The New York Times Small Business Summit opened with news that didn’t surprise me: A recent survey by The Times revealed how much entrepreneurs hunger for knowledge and connections. Well, they certainly got a hearty helping of both at this jam-packed event, attended by 725 small business owners and presented by American Express OPEN.
Jim Schachter, associate managing editor of The Times, presented the survey results. Jay Goltz, entrepreneur and contributor to You're the Boss, The Times small business blog, followed up with practical answers to the toughest problems entrepreneurs face. Add to that keynote speeches by Tim O’Shaughnessy of LivingSocial and Naveen Selvadurai of Four Square about their journeys to building successful companies.
Then there was the panel on Decoding the New Digital Consumer with Claire Hughes Johnson, Vice President of Global Online Sales at Google; Susan Lyne, Chairman of Gilt Groupe; Chris Maguire, co-Founder of Etsy, Postling and Waffl; and Susan Sobbott, president of American Express OPEN.
Seriously inspiring, motivating and invigorating.
It was a social kind of day, including Speed Networking to spark new connections and meet like-minded entrepreneurs.
I attended the panel on social media, and I’m glad I did. Three dynamite entrepreneurs described how they built successful businesses based on two “social” elements: They are all heavily into social media as marketing and brand-building tools; they are also all social entrepreneurs who value people and the planet as well as profit.
Robbie Vitrano, co-founder and chief brand architect of Naked Pizza, told the story of this healthful, wholesome pizza, made with multi-grain crust, probiotics, no added sugar or oil and a tasty array of topping combinations. (The website is mouth-watering!) The company’s stated mission is to launch the world’s largest grassroots health movement.
But Naked Pizza is also the only fast-food business that "gets" online engagement. Its comments are self-described as sarcastic and political but are actually just tangy with a touch of pepper: real people with real opinions. Posts on Facebook—whether wondering if there’s a location in Buffalo or raving about a recent meal—get prompt, friendly, breezy answers. The website has videos, including one on how to make the most of a salad bar.
The company’s social media efforts add value for its community members while inspiring better eating.
In 2009, when Naked Pizza was three years old, it was one of Twitter’s earliest in terms of ROI. Naked’s first Twitter-only promotion accounted for 15 percent of total sales on April 23 that year, and 90 percent of those were new customers. About a month later, almost 69 percent of all sales came through Twitter. Naked Pizza maintains an active social presence, especially on Twitter, to engage local influencers and drive sales on a regular basis
Also on the panel, Ido Leffler, co-founder and "chief carrot lover" of Yes to Carrots, which, like Naked Pizza, emphasizes healthful, natural ingredients that are good for the customer and the environment. The company also donates a portion of its proceeds to promoting healthier lifestyles through school gardens and nutrition programs.
That social enterprise thing again: It matters.
So, too, does the right approach to social media. At Yes To, adding value for the consumer is foremost. The company’s blog doesn’t just push products; it provides a showcase and forum for its followers, from posting the blogs of customers who share its commitment to healthful living to posting what people are thankful for.
And then there's Otis Chandler of GoodReads, whose mission is to “improve the process of reading and learning throughout the world.” The basis of the business is social—share your love of books and the books you love with your friends.
It has book clubs (some with thousands of members), book giveaways, recommendations from friends and other book lovers and—here comes that well-done social media part—authentic blog posts by GoodReads employees about books, trends, interviews with authors and how-tos for authors promoting their books.
But, remember, GoodReads has a mission as well as Twitter and Facebook accounts.
As I listened, I couldn’t help but think of a recent study by the Fidelity Gift Fund, which found that successful entrepreneurs build “giving back” into their business plans. They care. They get involved.
Happily, we’re seeing more of that kind of caring among entrepreneurs and at the corporate level. The Summit itself is an example, an opportunity for small business to learn and to network, both of which are critical to their success.
Inspiration, networking, learning and the “socials” (media and impact):The Times Summit had it all.
OPEN Cardmember Geri Stengel is the founder of Ventureneer.com, which provides values-driven small businesses with the insights, strategies, techniques, and solutions to succeed—both as businesses and as social-change agents.