Roost’s DIY Social Media for Small Businesses

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As more and more companies vie for marketing dollars from small business owners, many businesses find the growing options confusing. They barely have time to keep up with the demands of online marketing on sites like Facebook and Twitter — and it’s unclear whether it’s best for them to place an ad on a hyperlocal site or offer a daily deal where they lose 75% of the sale.

Enter Roost, a DIY  social marketing platform for small businesses that can help bridge the divide. Street Fight spoke with Alex Chang, Roost’s CEO and co-founder, about how his company helps small businesses create a Web presence, manage their social media output, and even offer their own Groupon-like deals. He also talked about a growing weariness among local merchants toward daily deals offers.

What are some of the perils for merchants as they approach deal services like Groupon and LivingSocial, and how does Roost do deals differently?
There’s so much conversation about the hyperlocal and the deal space, and our take on that after talking to all these merchants… in our opinion deals and coupons are just a type of marketing and promotion that I do for my local shop, but I don’t want to be known as all about that. It’s one of the things that I share. So, most of the merchants we talk to are very wary of being constantly featured on deal sites. We think of that as a campaign object, just one of the varieties of types of things that [a business would share on Facebook or other social media]. We also think of it as more of a loyalty tool [than a tool for driving new business].

We don’t take a cut. It’s their deal. Typically it’s something for their loyal fans. It’s not what we’re bringing new customers; they like that too, but it’s not a Groupon  dynamic where we’re bringing them customers and we get a cut of the revenue. It’s that we’re enabling them to create a promotion that’s valuable to their loyal fans.

What are some of the key issues for local merchants when they approach online marketing? Do most understand that they need to have a Facebook presence and a Twitter presence — or is there still convincing that needs to go on?
There’s an incredibly wide awareness, curiosity and even acknowledgment that they need to be doing it. Most merchants you talk to are going to be saying, “I need to be talking about social management. I need a Facebook page.” But when we find there’s a couple things holding them back from either getting started or being aggressive with it. Number one, they don’t just want to spend the time. It’s typically kind of item intensive by definition, so we’re building this to help you deal with that problem. Just this being an issue, they just don’t know what to do. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve tried to structure campaigns on their behalf and give them ideas and content, because they just don’t know where to get started. So, what happens is people will create a page [on Facebook] and it sits there and does nothing and they are embarrassed about it.

Then the other one is that a lot of these folks don’t have big networks yet. So, you could work hard to talk to your Facebook fan page, but if it’s 25 people, only so many people are going to hear that. So, the idea of Roost’s “Circles” is you invite other merchants in with you. So, let’s say you’re a restaurant. You might invite the jewelry shop next door or the salon across the street and you form a circle in — you see what everyone in the circle is doing, and you can ask them to re-share your stuff. Let’s say you created a coupon for half off points on Wednesday. You can ask that jewelry shop to share it into their network as well and vice-versa.

With so many daily deals sites popping up, some retailers tell us they are getting tired of being approached. Do you see any kind of a “deal fatigue setting in?
I spent some time this weekend with a guy who owns a restaurant called Incognito San Francisco. It’s a high end meats… salami.. cured meats store. Anyway, I was talking to him about this and he said “If one more guy calls me to get me to put my deal on his site, I’m going to go insane.”

There are two things. One, he’s tired of getting of people who don’t understand his business and can’t even pronounce his store name, it’s like, “How many 22 year old guys are going to crack through my phone number and try to convince me to put my deal on their site?” The other thing is, he doesn’t want to be seen as a guy that’s incredibly promotional. You know? To him, the world isn’t about offering 50% off one of his high end meals all the time. It drives him nuts.

This is why I think what we’re doing is pretty cool. What he wants is to build really loyal customers who love his local store. He doesn’t do that by offering tons of promotions. He does it by getting them excited about the new type of prosciutto they bought, or whatever it is. So, I think there is a.) a little bit of backlash on the deals phenomenon itself, and b.) to your point, there’s some weariness about the amount of pitching they’re getting.

Where do merchant solutions like yours fit into the online marketing ecosystem, and where do you think things are headed?
Number one is DIY: I want to create my own offer, I want to be in control of it. It’s either for my current customers, or it’s [to attract] new customers, but I don’t necessarily want to give up that much revenue. This is important when you think about Roost. With our merchants, it’s not all about deals. “Deals” is a type of marketing message. It’s one of the many types of marketing messages they want to leverage. That’s how we think about the platform.  That’s why we think about it in terms of campaigns, and a deal or a Groupon is just one type of campaign object, but there are a host of others, too.

Do you think that social media can be useful for marketing any kind of business. Does it work better for some businesses than others in generating ROI?
Without question. I think it’s like if you have a natural loyal customer base offline, it’s likely to translate well onto social networks. But let’s say you’re a generic 24/7 commodities-driven bodega and it’s all about spontaneous purchase — I don’t know if that’s going to work. But if you’re a local restaurant and it’s something that people love, and have a real affinity for, there’s probably no better way to market than build a really powerful Facebook page. It’s kind of all about local customers.

How can small businesses ensure that they’re doing the right kind of promotion and reaching people in the right way?
There are different types of use cases. The way that a woman’s boutique [would use their Facebook page] is really different from the way a personal trainer would use their Facebook page. We advise them on how to create post-generated engagement.

Here’s what we see people failing with. So, if I’m a real estate agent and I continually post “Here’s the new home I have for sale,” nobody cares. If that’s all I ever see in my feed from you — first of all, it’s not going to make it through my stream, but if it does I’m going to hide it eventually because it’s just annoying me.

The [businesses that] are successful understand how to add value – even if I’m not in the market for that exact product right now. We really coach people not to do a high level of promotion. If all you do is talk about what you have for sale, people are going to tune it out. So typically we try to help people create really engaging posts. So, even that Honda dealership I told you about… they do great. What they do is they ask all sorts of questions like “What was your first car and what did you love most about it?” That gets more engagement, Facebook recognizes that and it gets into more people’s feeds. That’s the whole game right there.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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