disclosure: The Roger Smith Hotel has hosted Mashable events.
Making Good with Mom
Mom is a very important person in the hospitality space. She books the hotels, makes travel arrangements and handles most of the money matters. Mom is often the decision maker for the family.As the former Vice President, Public Relations/New Media at Universal Orlando Resort,Cynthia Gordon developed The Universal Mom Squad to make Mom’s experience at the park second to none.
Gordon says, “Hands down the best way to reach moms is online and through mom bloggers. Let’s face it, mom bloggers are a full-fledged Internet phenomenon. You have 42 million women online, with nearly half of those visiting blogs to get advice and recommendations. Mom bloggers have powerful voices and their opinions are valued by their readers.”
She credits Disney for its social media outreach efforts saying it “took the lead in courting mom bloggers and inviting them to experience their parks’ new attractions and services.”
Gordon is referencing the Walt Disney World Moms Panel — 43 hand-picked moms, and a few dads in the mix — who serve as online advisers and help answer park-related questions on behalf of Walt Disney World. The moms answer submitted questions and the inquisitive can browse through topics, search for answers, submit their own question or learn more about the panel. The program started in 2008 and new moms are added to the group each year.
Another hospitality brand catering to moms is the Royal Caribbean International cruise line. The company recently took the opportunity to invite a group of moms participating in the weekly hashtag Twitter event #gno (Girls Night Out) aboard its Oasis of the Seas cruise ship to host one of its Twitter parties while at sea.
The moms aboard the ship engaged with other moms the world round, spreading the message that cruise vacations are ideal for fun, family travel — there’s no cooking, cleaning or child care concerns to worry about. As the host, Royal Caribbean was a part of the thousands of tweets generated during the two-hour Twitter party.
Often, social media is siloed to an individual department. This situation sets the customer up for failure. Imagine an eager customer — aware of a company’s social media presence — who ventures out in the real-world and encounters employees with zero knowledge of their own company’s Twitter account or Facebook Page. The end result defeats the entire purpose of social media.
If social media is on the menu, then everyone from the doorman and the bartender to the CEO should know about it. Those in the know should make it a point to educate staff on their own social media presence and promotions, as well as encourage employees to embrace social technologies for their own personal use.
Simpson says this is what helps set the Roger Smith Hotel apart from its bigger competitors. He works with his social media partner Adam Wallace to maintain the Roger Smith accounts, but the two of them have also prioritized educating the hotel’s 100+ member staff. Together, they’ve inspired nearly a quarter of the team to take up tweeting by teaching them that it’s just about conversation.
As such, one of the hotel’s bartenders has developed his own following on Twitter. Simpson says that often the bartender will tweet while working his shift and even offer to pick up a drink for the first few patrons who stop by.
In connecting the dots between social media, management and staff, the hotel can ensure that guests’ expectations are superseded, and not deflated, when they walk in the door.
On a clear Friday morning in April, in a room near the top of the New York Times building with a humbling view of lower Manhattan, the world’s financial epicenter, eight groups of women wait to pitch their businesses.
They’re vying for $25,000 in early-stage investment by five so-called angel investors. First up is Miki Agrawal, who speaks casually, convincingly and fast. She has done this before. She locks eyes with the five investors, one by one, as she describes something every woman in the room can relate to—the fear of period leaks.
The entrepreneurs have just completed something called the Pipeline Fellowship, which is trying to level the playing field for women in angel investing, an increasingly integral part of America’s capital formation. startups with at least one woman on their founding team are roughly 18 percent less likely to attract equity investors than their all-male counterparts, according to 2013 data from an ongoing survey by Emory University. Yet they are almost 20 percent more likely to have generated revenue—and that’s no small distinction in a world where the vast majority of venture-backed startups fail. Data collected by PitchBook found only 13 percent of all venture capital deals in the United States went to women in 2013, a significant increase from the firm’s 2004 data that put the figure at 4 percent. But that still means 87 percent of deals are being given to all-male teams.
The numbers paint just part of the picture. The rest is made up of the experiences—often ranging from frustrating to infuriating—of female entrepreneurs navigating the world of equity investors, where 96 percent of senior venture capitalists are men.
The anonymous confession-sharing app Secret is rife with posts by female entrepreneurs bemoaning the process of finding financial backers. “Just got out of a meeting with a [venture capitalist] who couldn’t stop staring at my boobs. Not sure whether this means we have a better or worse chance of getting his investment,” reads one.
Kathryn Minshew, who co-founded the career advice and job-search tool The Muse in 2011, says women are frequently asked to drinks by VCs who say they might be interested in investing. But instead of a business meeting, it turns out to be a date. Over the course of her company’s first year, Minshew says, she spent “probably 30 hours, maybe more” going on bait-and-switch drinks of that nature.
