NEW YORK -- Small businesses are using social media to promote their businesses and lure shoppers this holiday season -- and they're not just on Facebook. Or Twitter.
Pinterest and Instagram are getting big "likes" from business owners. Facebook and Twitter may have a broader reach, but some owners are finding that Pinterest and Instagram help them connect with their target audience. Pinterest's users are primarily women, while Instagram appeals to young adults. Also, the services rely heavily on photos, giving businesses a chance to show off more of what they have to offer.
Even with the increased usage by owners, Pinterest and Instagram are still in their infancy in terms of being embraced by small business. An American Express survey released during the spring showed that the two services were each used by 2 percent of business owners, compared to 37 percent for Facebook and 10 percent for Twitter. But owners who do use Pinterest and Instagram say they're a good way to connect with their customers.
Chubbies, an online retailer of men's shorts and accessories, posts edgy photos and videos on Instagram to create buzz about its products. Instagram allows users to take photos and videos and instantly share them with friends. Chubbies' prime customers are young men -- some of the biggest users of Instagram.
"When a post is doing well, and it gets a ton of `likes' and comments, that's extremely valuable from an advertising perspective," says Tom Montgomery, co-owner of the San Francisco-based company.
Chubbies sometimes gets thousands of "likes" and comments for a single picture. Photos, including those posted by customers, often show men in shorts in offbeat situations -- at weddings, diving off cliffs and posing with a stuffed brown bear.
But it finds the other services valuable. Chubbies uses Twitter to carry on conversations with individual customers. Its Facebook posts include more detailed content with a longer shelf life than the more fleeting posts of Twitter and Instagram.
Focus on photos
Pinterest is a growing resource for Cornerstone Shop & Gallery, a home furnishings and gift shop in Lake Geneva, Wis. The store's customers tend to be women and Pinterest is a good place to find them.
Owner Karin Bennett posts hundreds of pictures from the store on Pinterest's "boards," or photo collections. Current boards include holiday decor and gift ideas.
"You can get lost in the visuals for hours," Bennett says.
But Bennett also uses Facebook because it attracts middle-age and older women. Besides photos of merchandise and news about promotions and events, she posts pictures of customers, who often share the photos on their own Facebook pages. This month, customers are posing in the store with Santa Claus.
Bennett uses Twitter to tell customers and other businesses about store events. Instagram isn't yet a fit because its users tend to be younger.
"But we are starting to get younger people in the store during the summer, so we kind of dabble in it," Bennett says.
Touching all bases
The social media strategy at Three Brothers Bakery of Houston includes all four services plus a blog on its website. There's so much to keep track of that the company hired a public relations consultant to manage it all. Co-owner Janice Juck sends content and photos to Allie Herzog Danziger, who writes the blog, posts photos on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram and starts conversations with customers on Twitter. The postings often draw people to the Three Brothers website.
Danziger updates photos daily on Pinterest, where there are 28 "boards" and hundreds of pictures, including 21 of cupcakes and 51 of wedding cakes. She monitors conversations across Twitter, looking for ways to engage customers who are hunting for baked goods or entertaining ideas. She posts larger photos and videos and text on Facebook.
The investment in social media has paid off. The company, which includes two stores and a mail-order business, is planning a third store for Washington, D.C.
"Our business is starting to get national recognition," Juck says, "and a lot of that comes from using all these channels."