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Is Facebook Dead for Pet Businesses? The Data Says No

The future of Facebook’s business use is nebulous, indeed.

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FACEBOOK IS CREATING a lot of waves. Amid its data collection scandals and Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement earlier this year that the company is de-emphasizing branded content and everything else, it’s easy to wonder: Should my pet business bother using Facebook anymore?

This question was recently posed, ironically, in a Facebook pet-business group I belong to. Plenty of pet pros chimed in, some saying they’d scaled back their Facebook activities and others saying the platform is still their top social performer.

Being a data geek myself, the team and I were already watching the numbers to see whether Zuckerberg’s January announcement would spur higher prices for Facebook advertising. (As of this writing, average Facebook ad rates for pet businesses have actually been lower or the same as those we saw this time in 2017, depending on the ad objective.)

But the group’s question made me want to look deeper. What we found was that Facebook continues to be either the top or second-largest social media platform, according to Pew Research Center. That said, growth has slowed since April 2016.

But this doesn’t answer how the platform is performing for pet businesses, an area where data is too often scarce or non-existent. So we randomly sampled the Google Analytics data for 12 healthy pet businesses and looked at the data for the beginning of the year. 

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  • Of the 12 businesses, Facebook is still the number one social media driver to their website for 8 of them. (The other four business’s top referrers ranged depending on type and location of business.)
  • Five of the eight saw significant increases in visitors going from Facebook to their website in 2018, versus the same three-month period in 2017.
  • Only two of the 12 saw declines in traffic from Facebook, and the declines were not as large as the gains seen by the five.
    So is Facebook dead for pet businesses? The data says: no, not yet.
  • The future of Facebook’s business use is nebulous, indeed. The stuff you actually see brands doing on their pages (organic page optimization and growth) has inarguably stalled for many in the last two years as Facebook has continued to reduce organic reach and increase the need for paid placements. Even so, Facebook remains the strongest channel for many. The key is shifting how Facebook is used and prioritized to make sure your pet brand’s business and customer needs are being met.

    No matter how you look at it, clearly Facebook is an increasingly controversial platform to spend time on as a business. Nevertheless, the data shows there is still opportunity to reach consumers.

    So, when thinking about where your brand and business needs to invest time, let’s ask a different question. What is this channel doing for your consumer?

    Think about who you’re trying to reach and what you’re trying to do before deciding whether Facebook or another platform is the best one to throw your time and money into. The answer just may surprise you.

Jane Harrell is president of ’cause Digital Marketing, co-owner of Working With Dog and has spent the last 16 years working with pet businesses to find simple, scalable marketing solutions that work so they can focus on what matters most — helping pets and the people who care about them.

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To Get to the Bottom of a Complaint, Pause, Smile and Ask

When a customer lies, it may not be for the reasons you think.

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THE RESTAURANT IS a favorite of mine. The food is good, and it’s fun and kinda funky. When we sat down to meet for this first date, I had no expectations. The conversation was fast and fun, and so we decided to order dinner. He ordered a burger and fries, me a salad.

When the food came, the female server set it down with a flourish, and it looked great. I barely had a moment to admire my salad when the man sitting opposite me said, “The fries are cold.”

The server was momentarily stunned but quickly recovered and said, “I’ll bring you new ones.” And she hightailed it out of there to have a word with the kitchen.

There was a pause, so I said, “I’m so sorry you got a bad order, this place is usually great.” Because, of course, I’m feeling bad for suggesting a place that, it turns out, serves cold food. What does that say about my taste and judgment?

Then he said, “No worries, the fries aren’t really cold. There’s just not enough, so now they’ll bring more.”

I blinked in stunned silence and then gathering my wits about me asked, “Do you do this often?” To which he said, “Only when I think I’ve been shorted on something.”

Think about this for a moment. Where do you land on the right or wrong of this exchange?

As a consumer, you might agree that if you feel shorted in service, or product, or value, it’s within your rights to complain or ask … but to lie?

As a business owner, you may feel outraged and taken advantage of by a customer who is clearly misleading you or your team for additional gain.

Here’s my take from a leadership standpoint:

  • Pause to take a breath. This can allow you to get emotions in check.
  • Smile. This may be forced — after all, they are bringing up a complaint.
  • Ask a question. This is the best thing however only if it’s a question that still makes the customer feel in control (rather than wrong), and it clarifies the real issue.

The example in this instance may have been that the server could have paused, smiled and asked, “Do you want me to replace them?”

Since the answer is most likely yes, then take the whole meal away.

If you get pushback — “It’s OK, just bring me more fries” — this is when you know the real intent behind the comment, and you can say, “If the fries (or whatever the complaint is) are not to your liking, we must check your whole meal so you are completely satisfied.”

If you have a pet business, you’re not selling fries, of course. However, you do have some customers who are hard to satisfy, and they can surprise you or take advantage of you, all the while feeling justified in doing so. Luckily, the same techniques will work: Pause, smile, ask a question.

Think about and discuss with your team the kinds of questions that are able to get to the bottom of the issue (or customer intent) without making the customer feel wrong.

