In a day and time when “social media” is just a word I've heard when things were being said, I think it is vital that anyone saying they are qualified to teach you how to use social media should be able to validate the depth of their experience as a successful user of new media and technology as a business tool. After all, we invite you to part with your hard-earned money in exchange for our experience. Honesty and transparency are important to me, so I want you to know exactly what you are getting when you trust me with your valuable time and money. “Social media” is not a new or passing interest for me. It's how I built my 10-year old business.
I thought a time line with screen shots going back to 2000 would be the best way to showcase my background in this area. Since some of the websites, social media and social networking sites I once used are no longer active, I scoured the Way Back Machine to document the progression of my social media experiences. I used screen shots in cases where a site is no longer operating.
1997 to 1999: (Feeling like a relic now …) I was a member of several early aromatherapy email discussion groups. Some of the people who were there with me at that time are IBN members today. Among them: Marge Clark of Nature's Gift (Tennessee) and Rosanne Tartaro of SunRose Aromatics (New York). We learned from each other, shared our passions and quickly discovered that by beefing up our signature lines with a link to an e-commerce site, our businesses began to grow and thrive, along with the relationships we developed.
Early 2000: I was one of the first Indie Business leaders to incorporate the notion that a main website works best if it's supplemented by at least one other complementary site. See the “Satellite Sites” notation next to the read arrow (it's kind of hard to see, I know) at the bottom of the old Donna Maria.com home page. At the time, that link went to a page listing 3 of my other websites, all of them inexpensively interconnected to support the business.
January 16, 2000: I launched the Indie Beauty Network (IBN). (The original name of the organization was Handmade Toiletries Network, then later Handmade Beauty Network.) While IBN is a professional trade organization, it is also a professional social network composed of a group of industry professionals who network, share and collaborate for success.
January 16, 2000: I launched a weekly online newsletter. Here's the first issue. The entire archive, going back 10 years, is here. I have always recommended that publishers archive their newsletter online so valuable content is not lost and can be searched for years to come.
February 2000: I launched a comment driven ingredient supplier search engine. The comments section is no longer used, but the site remains a trusted place for small business owners (especially in the Indie Beauty industry) to search for reliable suppliers.
July 2000: I launched a comment driven DIY cosmetics website. Today, that website has nearly 27,000 active registered users.
February 2001: Because I instinctively craved connections with my customers and IBN members, I started keeping an online journal, called “dM's Here and There Mini-Journals” in February 2001. Obviously, the comment technology we have in place now was not available then, but this served as a way for me to personalize my outreach. Journals like these were few and far between in those days and I don't personally know a single independent business owner who had one as early as I did. Here are some fun screen shots, with old photos too! (Sorry there's so much white space but I wanted you to see that they are actual website screen shots. I've also interspersed the startup dates for FaceBook and Twitter because they show a parallel progression where social media is concerned.)
Above: September to December 2001: Announcing the birth of my daughter and sharing my speaking engagement (photo at bottom with PR expert Katherine Hutt of Nautilus Communications) at the Washington, DC chapter of the meeting of Washington Women in Public Relations.
Above: June 2001: At the Chicago-based “soap museum” home of soap industry expert Luis Spitz, with Mr. Spitz and his wife. (Gee, I wish I knew what I did with those photos!)
Above: August 2001: Teaching a group of young girls how to make cosmetics in my suburban Washington, DC, home.
February 2004: FaceBook was founded. (According to Wikipedia, before that, in October 2003, it was originally conceived as “Facemash”.)
September 2005: I launched the Indie Business Radio Show. With rare exception, it has aired weekly and continues to feature top small business authors and experts and inspirational entrepreneurs. Past guests have included Jack Canfield, Paula Deen, Mike Michalowicz, James Arthur Ray and Ali Brown. In the social media arena, my guests have included Shel Israel, Juliette Powell, Tara Hunt and David Meerman Scott.
