Social Media Trends and Utility

M-sunglassesRemember in the 80’s when Madonna-wear was so trendy? VanDesign (VD) has been in existence since then…we are pushing 30 years in business and luckily no longer wear hair hankies and shoulder pads.  As founder/owner, I consider three decades a long career path especially when compared to some well-intended but ultimately short-lived enterprises (e.g. dot.coms).  As a boutique creative/marketing firm with its roots in the horse industry, VD business strategies and use of technology have had to evolve or simply close our door. Yes, I guess one, not so trendy door.

However, you know the story about the cobbler’s kids with no shoes?  Well, VD has failed in that respect. Adept as we are at marketing ideas for and about our clients (aka the kids), VD has been hesitant to engage new SM marketing technologies and only lightly manages three social media (SM) networks, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

We are becoming more aware of SM platforms, strategies and current trends (through online SM education…thank you SNHU and Dr. J. Rogers) but actually engaging and awareness are distinctly different.

Let’s pretend for this post, that VanDesign IS the client and we want to enhance VD’s SM reach. As a consultant on their corporate marketing team, I first want to identify and then apply, a new SM tool/tactic that would enhance their target market.  Remember, SM is simply another tool in our marketing toolbox. We only should use it in conjunction with VD’s overall business plan or to help achieve a specific company objective.

Funny, I just happen to know one of VanDesign’s business objectives…to increase their brand awareness, beyond the equine industry. What SM tool would YOU suggest for VanDesign (see poll below)?

pinterest-logoTaking what I know to date about SM, VanDesign’s objective and as a savvy marketer, I would recommend VD immediately set up some pin boards on Pinterest. Here are my reasons why:

  • Pinterest is visual…a perfect platform to display latest designs, logos created, illustrations, font/color trends, etc.
  • In 2012 alone, Pinterest usage rates grew by over 1000%…a completely overwhelming statistic.
  • At present, Pinterest is driving more referral traffic than LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube combined. And the only social media site driving more traffic than Pinterest is Facebook (Stelzner, 2012).
  • Pinterest shares a similar demographic to the Horse Industry (HI): 88% of the HI involve women, while 59% are between the ages of 25-54. 46% of horse owners have an income of between $25k and $75k…28% of an annual income over $100k.
  • Up to 80% of Pinterest users are women between the ages of 25 and 55. Pinterest users are fairly affluent too, with a salary of $50,000+.

Pinterest it seems, is a perfect match from a demographic standpoint, but now let’s help VD further confirm their efforts by applying these ideas specific to Pinterest.

  • Setting up a Business Pinterest account would be appropriate.
  • Board ideas may include…fonts that inspire, annual color trends, logos created by VD…anything along these lines.
  • VD has portfolio’s of design work/illustration to pin on boards
  • Use “Pin it” and “Follow” buttons AND Profile and Board Widgits to grow VD’s community and increase traffic…these make it easier for people to pin items from VD’s site, see what they’re doing on Pinterest, and follow VD or their boards.
  • Promote VD”s Pins…link to Pinterest Profile from other SM networks (e.g. FaceBook, LinkedIn, etc.) and VD’s Website.
  • Pinterest tracks trends and VD can adjust their pins and social networks accordingly.

Like the passing of Madonna’s trendy-wear, social media tools and strategies will continue to evolve (Rogers, 2013). Similar in sans-trendiness to VanDesign, networks such as FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest seem to be here for the long-term.  So, with research, proper planning and a slight “wait and see” attitude, businesses can confidently leverage these SM platforms to their advantage.

