Entrepreneurs in the city are creatively marketing their stores and products on social networking sites

With just a few clicks, it’s like the world has opened up for these home-grown entrepreneurs. Over the past several months now, many of the popular boutiques and lifestyle stores and home-based businesses that retail everything from cakes and baby clothes to jewellery and knick-knacks have been actively engaging in social networking. They have created ‘pages’ on Facebook, a popular social networking site, to generate business and connect with customers from across the world.

All the entrepreneurs – most of them women – who run these stores and businesses are univocal when they say that social media has now become an essential marketing tool, if used wisely. Not only is social media marketing inexpensive and easy-to-use, it saves time, gives visibility on a hitherto unimaginable scale (for instance, Facebook alone is said to have one billion users – a.k.a. potential customers), helps boost brand awareness, and more importantly, helps engage with customers on a personal level.

“I felt social networking was the need of the hour, a necessity rather than a luxury,” says Sheila James, proprietor of Czarina boutique. The boutique’s page has been up and running since November last year. It has already garnered (on the last count) 5, 372 ‘likes’. Hannah Mathews who makes custom cakes via ‘SugarRush’, her Facebook page says: “When I started out in October last year the trend had not really caught on in the city. Also, I was not sure of the market and didn’t really have the funds for a proper marketing campaign. In Facebook I found the solution.”

Entrepreneurs Maithri Srikant and Anupama Sathy of Vedhika boutique also started networking back in November, right from when they opened up shop in the city. They add: “It’s actually simple economics. Everybody – our existing customers and potential customers – is on Facebook. We have found social networking to be the best way to connect with them.”

All the entrepreneurs seem over the moon about the “unexpected” response that they have got from social networking, especially from customers outside the city. Says Hannah: “Initially, my target was my friends in the city or at the most their friends in town to whom I could deliver my cakes. Once I started though, it just sort of snowballed. Now SugarRush gets likes from across the world and requests for cakes from across the country. For example, I got a message of appreciation from a lady in the United States (U.S.), a foreigner, who just happened to come across my page.” Sheila agrees and adds: “I am taken aback by the response, to be honest. I realised the potential only after I started social networking. These days I get visits, likes and queries from customers across India, the United Arab Emirates, Europe, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada…We’ve also recently started couriering web orders. It has also helped me understand more about customer profiles. Quoting from the stats on the page that as its administrator I can access, I’ve found that 46 per cent of them are between the ages of 18 and 24.”

Kunjumol Cyriac of Ethnic Weaves boutique, one of the latest entrants into the bandwagon, says: “The response has truly been beyond expectations, especially from customers from outside. Many have written to me asking if I have a sari in a particular colour, a style or a weave. More than anything else, I think, it has opened up a channel of communication with these customers. I have been getting all sorts of feedback from them and that has helped me in understanding their pulse.”

It has translated into sales too. Tigi Philip of Sarwaa boutique, one of the earliest entrants, says: “It’s been tremendously beneficial. I request all the customers who come into the store to like the page and it just goes from there.”

One of the keys to successfull social media marketing, say the entrepreneurs, is to package the products with good pictures, ideally accompanied by simple but well-worded descriptions of the products, the more colourful and stylish the package, the better. Hannah, for example, always uploads pictures of each cake and cupcake that she makes. “I take the pictures and ensure that each frame is perfectly styled with matching linen or simply just a flower in a complimentary colour. Photos are the easiest way to catch the eye of potential customers.”

Of course, all of them are meticulous about updating their page. Say Maithri and Anupama: “We try and update news and photos as often as possible, every other day, in fact, depending on when new stock arrives or try and link our products to the latest trends. For example, MetroPlus carried an article on how houndstooth design is in vogue on the global fashion circuit and we immediately uploaded a picture of a Kanchivaram sari we had in a similar design! You have to be on the go always to stay ahead of the game.” Join the clique!

Photo op

Some of the entrepreneurs even get professionals to click the photos. Czarina, for instance, enlisted photographer Anjali Gopan, a graduate of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.

And the beauty of it is that almost all the clothes and/or products are modelled by the entrepreneurs themselves or their customers. While Sheila got six of her customers of different ages, among them doctors and engineers, to model her Tussar range, Maithri and Anupama are often seen modelling their own stuff or rope in some of their young friends. “We style and do make-up for each other,” says Maithri.

Most of them tag people dressed in clothes from their stores or share photos of the same. “Dubbing artiste Bhagyalakshmi is like our brand ambassador. She often sends us pictures of herself in one of our saris, which we share/post online,” says Kunjumol. Tigi, meanwhile, often takes pictures and tags customers who walk into Sarwaa.