The 5 Fundamentals of Cause Marketing

Guest post by Corey Pudhorodsky, Senior Client Partner at Social: IRL sponsor, Spredfast.  Originally posted in the Spredfast blog.

Cause Marketing – the word is tossed around more than a caesar side salad, but what does it actually mean? What are the components of a strong cause marketing campaign and how do you make it relevant to you and your audience and consumer?

In a recent strategy session comprised of industry thought leaders, we dissected cause marketing and uncovered five essential ingredients for a powerful campaign. Participants shared their own interpretations and uses for cause marketing, along with tips for final evaluation.

Attendees included:

Audrey Tiger, Senior Product Manager at Spredfast

Kristen Haga, Director of Client Services at Spredfast

David Modigliani, Creative Director at Flow Nonfiction

Alana Kalin, Account Executive at Blippar


1. Know Why You’re Doing This   

Simply put, Cause Marketing is the intersection between a brand and a cause whether that’s a cause through a third-party nonprofit or a cause that a brand adopts. Marketers are using this tactic for several reasons, both to promote a brand message and also to produce social good.

The beauty of cause marketing lies within it’s ability to add value and reinforce a brand’s image with audiences – all while using that social impact to make a difference in the world. It sounds like a perfect marriage for all parties involved but before you slap together a cause marketing campaign, some planning has to happen.

2. Be Yourself

Authenticity in cause marketing means choosing the right campaign for your consumer. Brands these days come with predefined images of what audiences already believe a brand to be, so planning a cause marketing campaign means choosing the cause that already aligns well with the image your brand portrays. If you’re a weapons manufacturer, it probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for you to select an anti-gun cause for your campaign.

Choose a cause that’s relevant to the brand and those who receive it. Once you have this connection it becomes easy to tie the cause to your product in a way that the brand can openly discuss. That my friends, is authenticity.

3. Alignment is Everything

Similar to authenticity, selecting a cause that pairs well with your brand is essential to the success of your campaign, but how do you know what resonates with your consumer? Well, that’s where social really steps in – with social you can see what your consumers are talking about, what they’re saying in their everyday conversations through social and word of mouth, and what their interests are. Take this collection of knowledge and match it up with a cause.

Below are two examples of cause marketing campaigns that clearly took brand alignment into account:

Lucky Charms


During Pride Month, General Mills celebrated diversity with a campaign around the Lucky Charms brand. The LGBT community and its allies were engaged by a call-to-action asking audiences to submit Tweets or Instagram stories using the hashtag #LuckyToBe while aggregating that content to the brand’s Tumblr page.

(RED) Campaign


The (RED) campaign was created in 2006 by Bono and Bobby Shriver to involve people in the widespread fight against AIDS. To bring social to the forefront of their campaign efforts, Spredfast created “Pulse of (RED)”, a display of images that brought in social posts from (RED) campaign supporters. There, (RED) connected with supporters while observing how audiences were interacting with their organization.

These brands selected causes where they knew they could make an impact. With absolute certainty they could say, “your cares are aligned with my cares” when talking to their audience. Once they’ve reached that point, brands can give the audience some control vs. the brand trying to sell to the audience. The brand becomes the giving facilitator and this option becomes very organic, like the grocery store adding $1 to your final bill.

Of course there are other factors to consider such as timing – when are people in the giving mood? Take that authentic message and content you’ve worked so hard to craft and capitalize on it at the right moment when your audience is feeling philanthropic. And by capitalize I don’t necessarily mean money either. These campaigns aren’t always asking audiences to do something – they could also be simply raising awareness. When brands tell a story in their cause marketing campaign, audiences are compelled to give back which is actually more effective in many cases. People will be more inclined to give later, but in the meantime they can interact and participate.

4. Extend Your Caring By Sharing  

So we get that it’s nice and all, but aside from that, why do cause marketing? Brands can only exist within a certain amount of mindshare of every consumer’s space and level of interest. When you align with a cause, you’re increasing the level of impact that you have around what those consumer interests are. With Hollister, for example, teenagers are only going to be thinking about clothes so much. Maybe they’re also thinking about surfing or the environment or a whole other set of interests that brands can tap into to show that their ideas are shared.

By creating an extension of your brand formed around other interests, brands can attach themselves to causes and extend their impact. We think about mechanics (where will they share and how will we host it) but first, we must think about the story. Tell an impactful story.

Now it’s finally time to spread the word – it’s actually a step that people miss, believe it or not. Brands need to ask others to engage and share, look at the share/retweet/follower to follow ratio on Twitter. Are you going to promote a hashtag or use a celebrity endorsement?

