There is so much buzz and hype around social media, it’s hard to determine if/when social media has real proven success for a business. Well, we have found the perfect case study for you! Mari Luangrath owner of Chicago’s well-known and loved gourmet cupcake bakery, Foiled Cupcakes, uses ONLY social media to market and, yes grow, her business. [Updated: By the way, check out what Mari's fans have to say about her cupcakes and finding her via social media!]
Beth Harte: Mari, you are a successful entrepreneur and on your third adventure with Foiled Cupcakes, a gourmet cupcake bakery serving Chicago. When it comes to marketing your business, how has using social media helped you to brand and grow Foiled Cupcakes?
Mari Luangrath: Social media fell into our laps, quite honestly. We launched our business primarily using Twitter without knowing a single thing about it. And by connecting with new people who found our story interesting, we haven’t had to use a single traditional marketing initiative yet. All of our business growth has happened organically via word of mouth referrals and online buzz. To date, 93 percent of our business has come from social media leads and we’ve surpassed our initial revenue target numbers by over 600 percent.
BH: Even though you’re a bakery, you don’t have a storefront. Are you telling us that integrating a website with social media can help companies to still deliver personal service, get delicious cupcakes (AKA ‘product’) in people’s hands *AND* make money?
ML: That’s correct. We operate without a storefront so we can focus our energy on personal service. I really do believe that’s what sets our business model apart from our competitors. We know every single one of our customers by name. We’ve probably had a good Twitter or Facebook conversation with them before they even call us. We have a relationship with them in which we’re invited to their corporate events, birthday parties, weddings, and girl’s nights. Because community and interpersonal relationships are at the very top of my personal value chain, I can’t imagine doing business any other way.
BH: You have a bunch of followers and fans on Twitter and Facebook. And just like your cupcakes, I am guessing it’s about quality…not quantity, right? How can we get companies to recognize that? What’s your secret for using Twitter and Facebook?
ML: It’s absolutely about quality. It’s easy to get a ton of Twitter followers the wrong way. But what good is that if there aren’t any business leads as a result? My personal opinion, based on my experiences, is that interaction with the community is key. You can tweet all day long. You can update your Facebook page all day long. But are people listening? They’ll listen if they know you care about them. So my personal mandate is that I reply to every single tweet and make a comment on every single post to our Facebook page. And once we interact, the community realizes that we care about their thoughts and opinions. And then they become engaged.
BH: You’re a smart business owner…are you demanding social media ROI? How would you advise business owners to think about ROI in a way that doesn’t snuff the life out of their social media programs?
ML: That’s a tricky question. There are no standards by which to measure ROI (yet) in social media. That said, I’m not sure there’s a magic formula for results, either. But the great thing about social media is that it’s very dynamic, fluid, and testable. Throw something out there and see if people respond. Like any marketing program, I always try to begin with the end in mind. What do we want to accomplish? Who is going to care about what we have to offer? We identify the answers to those questions then work backwards. And the other thing? We don’t spend a ton of time on it either. A Tweet or a Facebook status update are fleeting moments in most people’s eyes. Spending more than a minute or two figuring out what to write, in my opinion, is just a waste of time. Get it out there and see what happens.
BH: Who doesn’t love a delicious cupcake, right? But I am willing bet that when it comes to marketing and selling you’ve encountered speed bumps along the way just like any other business. What strategies/tactics are you using to get folks to head on over to your website to order up some shiny happy goodness?
ML: I’m not a big believer in push marketing. I just don’t think it works. It never works on me, and I’m actually more or less turned off by people who blast their message in my face. For us, it’s all about community. We get involved in conversations around pop culture, shoes, weather, chocolate, travel, music, or traffic. Those tend to be very relatable things across the board. We support other businesses and help bring awareness to charitable causes we believe in. And I’m pretty sure that it’s because we engage in conversations, people know who we are. Over 70 percent of our search words in Google have been “Foiled Cupcakes.” That means a lot, especially since nobody even heard of our company a year ago and we have spent exactly $0.00 on any sort of advertising or brand awareness campaign.
In hindsight, the two things that were absolutely critical in helping us gain speed:
- Connecting with social influencers on Twitter in our target markets (the only real social networking platform we’ve used in which we’re able to interact with people we haven’t met yet.)
- Making real life connections in person at networking events. Because refer people to companies they know, like, and trust, networking was absolutely key in making it all snap together for us.
Final thoughts…All said and done, I think that social media is a great way to start a business. And it’s also a great addition to any business marketing plan. It doesn’t have to be a big time investment, and for the right personality it can be a lot of fun. Just be real and transparent. The community loves people like that.
* * * * * *
Thank you Mari for sharing your social media success with us. Now I want a cupcake!
Mari will be speaking at Search Engine Strategies NY (SES) on The Business Value of Social Media on March 25th. If you’re at SES, be sure to attend the session, it’s sure to please!
[Images: Cupcakes, Foiled Cupcakes. Mari, ideaconference.org]