Not Sure Who Your Audience Is? It’s Right Under Your Nose

Social media is a big part of getting the word out about your organization. You’ve spend considerable time and effort creating content and selecting the right images to get your message across. That makes it all the more important to know who your audience is, so you will know if your messages are getting to the right people.

Identify Your Desired Audience (if you haven’t already)

First you should identify your audience or target market. Who do you want to talk to, market to, educate, etc.? Write it down and keep it for reference!

Identify your Current Audience

Social media platforms have made it much easier to figure out who your fans and followers are. Let’s talk about Facebook and Instagram specifically. There are 3rd party tools that can help you understand your audience better, but using Facebook and Instagram directly is a quick and easy way to identify your audience.

Facebook

If you have a business page, the “Insights” tab should be your best friend.

Go to “Insights” across the top of your home page, then click “People” on the left-hand side of your screen.

From here you can see information on your fans including gender, age, country and city.

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Instagram

If you have a business profile, you can find out everything from demographics to viewing habits of your current audience.

Go to your bio page, click the three lines in the upper right-hand corner and select “Insights”.

From here you can see insights on your content, activity and audience. Find out your top locations, age range and gender, plus when your fans are online by day and hour!

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Speaking to your Current Audience

If your insights show your followers are your target – congratulations!!

If your insights show that your audience is not quite who you thought they were, you can make adjustments to include them.

Adjust Your Content to Reach your Desired Audience

If your current audience is not exactly who you thought it was that is ok, but you may need to adjust your content to make sure you are speaking to the fans you have in the best way possible.

Example: You are a health care provider targeting women 30-55 and mainly post content for women 40+. After reviewing your audience, you realize the majority of your followers are 25-35. Adjusting content to appeal to the audience you have is a good plan in this case. Most likely they are mothers with younger children – content that includes information on how to treat ear aches, healthy snack recipes and promoting services such as preschool TB tests or back to school physicals would help reach your audience more effectively.

There are some instances where despite who is currently on your channels you want to continue to talk to your intended audience to prevent confusion or a large change in tone or purpose. You don’t want to abandon your current audience completely, but make slow, incremental changes to start bringing in the demographic you desire.

Example: You are a hotel and your existing social media audience is mainly locals. In this instance you would want to continue to talk to visitors (your target) and possibly add in some messages on staycations or local events for your current audience. Switching to talk to the audience you have (locals) would be confusing and off-brand but adding in specific content to include the current audience of locals would be worthwhile as you continue to build your out of town fans and followers.

If you don’t currently have the audience you want, use targeted advertising to help you reach them!

Do you have your target audience clearly defined? What metrics do you use to know that you are effectively reaching them?

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Impressions are becoming an increasingly attractive metric for clients who are trying to distance themselves from using the outdated Advertising Value Equivalencies (AVE).

It’s hard not to love a metric that has the ability to be gleaned from websites, digital publications and every social media channel we’re using. But guess what? The way many organizations are reporting impressions today is as convoluted and inaccurate as the AVEs are.

How did we get to the point where impressions became the answer to all our measurement problems? 

The Rise of Impressions in Reporting

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Digital advertising is the first place I recall seeing this metric used. Particularly when paid media teams began to report on digital success.  In some ways, we traded circulation figures which were used in print magazines and newspapers for impressions. The difference is that circulation figures were careful vetted by an audit board. A third party verified that you sold the number of magazines you said you sold. There is no such third party for today’s digital publications. We are reliant on in-built tools that report page views, impressions and others.  

At some point, someone got the brilliant idea to add them all up. It’s a bigger number, it’s more impressive and summarizing a campaign is so much easier with a single large number. Clients love it! Donors are impressed. Awards panels say wow! This is the point at which the “sin of measurement” becomes widespread.  The simple math equation is almost always overinflated just for that wow moment.

How NOT to Count Impressions

When we take a series of publications and add up all the impressions to get a campaign total, that’s when we get into trouble with using the number. Here’s an example of how impressions should not be counted.  

Everyone loves football.  In July 2015, the Washington Redskins communications team released a report on the coverage they received during the previous years’ training camp.  Dan Steinberg reported on it in the Washington Post. You can read the full article here but this is the key quote that sums up the simple math we’re getting wrong with impressions.

