Social Media: Where Do I Begin?

I’m interviewing Alizah Epstein from in Rockville, Maryland. Alizah and her team of marketers, graphic designers, and web developers work with their clients to communicate their messages, capabilities, and brands—online, on paper, or in person.

I asked Alizah about what someone needs to know when they are thinking about using social media to build their business.

Question: Where do I begin if I want to use social media to promote my business?

Answer: Before you jump in and select a social media platform to use (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.), identify your target audience and their needs (you’ve probably done this). The key question is, what problem can I solve. Based on understanding their needs, think about what message you want to send them. Once you are clear about who your audience is and what message you want to communicate, go online and look at social media tutorials. There are plenty of tutorials and resources written about how to use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. For example, look at or find podcasts on how to use social media. There are LinkedIn groups that can help.

Select one social media platform that you think will be the best way to reach your target audience.

Question: How much time should I spend on social media?

Answer: Ask yourself:

  • Is this the best use of my time?
  • Do I want to spend time learning about, for example, the details of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
  • Will spending time learning about social media time take me away from doing sales?

However, if you really like delving into the mechanics of social media, then, by all means, do it. The bottom-line question is how am I going to maximize my time on social media. If you’re limited for time:

  • Focus only on one social media platform
  • After you are comfortable using one, then add another one.
  • Don’t dilute your message, if you’re short on time

Question: What about using a freelancer to help me?

Answer: There are freelancers who specialize in creating and maintaining social media campaigns. They don’t need to get up to speed on the latest ways to use social media. You’ll not only be paying for their expertise, but you’ll be freed up to use your time in other ways.

There are virtual assistants; people you can  hire who have expertise and can provide professional, administrative, technical, or creative (social media) assistance remotely from their home office. They charge by the hour or by project. You can find more information about virtual assistances online and at Craig’s List, or

Question: What are some other things I need to know about using social media?

Answer: Here are some things I suggest to my clients.

  • Create a social media editorial calendar for at least six months listing topics by week or month
  • A good place to start is by sending content every other week. No one wants to be spammed with lots of social media information.
  • Keep the number of words to 200-400

The idea of using social media can be overwhelming, take it slowly, and consider what you can do and what you can’t.

Contact Alizah.

Tale of Two Clothiers

It was the best of times for Beth. And, it was the best of times for Allie and Jenny. Two different retailer clothiers with two different approaches to marketing their business. Both in the start-up phase. Both on their way to becoming successful. Beth, Allie, and Jenny are in their late twenties. Beth is a mother of three and Allie and Jenny are in a long-term relationship. This is the story of their fledgling businesses.

First, a little background about Beth. Beth and her husband, Adam, lived in a New York City suburb. When Adam was offered a job in the Washington, D.C. area, they jumped at the opportunity and moved. At that time, Beth was working as a personal shopper at a top New York City department store. Eight years earlier, Beth attended fashion design school. She had the experience and credentials needed to succeed in business.

“If I don’t do it, somebody else will.”

When Beth first moved to the Washington, DC area, she looked at the demographic profile of her community and found the population of young couples was growing at a rate above the national average. In her community, there were no clothing stores for women in their 20s and 30s to buy, as Beth put it, “spunky modest clothes”. She knew this group of women cared how they looked. She was referring to Jewish women who want to dress modestly yet stylish.

Beth thought there might be a market for spunky modest clothes for women. So, she instinctively did what any good marketer would do. She reached out and asked questions. Beth asked a number of young women what problems they have finding stylish modest clothing. She asked what kinds of clothing they would like based on their religious standards. The answers were all the same. There was no place to get this type of clothing. Then she asked a more specific question regarding what type of apparel they couldn’t find. The answers were again consistent. They wanted tops, skirts, and dresses. And, they wanted reasonable prices. Beth knew price would be a key factor in determining whether women would purchase her clothes. The women also said the clothes found in department stores and online were not modest enough.