References

Stelzner, M. (2012) Pinterest Marketing: What Marketers Need to Know to Succeed, Retrieved February 1, 2013 from http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/pinterest-marketing-what-marketers-need-to-know-to-succeed/

AHP-Equine-Survey-Final-3.pdf, Retrieved February 1, 2013 from http://goo.gl/BBOHG

Rogers, J. (2013) Module Four Lecture: Social Media: Considering the Horizon, SM Market Strategy, MKT655-X2158, SNHU, Manchester, NH

Armano, D (2012) Harvard Business Review: Blog Network; Six Social-Digital Trends For 2013, Retrieved February 1, 2013 from http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/12/six_social-digital_trends_for.html

Bullas, J. (2013) 6 Social Media Trends You Should Not Ignore, Retrieved January 31, 2013 from http://www.jeffbullas.com/2013/01/03/6-social-media-trends-you-should-not-ignore-in-2013/

Michaelian, B. (2013) Huff Post Small Business: New and Social Media Trends for Small Business in 2013,  Retrieved January 30, 2013 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/britt-michaelian/social-media-small-business_b_2491821.html

Can You Compare Apples to Apples?

applepileTwo equine industry retailers (both privately owned) engage customers through their preferred Social Media (SM) platforms. Let’s take a moment to briefly compare and contrast (differentiate) their SM efforts.

Bit of Britain (BoB-Oxford, PA), has been “fulfilling the needs of Eventers for 25 years.” Their stated goal “To offer our customers the same knowledge, courtesy, and quality, whether you shop our store, catBitOfBritainalog or website!” “BoB has been trusted by top riders since 1986.”  They have several tagline variations that appear at random on all their SM platforms.  Maybe they might want to consider revisiting/consolidating their “message.”
Equine Discipline: Eventing (dressage, X-C, show jumping)
Product Line: Over 100 brand names…everything horse related from gifts to equipment to clothes, with a niche push in Eventing supplies.
SM Platforms engaged: Web Site, FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest.  Important to note…every BoB SM platform offers a response mechanism.  An indicator of their yearning for community development, comments and feedback.
BoB Facebook (FB-over 5k Likes) offers inside deals, discounts for competitors and instructors, a link to Pinterest and general horse/product related news and personal posts. Interesting button that says “Suggest an Edit”…interesting engagement tool.
BoB Twittter (over 1k followers) is really well integrated with their other SM!  BoB tweets… about info on their FB; to the Radio Eventing Show (Horse Radio Network) who BoB is a huge sponsor; about seasonal products; several times daily; to YouTube demo videos, etc.
BoB engages a second, private URL called Tack of the Day.com(TOTD)!  An energetic site (in CA) with only two discounted items a day. I assume BoB is selling older/extra inventory through TOTD or has some other business agreement.  Many of their tweets send followers to TOTD.
BoB’s You Tube has many videos mostly featuring employees discussing their product picks.  These are fairly well done witth some pretty funny outtake/blooper videos too.  I like the way they’ve included real riders/employees to discuss products. They are genuine and offer honest insight into wear ability, fit and cost.
BoB’s Pinterest is relatively small with only 12 Pin Boards and 185 pins and121 followers. Board topics vary…seasonal, stuff they love (28 pins) , awesome stuff, stuff we carry (66 pins…mostly made up of product videos from their YouTube channel) and Aaawwhh stuff, etc.  They do have several repins from industry online magazines.  Pinterest is not well integrated, except for with FaceBook.

SmartPakcolorSmartPak (SP-Plymouth, MA) was started out of necessity…to find a better way to feed supplements.  By buying in bulk, SP could offer customers a pre-measured/daily dose supplementing system (a smartpak) for the same price as buckets of retail supplements. Since 1999, and with a focus still on horse health/proper feeding, etc., , SP has grown exponentially and just in the last 3 years at a rate of 868%!  They now have 175+ employees…”Our Smarts Are at Your Service.” They claim to be “the largest equestrian retailer in the US.”  SP is VERY active with their SM and each platform is really well integrated.
Equine Discipline: All Disciplines (English and Western) and now dog & cat products
Product Line: Thousands of brand names…everything horse+ related (e.g. supplements, gifts, equipment, apparel, barn supplies, etc.).
SM Platforms engaged: Web Site, FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Googleplus, Blogs, Webinars, RSS Feeds, SmartPak Networks (e.g. SmartPak Blog, Ask the Vet Blog by topic, Team SmartPak, etc.)  Barn of the Month and other Contests too! SP has it all going on…it’s very well done and seamless.
SP Facebook (FB-over 280, 200 k Likes) offers links to Pinterest and YouTube and its content is general horse/product related news and personal posts.
SP Twitter (5,889 followers and 2,600+ tweets) A wealth of integrated data from all platforms and tweeting several times a day.
SP YouTube (2,500+ subscribers/joined June 2009) Here SP offers wonderful employee reviews of products they’ve purchased and/or using.
SP Pinterest (23 pin boards and 2300+ pins)  These boards are interesting….some discuss horses and holidays, success stories, Smart solutions, etc.
SP’s Google+ Account (605+ followers) is there…just there, with straight forward content.  Links access to it through the SP blogs home page.
SP Blog opens to many topics listed and all kinds of helpful information.  SP brings in experts to help their customers understand a health concern and hopefully this will prompt a sale or two. RSS Feeds, Webinars, etc. are also included through the blog link.