5. See How You Did

The end is just as important as the beginning and evaluating the success of your cause marketing campaign is the only way to learn from past mistakes or pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

How do you know if it was a success?

That has a lot to do with what you’re planning to measure. If you’re looking at reach, it would be based on the total potential reach or number of interactions that you’ve had. If you’re looking to raise money, it would be based on the total number of funds that have been donated either through your audience of consumers or your brand, based on the number of activations you’ve reached from people who’ve participated. If you’re looking at awareness, you might do some surveying before and after to see what’s been the increase in education about the cause.

Whatever your goal is, it must be established beforehand. If you’re partnering with a nonprofit make sure that you know their goals too because the best cause marketing campaigns are the ones that aren’t just performed one time. It’s the brands that have an ongoing partnership with a nonprofit where the brand is really increasing their interaction with a cause of a period of time.

Ready? Set? Plan!

The best cause marketing campaigns are the ones that have a lot of thought behind them. Reach beyond the obvious with a campaign that resonates with your audience and tells a story that the consumer can relate to. There’s so much more beyond the business aspect of a brand where clients are interacting with products in uncovered ways – it’s up to brands to get in touch with these storytellers and raise awareness. The people who care and causes already exist, brands just have to connect with them.

Social Commerce Success

“Brandi Temple went from sewing dresses for her daughters to make ends meet to running the most talked-about, $11 million company in e-commerce – all because she picked the lock on using Facebook for sales.”  Inc. – June 2014

Lolly Wolly Doodle, Inc presents a great success story – propelled from a home-based business to an $11 million corporation thanks to the power of social media. Where many major corporations have failed, CEO Brandi Temple succeeded in creating a highly effective social commerce model, with sales made directly in her business’s Facebook Page. In addition, she created a powerful “social feedback loop” that helped shape her business’s growth and continues to influence key business and product decisions.

The story made the cover of Inc.’s June 2014 issue and can be read in its entirety here. In the video below Brandi Temple shares “7 Tips for Social Commerce Success.” Her advice:

  • Treat Each Channel Differently
  • Experiment, Experiment, Experiment
  • Be Yourself
  • Make Transactions Seamless
  • Don’t Be a Business
  • Keep Them on Their Toes
  • Buckle Up

View the video to hear Brandi expand on each point and offer valuable insight and lessons learned from her business’s incredible social media-driven success.

Smart Social: Walmart’s Chad Mitchell on Influencer Outreach and Employee Advocacy

Walmart logoChad Mitchell is Senior Director of Digital Communications at Walmart.  Positioned within Walmart’s  Corporate Affairs division, he and his team are responsible for managing and supporting all aspects of Walmart’s corporate digital presence, including the corporate website, social media platforms, and email communications both internally to associates and externally to customers.  They are charged with managing and protecting Walmart’s corporate digital reputation, both reactively and through proactive influencer outreach.

Chad recently joined Social: IRL Principal Ben Smith, for Smart Social, an ongoing series of conversations with leaders and innovators in social business.

We’ll be sharing the interview in two instalments. In this first instalment, conversation focuses on challenges and opportunities around influencer outreach and employee advocacy.

Part One: Chad discusses how his team defines, identifies and engages influencers in the social media space, and shares valuable insights on creating meaningful influencer relationships and outcomes.

Part Two: Chad discusses the the challenges and opportunities social media brings to influencer outreach, both in terms of identifying potential influencers and in creating the right content and message for the right audience in the right channel.

Part Three: Chad addresses the need for transparency and authenticity in influencer outreach, and to understand the scrutiny a brand such as Walmart is under with today’s outreach initiatives being conducted in full public view online.

Part Four: The conversation moves from influencer engagement to employee advocacy and Chad discusses the tremendous value of employee brand advocacy and steps Walmart is embarking on to engage, activate and empower their associates to fill this valuable yet largely untapped role.

Part Five: In concluding this first instalment of the interview, Chad discusses identifying and overcoming challenges to effective employee advocacy, from both corporate and associate perspectives.

Continue to Part Two of the interview here.

The Nice List: The Best Campaigns from Holidays Past

Guest post by Courtney Doman, Digital Marketing Manager at Social: IRL sponsor, Spredfast.  Originally posted in the Spredfast blog.

You have probably already seen tinsel and garland in the aisles of your favorite department stores and may have even grumbled that it is “too soon!” But if you are a marketer, particularly for a retail brand, there is no time like the present to put a bow on your holiday strategy for this year.