Beth took a deep breath and announced to Adam, “If I don’t do it, somebody else will”. And that’s how Beth started.

Beth made the decision to open a “store” based on what she knew, what she heard, and what was missing in the market. Beth found a gap and was going to fill it. Her store would be in the basement of her house. She applied and got a wholesaler business license. She was officially in business. The first agenda of business for Beth was to attend a fashion trade show in NewYork City. She knew exactly what types of clothing her customers would buy. She carefully sifted through the clothing designer’s merchandise and found just what she was looking for.

“I don’t believe this can happen.”

That’s what Adam said when the first box of clothing arrived on their doorstep. Boy, was he wrong! She placed her order for one large box of clothes. Three weeks later, she purchased seven boxes.

Beth’s first customer saw Beth’s bare-bones Facebook page. Beth does not remember how the customer found her on Facebook. The customer told Beth she never heard of Beth’s store but, “really liked her clothes”. When Beth checked her Facebook page, she found most of her friends were from the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area.

Beth knew enough about her customers’ shopping behavior that she had to:

  • Price her merchandise at least 40 percent below department stores
  • Accept American Express, in addition to the other major credit cards. Beth knew she would be paying higher processing fees and many stores do not accept American Express
  • Make it easy to shop by offering convenient hours as well as the ability to schedule a private appointment.

She quickly found out that taking American Express was satisfying a critical need for her customers: convenience. Beth made sure to tell her customers, “don’t leave home without it”. This was an important selling point.

Online Strategy – One Step at a Time

Beth was not in a rush to jump into the world of social media to promote her business. She had a basic business Facebook page. She wanted Facebook as her only online advertising vehicle.

Beth decided to hold off on creating a website. She did not want to spread herself too thin. After all, she wanted a lifestyle that would allow her to spend time with her family as well as run a business. To be on the safe side she purchased a domain name.

Keeping it Personal

In Beth’s community, word-of-mouth about anything was a powerful force in terms of influence. One satisfied customer told her friend, who told her friend, etc. What happened? Her primary source of referrals came via word-of-mouth. Beth did not purposely craft a word-of-mouth marketing strategy. Beth was unwittingly creating buzz for her store.

After being in business for six months, Beth was contacted by a group of women who sold jewelry, cosmetics, and other women’s items. They banded together to open a pop-up shop. The location, for this one-day event, which drew more than 100 women was held in one woman’s house. Beth considered this opportunity a success for her. As an added benefit, Beth was able to get the names and email addresses of all of the women who visited the shop.

Pop-up shops are temporary retail spaces. Open for one day or several weeks, they range from selling a single product to hosting a private event. On a bigger scale, think of those stores selling Halloween stuff, which pop up in early October and disappear a few days after Halloween. This particular group of retailers set-up a one night pop-up shop. The organizer of the event took responsibility to promote the event. Beth sold all of her clothes and took orders for more. This was a total marketing success.

Soon after the pop-up event, Beth decided to expand her marketing efforts. She rented a booth at a local fundraising event. She was the only retailer selling stylish clothes. Once again, she was able to sell clothes and expand her reach into the local and surrounding communities.

Beth has taken the concept of providing excellent customer service to a new level. From a marketing perspective, she is building and maintaining relationships. She prides herself on her personal approach to her customers’ needs. She invites customers to her house to try on clothes. She makes every effort for her customers to feel special. Beth constantly exceeds her customers’ expectations. She goes to great lengths to sell eye-catching wrappings. She’s open late in order for her customers to shop after work. Customers can make appointments. Beth has a no-strings attached return policy. According to Beth, this liberal return policy is unheard of in her community.

During the holiday season, Beth sent boxes of chocolate with thank you notes to her top ten customers. This customer appreciation gesture goes a long way in building and maintaining relationships.

