An Interview with Digital Marketing Expert Crystal Washington
Crystal Washington is the owner of CWM Enterprises and co-founder of Socialtunities, a social media instructional brand aimed at training everyone from Gen Ys to Baby Boomers in ways to strategically leverage social media usage. Having worked with major corporations – including Google, Microsoft and GE – she is known for her ability to take complex web and social media topics and make them easy to understand and accessible to everyone.
Crystal hosts a weekly technology segment on Houston’s Fox television affiliate and has appeared in Black Enterprise and Essence magazines, as well as on CareerBuilder.com. In addition, she has been interviewed by ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, the Associated Press, and numerous radio stations and magazines around the world as a social media expert. Crystal is also the author of the popular business books, “One Tech Action” and “The Social Media Why.”
Ms. Washington will be a featured speaker at the CLA’s Excellence in Laundry Conference, to be held May 16-17 at the Naples Grande Beach Resort in Naples, Fla. She will present “The Future of Digital Marketing for Laundry Owners,” which is being sponsored by Dexter Laundry (http://www.dexter.com).
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You’ve worked with a number of huge, well-known corporations, as well as companies all around the world, with regard to web-based and social media topics. Is digital marketing as important for the neighborhood laundromat as it is for these larger entities?
Digital marketing is important for all companies, whether they’re a large multi-national corporation or a small, local, mom-and-pop shop like some of the laundromats across this country. And the reason it’s important for all businesspeople these days is because consumers come to the web to search for different resources so that’s a great way for you to be discovered by new people in your neighborhood – maybe people that now need your services that didn’t before. But, if you’re not even playing in the space, you can’t be found in the space.
Why is it so important for all entrepreneurs to get involved in marketing their businesses digitally these days?
Certainly, they should get involved for the reason I just mentioned. However, I would add that entrepreneurs should definitely need to get involved in digital marketing because younger audiences are not only leveraging it to find information, but today more than 80 percent of internet users use the web to find services. So, although it’s starting with younger people, it’s spreading to everyone else as well. People in their sixties are just are likely to have an iPhone as someone who is 25.
What are the main benefits of social media for a small, localized business, such as a laundromat?
For most small businesses, their key to fame – up until this point – has been positive word of mouth. And social media is simply word of mouth on steroids. So, if you are providing excellent service, a friendly environment and great machines, social media is the place to tell people about them. Perhaps you’ve got other great local businesses near your laundry, where customers can get food and have an amazing overall experience; if so, you can talk about that on social media, too. It always good to give referrals to your business friends and to spread the word about your laundry services as well.
In what ways is marketing a small business easier?
Marketing a small business is definitely easier in the sense that it’s usually much less expensive. Also, small-business owners are more agile in being able to try and adopt new technology. For example, if you see that NextDoor.com – which is a social network that is specific only to people in your neighborhood – is starting to work for other local businesses, you can hop on immediately and not have to go through a huge chain of command to get permission to utilize it.
And in what ways can marketing a small business be more difficult?
The difficulty in marketing a small business lies in the fact that you usually have less money to play with in the first place. Every dollar counts. So, when you spend a dollar on marketing and you’re not getting the expected ROI for your small business, it can be much more harmful to the business than it would be for a huge corporation.
I’ll also say that another way it can be difficult is in the fact that you may not have adequate human capital or the know-how with regard to how to utilize these new tools. On the other hand, if you’re a huge company, there’s a good chance that someone you employ probably has an idea of where you should go and who you can hire. Unfortunately, if there are only a couple of you within the business, you kind of have to figure it out.
You’re the author of two books for business professionals – “The Social Media Why” and “One Tech Action.” Why did you feel the need to write on these topics as you did?
“The Social Media Why” was written to address how busy professionals can leverage social media to grow businesses and/or professionally. That was written because I felt there were a lot of great books out there about social media, but all of them were written in tech jargon – and none of them were written in a way in which Baby Boomers could understand them. That was my way of serving this wonderful group of people who are out there in the business world.
With “One Tech Action,” I went beyond social media to talk about how busy professionals can leverage social media, apps, the web, smart devices and so on – all of these different things to make their lives better, whether it’s growing a business, getting a new job, or spending more time with family. It’s another book written very intentionally in non-tech language, and I wrote it because I felt there were a lot of people who are getting left behind. In addition, there also are a lot of people getting caught up in things that are new and shiny, but serve no practical purpose. So, this was my attempt to create a book that would offer balance and insight to everyone.
(Editor’s Note: Both of Crystal’s books are available at Amazon.com.)
What have you found that scares most business owners about technology and digital marketing? And what are the best ways to ease those fears?