“With the help of third-party media monitoring services Meltwater and TVEyes, the team put out a fancy 13-page report on its findings. That report determined, among other things, that there were “7,845,460,401 unique visitors of print/online coverage of the 2014 Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Camp from July 24-Aug. 12.

That’s a big number. To put it in perspective, that’s considerably more than the population of Earth, which the Census Bureau estimates at 7.26 billion. Apparently, a lot of folks on Pluto were really interested in Colt McCoy’s progress.”

Dan Steinberg in the Washington Post

Further down in the story, the reporter shared that when he contacted one of the monitoring services, they explained that the number was a count of impressions, so anytime a person saw a story about the event, it counted.

The report concluded that the value of that media coverage was more than $76 million. 

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What the report didn’t show (and what the reporter identified himself) is that during a campaign, some of your fans/followers/readers will see your message multiple times. Raw impressions don’t solve for that. If you keep adding up impressions, giving a cumulative value over time, it becomes statistically inaccurate – like more than the number of people on Earth inaccurate.

What You Can Do TODAY to Make Reporting Impressions Accurate and Meaningful

  1. What would have made the Washington Redskins team report more meaningful is taking the sum total of impressions and dividing it by the number of news stories generated to derive an average. Then next year, you do the same thing.  Is the average higher or lower?  Now you have a benchmark.
  2. Track how your total impressions move up or down over time. For example, if you log the impressions you receive each month on Facebook and it’s around 10,000 and then one month, it’s suddenly 50,000, that’s a cue to look for a reason for the sudden change. It might be a key piece of content, conversation or ad.
  3. Use impression reporting as a gateway metric to dive deeper into more meaningful measurement like engagement and engagement rate on your social channels and in digital content.  

Stop adding up those impressions because before you know it, you’ll have more impressions than there are people on Earth. And that’s out of this world.

Help Me, Help You Connect with Brands

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Here at Step In we work on behalf of brands, products and organizations to connect bloggers and influencers for different paid and trade projects. Whether it is a weekend getaway or a free lunch, you should want brands and those who work on their behalf to be able to find and connect with you.

Finding the right person to work with on behalf of the brands we represent at Step In is something we take seriously. Yes, we have tools that help identify bloggers and pull page authority and rankings but we pick our bloggers “by hand”. We spend a lot of time reading through blogs, scanning Twitter feeds, looking at Facebook pages and combing through Instagram channels of each of the people we recommend to our clients/brands and then ultimately decide to pitch. We use custom pitches written for each project and blogger which takes more time but we believe in. This process is not fast and is a lot of work, but we feel it makes the best partnerships and the projects work more smoothly.

Being in the business a long time also means we know many of the bloggers and influencers in the travel space, especially in Texas. Lots of these people we are thankful to call our friends. In groups and in person we have seen and heard more than a few complaints about brands with bad pitches that just did not hit the mark or were so far off base it was ridiculous. While brands definitely need to do their homework when reaching out, there are definitely some things you can do as a blogger and/or influencer to help the brands, products and organizations figure out if you are a good fit.

Things Bloggers Can Do To Be More Visible

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After a recent research session on behalf of a travel destination, I compiled a list of things that were lacking on many influencers’ public profiles. These things will help you stand out, show clearly who you are and what you are passionate about. You want to move from the initial “quick scan” stage which we do with a large list, on to the longer “detailed review” stage as the list of potential influencers gets paired down.

We hope this checklist will be helpful for you to scan across your blog and social channels with new eyes to see if you are making it easy for brands to find you, see your hard work and reach out to partner with you!

___ Do the social media links on your blog work? I can’t tell you how many times I clicked through to dead links directly from blog sites. Yikes!

___ Can we find your channels? With so many great blog templates and widgets these days it is easy to find one that you can connect the social profiles you are active on to your blog where they are easy to find.

*Note -This one really surprised me. I found many social pages people were obviously spending time to update and put good content on them (I do content creation for clients too and I KNOW how long that takes!) but they were not linked. It took multiple google searches to find all of their social channels because they were either not linked on their blog or the social links on their blog were broken/linked to the wrong place. Not everyone is going to take the time and extra effort to go look for all your channels, make it easy and link them!