Social activations are becoming bigger and better parts of many brands’ holiday strategies. We’ve assembled a “Nice List” of standouts from the 2012 holiday season. Check it out for some social inspiration.

Provide a One-of-a-Kind Experience.

A personal touch goes a long way. REI wowed with their #giftpicks campaign in 2012. REI called on their Green Vests—passionate in-store employees who are knowledgeable and helpful, to create real-time video responses to REI members asking for help buying gifts. The team shot about 90 custom videos for this campaign. Not only did the gesture deepen relationships between the brand and members receiving responses, referral traffic to REI’s site doubled. Want to read more about this campaign? Ekaterina Walter wrote a great recap last year.

Nice List 1Give the gift of great content.

The holidays are a time to celebrate and look good doing it–whether you’re scoring facetime with your boss at the office holiday party, sitting around a feast with family, or ringing in the new year with your friends. You might guess that Brooks Brothers, America’s original clothier, has your outfit covered. But did you know that they also provide scores of tips and tricks on how to navigate the holidays with style and ease? The Brooks Brothers blog, Of Rogues & Gentlemen, covered everything from creating a knockout charcuterie plate to writing the perfect thank you card last holiday season. The holidays are hectic. By providing useful lifestyle information, Brooks Brothers was able to create value for customers and stay top of mind, with something other than a sale.

Nice List 2

Invite People to Share their Wish List.

81% of U.S. Consumers are influenced by friends’ social media posts. Getting consumers to actively discuss preference for your brand’s goods or services is a powerful tool that can drive further awareness and preference. Last year, Sephora asked their twitter followers to tweet the Sephora products on their holiday wish lists to “@Sephora Claus” and granted the wishes of 30 users. The campaign garnered over 50,000 entries. The great interactive user experience allowed entrants to discover other wishes and engage with the campaign.

Nice List 3

Surprise and Delight

Many brands are tapping in to the visual, inspirational nature of Pinterest to stage their holiday social campaigns. Pinterest collaborated with people, businesses, non-profit organizations, and celebrities to reveal 30 holidays boards in an interactive calendar for their 30 Days of Pinspiration Campaign.

Nice List 4

H-E-B, a Texas grocer, ran a Pin to Win campaign during the 2012 holiday season, asking customers to pin their favorite holiday meal ideas to a Pinterest board for a chance to win a $1000 gift card. It was a great way to start a conversation about holiday food traditions and get users engaged.

Nice List 5

Are there any other holiday campaigns that stood out to you last year? Shoot me a tweet at @cjdoman to discuss. Looking for ways to make your holiday campaign memorable this year? Check out this tip sheet for 5 Social Media Best Practices for Retail Brands.

Social Media Crisis: Lessons from the Front Lines. Is Your Brand Prepared?

By Social: IRL principal, Ben Smith. Originally published as a personal post on Google+

Some important social media lessons for both businesses and individuals can be taken from a pretty incredible and somewhat scary series of events that took place on Facebook last week.

DislikeOne of my clients suddenly started receiving a string of angry comments on their Facebook Page over a comment an employee (we’ll call her Jane – not her real name) had posted on her own personal Facebook Profile. The company wasn’t referenced at all in the post, the post wasn’t relevant to them in any way, and the views were in no way held to be those of the company. The only connection was that the company had been tagged as Jane’s employer in the About section of her Facebook Profile.

The comment posted by Jane was provocative and directed at members of the armed forces. She later deleted it. Following is a summary of events that unfolded and five important lessons that apply to us both personally and professionally for the brands we represent.

First, although Jane deleted her post, someone had taken a screen shot of it and posted it in a military support group on Facebook. From there it spread virally at a rapid rate. A screen shot showing her full name, Facebook profile photo and the update itself were very quickly being shared by thousands of Facebook users. More evidence that “delete” doesn’t work and that once you post an update you can never effectively take it back or control who sees it beyond your intended audience.

Second, Jane was one of the many Facebook users who have no privacy controls in place. From seeing her name and profile photo, it had been easy find her personal profile. Her Facebook Timeline, photo albums, and personal information were all public. Her profile was quickly covered in thousands of angry, hateful, threatening, obscene comments – about her, her husband, and even about her young baby. From the information she was publicly sharing and the link back to her husband’s Facebook profile from her About information, it would have been very easy to track them down offline. With the nature of many of the comments made, that was a scary prospect. Again, her comments were offensive to many people, but the response was still shocking in both its speed and ferocity. Facebook gives us privacy controls. Use them. The public nature of Jane’s profile and the personal information shared goes beyond the thousands of angry comments to being a personal safety issue for her and her family. We can’t blame Facebook for giving access to our personal information if we fail to take advantage of the privacy tools they provide us with.

