Baring your business buns

By Terry Fries

It’s a social media world and a business that doesn’t take an active role online, is shrugging off a lot of unrealized potential cash.

That seems obvious, but a lot of businesses still ignore this reality.

The difficult part for many of them (besides the possible technical obstacles) is learning how to bare a lot more of themselves online.

Many of the over 40 crowd were raised in an era where personal lives were private, revealed only to a few close friends.

But we now live in a world in which word-of-mouth advertising can reach worldwide audiences with a single posted comment, photo or amateur video.

That kind of consumer power has torn down the wall of the traditional advertising structure.

Consumers today don’t just want to be informed about the latest and greatest mouse trap, they want to be engaged — they want to talk about, ask others about it, see photos and video of it and share it.

Businesses can be a part of this. In fact, they can and should facilitate discussions and spark consumers into action because when somebody “likes” something on our Facebook page, or comments, or shares it, it is an act of reaching out.

As business owners, we want that, even if it’s criticism.

It has forced many of us to change our basic philosophies about how much of ourselves we reveal to the world.

Yet, what was once a necessary change to accommodate what seemed like a prying world, has since become an amusing sideline to the business.

At our business, the three of us carry our smartphones, so we can quickly respond to Facebook comments or post new items as we talk excitedly about incoming products.

I’ve pestered my family with video and write personal blogs during my spare time.

Granted, in some businesses, this level of social media engagement may not be necessary, depending on your target audience, but, in general, consumers will appreciate it more, if you “pay” them for their time.

What I mean by that is give them something that will make them want to comment, or provide something that engages them.

I know I gravitate to websites and Facebook pages that entertain, amuse or engage me.

Even a gossip column that ticks me off is going to be more fulfilling than a site that thrusts its wares at me like a trench-coated hustler from a 1950s movie.

This means that if we’re operating a destination gift store in Summerland, our clients, both local and in the larger Okanagan region, deserve more than “push” style advertising.

That might mean websites with maps or a calendar of events, or craft-making videos (in addition products for sale), or a Facebook page that offers a place to chat with like-minded folk, or entertaining jokes that make you smile.

Or in the case of True Grain Bakery in Summerland, it might mean a Facebook post of a focaccia bun that came out of the oven with a likeness of a happy face on it.

The problem is trying to determine what will make a splash on social media.

The answer: Find somebody who lives and breathes in the social media world, or more importantly, “shares” and “likes” it alongside those whom you are trying to reach.

Enter Josie Fries, our social media manager and all-around evil genius.

She’s at the helm of our Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and website offerings. She’s also our daughter and, at 22, knows more about the murky waters of the social media ocean than most of us care to learn.

While Laurie and I are comfortable with the older and middle-aged demographic, there’s an entire generation of niche-market seeking millennials and post-millennials we want to engage.

These groups have grown up online and most are completely comfortable sharing, discussing, chatting, and posting their lives in the public view.

That is why we have embraced some of those philosophies as well. To engage people, you must be engaging. You must be genuine.

In our case, we have to be comfortable sharing, in the same manner that we want our customers to share their experiences with us. Engagement is a two-way street.

That’s especially true of Facebook, which we view as a kind of farmer’s market, a place where we have an opportunity to come into close contact with our customers.

It is not just about getting business feedback, it’s a place where we can hopefully share a chuckle or thoughtful exchange or two.

The website too has its share of non-business items, such as blogs, videos, a tourism map, but we generally keep that outlet more business than personal.

In today’s marketplace, many consumers want to feel like they are part of something that transcends the regular mall shopping experience.

They want a unique sense of place — one they can identify with — and they want a community to share with.

That’s not as hard as it sounds.

Terry Fries plumbs the depths of social media, while also operating Barn Owl Gifts in Summerland,  with his partner, Laurie Weir.

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