___ Are each of your channels linked to the other? On the note above, people don’t always start with your blog – no matter where they find you on the web, they should be able to get back to your main channel, ideally your blog. Are they able to do that from each of your social channels?

*Ideas – Pin a tweet on Twitter with all your links to your blog and active social channels. Use highlights on IG or at least link to your blog or a link type app on your IG bio. Use your FB “About” section to list all your social channels. 

___ Do you have consistent branding? Consistent branding and photos across platforms are helpful so we know we landed in the right place! This is especially important if you don’t have the same name or handle on your blog and social channels.

___ Is your physical location easy to find and correct? If you have moved in the last few years scan all your bios to make sure they are updated. Many times offers are location based and being able to figure out what city and state you are in saves you and the brand both time.

*Example – Once we were looking for bloggers from a specific city to help talk about new flights from that city to our client’s destination. If none of your profiles state your home base, then we are just guessing!

___ Contact information easy to find? Sponsor page with all your blog stats, great! But how do we contact you? Make sure you have a contact page and that your email is on it! I visited multiple pages that had no email or contact form which makes reaching out a little complicated.

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Connecting Brands and Influencers is About Finding the Right Fit

As the industry continues to grow and change, micro influencers will pave their own way. Just because you don’t have 50k-500k followers doesn’t mean a brand won’t be interested in working with you. We enjoy discovering up and coming influencers and you don’t have to have to have Kardashian status, just be a great fit for our client!

We encourage all bloggers to make it easy for products, brands and organizations to reach out to you. You never know who you might be the perfect fit for!

Take a Moment to Check All Your Profiles

Something we recommend to all our clients is to do a quarterly review of their online presence. This is a good practice for influencers too.

Here are some things you can do to keep your social channels ready for fans, followers, collaborators, advertisers and brands.

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Quarterly Social Check Up:

About and Bio Pages

  • Is the information current?
  • Do the links work?

Profile, Cover and Header Photos

  • Are they the correct size?
  • Current or relevant photos and graphics (no past holiday/event/etc.)?
  • Do you have cohesive branding across channels?

Security

  • Updated password?
  • Two-factor authentication?
  • Review all locations where logins to your social accounts have occurred.
  • Confirm you are using all apps with access to your channels, if not revoke/remove access.

What are your experiences working in the influencer/brand activation space?

Time for Digital Spring Cleaning

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Are you a digital hoarder? I know I am.  I save news stories to read in Facebook later (and never do), I have an RSS reader with dozens of blogs rolling up just waiting for me to read it and yet, I can never find anything.  I just got a new laptop, so it was a great time to do some digital clean up.   

Here are 5 things I’ve done this month to free myself from the digital clutter.

Purge Client Files

It’s so rare to go back to a former client files to retrieve anything, so get them off your desktop and file them in Dropbox or somewhere else in the cloud under one folder called Archive.  I usually save all work from clients for a year, but delete the email folder for that client after three months.

Save the Good Stuff

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Before you go crazy and start deleting, is there one thing or a couple of things that you might use as a sample later on or as a guide to format another clients’ communication need? File it on your desktop in a new file called Samples. I started this about a year ago and it’s made building new powerpoint presentations and sharing templates for editorial calendars or other work so much easier.

Filter Content

I am overwhelmed with the number of stories I should be reading to keep current in my field. For the digital stuff, I roll blogs and news feeds into Feedly into categories that are important to my client work and to my learning.  The trick is, to go in and purge the feeds out when you no longer need them.  Done with the client in a specific industry? Trim it down.

And all those newsletter subscriptions? If you’re not already using Unroll.me, you’re missing out. IT’s an add on that puts every newsletter to which you subscribe into ONE. DAILY. EMAIL.  Since I’m now getting a thousand or more of these things, it’s the only way to get your head above water.

If they are so valuable that you want to save it for later, start a Diigo library and keep them all in one place.