Despite the different product push (Eventing v. Supplements) between BoB & SP, SP is still way ahead of BoB with their SM engagement efforts. SP has many, many communities and “conversations” going on throughout their extremely well integrated SM platforms.

Searching for Blogs: Horsey or Otherwise

Like any niche industry, when horse enthusiasts get together, their favorite topic of course is talking horse.  There is a never-ending stream of stuff to ruminate over…from horse health, to the latest training technique, to Dobbin’s last bowel movement. The last topic is usually related to colic or the last time you wormed the horse.  Horse folks ALWAYS offer some sort of expertise, whether you want to hear it or not. See what I mean?

This ability to share equine information has crossed over into online “blog-land.”  The horse world loves to blog, is VERY popular and offers in-depth information as well.

When specifically searching for blogs first try using search engines for blogs instead of the usual Bing, Yahoo and Google searchers. Here are a few noteworthy options.

Technorati.com (founded as the first blog search engine) is a real-time search engine dedicated to the blogosphere. It only searches through blogs (author’s tags) to find exactly what you’re looking for. Technorati tracks trends and topics on the Web. It’s an easy service to use, returns relatively good results, and offers a lot of good insights into what the Web at large is talking about.

Blogs.com is a new service from blogging company SAY Media that helps you discover the best in blogs. You can quickly and easily find blogs by category and topic or read daily blog roundups of some of the best blog content around the Web. Top 10 Lists from celebrity bloggers and influencers also help you discover new blogs, and everyone is invited to create their own Top 10 lists to share with the community. Blogs.com also produces a free weekly email newsletter so you can get the best in blogs delivered to your inbox.

Icerocket.com is similar to Technorati in that it tracks popular web stuff such as Movies, Video Buzz and Top Posts. It also offers tools like a blog tracker and covers blog trends. There is even an IceSpy tool to find out what other fellow rocketeers are searching for.

Google Blog Search (formally Blogger), further defines a general Google search. You can look at Google Blog Search similarly to Google Trends — it can serve as a barometer of what’s important enough to show up on Google.com, too. Do all hot topics on Google Blog Search also show up in Google.com universal results? Probably not. Do all topics that show up in universal search also appear on the home page of Google blog search? Probably not. But if you’re looking for the type of blog content and the blog sources that show up in universal search, it seems like the Google Blog Search home page is a good place to start.

If you’re looking for some great horse related blogs, your search ends here. Following are a few of my favorites.

TheHorse.com “Your Guide to Equine Healthcare” (overseen by a board of the American Association of Equine Veterinarians (AAEP) offers “The Horse Blog Stable,” a series of care related blogs. This is a very good resource for non-emergency horse care.

Smartpakequine.com  also offers great care resources but more importantly has information about equine supplements.  Although because of the source, you’ll have read between the lines a bit about the product suggestions.

The Hoofwall discusses farrier/blacksmith concerns, seminars and the latest horse shoeing technology.  Some recent blog titles include…Educational Programs for Farriers, Hammer Time at Bloom Forge, Farrier Talent has a Good Ring To It.

The Chronicle of the Horse blog series are written by Chronicle staff and regular contributors.  They are written about every topic imaginable and the English Disciplines.

