HOW can social media help your business?

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An interview with Stella Romana Airoldi

More and more companies are becoming aware of the power of social media and it’s quite probable that their numbers will increase in the near future. This means there is an ever-growing number of social media accounts linked to businesses, which generates a need to differentiate and attract new followers, as R.O.I. must become a reality!

A disturbingly large number of companies start off by creating their social media accounts and then using tools to automate the process and basically hope for the best. A serious and well-constructed strategy can, however, differentiate between being successful and just getting by.

According to the 2015 Social Media Examiner report, 92% of marketers think that social media was important to their businesses and most probably some of them are part of your competition. Don’t let them steal your potential customers away; you need to take the best decisions for your online growth.

Some business owners want to be present on all social networks. Which is not necessarily wrong,  as long as all of them are relevant to your business, the target audience spends time there and you have enough resources to maintain a great presence everywhere.  However, most of the times it’s better to focus on just a few social networks – the ones that are most relevant and bring you ROI.

Since theory without clear examples may not be enough, Stella Romana Airoldi, the founder of 22STARS, shared her views regarding the importance of social media and how it helped her to increase the sales. Her business focuses on one of the social networks for best results (you will see later which one). Before we get into details, let’s see who is this lovely lady and how she wants to make this world a better place.

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Tell us a bit about your business!

I have a socially minded business called 22STARS, that designs and sells handmade jewellery from recycled paper. The jewellery is made by women survivors of the war in Uganda. You’re probably wondering how I came to set up something like this, so let me tell you the story of how it all started.

Following in the footsteps of my parents, I lead a very active life and travelled all over the world. During these travels, I was regularly confronted with poverty and injustice. For that reason, I decided to get my Master’s degree in Public International Law and become a board member of SIFE Leiden. That is where I learned that the best way to help people get out of poverty is to make sure that they can provide for themselves. I wrote my thesis about girl child soldiers within the Lord Resistance Army and visited Uganda in 2009 to volunteer at an AIDS Information Centre and do the research for my thesis. This is how my passion and interest for Uganda started.

For my thesis, I interviewed a couple of women who fled from the LRA and the war in Northern Uganda to the Acholi Quarters in Kampala. Those ladies were already making jewellery out of recycled paper. I am a definite advocate of the idea that people should be self-sufficient and earn their money instead of just receiving handouts out of pity. So, after having left, I concentrated on writing my thesis and thus I never got Uganda out of my head. I decided to order some more jewellery from the ladies I had met, as a Christmas gift for my family and friends.

That was the first time that the idea of partnering with them to start a business popped into my head, but I was too busy with my studies and internships. In 2011, I got my second Master’s Degree in Human Rights and Democratisation and I was awarded a scholarship to work as a trainee with the European Union Delegation in Beijing in 2012. However, I never forgot about the women in Uganda. Impressed by the artistic skills of the ladies to make beautiful jewellery out of recycled paper and fascinated by their stories, I decided to use my own creativity to help them design, market and sell their products on the international market. I returned to Kampala, participated in a 10-week course from the “Start Up Campus” in Rotterdam and started doing everything myself: copywriting, web design, taking the fashion shoot pictures, marketing, sales and networking. I also gathered a large network of amazing people around me, who are helping me to share the story of 22STARS and their jewellery. By the end of 2014 I realized that running a business from a distance is an almost impossible mission, so since then I spend way more time on the ground in Uganda.

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What’s the role of social media in your business and how did it help you?

Social media plays a very large role in my business. Especially Instagram. I started using it right from the beginning, when 22STARS was not even that big. A lot of people found me by using the right hashtags. I did not only post products of the pictures on my account, but I also shared the stories of the women who are making the jewellery, I posted things about my private life and how I love to wear the jewellery, posted inspirational quotes, etc. I also started following people who I knew were interested in fair trade products, Africa and/or handmade jewellery. So I quickly gained a lot of followers.