Update your Profiles

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Now is a good time to check your Twitter Bio, your “about” section on Facebook and your Linked In headline.  I would recommend you get new headshots too, but that would just be crazy talk! (It takes me forever to change out headshots. No good reason)

Check Your Privacy Settings

I almost never do this, but this recent story in the Washington Post with EXACT Instructions on a couple of things made it easy. Took me five minutes. Do it now to clear advertising clutter out of your feeds!

How Influencers and Brands Can Find Common Ground

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The man in a chair on the sea.

Influencers and brands have been in the news lately and not in a good way. Dishonesty in campaigns – it’s rampant in the world of working with influencers. But it’s not that difficult for brands and influencers to find common ground.  Brands philosophically understand why working with influencers can elevate their efforts. Influencers need brands to keep their independent media channels growing.

But it’s clear from recent news coverage that the ocean is choppy and brands and influencers are having a tough time navigating their courses.

Influencers Who are Faking It Make the Rest Look Bad

Two recent examples point to flaws among the influencer community. Rachel Hollis, a blogger turned speaker and author recently attracted unwanted attention after she was accused of plagiarizing quotes on her Instagram channel.

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Another recent story involves Aggie Lal, a lifestyle influencer.  It came to light after she charged $500 to join a master class, which turned out to be anything but masterful.  Some of the 380 participants (do the math on what she may have earned from the project) were so angry they turned to other social networks to complain loudly and publicly.

The Atlantic recently reported on just how rampant “fake deals” are among the influencer community, which should shock anyone in the field of marketing and communications. 

“Lifestyle blogging is all about seamlessly monetizing your good taste and consumer choices, which means it can be near-impossible for laypeople to tell if an influencer genuinely loves a product, is being paid to talk about it, or just wants to be paid to talk about it,” wrote Taylor Lorenz in The Atlantic.

This only scratches the surface of the problem of transparency with influencers. Many influencers who are trying to establish themselves in the space know just enough from a conference they’ve attended or a presentation they’ve heard to bravely approach brands. Often they use specific language about what they’re offering you and what they want you, the brand, to do.  Others are more vague, saying things such as “we’d like to partner with you” which means they’d like to get paid, but want you to reveal your budget first.

This ruins it for the influencers who are conscientious, transparent and communicative.  Because they are out there. I’ve worked with hundreds of them and it’s a joy to bring to life a campaign that perfectly marries the right influencer with the right brand. 

Brands Have Reputation Issues Too

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Late last year, shoe retailer Payless created a fake pop up store and tricked more than 80 influencers into thinking the shoes were part of a new luxury brand.  The story, which you can read here also describes how they “revealed” the trick to the participants. (Payless recently filed for bankruptcy and is in the process of closing its stores).

While philosophically, brands understand influencers, they just can’t figure out where they fit in.  Are they like a journalist? No? Are they like a marketing promotion partner? Sometimes?  Are they like sponsored content? Sometimes? 

One of the biggest brand hurdles is FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.  They want to get into the influencer game, they know it’s on trend, but guess what?  Maybe they didn’t do their research. Or they’ve made small advances with a few select influencers here and there and believe they got burned, so that defines how they feel about the future of influencer marketing. 

Our team has assisted many brands to get started working with influencers. We help them answer a lot of questions.   Who should I choose and why? What do I ask them? Do I pay them? How and when? What can I expect from them?  

Making the Right Match between Influencers & Brands

Clearly, there is huge room for improvement between influencers and brands. Here are three things influencers AND brands can do to make the right match.

Do Your Homework

Influencers: Research the brand who approaches you or the one you are targeting.  Look at their marketing, their social channels, and visualize where you might fit in.

Brands: Research every influencer you’re interested in AND those who approach you directly.  Are they who they say they are? Who have they worked with before?

Clear and Concise Communication

Influencers: don’t oversell to a brand. Be honest about your past work and where you are in your influencer journey. 

Brands: Be clear about what your influencer activation policy is and most importantly, WHAT IT IS NOT.

Expectations

Influencers: get your work in on time and do more than expected. Ask questions until you’re clear what is being asked of you and by when.

Brands: be clear and reasonable about what you want the influencer to do.  Is it number of words, number of posts, reporting on engagement? Define it.