Third, the angry comments on the Facebook Page threatened to have a very real impact on their business. The comments came quickly, and in most instances the company was being held as having the same views as the individual or in some way having responsibility for her actions. Again, the comments Jane posted were on her personal profile, never mentioned the company, and were never implied as being on behalf of the company. Absolutely the only connection was her About information tagging the company as her employer. That alone was enough for the company to be held (in many instances) as responsible for her comments, even an assumption that they shared Jane’s views. What most of those people had failed to pay any attention to was that Jane listed the company as an employer with and end date in 2012. She hadn’t even worked for the company for close to a year. So understand this, when your employees affiliate themselves with your company they are absolutely your brand ambassadors – for good or bad – and will absolutely impact perceptions of your brand. Don’t ignore that fact. Do you have social media guidelines or policies in place? Do you educate employees on digital citizenship risks and responsibilities or online privacy? Of course it won’t magically stop incidents like this one from happening, but education, guidance and accountability are a great first step. An HR Director told me not too long ago that due to the risks that came with social media their company had avoided any social media presence – mitigate risk by shutting it out. My reply to her was simply that if they had any employees who were social media users, then their company had a social media presence. In this particular instance, Jane’s comments were from someone who didn’t even work for the company any more. People simply saw the name and established a connection. It was unfortunate that they came to such quick conclusions about the company from nothing more than that connection, also that they apparently failed to notice or just ignored the fact that the same information that said she worked for the company also said she had left their employment nearly a year earlier, but that’s another discussion entirely.

Fourth, I’ve had plenty of people say to me that having a Facebook Page or any other type of social media presence is a liability due to the risk of negative comments or brand attacks. I’m sure some of those people would use this example to reinforce that viewpoint – the brand came under heavy attack with highly negative and damaging comments posted very publicly on their Facebook Page, including calls to boycott their business. Yet the company was entirely innocent in the situation. If there hadn’t been a Facebook Page, then all those negative comments wouldn’t have been posted, right? Wrong! They would – just in places we wouldn’t have known about them so quickly (if at all) or been able to respond to. I say that having a brand-controlled space for those negative comments to be posted to is beneficial. It meant in this case that we could see the comments happening quickly and were able to respond to and be part of the conversation – not have it take place (and escalate) without us. We could ensure those already in the conversation were acknowledged and their concerns directly addressed, and that those coming to the Page to join the conversation were met with a statement from the company helping them make a more informed decision. As a result the issue was actually able to be resolved relatively quickly as far as the company involvement went. A lot of the anger was able to be diffused relatively easily given the overall scope of the situation, and a lot of damage was avoided. Without the ability to engage quickly and effectively at a central focal point, the attacks against the company could quickly have escalated out of control.

Fifth, be ready. What would you do in a similar situation? It can happen to any company, large or small. Speed of response was critical in this instance and with the right steps taken to respond in the right way and in a timely and proactive fashion, the attacks against the company were relatively short-lived. Many users continued to visit the company’s Page to post comments, but after the response plan was initiated a majority of the comments moved from negative to positive sentiment, even while the incident itself continued to escalate out of control. The statement posted by the company was not negative about Jane. It simply clarified that it was former employee and that her views did not represent the company views, and explained what the company views actually were. Did it stop every negative comment? No, but a majority of them. No spin or PR, just a simple statement of fact. Of course, a few people still were angry with the company, a few clearly didn’t read the statement. But a vast majority acknowledged it and either clicked the “Like” button and went on their way, or left a comment of support. What if it was your business? Do you have a plan – how and when you’ll engage, what you’ll say, who can approve statements being issued on behalf of the company and how quickly can that approval be secured? What if it’s after hours, as happened to be the case in this instance?

Meanwhile the individual who posted the original comments lost her current job as a result, is dealing with literally thousands of very unpleasant comments on her personal Facebook Profile, and is being forever indexed by Google alongside the very negative comments she made – despite having deleted them – and will likely suffer long term consequences for her choice of words.

Some important lessons, and a very scary series of events in terms of the speed of escalation and ferocity of response. As I’ve said several times, the comments Jane posted were considered offensive and were going to generate an angry response, but I don’t think anyone would ever have imagined a situation quite like this. So pause and consider the question: is your brand prepared?