“One of the very common questions I get from younger entrepreneurs is, How do you very nicely confirm with an investor that something is a business meeting and not a personal meeting, without offending them?”
Natalia Oberti Noguera, the founder of the Pipeline Fellowship and a self-described “LGBTQ Latina and a feminist with a capital F,” has come to terms with that bias. That’s why the crowd assembled in the Goodwin Procter offices for the pitching event is almost entirely women. Just two men are in the audience, to support their co-founder Holly Pressman, who is pitching their finance-education site FinLit.com. Oberti Noguera’s program trains women to be angel investors, through mentoring with seasoned investors and workshops on issues like due diligence and valuation. The five women at the table in the pitch meeting—an insurance executive, a mortgage executive, two magazine executives and the vice chair of a New York City school, were nearing the end of the program, the part where they narrow down eight potential investments to three.
“People will probably invest in people who make them feel safe, and usually that means people who are not different. So if that’s how we work, let’s get more women and people of color on the investing side,” Oberti Noguera tellsNewsweek.
In the first half of 2013, according to the Center for Venture Research, just 16 percent of companies pitching to angel investors were women-owned, but 24 percent of that group got funded—a higher rate of success than the deal rate overall. That may in part be thanks to programs like Pipeline Fellowship, Golden Seeds, 37 Angels and others like them. Angel investors back projects they feel passionate about, and that are in their early stages of development, in return for equity in the businesses. They are a different financial species from venture capitalists, who invest institutional money—from pension funds, university endowments, wealthy individuals—in much larger sums, and typically require a seat on the board of the business they back, as well as an equity stake.
In a study released by Harvard in March, investors, both men and women, heard real startup pitches adapted from real businesses. Each pitch was shown in one of four ways to different investors: in one version, a male voice presented the pitch alongside a photo of an attractive man. In another, the voice was male and the photo of the man was less attractive. Another two versions were narrated by a female voice, one with a photo of an attractive woman and one with a less attractive woman.
Investors chose businesses presented by men 68 percent of the time. Only 32 percent of investors chose to fund the ventures presented by women, despite the pitch being exactly the same. The pitches by more attractive men fared considerably better than the ones by less handsome, while better-looking women did slightly worse, by a negligible margin, than their less pretty female counterparts.
You read that right: Both men and women would rather invest in a man over a woman, especially if the fellow has the right look.
“It’s more about intuition than data,” says Deb Nelson, the executive director of Social Venture Network, which connects social entrepreneurs with socially conscious investors. In traditional profit-driven investment, especially with early-stage funding where data are scarce, the decision of who to fund can come down to which entrepreneurs look and sound as if they will succeed. As long as the image we conjure in our collective imagination of a capable business leader is an attractive (likely young, likely white) man, that intuition will look a lot like sexism, racism and ageism. “We need to unlearn how we’ve been socialized,” Nelson says.
Natalia Oberti Noguera founded the Pipeline Fellowship as a way to put more women on the other side of the table, deciding which companies to invest in. Bryan Thomas for Newsweek
Consider the story of a tech startup called Clinkle. Its 22-year-old white, male CEO, Lucas Duplan, raised $30 million in investment over the past year. Now, the company has laid off a quarter of its staff, lost its chief operating officer and has been christened a hot mess by the tech news website Re/code, all without putting out its product yet, an app to stealthily transfer payments between smartphones.
“I don’t think it was the app that was impressive,” one former employee toldBusiness Insider. “I think it’s Lucas who is so compelling. He sells the vision of what every investor wants, which is a 20-year-old, white, male Stanford computer science major. He fits the bill. He appears to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, and he carries himself that way.” Duplan declined to comment for this story.
Oberti Noguera says there’s a wider lesson to be learned from such stories.
“If a guy has a really great exit, then of course that guy was awesome. And if a guy doesn’t do well, it’s like, ‘Well, he must’ve not had the pricing strategy down pat.’ But if a woman doesn’t end up succeeding, it’s ‘Oh, women suck,’” she says. “We don’t have enough female success stories, so the failure stories end up overshadowing everything. We have so many white–guys stories, but that doesn’t mean that if the guy is white and wearing a hoodie that he’ll succeed.”
There are those who argue women need to adapt to the system, rather than the other way around—that it’s the women themselves who are to blame. And not all of these critics are unreconstructed Mad Men–era throwbacks.Bryan Thomas for Newsweek
“VCs don’t have a bias against women entrepreneurs; we’re just bad at pitching,” claimed a headline on the website Venture Beat last year. The author, Mauria Finley, a woman who founded Citrus Lane, a subscription service for children’s products, says women don’t think big enough and spend too much time focusing on details. In The Boston Globe magazine, Fiona Murray, one of the authors of the Harvard study, wrote that women should “watch sports” to have something to chat about with male investors.