Make Strategic Decisions

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Influencers:  Don’t hit up every brand in your industry or in your geography. Be selective and targeted.

Brands: make sure the influencer is the right fit.  Just because they’re “big” or well known does not mean they will work for you.

As influencer and brand activations continue to accelerate, it’s more important than ever that we negotiate equitably and honestly.  It’s not difficult to find common ground between influencers and brands if you plan and prepare for the project. If you want help getting an influencer program started for your organization, call us. We’re here to help.

You Can Combat Social Media Fatigue

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A Social Media Manager with Severe Fatigue!

It happens to every social media manager.  All of a sudden, your Facebook posts are boring. Or your Tweets go without a Retweet. Instagram photos have so few likes, you can read every name of those who DID give it a heart.

What could possibly be wrong?

It might be social media fatigue and it happens to everyone who manages social media channels over time. The good news is that you’re obviously paying close attention to your channels because you noticed! The bad news – it’s time to take a minute and shake it off – with or without Taylor’s Swift’s “Shake It Off” playing in the background.

Internal Factors Affect Your Channels’ Performance

Your Content

Look at your content lineup. Is it repetitive? Are the photos high quality? Are your categories diverse enough? 

Tip from Claire : Look at how you’re presenting information on different channels – while your messaging should be consistent, each social channel has its own vibe and content needs to fit that specific channel. Have you been copying and pasting? Change things up across channels and see how engagement changes!

Tip fromCard Captor Sakura Special Figure Series Sakura Card: Vary your content types. For Facebook use a mix of video, photos w/link & w/o links. Use graphic only with no caption and sparingly use text only posts. With Twitter, mix it up but don’t forget that Twitter is also favoring video and graphics/photos are valuable for brands on this channel.  

Your Posting Schedule

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Are you repeating the same time slots? Are you missing the peak times when your fans are online? Are you posting on the wrong days? Are you posting too often? Are there gaps between your posting schedule?

External Factors Affect Your Channels’ Performance  

Local News Cycle

We get stuck on news stories in social media these days. Look and see if something from the local area has dominated in the channels. It could be suppressing your content.

Politics Paralysis

Like it or not, national stories, especially as election season draws near, also dominate social feeds and could be suppressing your fans and followers from seeing your content.

Taking these steps might help illuminate what’s happening in your channels. If the way through is not yet clear, it’s time to go to the next step.

Three Things You Can Try to Beat Social Media Fatigue

  1. Cut your posting frequency in half for one to two weeks while you keep examining the factors that you have control over, like your content types and posting schedule. Then come back with fresh eyes to review the situation.
  2. Put ONE channel on hold.  If you’re managing a social media ecosystem of 3 or more channels, walking away from one channel for a period of time will not sink the ship.  Then come back to it, look at it again and think about how you can change it up. Or if that’s too painful to consider, consider auto posting from one channel to another for a short period of time just so your name is out there. This is a great strategy to try between Facebook and Instagram or Instagram and Twitter. 
  3. Take an hour and review what your competitors are doing. That usually creates an “aha!” moment.
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If you still don’t know how to get out of the rut your channels are in, call us!  We do full social media benchmark and channel audits for clients in nonprofit, travel and hospitality. 

How To Get Value from Influencer Relationships

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For some organizations, working with bloggers and other social influencers is new, maybe it’s even uncharted territory.  Other companies have ideas about how to approach these media creators and may even have tried a few things.  A third group of companies has sophisticated programs with high visibility.

If your company is new at this, or tried a few things that may or may not have worked, it’s a fair bet you are seeking ways to demonstrate the value of working with social influencers.  Here’s how to demonstrate value in the future.

Clear Expectations

Create clear expectations of what you want the results to be.  Are you asking the influencer to do social media on the go — spontaneous posting on social networks  — as they experience your product or service? Or are you looking for a thoughtful report or image stream after the fact?

Ask yourself these questions:

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  • What do I hope to get out of this relationship?
  • What volume do I expect?
  • Are there deadlines I hope to meet?