Smart Social: A Conversation with H&R Block’s Scott Gulbransen

Smart SocialScott Gulbransen is Director of Social Business Strategy at tax giant H&R Block, and is the veteran of 13 tax seasons.

Before H&R Block, Scott helped create the social media platforms at both Applebee’s and TurboTax.

Scott recently joined Social: IRL Principal Ben Smith, and Expion VP of Strategy, Zena Weist, for Smart Social, an ongoing series of conversations with leaders and innovators in social business.

During the conversation, Scott provided valuable insights on some key issues, including empowering employee advocacy, the “local social nugget”, aligning social initiatives with business strategy, marketing with the unexpected, and the role and responsibilities of the company’s social media department within the greater organizational structure.

The interview was conducted via Google Hangout.

Part One: Scott discusses where the social media department is housed within the H&R Block organization, and the role the department plays in “leading and empowering,” rather than controlling social.

Part Two: Scott discusses the “local social nugget” and explains how and why H&R Block are working to empower local offices to tap into the power of social communications.

Part Three: Scott discusses employee advocates and explains why, even in a regulated industry, empowering employees to speak about your brand in the right way is not only powerful advocacy, but is actually safer for the brand.

Part Four: Scott discusses the”Stache Act” – a marketing campaign that earned H&R Block a great deal of attention and acclaim. Scott explains that while the campaign was about having fun and playing on the unexpected, the key to its success revolved around “making a business case and having real business reasons for what you want to do” and ensuring social was aligned with the greater business strategy.

Part Five: Scott answers the question, “During your time at H&R Block, what are you most proud of?” His answer is not what you might initially expect, shifting focus from the ‘Stache Act and other high profile successes, to strategy and team members.

Part Six: We conclude the interview by focussing back on the “Smart Social” theme, and Scott explains what “smart social” means to him.

Maybelline New York on their Global Social Community and Award-Winning #TopChicret Campaign

Guest post by Courtney Doman, Social Media Specialist at Social: IRL sponsor, Spredfast.

Maybelline won two Shorty’s this year: Best Use of Video for the Top Chicret announcement of Charlotte Free as the face of Maybelline New York and Best Facebook Brand Presence for Maybelline New York India. I sat down with Charlotte Adjchavanich, Vice President of Digital at Maybelline to discuss the winning campaigns and Maybelline New York’s approach to social.

Congrats on the big win(s)! How do you align social within a multinational company with so many product offerings?

We set the guidelines for our brand presence and create and approve the assets to be used in global markets across all social media platforms at our Headquarters (known as the DMI which stands for Direction Marketing International) for Maybelline New York. We set the guidelines, the do’s and don’t’s, determine which types of imagery and posts are approved, so that we can create one consistent global brand image. For us, that global brand image is based on our DNA: Fashion. Education. Innovation. New York. We use those as our filters when developing social content.

We have a social presence in 106+ countries that fall within regional zones (e.g. Eastern— Western— Central— Europe, Asia, Latin America, North America) and we rely on a mix of internal teams and agencies to maintain our global social presence.

The #TopChicret campaign tapped Sh*t Fashion Girls Say’s P’Trique (and a score of influential fashion personalities) to announce the new face of Maybelline in a viral YouTube Video. How did you come up with this campaign?

Spredfast - Maybelline 2We’re really proud of the #TopChicret campaign and so honored to have won a Shorty Award. ICED Media is a great partner to us and this concept was genius. A major theme for Maybelline is “Catwalk to Sidewalk”—taking fashion and making it translatable to the consumer. When we decided that we wanted to use an influencer to help us reveal Charlotte Free as our new face, ICED came to us and said: What about P’Trique?

And in terms of our filter, he really checked every box. Fashion? Check. Education? OK, there is a reveal, so you’re going to learn something. Innovation? Well, that’s using a meme. New York? The video was shot in New York and we used a lot of New York-based Influencers.  I fell in love with the idea. It was definitely daring, which is something we strive to embody as a brand—not just in product innovation but advertising as well, Maybelline was the first to be talked about on radio, one of the first brands to use recognizable models—so it made sense for us to push boundaries with video in a digital campaign.

The #TopChicret video was a big success and your YouTube Channel is full of great content, what role does video play in your social efforts?

Spredfast - Maybelline 4Video is very important to us. It is definitely an area of investment, focus, and priority. We centralize video production at the DMI to create consistent, high quality videos in line with our DNA so that we don’t dilute the brand.