Horse Junkies United goal is to provide cool, fun and meaningful content that relates to all amateur riders across English Disciplines.  They want to be the voice of all amateur riders out there! They cover events, have clinic reports, interviews with riders, talk about our horses and what they’re learning along the way…. Anything and everything horsey imaginable all in good fun and with a point of view.

And now for fun… Fugly Horse of the Day offers snarky commentary on the breeding of poor quality horses, silly or abusive training techniques, and pretty much anything else that annoys horse peeps.

Other sources:

http://www.smallbusinesssem.com/google-blog-search-smx-west/1686/

Joining Up: Discover FaceBook/Social Communities

What are my interests (professional? personal?), who do I want to see and what do I want to learn about…today’s social community options are fun, informative and endless.

Signing up to join any community, usually involves giving up your email address or simply liking them on Facebook (FB).  When you find the right site don’t hesitate to sign up. Once that particular group’s “scoop of interest” shows up in your email or on your Facebook page, you’ll be reined in and ready to enjoy the view.

Let your friends and search engines be your guide to SM communities you may prefer.  For me, finding out the latest news on the National/International equine front is important, so I consider any leading organizations of my sport first.   A distinct few come to mind for the horse industry…Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), and American Horse Council. They are usually easy to find on Facebook by simply typing their name into the search box, then I just hit “like” to follow.

I also look for online horse communities to join just for fun. They are usually filled with pictures, videos and laughable tidbits of information.  For example, by searching for “social communities for horses” many sites come up.  I launch each community, visually scan it and then decide whether it is worth joining.  ihorsebook.com, barnmice.com, and iequine.com, are some of the more popular communities I’ve joined.

Extremely local social sites will most likely be discovered through your “daily” friends on Facebook.  For example I discovered and now follow one FB community that is only about buying and selling new and used horse blankets in NH.  No, really.  It has evolved a little bit into other horse equipment sales and general chatter, but 95% of the community discusses horse blankets, sheets and their availability.  Who doesn’t want to be in on a deal for a used horse blanket?

YOU can do the same with your preferred hobby, profession or sport. What are the largest organizations involved with your interest and/or what publications are affiliated with them?  Or, perform a search for “social communities for ______________ “? These are great questions to ask, to help find a variety of communities special to you.

Everyone wants to know about you and not necessarily because they care about you.  Social Media (SM) data collection is a critical part of keeping the groundswell active, engaged and in the black.  Data is collected, analyzed and in some instances sold for serious money to companies/organizations looking to sell something back to you, your friends or their associates.  Keep this in mind when and where you sign up.  Here is just one short story to help confirm this thinking.  As a data gatherer/seller, Spokeo was fined this past June (2102) by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for violating user rights. According to the Federal Trade Commission Spokeo engaged in its illegal activities from 2008 to 2010. The agency says Spokeo sold “coherent people profiles” that contained income, home worth, marital status, ethnicity and other information. So please be selective with your community/site choices and carefully consider what information you provide.

Most sites that have a sign in/registration panel, also provide a disclaimer/privacy policy about what they do with your personal/company’s data or what is displayed online. Finding it (disclaimer) may be hard but if you can, search it out and read it (sample policy). Then decide if you want to sign up.  Also, if a community doesn’t ask for certain personal details, don’t offer. (e.g. only fill in the required places with the asterisk).  If they require a password, consider changing up your passwords/user names between different groups/sites.  Lastly, record your selected community(s) passwords/user names off-line in a diary of some sort…did I say off-line? Yes, and in a non-communal place.

With enthusiasm…search, select, review, carefully consider and join up.  With some in-depth research and reflection, you’ll find the right social community fit…just like determining the proper fit of a foal’s blanket.

Selling Your Horse…Now and Then.

I don’t have time for him anymore.

I have too many of them.

I’ve outgrown him.

I can’t afford him.

These are just a few of the many reasons fellow private equestrians finally decide to sell their horse.  In the past, traditional/print media was the only option to advertise your “Horse for Sale.”  Local newspapers, regional/national equine publications and newsletters of equine/horse organizations were the best locations to place your listing but with it meant costly insertion fees (even for a classified). Although traditional advertising is still used, Social Media has drastically changed how “horses for sale” are listed, viewed and ultimately sold.

