TRUCKEE/TAHOE — Rob and Jeanie McCarthy have been using the phone book to advertise their 35-year-old sign business for as long as they can remember.
Considering the ads cost them more than $1,000 per year, the McCarthys have been using other forms of advertising lately —after all, not too many clients are using the Yellow Pages anymore.
“They’ve never even opened a phone book,” Jeanie said. “We are still figuring out when this phone book disappears what we’re going to do.”
Jeanie and Rob co-own Truckee-based McCarthy Sign Company, which has been serving the region since 1978. As the business evolves into the 21st century, creating a website and a Facebook page were the McCarthys’ first steps toward establishing an online presence, Jeanie said.
And while over the holidays the McCarthys received two new clients who said they’d found the company via the website, finding success with social media has been a challenge.
“Maybe things are starting to happen differently,” Jeanie said with optimism. “I’m going to head where everyone else is heading because he and I are old school, and I’m watching this phone book get smaller and smaller — we’re going to be left in the dust.”
FROM ‘PEST TO WELCOME GUEST’
In smaller markets like Truckee and North Tahoe where small businesses are still hanging on, social media marketing is a continual challenge for many, and a growing success for a few.
One of the latter is Misty Young, owner of the Food Network-featured Squeeze In restaurant in downtown Truckee.
Young, who previously worked in public relations, attributes much of her success in opening three additional Reno locations and branding the restaurant directly to social media.
For example, Squeeze In’s rewards program, the EggHead Breakfast Club, increased the restaurant’s online database to 63,000. Through the approach, Young said customers “opted that I turn from annoying pest to welcome guest.”
Young and her team continue to use Internet and social media to reach fans and create new ones. After posting a parody of Black Eyed Peas’ music video on YouTube last year, Squeeze In saw a 28 percent increase of sales, an effort that brought about the attention of The New York Times.
“We’ve seen a 20 percent jump in our traffic, from 42,000 views to over 64,703 views on YouTube,” said Young in the Nov. 1, 2013, Times article, “Checking In on a Diner That Understands Social Media.”
Similarly, Squeeze In’s latest video — “Omelette Style,” a parody of the smash Psy hit “Gangnam Style” that features dancing bacon strips and breakfast-themed lyrics — attracted more than 5,000 views in the first 20 days on YouTube.
PROMOTIONS AND SALES
The most common avenue for small businesses new to social media is to use the platforms for promotions and sales.
Kara LaPoint, director of communications and marketing for Coffeebar in Truckee, uses Foursquare, Groupon and Yelp! to promote the store and bring in new customers.
“Groupon was really successful for us,” she said. “People always like to get a deal, and a lot of times they end up discovering more, and they either come back or get more than they initially anticipated.”
Similar to Coffeebar’s past promotions, California 89, a lifestyle and apparel retailer in downtown Truckee, gives out a 30 percent coupon to customers who “like” the store on Facebook, and a 25 percent discount for e-newsletter signups.
The increase in business since the Facebook page push has been slow, said store manager Jason Spruit, but noticeable.
“It really helps for brand awareness, especially for locals,” Spruit said of the coupons.
Promotion and sales are important, but social media and marketing guru Milena Regos reminds businesses that customers also expect interaction.
On average, fewer than 16 percent of customers who have “liked” a business’s Facebook page will continue to see content posted from that business, she said.
“It’s not all about sales and promotions but also about being friendly and offering customer service,” said Regos, who owns Out & About Marketing based out of Incline Village.
Adam Broderick, content manager at Tahoe Mountain Sports in Kings Beach, said he uses an 80/20 guideline for his social media posts.
“You can’t just take, take, take,” he said. “You have to give, give and take a little.”
Regos — a former Marketing Manager for the Incline Village General Improvement District — advises owners to foster this business/customer relationship strategy online.
“... Stop using social media the old marketing way and start using it to converse with your audience,” she said.
BUILDING A BRAND
Tahoe Mountain Sports started as an e-commerce site in 2004 before opening its storefront across the street from Lake Tahoe.
Owner Dave Polivy understands the importance of having an online presence and has two year-round employees dedicated to working with social media and the business’s website.
“We use social media as a branding tool,” Polivy said. “And when they’re ready to purchase, hopefully they’ll remember us.”
Brand recognition is one of social media’s main jobs, and while hard to measure, it’s vital in today’s competitive market, said Leigh Dexter, a web editor with Truckee-based ski shop Start Haus.
Defining a business and having a clear message is the first part to successfully using social media.
“Businesses need to distill who they are,” Dexter said. “And when they figure that out, they use social media tools to tell people who they are and what their message is.”
Regos believes 2014 will be the year of Instagram — the social media site that allows users’ photographs to take on a filtered, high-quality appearance.
And visual is key for outdoor outfitters such as Start Haus and Tahoe Mountain Sports. Both retailers appeal to their customers’ visual sense by posting YouTube videos of their gear in action.
For example, Dexter and Start Haus web editor Greyson Howard upload videos of ski reviewer “Sierra Jim” demoing the industry’s latest equipment.
With 200,000 views last year, Howard said the YouTube channel brings online as well as in-store sales.
“We have people emailing, phoning and walking in the store saying, ‘I saw Jim’s video and I have a question,’” Howard said.
With varying avenues and different platforms to approach social media, any starting point can seem daunting to businesses new to digital marketing.
In the end, Regos recommends businesses stay true to their vision, while also doing everything possible to be found online.
“The only constant in social media and online is change,” she said. “It’s not all about Facebook and Twitter — new things come up all the time. It’s more about how you’re connecting with customers on social.”
— Jenny Luna is a freelance reporter for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Sierra Sun newspapers. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I’m watching this phone book get smaller and smaller — we’re going to be left in the dust.”