Tutorial videos are major. Nail is the leading beauty product trend right now and by May we will have shot 43 how-to videos for our Color Show Nail Line. We’ll also often receive director’s cut assets from other advertising platforms that we distribute digitally to provide an extended or behind the scenes look at the brand.

What Goals are you trying to achieve on Social?

We’re focused on education and engagement. We’re using innovative technology and great content as two key drivers to achieve these goals.

Who makes up your social community?

On Facebook, we have 12.5MM + on our 57 pages. Our YouTube channels globally get an average of 2.5MM views each month

How do you encourage fan engagement?

We prompt lightweight engagement and reaction with open-ended questions or either/or questions (“Which shade of lipstick do you prefer?”) and, of course, we respond to customer inquiries (“Where can I find this eyeliner?”). We also create opportunities for deeper engagement, such as soliciting User Generated Content in our activations for new products to build buzz. We definitely are not a one-way communication brand.

How do you see social evolving for consumer brands in the next year?

The focus will be fewer, bigger, better. And beyond that, it will be about integrating social and digital more fully in the marketing mix to create a 360 approach, no matter where or how the consumer wants to interact with us. We’re actually beginning to incorporate augmented reality experiences into in-store displays so that you can instantly access and stream content from your smartphone. It’s about eliminating disconnects. No dead ends.

I loved learning more about Maybelline New York’s daring and innovative approach to social. There is no doubt in my mind that these were two Shortys well earned.

Eudora Schools: Embracing Social Media and Creating a Digital-Friendly School District

Kristin MagetteGuest post by Kristin Magette, Communications Director at Eudora School District in Eudora, Kansas.  Originally posted at and re-posted with their kind permission.  Disclosure: Eudora School District is a Social: IRL client.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. At school, they make us nervous. We hear stories about teachers losing their jobs and students losing their innocence. We see the nasty rumors and insults that can flourish online. So if we clamp down and keep social media out of our schools, we’™ll be good. Right?


We live in the digital world. And when students and parents enter our schools, they don’™t check their lives at the door. 

Whether it’™s young children watching online videos to laugh and learn, adolescents navigating friendships, or parents looking for updates on a lock-down, they’™re using social media. But for those of us who work to mentor, encourage, and protect children – and keep peace in the community – the digital world can feel overwhelming, even dangerous.

When my district acknowledged that our students are citizens of the digital world, we realized that we were missing out on so many of its opportunities. As a district, we really weren’t:

  • Using social media, video and blogs as teaching tools.
  • Helping students learn safe and courteous online behavior.
  • Communicating with parents through the real-time, content-rich exchange that social media provides.
  • Encouraging others to engage with us – to celebrate our successes, grieve our losses, and sometimes even challenge us to do better.

Eudora SchoolsIn late 2011, we began to look at social media as an exciting opportunity to be embraced by our district – and more than a year later, we haven’™t looked back. Of course, we’™ve had hurdles to clear along the way. We needed real changes to our Internet filters to give teachers (and some students) access to Facebook, Twitter and the like. We needed board policy that outlined our expectations for staff and students. We needed training for our teachers to understand the great potential that exists in the digital world. And we needed procedures that employees would follow to ensure accountability and responsible use.

We worked through those challenges last year and through the summer, and our teachers have embraced our digital-friendly school district, much to the delight of our students and parents. A good place to get a taste of how we’re using social media right now -“ it’™s always changing! – is the social media directory on our district website. This is where parents and fans can find us in the social media world, including some pages that are open to the public and others that are restricted to certain members.

By far, the liveliest place you’™ll find us is on our district’™s Facebook Page. While there have been some difficult moments on our page, the support we receive is overwhelming — and our Facebook community truly has become a place of celebration, sharing and connecting. Two-way communication isn’t always comfortable — anyone who’s lived with teenagers or run a town hall meeting knows that! – but it ultimately creates greater trust, transparency and support.

Our teachers and students have produced more YouTube videos this year than ever before, both for learning and fun. Teachers are finding outstanding networking opportunities through Twitter chats. Our elementary school teachers who use Facebook for work say that communication with parents has never been better. Our high school students have embraced Twitter to share the good news from their school and connect with teachers. Sure, it takes monitoring, and it requires a level head to handle the negative comment that pops up now and then. But the increased engagement and support are more than worth it.

When other districts ask us how we do it, or tell us all the things that could go wrong, our superintendent, Don Grosdidier – who has virtually no personal experience in the world of social media – sums it up this way:

There are risks and rewards, but if we can manage the risks, the rewards are far greater and worth the trouble.