“Women have to do things proactively against a tide of bias,” Murray tellsNewsweek, adding that “it’s not to say those biases are okay. It’s not just what women can do, it’s what men can do too.”
All the investors Newsweek spoke with say that having something in common does make an enormous difference to winning their support. Having a personal connection with the proposed product also makes a difference.
According to a study of a wide range of corporate firms by the Center for Talent Innovation, 56 percent of employees said the leaders at their companies didn’t value ideas they don’t personally see a need for, “even when there [are] strong data and evidence that it’s a good, marketable idea.”
Jules Pieri, who founded e-commerce site The Grommet in 2008, says she has seen that in action. “Every woman has heard this if her business has a consumer side to it: They say, ‘I’ll go ask my assistant, I’ll go ask my wife about this.’ And you just want to jump out the window,” she says.
Bryan Thomas for Newsweek
BLOWING UP THE MODEL
Projects like the Pipeline Fellowship are focused on getting more women with resources to invest in other women. But such solutions operate within the equity-investing system. Danae Ringelmann wants a better system: online crowdfunding campaigns, housed on sites like Indiegogo, which she founded in 2007. She says 47 percent of the projects that reach their funding goal on Indiegogo are female-led.
“Being able to sell your idea to one person is a dependency that really shouldn’t matter. You’ve changed your whole approach for that one person, what you think that one person wants to hear,” Ringelmann says.
Before Indiegogo, she worked in investment banking. One day, she went to an event in New York City, where people making films and theater productions could meet potential investors, even though she didn’t have the money or influence to fund a project. One director approached her, hopeful that she could help make his production of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy an off-Broadway reality.
She co-produced a concert reading—where potential investors can attend and consider whether to invest. Ringelmann ultimately couldn’t gather enough capital to get the play staged, partly because she didn’t have a personal relationship with enough theater investors.
“The people who wanted the play to come alive the most didn’t actually have the power relationships to make it happen,” she says. Years later, Indiegogo came out of that sobering experience. “We decided to use the Internet to blow that [model of capital] up,” Ringelmann says.
Indiegogo has helped thousands of entrepreneurs get started. Businesses that want to seek traditional investment later have used the success of their Indiegogo projects as proof of their project’s viability, according to Ringelmann.
For its part, Indiegogo still needed venture capital to get off the ground. Ringelmann says her team was rejected by over 90 venture capitalists before they raised their first VC dollar. But now the funding appears to be flowing: In January, the site announced it had raised $40 million in Series B venture funding, the funding stage meant to speed growth.
A fact that gets lost in all the bleak reports about the capital gap is that women start many successful businesses without VC funding. Indeed, women own 30 percent of all businesses in the United States. Many choose not to approach investors in the first place. Instead, they grow their businesses at a rate directly proportional to their businesses’ success.
The point of venture capital isn’t necessarily to grow a sustainable business. The point is to make a lot of money. The VC’s investment is worthwhile only if and when the company has a major liquidity event, called an “exit,” by either being bought or going public. Exits are very rare, and most VC-backed startups fail.
When a fledgling business makes a successful pitch and receives a sudden injection of millions of venture capital dollars, it has often made an agreement to grow as fast as possible. Perhaps it moves into offices and goes on a hiring spree. It’s racing toward the exit.
For all their expertise, venture capitalists are basically shooting craps, only with worse odds. Just 2.3 percent of venture capital deals end in a payout of more than $100 million, and 0.18 percent get a payday that exceeds $1 billion, but those are the margins that major firms are gunning for. More than 90 percent of venture capital-backed startups fall short of their projected success, according to Harvard Business School research. Fully 45 percent fail entirely and return nothing to investors, according to data from Sand Hill Econometrics. Another 25 percent might make some money, but fail to return all of the original investment. In both cases, or around 70 percent of the time, the entrepreneur walks away with nothing at all.
MIT engineer Limor “Ladyada” Fried didn’t seek out any investors when she founded Adafruit, her a DIY electronics kits company, in 2005. Adafruit had over $22 million in revenue in 2013 and is expected to double its 50-person staff this year. Fried isn’t opposed to venture capital or angel investment, but with a company that focuses on education and “making more engineers,” rather than short-term profit, Fried doesn’t see how the equity investment model would fit in, at least for now.
Adafruit has more than 1,800 products for sale and is engineering new ones all the time. It recently launched a new children’s show about electronics called Circuit Playground. An investor might consider all those diverse focuses “outside the core business” of shipping out kit orders, but it’s just how Adafruit does things, Fried says.
Bryan Thomas for Newsweek
“Had we taken investment and not constrained growth, we could have made some mistakes with hiring and space. It’s given us more flexibility to not have the pressures of a return on investment from an outside group. We’re growing at our own pace and on our terms,” Fried says. “There hasn’t been a challenge that a cash infusion could solve. And we know that taking on investment and investors would take one important thing away that cash definitely cannot solve: time.”