Fair Exchange

A fair exchange is “I’ll give you X and I expect Y.”  What “X” and “Y” are for your organization could be different. If the social influencer is creating content for your digital properties, fair exchange might include compensation and credit for the content. If the content is created on the influencers’ blog or social network, then fair exchange may be your ability to promote that content on your organizations’ channels.  Making sure that the “deal” works for everyone and that everyone’s intellectual property is protected, might include an actual contract. Or a clearly defined email. Or as the organization, you might use the photos or works under Creative Commons licensing. There are millions of variations of these ideas and organizations and content creators should always consult professionals related to contracts and other legal matters.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Have I been clear about what I expect?
  • How have I communicated my expectations?
  • Do I need a contract?
  • Should I consult a lawyer or contract administrator for assistance?

Nurture The Relationship

Getting to know influencers that may align with your brand takes time and research.  There are many ways to find those influencers organically and many tools that help identify influencers using tags and  algorithms. Even if you have the best tools, it’s still important to get to know each influencer, their expertise and how they approach brand relationships.  It’s no different than joining the local chamber and getting to know other chamber members at networking events.  The relationships need to be built over time.

Some things to consider:

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  • How can I develop influencer relationships?
  • Are there groups to join?
  • What tools should I explore?

Disclosure

If you want your future influencer relationships to be professional and ethical, they must include elements of disclosure. The influencers, by law, must identify brand relationships with disclosure statements on blog posts, and identify paid relationships using hashtags like #ad and #client on networks such as Instagram and Twitter.  

  • Have I discussed disclosure with the influencer(s) I’m working with?
  • Are we meeting my organizations ethical and professional guidelines?
  • Are we in compliance with current laws regarding disclosure?

I’ve matched brands with influencers on a wide variety of promotions and campaigns, and it’s easy to get off track.  By creating clear expectations, nurturing the relationships and developing clear expectations including strong elements of disclosure, you can develop value for your organization with influencer campaigns.

PRConsultants Group Selects Step In Communication as Texas Partner

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PRCG Adds Step In Communication to its Nationwide Client & Agency Network

Step In Communication and Fran Stephenson, APR, has been appointed the San Antonio partner of the PRConsultants Group (PRCG), a nationwide network of leading public relations professionals.

“Step In Communication has proven its expertise in strategic communication, social media management and crisis preparation,” said PRCG President John Deveney. “We are excited that Stephenson is joining our nationwide network, and bringing her firm’s unique capabilities to PRCG’s expanse of clients.”

“I am excited to join the PRCG network, and such an elite group of PR professionals,” said Stephenson, APR and principal of the firm. “The team at Step In Communication looks forward to providing our skills to the network, as well as our ability to now offer boots on the ground to our clients in every major market in America.”

Clients of PRConsultants Group members enjoy boutique agency service alongside premier access to senior public relations professionals in every top US DMA. PRCG members have executed successful projects for national and international brands such as 7-Eleven, Cold Stone Creamery, Labatt USA, Mardel Christian & Education, Make-A-Wish America, MADD, Home Run Inn Pizza, and Wal-Mart.

About PRCG: PRConsultants Group (PRCG) delivers results through an exclusive nationwide network of nearly 50 public relations consultants. PRCG provides brands with a unique ability to leverage local market knowledge and connections along with the expertise of senior level PR pros in every major market in the U.S.  PRCG is recognized nationally for “National Strength. Local Power™”, the ability to engage audiences at the local level and deliver high-impact results in markets nationwide. Focusing on strategic planning and creative execution of media relations, social media, promotions, and news events, PRCG also offer crisis management services and event site selection via local market experts. PRCG members have successfully executed projects for national and international brands. More information is available at prconsultantsgroup.com.

About Step In Communication: Step In Communication is an award-winning San Antonio-based agency, specializing in strategic communications plans and is noted for its influencer outreach programs, social media strategy, channel management and measurement for clients in hospitality, tourism and health care.

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Magnolia Market is a Tourism Sensation in Waco

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What is Texas’ hottest and hippest destination right now?  It’s a couple of upcycled grain silos a mile off Interstate 35 in Waco called Magnolia Market and it’s a home decorators dream. It’s the brainwave of Chip and Joanna Gaines, the HGTV celebs from Fixer Upper. 