So, you’ve decided to sell “Buddy.”  You gather his stats, take some pictures, shoot a video and start your campaign.

Writing his ad. Be completely honest about Buddy or any other horse you’re selling. Include his required equine stats (age, sex, height, breed, color/markings, etc.) and any other pertinent facts. Describe his personality and recommend to the potential buyer who and what career he would best fit. You can include his price if preferred but today with online sales occurring nationally, his physical location is also a must.  For Sale: “Buddy” 9 yr old gelding,15.2 hand, Quarterhorse (has papers), bay with white star.  Nice mover, safe with kids, proven Hunter-Jumper show ring veteran. Excellent on trail too. Buddy excels with young riders over fences. He is UTD on shots and has No vices. Asking $4,500 and he lives in Concord, NH.

Take Buddy pictures to share. Bathe and groom Buddy until he shines. Properly stand him up, (in a bridle or nice halter) and photograph some details as well as his overall body.  You may not use them all, but while he is polished, it is a perfect time to create a small group of images (saddle/harness on or off) from which to pull (e.g. Head/face, front, rear, near (left) side, off (right) side).

Create Buddy’s online video. More importantly nowadays is the creation of Buddy’s video. Up until just a few years ago, filming your horse was a laborious venture, that may have involved the hiring of a  video-photographer or a friend with a film based video camera.  Video editing/duplicating was limited, costly and time-consuming. So you snail-mailed the precious video back and forth to prospective buyers basically “as is.”

However, with today’s hand-held/digital technology that process has become extremely efficient. Videos can be taken and retaken at will, deleted, edited and with very little expertise. This could be a liability unless you have a plan before taking your video. Decide what imagery would best help sell Buddy and then gather help (e.g. a rider) as needed. Include highlights first and then if time/space allows add other video tidbits buyers may find of general interest. For example, properly stand up Buddy and walk around him with the camera…then record all his gaits in each direction (coming and going too) and most importantly his walk. Then capture him enjoying his discipline of choice and/or something to portray his personality.

When editing the final video, keep each segment as short as possible but without compromising Buddy’s story/sales pitch. Did you know YouTube offers video editing?  Without worrying about file formats, you can combine videos, trim their lengths, add a sound track and customize the whole video with special tools and effects on YouTube (a must-have location for his video). The average video length on YouTube is 4+ minutes (Sysomos.com, 2010).  Keep this in mind because interested buyers want to see your horse but not its life story.  Open up a YouTube account (if you don’t have one) and upload/edit his video.  You can then link to his video’s URL from any other ad placement online or share it from YouTube.

An important note about your image background/lighting. Whether photographing or videotaping any horse, please make a note of the background and available light.  This is very important. The background should be simple and free of “stuff.”  You want to highlight the subject matter (aka Buddy) and not have it get lost.  A good presentation and first impressions go a long way, so avoid multiple fence lines (horizontal rails), indoor arenas (vertical boards/metal) out-buildings, vehicles, etc.  Try to locate your horse in a field or some place outside (best light option) with a simple unified back drop unless showing him over fences where a ring/indoor are required.  Check out Crystal’s sample photographs and further photo tips at Rideandsee.com.

Today advertising a “horse of sale” is easy, costs very little and most online placements are free.  Now that you have your Buddy sales materials readied…1). Research your best placement options, 2). Prioritize your list of options (use this to eventually keep track of your placements/responses), 3). place Buddy’s materials accordingly and; 4). Follow up on all leads.

Sample ad: http://www.equinenow.com/horse-ad-644059

Photo Source: Horsebreedsinfo.org

Saddle Up for Social Media

Me and Mya in her witch hat for Halloween

Equus Wishes – Although artistic since three (I rocked Crayola and string), I have known horses physically only from the 5th grade.  It started with my older sister wishing on cake every birthday since her fourth for a backyard equine.  As the second sibling, I soon joined in the wishing until my mother and father finally folded when pony “Mya” then horse “Jolly” (one year later) arrived.  The small barn and pasture were built in our upstate New York backyard, and a local club of the United States Pony Club (USPC) was discovered and energetically attended.  While my sister’s interest in the equine waned, I was in…completely.

