It Takes an Online Village
By Kathy Krassner, Krassner Communications
Copyright © 2010 Kathy Krassner
The phrase, "it takes a village to raise a child," is an African proverb made popular in the mid-1990s when then-First Lady (and current Secretary of State) Hillary Rodham Clinton published her book, "It Takes a Village." Today, with the advent of social media, that phrase could be reworded: "it takes a village to run a successful business."
This is especially true when it comes to the stationery-related industry, where the retailer-customer relationship often makes the difference between whether that customer makes a purchase in-store or online. In an article I wrote for the upcoming May issue of Gifts & Decorative Accessories magazine, stationer Elaine Barker, owner of Paper Potpourri in Haverhill, MA, states: "People come here because of the customer service, my experience, my personality, my professionalism – all that is so, so important."
While face-to-face communication is key for stationery retailers, so is ongoing customer contact via blogs, e-mails and social-media sites. In fact, more and more stores are now creating "fan" pages on social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter in order to get the word out about sales, promotions and special events. Says Elizabeth Howard, owner/president of The Cordial Cricket in Chester, VA: "Facebook has helped us grow our customer base, increase sales and build closer relationships with our customers. Twitter has helped to build our brand recognition as a company nationwide, get more media/press attention and find some great new vendors and customers." Currently, The Cordial Cricket has more than 250 fans on Facebook and more than 1,000 followers on Twitter.
In another social-networking article I recently wrote for the Invitation & Stationery Alliance's new e-newsletter, "ISA Insights," Stacey Bush, owner of Union Street Papery in San Francisco, CA, shares: "We are primarily using Twitter to introduce new lines and to announce specials we are running on custom printing and in-store products. Special events are tweeted about, whether they are in-store or apply to our entire street, to help bring businesses together for the same common goal ... more shoppers!"
A big benefit of using social media is that it's a free way to reach a large number of current and potential customers. Plus, a retailer's blog and social-networking sites can be linked so that information is updated everywhere all at once.Holly Bretschneider, president of Salutations in Charlotte, NC, explains this process in the January/February issue of Greetings etc. magazine: "I have it set up so that entries that I post to my WordPress blog automatically appear on the Facebook fan page as a new Note. Twitter is also set up to automatically pull in my blog posts and Facebook updates. Linkedin is also set up to automatically pull in my blog posts. By automating the blog-post distribution, I am able to instantly update Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin -- which really helps when it gets too busy to keep up with all of them!"
A particularly important aspect of utilizing social media is that it's a way for stationery retailers to reach a younger generation of customers -- who are the most web-savvy and perhaps the demographic most likely to be lost to online sales. In Greetings etc., Gayle O'Donnell, owner of All About Weddings & Celebrations in Tukwila, WA, says that Facebook and Twitter have "really helped us dealing with our wedding-customer base, because they are of the age group that makes social networking a way of life."
What social media is really all about is building a community that feels a connection with one another. For stationery retailers, it's about building a village of loyal customers who will help make their store successful for many years to come.
Kathy Krassner, former editor-in-chief of Greetings etc. magazine, is the owner of Krassner Communications, a writing-services firm specializing in the stationery and gift industries, based in Ringoes, NJ.
Services provided for clients have included writing print articles, website articles, e-newsletters, greeting cards, trend reports, blogs, catalogs, brochures, marketing materials, book proposals, packaging copy, and more; providing public-relations support; and conducting seminars.
Current clients include Gifts & Decorative Accessories magazine, Gift Shop magazine, the Invitation & Stationery Alliance, and NobleWorks Inc. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.