Beth decided to do something special for her customers and prospective customers. She set up a backyard event in the early evening at her house. At the event, Beth provided refreshments and soft drinks. She assigned Adam the job of starting and maintaining a fire pit. And, of course, she displayed her latest styles. She sold plenty of clothes that evening. Besides telling her customers, Beth only used her Facebook page to promote the event.

I advised Beth to keep a database of her customers and prospects. Building the database can be as simple as creating a spreadsheet and listing the customers’ names, street address, city, state, zip, email, items purchased, date of all contacts, and how customers find about Beth’s store. I suggested that as her business grows, she might find more categories for her database.

Let’s review Beth’s journey, so far. She:

  • Identified her primary target group
  • Recognized a need
  • Found a way to fill the need
  • Slowly rolled out her marketing program
  • Set up a reward program for her top-tier customers
  • Initially relied on word-of-mouth referrals
  • Focused only on Facebook for her online presence.

I asked Beth what her marketing plans were for the near future. She was straightforward and said:

  • Build a website
  • Open a brick-and-mortar store
  • Expand my reach to cover the entire country

When I asked her what her merchandising strategy would be, she unflinchingly said: I want to expand to a one-stop shop selling maternity clothes, shoes, tights, and accessories. I want my customer to walk out of my store with a complete outfit.

Beth took an old-school approach to promoting her clothing business. She did this in part because the demand for her clothes spread like wild fire via word- of-mouth.


The Other Clothier

Allie, my daughter, and her partner Jenny live in Brooklyn, NY. They both have day jobs. Jenny is a marketing manager for an online marketing research company and Allie works as a fashion photographer at a retail clothing chain.

A bit of history: They like to shop for clothes. On the weekends, they would comb department stores, boutiques, and specialty clothing shops looking for the right look. But when it came time to find the right style and the right size, their shopping experience would fizzle out. They would leave these stores empty-handed and sometimes empty-hearted.

“If you want something badly enough, you just have to do it yourself.”

One day, while eating brunch in their apartment, Allie blurted out, “We need to work on some kind of creative project”. Jenny was taken aback. “But we have good jobs!” Allie then reminded Jenny about how frustrated they got trying to find clothes they like. The clothes they found were too feminine, too masculine, too boring.

Putting on her marketing hat, Jenny said, “Why not, instead of selling menswear which fit into feminine style and visa versa, we offer styles which are slightly adapted to fit women. They came up with the idea of being a retailer of “contemporary fashion for women seeking clothing that blurs the line of modern masculine and feminine style”.

After talking to their friends, Allie and Jenny realized they weren’t the only ones who were looking for such clothes. Other clothiers were selling this type of clothing but Allie and Jenny wanted their personal touch to be reflected on the clothes they sold.

Crowd Control

In order to get their business up and running, they turned to the Internet and used crowdfunding to finance the initial stages of their business. Crowdfunding is a way to obtain small amounts of money from many people. There are hundreds of crowdfunding platforms. Two of the most popular are and

According to

“Each (crowdfunding) campaign is set for a goal of an amount of money and a fixed number of days. Once the project is launched, each day will be counted down and the money raised tallied up for visitors to follow its success. Instead of traditional investors, crowdfunding campaigns are funded by the general public.”

Allie and Jenny’s goal was to raise $10,000 from their crowdfunding campaign to be used to start building their online store. The campaign yielded $12,500. Perks, offered to those who contributed money, ranged from receiving a limited edition tee shirt for a contribution of $30 to a personalized styling session with Allie and Jenny for a contribution of $400.

Online and On Target

How were Allie and Jenny able to raise that amount of money in 34 days? You guessed it, by using social media: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Buzzfeed, and their existing barebones website. I was surprised to hear Jenny say they didn’t have the time and energy to put into using lots of social media platform.

Allie and Jenny’s Tumblr page features photos that range from their line of clothes to personal photos of Allie and Jenny. After one year in business, their Facebook page amassed more than 3,500 Likes. They Tweeted more than 2,600 times. On Instagram, they posted more than 900 times and have 6,400 followers. They pinned more than 520 times on Pinterest. After an article appeared on a Buzzfeed post that was linked to Allie and Jenny’s Instagram platform, their Instagram followers doubled in just a few days.

