Sunday, July 24, 2011

Do I Really Need Social Networking for My Artisan or Handmade Online Shop?

As a follow-up to an IndieCEO post on social networking, "Social Networking: Time Waster or Business Builder...," I received a couple of excellent questions from Infused Moments. Be sure to check out her very cute shop!

In my original post referenced above, I talked about networking sites like ning, IndiePublic, and other handmade and artist communities outside of Facebook and Twitter. Infused Moments asks:
  • What about social networking sites like Twitter? Would that be a good one to have and maintain?
  • What if you have an account on one of these social networking sites, could you just use that one or should you create a whole new one that is all about your online store?
  • What kinds of edits should you make everyday on your networking sites? Like about sales, new products, etc..??
This may be a long blog article but it is important information to consider, especially if you are new to online selling and social networking.

As an overview, I present these marketing subjects from a strategic level, since that is my profession. However, there are many articles on the web that discuss the tactical efforts for social networking and specifically for Twitter and Facebook for handmade. Search and you will find some great and useful information. A good start is to search on

It is important to look at your business from a strategic, big-picture viewpoint. It is the difference between being in the clouds or being in the weeds

If we step back and look at the big picture of what we are doing with social networking, how much time it takes away from creating, and how it might affect our overall sales in the future (clouds), we can decide what to do on a daily basis to get each individual sale (weeds).

Social networking accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn have come to be expected for a business presence, both in the handmade community and in the corporate community. When our market niche expects something, we need to be there no matter the level of activity. I would suggest that a handmade shop needs to be branded on these sites with at least account profiles for business pages, even if consistent participation is not possible.

Business or Personal?
  • What if you have an account (personal) on one of these social networking sites, could you just use that one or should you create a whole new one that is all about your online store?
Because the strategic objective is to brand your business shop and bring in “likes” and followers within your targeted customer base, your “business” activities need to be in your “business” name.

There is nothing wrong with inviting your personal friends to like and follow your business pages/networks and there is nothing wrong with deploying business information through your personal channels to a small degree. However, keeping your business just that…, is the professional way to manage your shop’s branding. It also allows you to actually target your niche customer demographics.

In other words, if you make cute widgettes for young women in the 19 to 26 age range, then those are the people you need to find online and bring them into your networks. If you make children’s items, find the decision makers - moms - and participate in “mommy” networks.

Another example is that of my GalleriaLinda brand handmade jewelry, I know that my buyers tend to be in the 30 to 60 age range and are usually career women or highly active in local communities. I have joined several online networks for local businesses and career women because that is where I will find this demographic.

Which Network is Best to Start?
  • What about social networking sites like Twitter? Would that be a good one to have and maintain?
It is my opinion that Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are the first and best strategic networking sites to have a profile account because these accounts are expected by consumers when they discover your business. They want to go somewhere online to find out the whole story. If you have a branded website like my GalleriaLinda Jewelry website, they will look for that first. If not, then they will go to these others.

Consider your profile on these accounts as a mini-business card that, depending upon the site, can expand into your mini-brochure. This will provide branding SEO and can bring in friends and followers from your niche community of sellers and buyers.

If you had to only choose one, my opinion is to have a business page on Facebook. Facebook provides a platform for you to have a mini-network all your own.Many selling venues have Facebook page code so you can even sell from your Facebook account. You can interact with people, invite them to like, and generally be the friendly chatty shopkeeper, while branding your business and nurturing potential customer relationships.

Twitter is a good way to get your links in front of a lot of people quickly, especially if you use hashtags. If you send out a tweet about a new listing with a link, just put #handmade or #yoursellingvenue to push your link out to hundreds of others over and above your own numbers of followers. Just be mindful of the 140 character limit. Twitter is social so be sure to "talk" to others to nurture relationships, comment on their links and retweet information.

With shop RSS feeds, you can set up feeds to Facebook and Twitter so every time you list one or two items, it feeds automatically to both with links to your item. Pretty nifty! I use that can feed to a variety of networks. There are others as well.

Why Update Profiles?
  • What kinds of edits should you make every day on your networking sites? Like about sales, new products, etc..??
When I talk about updating your profiles frequently, this is to make sure that your profiles and branding are more SEO friendly to come up in searches. Google loves new content and ranks it higher than stale content with no activity or change. Any minor change you make to the content or by switching out photos refreshes it and deploys it out into Internet land one more time.

If you are active on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, you will not need to update your profile itself if you are tweeting and posting, which is your updated content. If you are inactive, then it is a good idea to tend to your profile once a week.

It is an SEO strategy to be found more readily online and in searches. These updates can be minor tweaks, a series of planned tag lines you switch out, an introduction to a new type product, or just a mention of what you are working on and when customers can expect to see them in your shop. It does not need to be extensive – replacing a sentence or an avatar or photo is fine. Consistency is the key. 


Now for the big question that we all want to know!
Will these social networking sites bring in sales? 

The quick nutshell answer is….yes and no. It depends!

It depends on so many variables, such as your product, your followers’ demographics, and your consistent network activity. Many sellers say they do get sales through Twitter and Facebook and they work them hard. The key is having people follow you who are interested enough in your product to buy in the first place (your niche customer demographic). And THAT is the puzzle.

Thank you Infused Moments for the great questions that can help all of us!