I’ve personally enjoyed the show from my home in San Antonio, and followed the hoopla surrounding the opening of the Magnolia Market three hours north of my home.  But it wasn’t until I had an opportunity to stop by on a recent trip up the interstate that I got to see firsthand why all my Facebook friends were drooling about this place.

I expected to encounter a cute shop with the accessories that Gaines is known to showcase in her “reveal” segments. If you watch the show, you’re familiar with the appearance of vintage-looking signs, handmade soaps, rustic textiles and ginormous primitive wall clocks –some of her favorites.

The Fixer Upper couple has taken their design sensibility—and sensation – and applied it to a shopping complex.   The retail store, Magnolia Market, appears modest until you walk inside and realize that it’s barn-sized.  Adjacent to it is Silo Bakery, a small picturesque storefront with outside seating for cupcakes and coffee.  The up-cycled grain silos themselves have shade, signage and seating.  Directly outside the silos is a Texas-sized field complete with soccer balls for kicking and swings for swinging.  Behind the silos is a garden shop and seed store. Lining the back perimeter are a handful of food trucks.  Everything is painted in an elegant black and white palette and squeaky clean.  Staff are strategically placed throughout to answer questions and direct visitors.    

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I consider myself a seasoned traveler,  but I’ve not seen shopping so elevated into the realm of a full day experience as it has at Magnolia Market.  It’s more akin to a theme park than a home decorating store. And that’s what everyone is talking about. How a couple from Waco went from modest construction/design team to the number one show on the HGTV Network.  In the last two weeks, they’ve been the cover story in Texas Monthly and featured on the Texas Standard, but they’ve been featured in numerous design magazines the past year.

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Five years from now, we’ll all be looking back at the phenomenon of what’s going on in Waco Texas and trying to figure out how to replicate it.  If you’re wondering how to create and market a destination, just call it anything with the word “magnolia” in it and sit back and watch the tourists flock to it (35,000 visitors per week is a widely reported figure).   

But the bottom line, everyone in Texas is cheering them on. We want them to succeed.  

So let’s examine this phenomenon like we would any busy theme park.  It’s best to prepare for your visit to Magnolia Market.  Here is a checklist based on my recent trip and some ideas I’ve gathered from recent visitors.

5 Pro Tips to Plan Your Trip to Magnolia Market

Be Prepared to Stand in Line…or NOT!

Depending on time of day and day of the week, there will be lines. Lines for “looking” at the beautiful home accessories on display and lines for purchasing them. There will be lines for cupcakes and lines for restrooms and lines for the food trucks.  But Dawn Monroe, of the Frugal Mom, had a completely different experience.

“About the crowds – we went on an overcast Saturday, at 2 p.m. It had just rained, so apparently the crowd left and we got really lucky.”

Have a Parking Plan

Sure there’s parking on the street, but at peak times, every space is taken.  A local church next door offers parking for $10. There’s a trolley running on weekends to and from free parking lots that are farther away,  but the parking is free and so is the trolley.  Best idea:  drive right up to the block, assess the situation and decide if you want to pay $10 for convenience or use one of the more remote free lots.

Take Your Time

The Magnolia Market experience is not to be rushed.  

“There are adorable touches everywhere,” says my friend Gloria Nwelue, the former San Antonio community manager for Yelp. “Those cute little picnic tables with black and white striped awnings and that super cool giant double porch swing? Swoon. Everything was even cuter than I expected, if that’s possible.”

“The outside entertainment area is lovely and I enjoyed sitting out there to have lunch,” says Janice Langlinas of Austin, a former tourism professional.  

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Lots of Helpers!

It’s quite obvious that Magnolia Enterprises is employing a LOT of people in Waco, which is great for the area. They were very well staffed on the day that I visited, sporting cute little aprons and holding maps of the layout to help visitors navigate.

“Extremely helpful staff spent about 20 minutes helping me purchase one of their large antique olive buckets they were using for display, said my friend Melissa Welch-Lamoreaux. “And, the decorating ideas I took away from the visit–priceless.”

Expect to Pay for Your Experience

The Magnolia Market experience is not without its price. Some of the visitors I queried had expected all the items to be artisan made. And some are, but the bulk of items for sale are not quirky, one-off finds, but are just as likely to be high end, imported goods.

