Getting personal

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AUCKLAND, Today: What can big companies learn from small businesses when it comes to social media? Antony Young – formerly a prominent global ad exec, now a “marketing barrista” in NZ – has firm views, drawn from experience.

Previously he was ceo of Mindshare North America and ceo of ZenithOptimedia UK, working on P&G, McDonald’s and Toyota before returning home to NZ “to be with my family”.

He also wrote a *column for AdAge when he was in the US.

He co-founded The Digital Café with Matt McNeil to helps companies execute social media-led marketing strategies. He now lives and operates a blueberry farm with his wife Nancy in the Horowhenua

Yet New Zealand’s biggest companies seem to treat social media purely as a broadcast channel to push their brand and corporate messages to consumers.

In contrast small businesses are showing just how social media can be a business enabler and that social should be at the centre of your marketing, not just an add-on.

Small businesses don’t have the luxury of dedicated marketing teams or big marketing budgets to generate awareness for their brand. To thrive, they need to be agile and resourceful; leveraging social media to grow their business and stay closer to customers.

Using social media to sell, not just market
Selling property is a costly proposition. A building developer will typically invest in designer brochures, showrooms manned by sales executives, outdoor, digital and newspaper ads to market apartment building developments.

That sort of effort can run up bills into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“People trust people more than faceless companies.”

Contrast that with John Kettle, a property agent at Wellington real estate firm Tommy’s. His marketing budget for each apartment runs in the hundreds of dollars.

What he does with social media is quite clever. He broadcasts apartment showings on Facebook Live. He typically gets 3000 views from potential buyers from as far as Singapore, the UK or US that see his videos.

Social media has become an integral part to him finding buyers and getting the best price for his clients. No surprise that John was one of Wellington’s top real estate agents in sales in 2020.

Erin Benzakein is the owner of Floret, a micro-sized flower farm in Skagit Valley, Washington. She started out trying to be who she thought her customers wanted her to be: Big, experienced and like everyone else.

Then a light bulb turned on for her, and rather than pretending that her business was a huge operation, she simply tried sharing the truth: That her kids would play in the flower fields, and might damage a few petals.

Everything (from her production to packaging) happened on a humble, two-acre family farm, rather than in a huge facility. Through her blog, her website and Instagram she was able to build an online audience of flower fans.

By making her the face of the business, and personalising it, their business took off. On her Instagram account she talks about her family, offers tips on growing flowers and shares behind the scenes of what takes place on her farm. Today, Floret has more than 850k followers on Instagram.

People trust people more than faceless companies. Social media helps Erin and her business connect with people in a much more direct, inexpensive, personal and authentic way. Her business has grown from strength to strength.

Because demand for her flowers outstripped what she could grow, she expanded her business by selling seeds and online workshops.

“A photo of a massive, tasty burger stood out in a sea of professional work posts on Linkedin”

Tapping into your social media connections to grow awareness
Most companies typically have a Linkedin profile. But Linkedin’s power is staying connected to individuals not companies. That’s where employees can be a powerful marketing channel.

Julian D’Souza, the venue manager at Stones Corner Hotel in Brisbane, took to Linkedin posting a photo of their newest burger and asked his connections to recommend what they should name it?

D’Souza’s followers responded in droves. And every time someone liked the post, it appeared in their connections’ timelines too. Within 23 days one simple post had generated over 2500 likes and 8000 comments.

What worked well was that Linkedin users are used to only seeing business-related content in their timelines.

A photo of a massive, tasty burger stood out in a sea of professional work posts.  Asking people to comment was a brilliant way of increasing engagement. In the social media world, engagement light up social media algorithms which drives bigger audiences for your brands.

Start conversations, gather feedback, be real
When you consider that 70% of shoppers use Instagram for product discovery, any business big or small can’t ignore it.

Connecting to shoppers can be a gamechanger for brands.

But just as someone who enters a store to browse, you can’t just directly go up to them and start selling straight off the bat. Yet that’s what most large brands try to do on social media.

That’s where Southern Elegance Candle Company gets it right.

They focus on using social media to create remarkable, unforgettable customer experiences to build fans.

For many small businesses, staff find that they have to squeeze social media into their other responsibilities. Social Elegance is no different. Bryanna Evans has two major job responsibilities at the candle and scent maker – overseeing customer service as well as managing their social media.

“Consumers want to know the people behind the brand. Even big firms. Apple had Steve Jobs. Tesla has Elon Musk.”

Bryanna says the internet has made many sceptical – it’s often hard to know if a brand really cares about you as a consumer, or just your money. If someone comments on our posts, we comment back. If they call, they’re met with a welcoming voice.

The candle company invite their social media followers to test scents, vote for new fragrances, and name candles. They actively seek their feedback and test interest in future projects through story polls, surveys, and asking questions.

They claim that social media has helped them triple their sales revenue.


Be human. Consumers want to know the people behind the company or brand. Even big firms. Apple had Steve Jobs. Tesla has Elon Musk. If you’re the ceo or MD, then perhaps you should be the social media face of your company? If you do, make sure you talk like a person, not the corporate PR department.

Be more expansive. As we saw with the Southern Elegant Candle Company, social media can be a customer service channel, or with John Kettle a selling tool. Not just a marketing medium. If millennials and GenZs are going to be a source of business for you now or down the track be aware, they prefer to communicate with a business or company through Facebook Messenger. If you doubt that try emailing your 20-something daughter or son – good luck with getting a reply!

Start conversations. Selling is about building a relationship and rapport. Respond and personalise your communications. Share useful info, provide behind the scene content, have fun with them.

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