In terms of generating buzz and capturing email addresses, Pinterest was the least effective platform for them. Allie said Pinterest was a good way for most retailers selling clothing, accessories, and those selling household goods to get business. However, they claimed their market is not active on Pinterest, but is active on Instagram and Tumblr.

Allie and Jenny, as sophisticated marketers, understood that online and social media platforms were not the only way to sell clothes. To introduce their online store to their potential customers, they used social media to promote a runway fashion show in a bar in New York City. They attracted customers and got the media attention they were hoping for. During the first year, they were interviewed by six fashion style blogs and five online fashion news e-zines (online magazines).

Up Close and Personal

The runway fashion show was a big hit. In addition, they rented a table at a one-day local street fair and sold enough clothes to cover the cost of the table rental fee. They were not pleased with the idea of selling at a street fair. They realized most of the shoppers were looking for bargains. Their line of clothes was far from bargain-priced.

Allie and Jenny were invited to sell their clothes at a night market – an informal bazaar or street market held at night, usually featuring music and boutique vendors. The cost to rent a table to display their merchandise was $175 a night. They decided to display most of their clothing, but only sold accessories. Allie and Jenny knew that since there was no place to try on the clothes, they’d be better off just selling accessories.

They posted the event on Facebook and sent emails to their list of customers and prospects. More than 400 people attended the event. They made a small profit and more important met face-to-face with their target market.

Allie and Jenny are proud of their website. The feedback from friends and customers has been consistent: it’s bright; it shows off clothing in a clear way. The use of models helped potential customers see what the clothes look like on a person; and, the photography was creative.

Allie and Jenny have two long-term goals for their business. The first goal is to open a brick and mortar store in New York City. The second goal is to design their own line of clothes and sell them wholesale to retail stores. Good luck, Allie and Jenny!

Lessons Learned from Beth, Allie, and Jenny:

  • Beth, Allie, and Jenny had a clear vision of what they wanted before they started doing business.
  • They started small and slowly increased their product line.
  • They had a clear understanding of the purchasing habits of their respective markets and made the buying process as easy as possible. Remember, a key selling point Beth used was to make sure her customers knew she accepted American Express.
  • They are continually looking for and purchasing new styles, which fit their respective markets.
  • They knew that in order to keep their eye on the market, they had to communicate regularly with their strategic relationships. Allie and Jenny via social media and Beth via word-of-mouth and personal connections.

As of this writing, it’s still the best of times for the two clothiers.


10 Expert Views on Print vs. Digital Marketing

The folks at MetroVista interviewed me and nine other marketing experts (I never thought of myself as a marketing expert) to get our take on print vs. digital marketing. Here’s one part of the introduction to the article.

  • Print marketing offers its audience a sense of creditability; it takes time to write, edit, publish, and distribute. The web can be full of, well, “fake news”.
  • Print marketing might actually have a higher visibility rate because it cannot be as easily disposed of by a click of a finger. Your consumer will at some point hold your information in their hands, not just on their phone.
  • Print marketing targets those who are not always logged in online.


You can find the entire article at

Are You Getting Sucked Into The Social Media Vortex?

Recently, I was conducted a marketing workshop for small business owners. When it came time to discuss how to use traditional marketing tools and tactics, something happened in the workshop that caught me off guard.

One of the workshop participants blurted out that he just heard about a cool, new app. Emphasis on ‘cool’. To this day, I cannot recall the name of the app was or what it did. I don’t even remember if the app was related to marketing. But what I do remember is what happened next.

The workshop participants turned their attention and focused their energy on what this person was saying about the coolness of the app. Picking up on his excitement, the participants started asking him questions. I felt the energy in the room completely shift from the topic at hand to a discussion about the app. I realized I better intervene quickly before this discussion escalated into app mayhem. It took me a few minutes to gently shift the participants’ focus back to the topic at hand while trying not to offend this man.