September 17, 2005: I launched my first “official” blog on the Movable Type blogging platform.
December 2005: Launched the Handmade Beauty Business print magazine.
March 2006: Twitter's first prototype was built.
May 7, 2007: I moved my blog from Movable Type to Typepad.
December 2007: I launched the Indie Business Forum. As you can see if you click that link, I have transferred this site to a social networking site.
February 2008: I launched Bootstrap Babes blog with Jamila White, the Ecommerce Diva. In August of that year, as a direct result of the blog, Jamila and I were featured in Entrepreneur Magazine. (See? When you serve as your own media outlet, it's easier to attract traditional media!)
March 21, 2008: I set up the Indie Business Fan Page, and the first update there was posted on that date by IBN member Kathy Duncan of Fusion of Color. (Thanks Kathy!) (I forgot to blog about it.)
April 21, 2008: I set up my first Twitter page and blogged about it (of course!)
Shortly After (can't recall date): I set up my personal FaceBook page (which I use only for family and friends) shortly after that. (I forgot to blog about it!)
September 18, 2008: I launched the Indie social networking site. Today, there are 4,000 people learning, sharing and collaborating there.
October 12, 2008: I launched Indie Beauty Buzz blog. (That blog is still visible but not active. I'm offering it for sale (the blog, not the domain name) to the highest bidder.) I set up a FaceBook Fan Page in early 2009. (I forgot to blog about that too!)
January 23, 2009: I launched the Save Handmade blog. (That blog is still visible but not active. I'm offering it for sale (the blog, not the domain name) to the highest bidder.)
July 12, 2009: I launched FitCEOs, an experiment to test the power of online social collaboration.
July 14, 2009: I created Indie Lifestream another sort of experiment.
There's More To Media Than “Social”
My training is different from any you'll get anywhere else. While the “social media” sites the way we know them today (Twitter, FaceBook, etc.) are relatively new, they are really nothing more than technological tools that allow us to create our own media. Their availability and affordability makes them fantastic. But, if you don't know how to use them efficiently and cost effectively, they can become a distinct liability to your business.
Oprah's Got Nothing On You
We all know about the power of the “O.” Many of us spend inordinate amounts of time and money trying to land ourselves or our products in the pages of her magazine and/or in other nationwide media outlets that also have millions of readers, listeners or viewers. That may (and probably will) happen for some of us one day, but in the meantime, we can create our own media outlets using the same technology Oprah uses to create hers!
We may not have the human resources she has, and we certainly don't have the money, but we do have the tools. We just have to know how to use them!
That's where my training comes in.
The Media Is Y-O-U!
Your customers are out there just waiting to interact with you. And by “out there,” I mean on the Internet. And they are out there in massive numbers.
- Last month, eMarketer reported that in 2009, there will be 18 million US adult users accessing Twitter each month.
- Last month, FaceBook reported that it had over 300 million users
- Twitter and FaceBook updates will soon be indexed on Google and Bing — where your customers go to find you on the Internet.
- While the number of blogs is in the millions, and many of them are unread and unused, if you have a branded blog that create a community for your customers and give your company a voice, then you are way head of the pack as you prepare your company for 2010 and beyond.
Your customers are on the Internet. They are watching videos there, comparing prices there, buying products there and meeting your competitors there. They're either talking about you or they're talking about the kinds of products and services you offer.
They are hungry for an opportunity to find out how easy it is to do business with you. They want to connect with your other customers and find out why others like your products. They want to make their recommendations, ask you questions, help you be successful. They want you to reach out and engage them. You must answer their call.
If you don't, someone else will.
If you are consistent and committed, you won't need a national magazine with millions of someone else's readers. You'll have your own, and that's enough to sustain a satisfying and profitable business no matter how you slice it.
Question: What do you think of the concept that The Media Is Y-O-U?! Are you ready to embrace the notion that you can speak with your customers using branded media that you create and own? Media that becomes a part of your businesses' valuable intellectual property? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!