For me, I learned several things that evening, the most important being to put myself in the position of both the customer and the business owner. If all of us did that more, maybe the experience for everyone would be better.

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Columns

3 Ways to Develop Relationships with Local Customers Via Instragram

Instagram is great at some things but extremely tricky if you’re trying to use it to drive direct sales.

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HOW DO I GROWTH-HACK a local audience on Instagram for my pet business?

We get this question a lot and, first, our answer is always a question:

“What are you trying to do?”

The fact is that Instagram is great at some things (raising awareness and building brand loyalty, especially for local businesses), but extremely tricky if you’re trying to use it to drive direct sales.

The reason why is simple:

Instagram lacks one thing: an easy way to link from a post to buy — unless, of course, you pay for an ad. Unlike Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, Instagram gives you only one link off the platform — on your bio — making it much less likely to drive traffic to your website to buy now.

However, my team and I often see strong success for local pet brands looking to develop relationships with current and potential customers on Instagram. In some ways, the lack of direct sales appears to create a stronger bond with those individuals because they sense that selling is not the brand’s main objective.

Creating and developing a relationship with your customers becomes the main objective for a local business using Instagram. (And then driving them to your email list or store for direct sales.)
Your local pet business’s feed then becomes a refreshing way for local people to connect with your brand — making it a great channel for building customer loyalty and awareness.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Use hyper-local targeting when you’re interacting with others on Instagram. For example, if you’re using Instagram to grow, then focus on leaving comments on local hashtags like #upperwestsidedogs. This builds on the community who uses #upperwestside and draws out the dog-lovers from there. Don’t worry about spending time interacting on national or massively used hashtags, like #catsofinstagram or #greyhounds. In most cases, that will just attract a lot of spammers.

2. Create hyper-local content that shows off your brand. While you may write or do a video about puppy training, spring grooming or the great new pet treats in stock, look for ways to slip in information about local dog-friendly places and landmarks in all you do. This constantly reminds people they are interacting with a real person in the area.

Post about the best dog-friendly parks in the area. Or post about the best time to practice loose-leash walking at those parks using those new treats. More broadly, post about the top behavior challenges you see local people struggle with when parenting a dog. Regardless of what you post, frequently end with a call to action to have the person sign up for your email for tips on how to solve the issue.

3. Post using local hashtags, mixing in bigger ones occasionally. On Instagram, try looking at your neighborhood’s local “places” and seeing what people are using when they’re posting in your area. Typing in “upperwestside” and looking at the related tags may give you things you didn’t know about to try. Finally, look at other local businesses (even ones in different industries) and see what tags they’re using that aren’t industry-specific. There could be some fairly popular tags you could incorporate with your posts.

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Editor's Note

Business-Building Advice on the Go

Read PETS+ in print or online, watch PETS+ Live! webinars, and now, listen to a new monthly podcast.

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WE AT PETS+ ARE always looking for new ways to deliver business-building advice. We have, of course, the print magazine you’re holding in your hands. Our e-bulletins, packed with industry news, arrive in your inbox six days a week.

Our website is being constantly updated with online extras that won’t fit into the magazine. Our Facebook community lets you carry on the conversation with your peers. And twice a month, Pet Boss Nation’s Candace D’Agnolo brings you interviews and instruction in our PETS+ Live! webinars.

Beginning this month, we’re expanding our lineup with the “Beyond the Pages” podcast, hosted by Keith Miller.

As you may know, Keith and his wife, Patrycia, own Bubbly Paws, a chain of self-service dog washes in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The St. Louis Park location was featured as a Cool Store in these pages in February 2018. What you may not know about Keith is he has a background as a radio producer and does monthly TV spots on his local NBC affiliate.

In “Beyond the Pages,” Keith combines all his skills to bring you in-depth conversations with experts in a variety of fields that we’re sure you’re going to find extremely useful and an entertaining way to spend a half hour or so.

Two episodes — one on building a killer website and one on getting the most out of social media — are already available here: petsplusmag.com/education/podcasts.

Look out for future episodes on such topics as how to hire and maintain millennial employees, what type of insurance policies your business should have, choosing the right POS software — even what’s hot at SuperZoo — when they are released on the first Friday of the month. And stay tuned for info on how to subscribe on your favorite podcast service.

And remember, no matter in what form you consume advice from PETS+, we want to hear what you think.

Best wishes for your business,

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Ralf Kircher
Editor-in-Chief, Pets+
ralf@petsplusmag.com

Five Great Tips From This Issue That You Can Do Today

  1. Think back to your most successful promotion over the past couple of years. Got it? OK, now repeat it. (Manager’s To-Do List, page 12)
  2. Think of the top 10 reasons people call you and then put the info on an FAQ page on your website. (Manager’s To-Do List, page 12)
  3. Offer behavior consults to properly place pups into your longer-term training programs. (Hot Sellers, page 16)
  4. Need Instagram inspiration? Post local places folks can take their pets. (Columns, page 40)
  5. Assign job candidates the task of creating a short video of themselves explaining what they have to offer. (Columns, page 41)

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