Many of the business owners I’ve talked to who have strong fears around new technology and digital marketing tend be older – more likely Baby Boomers or Traditionalists, those from the Silent Generation. The basic fears they have are that they’re going to make a mistake or waste time. Those are the generations that were taught, if you’re going to do something, do it right the first time. Of course, with new technology, you have to be willing to make some mistakes. This goes against what two of our greatest generations have been taught – and it can be kind of scary for some of them.
With wasting time, a lot of them see other people using technology in ways that are ineffective, and they’re judging a tool’s success based on people who don’t have a plan for how to use it.
To ease those fears, I think you need to be open and to read more about the technology you’re thinking about using. Simply reading one tech blog a day – just a single article a day – will be a huge help. Or maybe listen to one technology or social media podcast a week. That’s it. Just one, on your way to the laundromat. Being aware often will alleviate some of the fear because now you know what’s happening and you can start to discern what is logical, as well as what does and doesn’t make sense for your particular business. So often, our fears in life in general come from just general ignorance. We don’t know.
What’s the most impactful way for a laundry owner to get started with promoting their operations on social media?
The best way for them to get started – before they actually put themselves out there – is to begin by checking out other local businesses that seem to be successful online. Look at what social networks they’re on, see what types of things they’re posting and notice what kinds of promotions they offer. Take notes, because these businesses are giving you potential strategies for your own digital marketing strategy. Clearly, you don’t need to follow just other laundry owners. It can be any kind of localized business, but just start watching what businesses are having success online and how they’re doing it.
What social medial platforms are a waste of time for laundry owners looking to promote themselves?
Looking specifically at the laundromat industry, I don’t think Twitter is a very good use of time for most people in this particular industry, simply because most of their potential customers are not going to Twitter in a way that would direct them back to their services.
Pinterest is another platform that I don’t think self-service laundry owners need to spend much time on, just due to the nature of the business. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Pinterest doesn’t have value – just not necessarily for the typical laundry operator.
In addition, nine times out of 10 Instagram would not be a good use of time for laundry owners, unless they happen to be located in an area where there a lot of college students and younger people. However, if there are a lot of college students, younger people or trendy urbanites – and if you operate a trendy type of store – then Instagram would make sense. But if that’s not who you are or what your brand is, then don’t get on that one either.
By contrast, you definitely want to be on Facebook. And I also would suggest taking a close look at NextDoor.com, even though it’s not one of the top five largest social networks. As I mentioned earlier, it’s hyper-localized. This is you connecting only with people within the neighborhood. It doesn’t get any better than that. Those are the top two social networks I would recommend.
Also, if you create some kind of cute commercial that you want to pop up at the top of searches, definitely consider YouTube, which is owned by Google and therefore receives preferential treatment when it comes to searches. Creating fun or funny YouTube videos is great way to pop up on searches.
What new opportunities and trends do you see emerging?
Right now, people are looking at more engagement. Some of the technology that’s coming down the pipeline that is and will continue to have an impact on social media include things like artificial intelligence, because it impacts search functions and affects how Facebook and other social networks create their algorithms – in other words, how likely people are to see your Facebook posts and so on.
Also, interactive technology such as augmented reality and virtual reality are gaining some traction. This might sound kind of funny when you think about this possibly impacting someone in the laundry business. However, it makes sense when think more closely about these technologies and their ability to show you things at scale and help you understand what a place looks like.
We’re at the very beginning phases of this technology. However, Facebook recently bought Oculus, which is a virtual reality headset. So, we’re seeing the technologies begin to intermingle.
We don’t know what kind of effect that will have on all industries yet, but we do know it’s going to be harder to keep people’s attention – because the more they get used to interactive content, the less likely they are to look at simple photos or read simple posts.
Laundromats certainly aren’t exactly “sexy” businesses. Does that make them harder to promote online? How creative can one get when trying to market a small storefront with a few washers and dryers and a couple of vending machines?
I sometimes talk about the “sexy factor” in my presentations. For instance, the way you would promote and sell women’s earrings on Facebook is definitely going to receive a lot more reaction – including more comments and more shares – than if you were selling caskets. It is what it is. Luckily, laundromats are not caskets. They’re not women’s earrings, but they’re certainly not caskets either. They’re somewhere in the middle.
And I honestly believe this gives laundry owners a competitive advantage. After all, consumers expect lifestyle brands and jewelry brands to be exciting – so just think about what a creative laundry operator can do. It’s easier for these types of businesses to create videos that utilize humor and possibly go viral, because no one is expecting it.
As a business, self-service laundries are more of a “need” than a “want” for the majority of their customers. Does this impact an owner’s social media strategy?
Not if they’re smart. People tend to think that, when you’re advertising a “want,” it has to be fancy or more interesting, because people don’t need it. So, with a “need,” some think, “OK, I’ll just announce that I’m here and keep it moving.”