“I had to wait in line just to view certain items in the market, not to mention the insane line to actually check out,” said Nwelue. “Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything because I’m not a fan of shouldering my way through the masses.”

Last Word on Planning Your Visit

Visit the website for hours and directions – the area is closed on Sunday!! Flywheels MIB 100% Complete B 1987 Vintage Hasbro Action Figure G1 Transformers

Check out some of Waco’s other attractions here: http://wacoheartoftexas.com/

Is Your Facebook Group a Mob or Community?

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Spend any amount of time on Facebook these days, and you witness people traveling in gangs, rising up because serious harm has been done to someone or something. Virtual vigilantes. It could be inspired by the upcoming presidential election, or world events, but the general mood is shifting.

In the early days of Facebook, the network was largely positive, but the sheer size of Facebook and the mountain of content we see daily, is changing the way social media managers need to approach their pages.

This is especially true for groups, which often have a higher degree of controlled access. If you’re managing a Facebook group, it’s a challenge to keep the community moving along.

Good Communities Need Moderation

The best Facebook communities have a good moderator – one or two people (Facebook calls them Administrators) who guide the community along, keep the conversation going and, when necessary re-direct the conversation when it strays from the purpose of the group. Two great examples of groups which I participate in (which are by invitation only, so I can’t link to them here) are the Solo PR Pros Facebook Group and the San Antonio Bloggers Group on Facebook.

Both have amazing administrators which guide the discussion and set the tone for how the group navigates each day. But they also have structure, which is equally important.

Good Communities Need Structure

Although structure in Facebook groups can be very informal, it does create a backbone for the administrators. In the San Antonio Bloggers Group, the administrators have posted guidelines on what types of posts and conversation are allowed and guides to the members’ Twitter handles or Instagram channels. This prevents repetition in the thread and connects seasoned members with newer members.

“A moderator’s job is easy when the purpose behind a group is clear from the beginning and guidelines are clearly posted to help lead the way,” says Stacy Teet, moderator of the San Antonio Bloggers Facebook group. “One of the most difficult parts of managing any large group–online or offline– is keeping all the cars on the track following the same locomotive. Members are as diverse as they come, each with their own individual personalities, preferences and ideals, but if you build a community centered around a common interest, topic or goal and you keep the group focused on that one thing, positive momentum should take care of the rest.”

In the group for solo public relations professionals, the group files include templates, conference information and other information to help its members be better at what they do.

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“One of the ways that we keep content fresh for our group is by listening. We actively listen to conversations to keep a pulse on what members need to support them in their day-to-day challenges,” says Karen Swim, president of Solo PR Pro, which offers the closed Facebook group for its paid members. “Knowledge of our audience also enables us to spot trends, information, resources and tools that would be of interest to the community and deliver content accordingly.”

But what happens when that Facebook turns into a mob?

I have participated in several groups where certain posts brought out the mob mentality and discussions got heated. When this happens, it’s tough for administrators to keep the peace, much less manage (what used to be called) “civil discourse.”

What can you do to manage the community back to a peaceful, yet talkative, state?

First, invoke the “guidelines” doc. Strong Facebook groups have a document that outlines what is and isn’t appropriate to post in the group. It also highlights what types of content are inappropriate and how that type of content will be handled.

“If a discussion begins that doesn’t relate to the group, a moderator can ask members to continue the discussion outside the group. If the group starts to veer off course in their day-to-day or general conversations, the moderator should restate the purpose of the group,” says Teet.  “Ask members to reread and acknowledge posted guidelines.”

Second, if you don’t have a guidelines document for your group, now might be a good time to think about it. Once it is created, point members to it from time to time so they know it’s there. They might even go read it!

As an administrator, it’s your job to keep the conversation moving, so if that means biting your tongue, redirecting the conversation, hiding or removing inappropriate posts or working with individual members behind the scenes, think through the outcome you desire and then figure out how to get there.

The needs of the community almost always outweigh the impact of any individual post or member. It might be prickly for a while, but the good news about Facebook Groups, the conversation moves on quickly and will soon be forgotten. Can you say ‘squirrel’?