Professional development, policy and procedures help us manage the risk. And the rewards are improved parent communication, enriched student learning, increased community involvement, and powerful professional networking for teachers. It’s hard to argue with that!

“Going Strong and Growing Because of Social Media” – A Small Business Success Story

Encore Unique Boutique is a local, family operated business, located in Downtown Shawnee, Kansas. In business since June 2003, owner Tamara Hudson describes the store as a “women’s boutique that dresses you and your home.”

Encore owner, Tamara Hudson, and husband Josh

While many local downtown businesses struggle to compete, Encore has thrived – recently expanding in to an adjacent retail space to add a personal styling studio, selling their goods in five other locations in the Kansas City area, and creating a loyal online customer base.

A key part of Encore’s success has been the way in which the business owner Tamara Hudson has embraced social media. She describes social media as something that has “completely changed” her business and not only helps amplify word of mouth and referrals, but is a tool that directly drives sales.

Social: IRL recently spoke with Tamara to learn more about the impact of social media on her business. In the interview published below, small business owners will find encouragement, inspiration, and valuable insights and advice on the practical ways social media can help their business reach new customers, grow relationships with existing customers, help turn customers in to loyal brand advocates, and ultimately drive sales and grow business.

When did you start using social media as a business tool for Encore? What were the first steps you took as a business owner who, at the time, didn’t even use social media on a personal level?

I started using social media, specifically Facebook, in December of 2009. I was forced to. A client and friend, who I adore, set up a page for me and told me that I absolutely HAD to be on Facebook. I didn’t  even have a personal Facebook page. I didn’t think I had the time to do Facebook. I even asked her if she would “manage” the page for me, and she refused. She said I needed to be interacting with my clients  because that was going to sell more clothing and reach more people for me. So, reluctantly I asked her about how much time I needed to commit to it.  She recommended 30 min every morning and 30 minutes every evening. For the next two weeks, I watched a few other business pages, set up a personal page for myself, and reluctantly made 2 or 3 posts on the Encore page. Those few posts generated almost $600 in sales for our store in 2 weeks.  She had my attention.

What social networks do you currently use? With so many new social networks starting, how do you decide which new ones to add?

I use Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest, and we just launched our website at

Facebook has been good to us, and we have learned that with our clients (probably others as well) it has to be packaged short and sweet – a picture and a few words. Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest just seemed like the right move.  They were also easy for me to pick up and add to what we were doing.  I sell using stories and visuals from the store, so these platforms work well.

Do you use different social networks for different purposes, or do you find yourself duplicating efforts to try and keep each network updated? Thinking more about duplication, do you find you reach different customers through different social networks, or are you reaching the same customers in different ways?

Yes, I use different networks for different reasons.  Facebook it still where I can get the most information to people. Perfect for invites to parties and events. In the short time we have been using social media we have also learned that different people use and respond to different medias.  My younger clients are more geared toward Twitter and Instagram.  My 30-40 somethings still use Facebook. I also have a group of clients that we can text 24 to 48 hours prior to an event and they respond.  AND then I have my clients my mom’s age and up that I still mail offers and invites to. It’s a bit exhausting.  I try really hard not to send the same info / pictures out to all media. I don’t want to annoy anyone.  I have clients that follow me on all our platforms. I don’t want them to get tired of me.  It’s a delicate balance because I don’t want anyone to miss anything.

Beyond the fact that different people respond to different networks, they also respond differently at certain times of the day and days of the week!  For example: Monday mornings between 8 and 11, if we post on Facebook we get great responses.  People have just started their work week and haven’t really got in the groove yet.  Every day of the week except Fridays, we post between 4 and 6 and get great results.  Wednesdays on Facebook we don’t post much, I guess people are really working on Wednesdays :)  Lunch time is also good for us.  Twitter is better for us in the evening and weekends. I pretty much use Instagram all the time because it is a great way to post to the other networks.  BUT if I post a picture on Instagram at around midnight, all sorts of people that I do not know Like and Follow me.  It’s crazy.  As for Pinterest, Sunday mornings will get people interacting with me, but Sunday is horrible for us on Facebook.  It’s a full-time job that I am trying to sneak into the daily running of my business!

What type of updates do you post, and what type of content has proved to be most effective for you?