Weanling Years – Fast forward many years and stall cleanings later, I am a graduate “A” USPC pony clubber (highest level attainable) and proudly own a BFA in communication design (with a minor in Illustration) from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).  Post BFA achievement, my horse at the time “Dundee” was sold to buy a car, but teaching young riders and the resulting begs for mounts prevailed. Hand and hand with ongoing extra-curricular equine activities, my design career moved forward (and away), averaging 4-years of experience per placement in and around greater Boston.

Jumping from the Corporate Corral – VanDesign (short for Van Valkinburgh) had been a burr under my saddle since graduation.  Even then I had developed a rough logo, created cards and continually did free-lance graphic design on the side.  My soul had remained in the horse barn all those years, and now, I was also professionally ready to run my own business.   With the formal launch of VanDesign, I was able to combine my parallel life interests…marketing, advertising, illustration and design for the equine industry.

Keeping up with the Herd – As the years in business have passed, the horse industry has grown significantly but remained somewhat the same in content/function. On the other hand my profession’s technology (way of doing business) has changed dramatically.  It has gone from Phone/Fax/FedEx/Desktop/Print to Text/Send/Share/Like/Mobile/Tweet. Luckily, but without much fanfare or self-promotion, VanDesign has kept up and evolved from producing mostly print related projects (ads, brochures, letterhead, etc.) to materials destined for only digital/online use (low resolution/rgb graphics, web sites, digital/PDF manuals, etc.).

Stampede! – The herd is running now full speed “liking” and “sharing” toward Social Media (SM) for every “carrot” it has to offer.  Labeled by Forrester Research as the groundswell, it is a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations (Li & Bernoff, 2011).  But, how is the Equine Industry (EI) using the groundswell to their benefit.

Slow Out of the Gate – Seemingly slow for adopting new technologies, the EI is still discovering SM.  While the annual economic impact of the equine industry is significant – involving some $300 billion dollars, 4.0 million horses, and 1.6 million full-time jobs – SM user statistics for the horse lover are lacking (Wyrick, 2011).  According to the American Horse Publications (AHP) EI study (10/09-01/10), the following statistics do exist.

  • 30.8% of those surveyed, were between the ages of 45-54;
  • 88.8% were female;
  • 23.4% had an average household income of $50-$75K and;
  • 48% lived in a 2-member household.

How these basic facts relate to SM technographics still need to be analyzed and revealed.

Stable Tools for Social Media– Regardless of the lack of equestrian based SM technographics here are how some common SM tools are generally used by the horsy set.

  • YouTube: Selling horses, especially from a distance used to be a huge ordeal…make and snail-mail video and reverse those steps.  Now video clips can be uploaded instantly, linked, synced, etc. for all who are interested in that particular horse or simply for those horse shopping online. This platform alone has probably created the biggest change in how the EI communicates.
  • FaceBook Communities have been created specifically for all horse topics imaginable…breed clubs, buy/sell horses and/or equipment, real estate (horse farms), equestrian vacations, etc….anything related to the equine.  A couple in New England to “like” are “Horse Friends” and “Horse Collaborative.”
  • Blogging.  When Equestrians get together their favorite hobby is talking horse.  Whether it’s about horse health, feeding, training (rider or horse) or competition scoop of the day…blogging is very popular and offers in-depth details.
  • Equine Publications (online too) offer forums (and blogs) that provide discussions about, Dressage, Racing, Carriage Driving, Sport Horse Breeding, Horse Care, Tack, etc.
  • Smartphones/mobile equi apps are often used to get directions to shows/farms, search for equipment, assist trainers, find restaurants and hotels while on the road.

Sources
Li, C., & Bernoff, J. (2011) Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies, expanded and revised edition, Forrester Research, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, MA

Wyrick, J. (2011) Today’s Equine Industry, Retrieved October 14, 2012 from http://www.alltech.com/blog/posts/todays-equine-industry

Hello world!

This is my very first “post test” while still figuring out the tools of WP.  Here’s to helpful and informative blogging!