After the workshop, I told my wife Gail what happened. It seemed like the workshop participants got sucked into some kind of a social media abyss. It was as if I could hear each workshop participants saying to themselves, “that’s cool, I gotta get it…whatever it is”. I dubbed this phenomenon the Social Media Vortex. I didn’t realize how powerful the Social Media Vortex is.

So, what is the Social Media Vortex and what happens when you get exposed to it? The Social Media Vortex acts as an anesthesia. It’s as if your brain’s pre-frontal cortex (part of your brain that is in charge of abstract thinking and thought analysis. It’s responsible for regulating behavior) goes offline and all you’re left with is raw emotions. You get caught up in the excitement of experiencing the new social media app, and any logic or rational thought you have gets dulled. You don’t see the social media app for what it really is. You’re no longer thinking. You’ve lost sight of your goal – to promote your businesses, using the most effective strategies and tactics you know.

OK, I admit it. I got sucked into the Social Media Vortex. My friend Artie told me about a new travel app. He was amazed at how many functions this app offered. I got caught up in his excitement. So, what did I do? I went home and downloaded the app to my smartphone. And, there it sits. I’ve probably used the app twice in a year and most likely will delete it when I can remember it’s on my phone.

When I look back at this incident, all I could think about was how people react to a fad. The dictionary defines a fad as “an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one which is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze”. Maybe I’m exaggerating but you get the point.

Back to the workshop. When it came time to discuss the objectives and the messaging strategy involved in using online and social media, no one mentioned the app.

I was proud of myself for giving this phenomenon a name – the Social Media Vortex. Let’s look at this in a slightly different context. I notice people fuel the Social Media Vortex fire when they hear astounding social media or social networking statistics. I do not want to fuel your fire by assaulting you with lists of amazing social media facts and statistics. Here are a few examples of what I mean (I purposely omitted the statistics associated with each example):

  • The number of people around the globe who use social media on a daily basis – So what?
  • The percent of people who access social media on their mobile device – How does knowing this help you? 

  • The best time of the day to retweet – Do you have to be punctual?

Is it necessary for you to know about social media facts and figures? I unequivocally say, “it depends.” How are all of these numbers and facts going to help you establish and maintain relationships with customers? If you stumbled over answering these questions, move on and focus on satisfying the needs of your customers.

I was consulting with the marketing manager at a small trade association. I was hired to evaluate its existing social media and online marketing strategy and recommend areas for improvement. The marketing manager said the association’s social media efforts weren’t producing any results. When I asked what results the association was looking for, she said they wanted to increase sales of three publications (sales were flat). And, they wanted to regain lost revenue (breakeven) for their online courses.

A bit of history: Two years ago, the marketing manager got sucked into the Social Media Vortex by the association’s leadership (mostly executive board members). They wanted the association to be on the cutting edge of
digital communication. Prior to this time, the association’s foray
into the digital world was its bare bones website. Because of the
 association’s need to be on the cutting edge of digital communication, 
they went full steam ahead into the unknown world of social media.

Today, the association:

  • Occasionally tweets
  • Has three educational videos on their website
  • Has an updated Facebook
business page
  • Sends emails to its members and prospects about every six weeks

The marketing manager planned to produce least one podcast a month. This never happened.

In the course of listening to this, I noted the association’s marketing efforts shifted from meeting the needs of the membership to “let’s jump on the social media bandwagon” (I took this as meaning that the leadership got sucked in the dreaded Social Media Vortex).

The marketing manager lost sight of meeting the needs of the members. Instead, she got caught up in the board’s enthusiasm with social media. What happened to the needs of the members? If their needs are not being satisfied, chances are members will not renew their membership. This is the worst thing an association executive wants to hear.