Not only did I notice the increase in sales when I promoted certain products, but I also got a lot of lovely messages from people who thanked me for the work I did in Uganda. That felt very rewarding. Besides that, other companies found me and offered me a place in their web shop to sell and promote my products, which works out very well. Because of that, I can invest less in marketing myself. Also I found other inspiring social businesses which I teamed up with to create unique pendants for my jewellery collections.

For me, Instagram is a really important outlet for telling people what exactly it is that I do with 22STARS. I always say it is not only about selling/buying the jewellery, but it’s also a great platform for the ladies to finally share their stories with a larger public and raise awareness about what happened to them during the war. They finally realize that they are not alone and that people listen to their stories.

Share. Love. Support.

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What social networks are you using and which one is the most profitable for your business (sales, awareness or whatever your objective is)?

As I said before, it’s Instagram, without a doubt. However, I also use Twitter, although less frequently and nowadays I mostly just share my Instagram posts directly to Twitter. But I must say that I met some very interesting people through Twitter. Unfortunately, being active on all the social media channels takes up too much of my time, that’s why I mainly use Instagram.

I also have a Facebook page, but my products’ reach depends too much on whether I boost the posts or not. However, I share all my Instagram post on Facebook as well, so having content is easy. Besides the aforementioned, I also use Pinterest, as it is a great platform for creating mood-boards for inspiration. I post my products and photoshoot pictures there, which get shared often. In addition to this, I sometimes write LinkedIn posts, to which I get great reactions. Most of the people who are on my LinkedIn would never use Instagram, so it is a great way to reach a completely new audience segment.

Do you think it’s the same for the whole market (that social networks work) or did you have a certain differentiator?

Well, it depends on what you mean by “work”.

I think that social media can be useful for every company, not matter what they are doing. But you have to set some goals for yourself and then see if you can manage to achieve them. For example, my goals are to increase my sales, create a sort of transparency regarding my business for my customers, sharing the stories of the Ugandan women, find like-minded people and businesses, etc. But if you, for example, don’t have a product to sell, you still can use Instagram to give your company a face, an image, visibility and a human dimension. That way, people will think “Hey, I want to work there! They seem cool!”, and you can communicate and interact better with your current clients.

I think it’s always good to go out there and show to the world what your company does, is and stands for.

How would your business look without social media?

A bit boring. I could still post my daily post and pictures on my own website, but that would take so much more time, not only regarding the posting process, but also in terms of accessibility. I think there would be far less interaction with people. Also, from my perspective, I often see cool companies and products in my newsfeed or inspiring people, which I then follow and start interacting with. That is part of my creative process and is responsible for my energy, but I don’t think I ever would actively google or write them an email. Sending a comment on Instagram is definitely an easier way to just pop by and say hello!

Do you have any advice for those who are not sure if social media can bring in revenues?

Yes! First of all, before you start a business account, create a personal account and play around a bit on Instagram, so you get used to it. Then, make a business account and think carefully about your goals.

What do you want to achieve and what is the image of your company that you want to share with people?

For example, do you want to sell more products? Do you want to establish a better communication with your current clients? Do you want to give your company face? What is it that you are looking for? Think about it and write it down.

Then, according to the goals you set, think of pictures that are relevant and that you want to post. It is important that you maintain a sort of constancy on Instagram regarding your image, so try posting the same “style” of pictures, by always using the same filter, so people can recognize your brand. Also, remember to cover everything, tell a story. For example, I would always post 1 picture of my designers, then 1 picture of my products, then 1 picture from a photo shoot, 1 picture of my own life and sometimes 1 picture with a quote. Then I start over. With that “formula”, you are making sure that your account does not get boring.

I would recommend that you start following business similar to yours, so you can see what they post and follow your fans back. In addition to Instagram, I recommend sharing articles and pots on LinkedIn and Facebook. And, of course, once you do that, you can share everything on Twitter, so you spread a wider net of media at the same time, without needing to come up with original content for every channel.

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