Business Bevies: Webshops and Social Media for Small Business

Please excuse me. I need to order some film for my digital camera….

This week the FTC announced new internet guidelines that will effect both digital users and publishers alike. One of the biggest shake ups occurred last year with the repeal of Net Neutrality- a law that ensured equal access to everyone. However, the continual changes to rules and regulations of the internet is nothing new. How and if the inter web should be regulated has been heavily debated since at least the late 1990s. I have been around long enough to realize the one constant about the internet is that the rules are always going to change.

Within the last 10 years, the internet has become THE PLACE for entrepreneurs. We now have an entire generation that has grown up online and living life via a click of a mouse is the norm. Traditional business practices such as print advertising, mailers, catalogs, and other tangible marketing tools have all but disappeared. Learning manual layout and mark ups is an extinct course in Advertising and Design. Next year, online shopping is projected to consist of 12% of annual sales in the US and by 2040, a whopping 95% of sales are projected to come from online sources alone (wpforms.com). If that projection is true, the future of commerce is pretty clear!

In my rural area, online access has been a lifeline- a way for a small isolated community to access a much larger market. In my mostly farmland community that boasts a population of around 3,000 people, with the click of the mouse, I can order the same products as say someone living in NYC or London and have them delivered to my door. Now that’s pretty amazing.

Why yes Alec. Yes I am….

However, with that convenience comes challenges. When I launched my website in 2000, “inter-preneurership” was a new thing. At that time, websites were mainly simple html sites that were auxiliary sources of advertising for brick and mortar stores. Blogs were not yet a thing. And social media was a term regulated to the newspaper’s society page. Some larger sites incorporated shopping and checkout features but it was expensive to set up and maintain. My first site consisted of a photo catalog with a printable order form. That’s right. You had to PRINT the order form, FILL IT OUT with a pen, and then MAIL it with a stamp!

But it was a start.

Today, webshops are EVERYWHERE. Never before has it been so easy to buy online. And now we don’t even have to THINK about WHAT we want to should buy. We have people telling us what we need. If we want to be cool, if we want to sit at the cool table with the cool kids, then we must have the same cool stuff and/or dress like the cool kids too. These cool kids are called influencers and they get paid by companies to promote their products to followers. Sounds like a great marketing plan right?

Perhaps.

In any type of marketing- whether traditional or online, there is always the element of psychology. How do we tap into our targeted audience’s needs? What motivates our targeted audience? How can we motivate our targeted audience to buy OUR products? You know how it goes. In essence, none of these strategies are inherently bad. It is just when a company and or it’s paid influencers takes an EXCLUSIVE rather than INCLUSIVE stand that things can get ugly.

Exclusivity is not a new thing. Many brands have built a legacy on it- Tiffany and Co., Versace, Gucci, Ferrari, etc. These luxury brands have used exclusivity to convey the obtainer’s wealth and status. But with the advent of social media, the rules are changing and now your average Joe, or the girl next door, can create an exclusive world, build a following, and promote himself/herself as an attainable commodity with which to be acquired.

As a result, followers can become rather territorial about their property. Since their commodity has human form, the connection is highly emotional and some followers can become rather vicious at the slightest hint of negativity regarding their coveted brand. I have witnessed numerous accounts of brand proselytizers verbally attacking potential repeat customers over honest intentioned reviews. This is problematic on many levels. But as business owners, we should understand that consumer feedback is extremely important. And while no business likes negative reviews (me included), it should be viewed as a tool for improvement. Considering, most people share feedback on the seller’s website (47%) and Facebook (31%), it is pretty easy for a brand to regulate this type of behavior (wpforms.com). Because when followers verbally attack others, it does not bode well for business.

It’s an interesting study in psychology for sure and I wonder how sustainable it is? Really, how long can Joe or Jill keep up with the demands of not only the companies with whom they are on the promotional payroll but also the ever increasing demands of their followers? Social media is a monster that must be continually fed. It promotes consumerism in a way we have never seen before. In academia, the old adage is if you don’t publish, you die. In social media marketing, if you don’t promote, you are forgotten.

So as not only an e-commerce business owner but also an online consumer, I view social media marketing as both a blessing and a curse. I credit the internet for the growth of my business. In fact, if I did not start a website WAY BACK in 2000, I guarantee I would not be designing and making historical clothing full time today. My audience would only be as far as I could physically reach and most, if not all of my time, would be invested in seeking out new business clients.

But I have also been around long enough to realize balance is important. A more balanced business owner is more creative, innovative, and provides a better product to its clientele. Real brand followers want an entity that is authentic, transparent, and true to its mission. Quality over quantity matters. Choose two social media platforms to dedicate your time to. Be intentional (but not manipulative) with your posts. Stay focused on publishing quality social media consumables that are true to your brand. Don’t be afraid to go old school. Traditional print advertising is still just as effective as it has always been. Just be intentional with your partners. And finally, understand that a dedicated clientele is worth more than growth index or maximum profits.

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