In March, I interviewed for a position as a team member at a brand-new dessert franchise that was not yet open. The owners wanted to hire me on the spot, but almost two months went by before I heard from them after that initial meeting.
When I finally was asked to meet with them again in late May, the shop was still not yet open. However, they offered me a job as a social media and marketing manager for the franchise. This meant I would run the shop's Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and secure the business spots at local community events.
At first, it seemed almost too simple and mindless: All I did was think up creative posts, answer people's messages and comments, like Instagram photos in attempt to gain followers, and contact local event coordinators. But then I realized that I was actually learning a lot about marketing, dealing with people, and business from the seemingly unremarkable work I was doing. Here are a few key things I have learned so far:
1. Building hype about a business or product before it launches is super important, but there is such thing as too much.
When I started working in early June, there was still no set opening date for the shop. I was asked to aim for about 3 posts a day. I received a lot of comments from excited people who asked about the opening date or expressed how happy they were to have the East Coast company they loved come to the Bay Area. But after the first two weeks, the comments seemed more frustrated and angry than eager. People complained that we were "teasing" them by posting pictures of our products.
The hype we created with the posts did allow us to grow our fan and potential customer bases, but without an opening date, three posts a day was a little excessive.
2. When it comes to dessert, people have no patience.
This stems from the first lesson. When I said people were frustrated and angry, I was putting it mildly. The comments were incredibly rude and even hard to read at times because, as the one posting the photos, I felt like I was being personally attacked. I couldn't understand why people were becoming so irate just because our shop wasn't open yet. There are tons of other dessert places in town, why were they so hung up on this one?
Looking back on it I realize that even all the angry comments were actually a good sign, because it meant people really, really wanted our products and we were sure to have lines out the door when we finally did open. But seriously, it's just Italian ice and custard. There's no need for profanity and online harassment.
3. If you own a business, you have to have a tough skin and learn from negativity.
This also stems from the previous lesson. Besides social media comments, business owners have to deal with negative Yelp reviews and customer complaints. And while they can't let it affect the vibe or atmosphere of their business, they can't ignore derogatory feedback either. If you're running a business, you must look at all feedback, no matter how rude, as constructive criticism.
When people started getting angry about all the tempting pictures of our desserts and the fact that we weren't open yet, we had a meeting and decided that I should post less frequently and be sure to more clearly indicate in every single post that we were not actually open for business.
4. A huge advantage of owning a franchise: You have a built-in customer base.
Okay, although this fact makes my work seem a little unnecessary, it's important to note. If you ever want to own a business, you have to decide whether to start your own or buy a franchise. One challenge of creating your own company is marketing it. No one really knows the quality of your products until they try them, and to get them to try them, it costs a lot of money upfront for advertising, giving out samples, going to events, etc. While I still help with these things for the dessert franchise, the success of the business is not riding solely on the amount of potential customers we personally introduce our products to.
Because the company already has over 500 locations, there are many people in my city that are already familiar with the brand and the products we have to offer. Those people who know and love the desserts are guaranteed to be customers. It's almost as if we could just open and wait for the people to come to us.
5. Facebook is a great marketing tool for businesses, but if you want results, it's gonna cost you.
If I post something and the owners do not "boost" it by paying $5, it might garner about 50 likes at most and "reach" a few hundred people. But that's due to the fact that our page has over 10,000 likes. If a business is just starting out, it's unlikely that very many people will see the posts at all unless it is often shared or promoted for a price. "Boosting" a post truly makes a difference. Our boosted posts reach thousands of people and don't get lost in fans' feeds. I know for sure that we would not have as much engagement or connections with potential customers if the owners did not put any money into the page.
6. It pays to have super Instagram-able products.
When looking at successful local dessert shops Instagram pages, I noticed that most of them had one thing in common: They are tagged in tons of photos. People love posting pictures of pretty things, whether it's food or clothing. And by doing so, they're giving your business free advertising, even if it isn't necessarily intentional. If you want to be promoted on Instagram, you have to make sure your location and products are Insta-worthy. Presentation really is everything.
7. Vegan, allergy-friendly, and gluten-free options are a must-have.
I've received countless messages inquiring about the ingredients in our products and whether or not we have vegan and gluten-free menu items. Worried parents of children with nut allergies also have messaged us to ask if we have any products that are safe for their kids to consume. If we didn't have something to suit all of these special dietary needs, we'd have to turn a lot of customers away.
Even just being vegan-friendly opens us up to so many people we simply wouldn't be able to serve if all of our items contained dairy. And, because vegans are infamous for proudly oversharing their diet, the customers that we do get in the door are sure to spread the word and bring even more. In this age, options for every kind of diet can be almost crucial for success.
8. Starting a business, even if it's a franchise, is a ton of work, and it's not easy.
Even though I'm not overseeing construction, handling finances, or doing any of the real work at all, through running the social media, I've learned how to see things through a business' perspective rather than just a consumer's. All of the angry comments I respond to upset me because none of those people actually realize just how hard the owners are working to get the shop up and running. They have so many amazing ideas and are putting so much time, effort, money, and thought into it, even though one of them already has his own company. They truly want to have an amazing place where people can enjoy themselves and the desserts, and just have the best experience possible.
The owners are facing many challenges with the construction that are simply out of their control. If people would think about this and be understanding, I wouldn't have to deal with so much negativity. I feel as if being on the business side of the social media has allowed me to become a better person and consumer, just in the same way that retail workers say they become better customers.