Chances are, if you’re reading this article on your laptop, iPad, or smart phone, you are more than a little familiar with social media.
Chances are if I took a look at your smart phone, I’d find Facebook and Twitter apps installed, possibly even Pinterest and Instagram. And chances are, if I opened your Facebook app and took a gander at your “Likes,” I’d probably find a multitude of local, national, and international companies you enjoy following.
Why do we follow companies through social networking outlets? Is it because we want to receive discounts, learn about promotions and contests, or support the businesses? Or maybe is it because we find their tweets, status updates or photographs highly entertaining?
Whatever the answer might be one thing is definite: social media marketing is booming.
Just ask local social media marketing strategists Shane Shaps and Megan Brown.
“We’re constantly learning,” says Shaps.
Brown echoes this thought. “It’s still really very trial and error.”
Shaps and Brown both warn their clients not to expect overnight success. Brown quotes Warren Buffett, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
“Social media,” she explains, “isn’t going to explode for you overnight. Neither is building your website audience. It is a slow and gradual process.”
Shaps tells her clients not to expect immediate results. “It can take a year! That’s the way social media works. It’s built on your own story and can take a long time.”
Shaps sees the role of 520 East Brands as providing a human voice for the companies she represents.
“A lot of companies search for key words and send a coupon and that’s not what we do.”
Instead, Shaps and her team try to understand the psychology of the consumer. She’s convinced marketing needs to go beyond constantly promoting a product; marketing needs to present a voice, according to Shaps, that is relatable.
“It’s a person. It’s human.”
Shane Shaps graduated from University of Florida in 1995 with a degree in public relations. She spent five years working in the hospitality industry doing event planning in Chicago and New York. In 2002, she and her husband moved back to Louisville and decided to raise a family.
At the time, Shaps’s husband was a full-time ER doctor so she knew that she needed a job with a lot of flexibility, to be available for her children. Shaps began a customized gift basket company during her first few years back in Louisville, but when her second child came along, the business became hard to manage. “I didn’t want to be working all year long. I wanted to be a mom.”
Then a friend of hers from Chicago contacted her about starting a deal-a-day website that took advantage of the new craze. Although that business didn’t last for long, she says, “One of the people whose products we had on the site called me up and said, ‘You pitched our product so well, have you ever thought about being a sales rep.?’ I didn’t really know what that meant,” Shaps laughs, “so I called up someone I knew was a sales rep. and he gave me sales repping 101 and I thought, I’ll give it a try!”
During this time, one of Shap’s clients who owned a store friended her on Facebook and said, “I see you on here [Facebook] all the time and I don’t really know what I’m doing and I need help for my store. Can you help me out?”
For six months Shaps ran the store’s Facebook page for free and learned the business of social media. Then luck found her again.
A friend told Shaps she needed to meet Heather Howell, Chief TEA Officer of Rooibee Red Tea. Howell had just left her job as an executive at Humana to begin her company and she needed help with her social media. Within a week of their meeting, Howell asked Shaps to come work for them.
Shaps became Rooibee Red Tea’s social media marketer and this led to more referrals. The social media business took off and she left sales repping behind.
This was in 2010. Since then, Shaps has brought on a team of five part-time employees who meet weekly on Google Hangout.
“I often say that meeting Heather for coffee that day changed my entire career and launched my business. Truly my entire company took off because of Heather Howell.”
520 East Brands now manages the social media of ten different brands covering a broad spectrum of local and national industries including physicians, florists, restaurants and Realtors.
Shaps just signed their biggest client yet: Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana.
Megan Brown’s career path didn’t take as many twists and turns as Shaps’s did, but her success story follows a similar pattern of luck, risk and hands-on learning.
Brown, a Frankfort, In. native, had been living in Evansville for six years when she decided she needed a change and in 2006 she moved to Louisville. She didn’t know anyone and didn’t have a job lined up, but she had visited a number of times and liked the city.
