#SMWF: Think Small, Act Big
When Fetcham Park director Laura Caudery received an invitation to speak at this year’s Social Media World Forum, there was only one possible topic for discussion: how she has harnessed social media to create a big name for a small brand within the wedding industry. Today we share with you highlights from Laura’s presentation, ‘Social Phonics – Building a Business & Standing Out From The Crowd.’
Social media was an effective business tool for me even before I launched the business. I used it to observe the industry, my competitors and my colleagues to determine who I wanted to approach, who I would need to align myself with and, most importantly, how I could be different. There are hundreds of pretty houses where people can choose to get married, so what would make them choose mine?
Well, I used the experiences from my own planning – when I’d become frustrated and disillusioned by the ‘wedding factories’ that I encountered – to build a venue with a difference. I wanted to create something that had the same authenticity and appeal as the luxury brands I’d previously worked for, including Alfred Dunhill, Burberry and Crabtree and Evelyn.
Without the options and budgets I was previously used to working with, how could I tell people about the ‘Fetcham Park Difference’ – the guiding principles that put the client at the heart of everything we do to ensure that they’re not just another date in the diary? With a long list of restrictions and monetary constraints, social media was the obvious, and only, option!
Fortunately I love telling stories so I took to Twitter, Facebook and now Instagram to tell the story of why I was launching a new type of wedding venue. It enabled me to instantly connect with like-minded professionals who then spread the word – and continue to do so – on my behalf.
That’s one of the key things businesses need to understand about social media: it’s not just about you telling your story, it’s about getting other people to tell it for you.
When I observed other venues, all they did was talk about themselves. Well, that’s just as boring online as in a real-life conversation – we’ll all switch off! I wanted to talk not just about the house but also about all the people that work with us on a wedding day and the couples themselves. That way our conversations are much more interesting, involve more people and ensure you have a number of voices that create a ripple effect far exceeding your own reach.
I knew the tone of voice was going to be very important too: no bland corporate statements but something with a real personality – my own. I realised that being privately owned was our biggest advantage, so I could create a distinct appeal. I wanted to be professional like the luxury brands I’d worked for, but I also wanted to be personal so that people could connect with us as a business and as an organisation that they know will care about them – that’s true whether they’re a supplier or a client.
Consequently, I launched a personal Twitter account long before I created Fetcham Park’s. I deliberately chose ‘@mrscaudery,’ as my married name is quite unusual and I wanted to make sure that I stood out. I started stalking people online, working my way into conversations and inviting people to the house to meet me.
I then used my account to impart my personal views and opinions on the wedding industry and explain why I wanted to launch a very different type of venue. I’m incredibly passionate about trying to change some of the industry’s practices and Twitter, in particular, gave me an excellent platform, particularly after gaining the support of key bloggers who’d not only retweet my messages but also invited me to contribute to their blogs.
After a few months, everyone was curious to know more so when it came to our launch event, I switched tactics and invited just 100 guests. This time I made social media work the other way for us: by inviting a select group, everyone wanted to let people know that they were there so the tweeting, Facebooking and blogging during and after the event ensured that it became known as ‘Fetcham Friday’ online and everyone wanted to be part of what we were creating.
From then it was all about continuing a very personal approach; our social media accounts enable me to have a very real, and honest, dialogue with everyone that has an interest in our business. I hate impersonal statements so we try to encourage conversation and I like nothing more than sharing my personal insights and behind-the-scenes information on what we’re doing and the events we host. I’ve become known for Instagramming my way through a wedding day and it’s one of the most popular things I do; colleagues are curious to see what we’re working on and brides love seeing a ‘real’ wedding as it happens. It’s another way of being able to show off our suppliers’ work, which in turn means that they will share those pictures…
I’m also happy to share a certain amount of my personal life through my accounts as it’s just as important that people get to know ‘me’ as the business – it reinforces the connection people feel with the house. Whilst it may not be appropriate for all businesses, giving your business a human voice on social media is key to building that conversation. Otherwise the only reason customers will want to engage with you is when they have a complaint!
Recently we’ve become a lot more image-focused with our interactions. Instagram has been a great tool as it allows us to constantly remind people of the house’s beauty and then we continue that story in greater detail on Facebook. We make sure to use different images and content across the channels, encouraging people to move from one to another to see something new.
Social media has enabled Fetcham Park to become more than just a venue: it stands for something and people want to engage with us. We know each and every one of our couples by name and they know us. They have booked their wedding at the house not just because it’s a pretty backdrop but because the messages we’ve been able to share via social media – and of course when we meet them – reassure them that we’re a business they can know, love and trust.
I will continue to be a passionate advocate of social media for small businesses as thinking small has enabled me to connect with people on a very personal level but by acting ‘big’ and creating an impactful online persona for myself and the house I’ve been able to build meaningful connections and recognition for the house far beyond what I ever anticipated.
For me, the future of virtual marketing might just be for more ‘big’ businesses to think ‘small’ in order to better understand their clients and propagate a real connection with them. I’m pretty sure they’d find pretty ‘big’ returns.