But I don’t think that’s the case at all. People need your service, so why not show them why your place is better than the rest? Why not show them that you have a kid-friendly environment or that your business has been in the family for four generations or that you’re the cleanest laundromat in the neighborhood? Promote the fact that you have the largest washers and the most dryers to help customers get in and out of the store quickly, because saving time is important to people. Talk about whatever it is that makes your laundry business unique. Showcase it.
Ultimately, what should laundry owners be trying to accomplish with their digital marketing strategies?
Butts in the door. Seriously. You hear people talk about social media and how you can’t really measure its impact. I disagree. Yes, you can. You know when people are coming in the door. On certain days of the week, you can take quick surveys, asking customers how they heard about your business. Maybe tie those surveys into some sort of prize drawing.
Measure your revenue against those numbers as well. For instance, if you see that, after you began using social media, your revenue has gone up by 20 percent and everything else is equal, you can probably attribute that growth to social media – especially you notice that more people are hearing about you through social media. At the end of the day, you measure your success by your business itself – not “likes,” not “comments,” not “shares.” No one can pay their bills with “likes.”
What challenges may laundry operators face when promoting their stores on the web and through social media?
Once they’re in a social media space, the number-one challenge they’re going to come up against is, if they’ve had any kind of service issues, customers will start posting about those. But you don’t need to be afraid of negative reviews or of people having complaints – for two reasons.
First of all, online reviews give you an opportunity to see what your customers are saying verbally about your business anyway, which you very likely may not have even known was being said. So, in essence, negative reviews can be a blessing.
Secondly, it’s not really about the complaint – it’s about how you respond to the complaint. If people see that someone has an issue at your business, but they also see that you respond to it in a way that’s helpful and caring, that’s a positive outcome for you. You don’t necessarily have to admit culpability; after all, everyone gets wacky customers from time to time. But, if people see that you are genuinely engaged and care about the level of service that people receive, you can actually build people’s respect for your business more so than if they had never received a negative review in the first place. It’s about making sure that you are responding to online comments and reviews and, more specifically, how you do so. Everybody misses the mark sometimes, and most humans understand that. It’s all about how we recover.
Do you feel that digital marketing is more important or less important with regard to unattended laundromats?
It depends on how much a laundry owner wants to be associated with his or her particular store. For instance, those who are more hands-on and regularly working in the business might be more likely to put their family out there online a little bit more, talk about their values and so on. Whereas, if the owner is more hands-off and not really at the store, the digital marketing plan and social media posts might be more about the specific equipment and the different services offered.
Some owners might even want to give the laundromat itself its own distinct personality. You could do so many creative, funny things with that type of concept. But, obviously, you don’t want to talk about how you’re a family-owned business and that you like to touch the community when no one ever sees you there.
You’ll be speaking at the CLA’s Excellence in Laundry Conference in Naples, Fla., later this year. Can you give our readers a sneak peek as to what attendees can expect from your presentation?
We’re going to talk about how laundry owners can take advantage social media in innovative ways. We’re not going to talk about all of the stuff they normally hear about. We’re going to discuss how they can leverage certain Google abilities that they may or may not even know exist. We’re going to discuss tools that can help bump them up in searches so that more people can find them. We’re going to talk about a lot of things that they probably have never heard of before, because I want to keep it really relevant to everyone in the room.
You do a lot of speaking to business owners around the world. What have you learned from these interactions?
I do speak all around the world, and what I’m learning is that, at the end of the day, everybody feels a little behind when it comes to technology. I think the lesson to be learned is that feeling this way is our new normal, because technology is changing so rapidly that no one can keep pace.
This is my job. I research it for hours every day, and I’m still learning. I think the major takeaway is that we have to become comfortable with the fact that we are going to be perpetual learners of technology from now on. You don’t have to feel uncomfortable because everyone is in the same position.
What are the biggest mistakes you see small-business owners making these days, regarding their social media practices, and their digital marketing in general?
The number-one mistake is not setting measurable goals before they decide to use technology. They don’t even know how they’re measuring their success. They’re just spending time and throwing money at something, not even knowing if they’re being successful by their own standards.
Another common mistake I see is what I call egocentric marketing. Business owners will create all of their marketing based on what they like, not what’s most likely to please and attract customers.
If the laundry owners reading this interview do just one thing in 2018, what should that be?
I want them to be technology explorers in 2018. We have a lot of new technology on the horizon. Although technology has been changing a great deal in the past few years, 2018 is going to be a year of rapid expansion, and 99 percent of the population has no idea what’s coming.
With that said, trying to adopt everything is impossible. But I want laundry owners to be open and aware, because as they learn about these new things that are coming out, they can decide what does and doesn’t make sense for their particular businesses. Unfortunately, if they clam up beforehand and choose to ignore all of these changes, it’s going to put them in an extremely difficult position over the next three years.
Again, they don’t have to adopt everything out there, but I want them to be open to it.
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