When Brown first moved to town she began waiting tables, but soon she found herself working for realty companies, helping them with closings, leasing or property management.
This evolved to Brown working on realty websites, optimizing them for better service experiences and better sales. She tells me that at the time this work seemed like common sense, but now she realizes as she worked on websites she was beginning to understand how Google works. This was her first foray into SEO and she discovered she was a natural at it.
This work led to Brown’s first social media/SEO job with another Realtor. After that, she and her boyfriend, Jason Lyvers, who was optimizing websites for Realtors as well, began receiving requests to run more companies’ social media.
“That’s how Louisville Innovative came about,” she tells me.
Last fall, in 2012, Brown and Lyvers were on vacation on a beach when they thought about starting their own company. “We thought we could just have a business and lay on the beach and do our work from here. And it hasn’t turned out that way yet,” Brown laughs.
When Brown and Lyvers first started the business, she wondered ‘What am I doing? Where am I supposed to go from here?’ but the couple received business help from Brown’s uncle, a CPA, and began researching local social media companies.
Brown admits she Googled the keywords “how to start a business,” and received additional help from Vallorie Henderson at the Small Business Development Center. Eventually, Brown began to gain confidence.
After one year in business, Louisville Innovative has five clients ranging from Realtors to consignment boutiques and insurance agencies. They offer social media, SEO, and consulting, offered as a la carte services.
“We know social media can be overwhelming, so we wanted to give people options.”
When Brown took on The Tangerine Closet as a client, she was asked to build their website. She had built her company website and figured she could offer this as a Louisville Innovative service as well.
“People asked me to build their websites and I can’t say no, so again that was another trial and error. I just figured it out.”
Brown even lists this skill on her resume. “I’m a professional figure-it-outer.”
This can-do attitude and hands-on approach is something Brown shares with Shaps, who counseled Brown when she began the business. Both women also share an openness to change and an optimistic willingness to learn. And despite their many successes and accomplishments, both women remain humble.
“I don’t like the word ‘guru’ – social media guru or ninja. Obviously we’re professionals,” Brown tells me.
Shaps agrees, “We practice it often. We’re not experts, not gurus. We’re constantly learning. Social media changes every day!”
Brown concurs, “That’s the best part about social media and SEO– it’s always going to change forever!” Then she adds, “I want to make it better.”
“I can’t do just one thing, I get bored,” Shap explains. “and that’s why I like being in and out of accounts that are all in different industries.”
While Shaps and Brown offer different services, their business philosophies and practices share sensibilities.
“I don’t want to be salesy,” Shaps tells me. “It’s not fun.”
Shaps and Brown want to make both the client and the client’s customers happy by creating authentic interactions with the public. To achieve this, both women insist on holding meetings with their potential clients to understand what they want to accomplish through social media.
Brown explains, “I am open to what the client needs. I’m not going to force anything on them.”
That is why Brown and her partner Lyvers offer their services a la carte.
“We didn’t want to force people to pick something. We know social media can be overwhelming, so we wanted to give people options.”
This approach appears to be working. Both businesses continue to take on new clients.
Shaps realizes her connections have led her to success, but she also reflects that her location had much to do with it as well.
“I couldn’t do what I do in a big city,” Shaps admits. “As much as I love Manhattan and I love Chicago, there’s too many people like me there. And here there aren’t many people like me. There are other social media companies, but I believe there isn’t anyone who does it the way we do it.”
Brown is exuberant about being a Louisville-based business.
“I love Louisville. Love Louisville. I’m thankful every single day I’m here. I’ve been here for seven years and I usually get fidgety but I don’t want to leave here. I fall in love with this city every single day. I appreciate these small businesses. I appreciate Keep Louisville Weird. And so we really want to focus on Louisville businesses.”
(Editor’s Note: Insider Louisville’s Melissa Chipman is a social media advisor for 520 East Brands.)