As for posts and content we mainly highlight what “Just Arrived.” My clients know that on the furniture side we only get one of each item, so it creates a sense of urgency.  As for our clothing we only get one size run in the new clothing, and if it’s vintage it’s a one shot deal.  We post throughout the day and people call us to hold until they can swing by after work.  We also have clients that live out-of-state that we ship to. All because of social media. I have regular clients in Minnesota, Nashville, Texas and several in Topeka, KS….all because of Facebook.

Could you share some of the key benefits you’ve found in using social media?  

I have NO advertising budget.  Despite that, we have been here for 9 years and are still growing.  I have done very little paid advertising over the years. Social Media has opened so many doors for us. Some examples?  Clients repost our pictures and currently we ship 3 to 4 items out-of-state a week, and we hope to expand on that. These clients would never have known about us without those Facebook shares.  Through Facebook posts and Twitter posts, bloggers have found us and repost our events, and products. Using the different networks helps keep our name in front of people, whether they are interacting with us daily or not, they see our posts, our check-ins, our event information, and it keeps us on their radar.  I hear all the time “OMG I love following you on Facebook!” And they can tell me everything we have done in the last week. My favorite thing that happens on posts is when a client likes a picture and exclaims “I NEED THIS” or “OMG”, and then their Mom, best friend or husband calls the store and purchases that item for them as a gift!

I have also found that people that want to support the local community stay active with social media, so it’s a very warm audience for us.  I used to want to have really high numbers as far as followers, but have definitely learned that it’s quality over quantity.  I am always very honored when someone shares a picture or a post of ours. It validates what we are doing.

Can you determine if your social media efforts have positively impacted sales?

Yes! Social media has directly impacted sales. We even have a sales goal related to Facebook and Twitter.  We keep track each week of the sales that we definitely know were because of a social media post.  By Friday if we are not close we boost the posts and pictures. We get a lot of interaction when we post an album of goods or outfits that we have put together.  We learned to post an album, and then pull single pictures out of that album through that day and maybe the next.  Single pictures get a better immediate response.  I believe this is because most people are following during the day on their phones.  It’s harder to view a whole album on your phone.  Once they are home in the evening and catching up or winding down they spend more time reading and perusing.  So, for us, single pictures generate immediate sales, albums generate interest and interaction. I want both.

Looking back, are there any social media “lessons learned” you’d share with other business owners?

You simply cannot do it all.  Find what works best for you and your clients and do that well. And most importantly, be respectful. I will never put something on another Business Page that links back to Encore unless I’ve asked or know that I have that relationship with that person or business.  Nothing bothers me more than when someone I do not know and who has never even been in my store, posts something about their business on my Page.  It gets deleted and they get blocked, period.  I think it is horribly rude.  Also, you can’t just post and move on.  I do my best to check throughout the day and answer questions.  If I post a picture and someone sees it an hour later asking the dimensions, I need to answer them in a timely fashion.  Not responding is an easy way to lose a client.  We try to answer everyone back within 2 hours.  It’s hard, sometimes the store is busy, which is a good thing and none of us see the question until we are closed. So, never leave someone dangling.  Follow up, answer questions, interact.

What would you say to those business owners that aren’t using social media – maybe they’re concerned it will take too much time, they don’t know what to say, they’re intimidated? 

The best advice I have is simply “do it.”  You’re going to make mistakes, but you will learn. That is life.  I say follow some leaders in your industry first.  See what they do, and how you can make that work in  your day-to-day operations. I didn’t want to do it at first, now I cannot imagine my business without it.  I believe we are still going strong and growing because of social media.  I also believe that is has to be tailored to you and have a “bit of you” in it.  By that I mean, be personal.  There is a reason we all love social media and reality shows.  We want to know what other people are doing I guess. If you are a small business like myself, I find when I interject something a bit personal, a glimpse at myself and my personal life, people react well.  It’s about forming relationships and if all you do it post sales and prices that gets old.  I try to put encouraging and positive messages out there a few times a week.  I also help promote other businesses on my Page. Be generous to others and it will pay off.  Yes, it is your business Page, but no one wants a full-time running ad.

Finally, could you give a brief statement summarizing the overall impact of social media on you personally, and on your business.

Social Media completely changed my life and my business.  The downside is that I never set my phone down.  The upside is thousands of people know about my little business that never would have otherwise.  I have created both business and personal relationships that I never would have otherwise. We know that Social Media drives 10% of our sales and we believe that we will raise that number.  I had not a clue what I was doing when I started.  It scared me to death.  Now, it’s the first thing I do in the morning and usually the last thing I do before I go to sleep.  It is ever evolving, but never going away.