Fast-forward three months. I conducted a survey of association members and based on the finding and with interviews with the leadership, I made the following recommendations:

  • Reposition their marketing strategy to focus on getting members to attend live events
  • Use email and its online newsletter as the primary communication vehicles to communicate with members and prospects.
  • Keep the website up and use it as a repository of member-related information
  • Suspend all Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook activities
  • Assign the marketing intern the job of producing three podcasts a year
  • Create a series of local and regional networking events. These events would feature a speaker and leave time for networking activities
  • Increase the frequency of emails as a way to motivate members to attend live events.

Because of implementing these strategies, attendance at regional events increased and the number of requests for printed literature (newsletters, white papers, etc.) decreased.

Here are three questions to ask yourself so you don’t get sucked into the Social Media Vortex.

  1. Do I have a thorough understanding of what communication vehicles my customers prefer?
  2. Do I want to use social media to promote my business to customers because everyone else is?
  3. How much time, energy, and money will it take to build and maintain a social media presence?

Bottom Line:

Once you get clear on what exactly your goal is (capturing new customers, retaining or upselling customers), determine the best marketing vehicle to reach that goal. Then figure out what resources you need to get to your goal.

Hashtags-at-a-Glance: An Interview with Gabe Seiden

Time for a Quick Quiz:

True or False: A hashtag (#) is an illegal drug. If you answered True, then you better read the following. If you answered False, you should still read the next 587 words.

I talked to Gabe Seiden from Connect4Consulting about the world of hashtags. I wanted to give information to my clients about hashtags so they would have a cursory understanding of the concept before they built a social media program for their business. I wasn’t looking for a do-it-yourself manual on the use of hashtags or a long-winded diatribe on the analytics involved in hashtags.

Q. Gabe, what is a hashtag?

A. A hashtag is a way for people to search for tweets that have a common topic. Hashtags are unavoidable. Everyone uses them – on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, even TV. For example, if you type #NationalCoffeeDay (or #nationalCoffeeDay or #nationalcoffeeday, because it’s not case-sensitive) into Twitter’s Search box at the top of any Twitter page and hit Enter, you’ll get a list of tweets related to National Coffee Day (September 30th, by the way). What you won’t get are tweets that talk about “coffee” because “coffee” isn’t preceded by the hashtag.

Q. Why do I want to know about hashtags?

A. Hashtags allow you to create communities of people interested in the same topic by making it easier for them to find and share info related to it.

Q. Where do hashtags come from?

A. Any user can create one simply by adding it to their own tweet. For example, when a plane went down in the Hudson River a few years ago, some Twitter user wrote a post and added #flight1549 to it. I have no idea who this person was, but somebody else would have read it and when he posted something about the incident, added #flight1549 to HIS tweet. For something like this, where tweets would have been flying fast and furiously, it wouldn’t have taken long for this hashtag to go viral and suddenly thousands of people posting about it would have added it to their tweets as well. Then, if you wanted info on the situation, you could do a search on #flight1549 and see everything that people had written about it.

Now hashtags only show up spontaneously if there’s a breaking news item. Otherwise, they’re used to promote, praise, or pan people (#TrumpSucks), brands (#VolkswagenScandal), events (#MNF), and anything else people want to discuss en masse (#Joaquin).

Q. How do I create my own hashtag?

A. The first thing you do is conduct a basic Twitter search to see if a related term already exists. These days, odds are it does. Probably the only reason you would need to create a new one nowadays would be for the group activities category I mentioned above. In that case, since the tag will use up some of your 140-character limit, you want to keep it fairly short, while still making it precise so other people aren’t likely to use it for another purpose. For example, let’s say I wanted to create a virtual book club with my friends scattered around the country. I might create the #gsbookclub hashtag that we would all add to the tweets we’re posting about the books we’re reading.

If you want more than just your friends to use the hashtag, you might want to “announce” it to your followers.

For more information on how to use hashtags, contact Gabe, or visit his website.