Back during Christmas when I was finishing up some gift shopping, I stumbled upon a new cupcake spot at North Shore Mall in Peabody, Mass. Of course I had to snap some pictures when I saw this new little spot so I could feature it on the blog.
As soon as I took out my camera and started grabbing a few pictures of the cupcakes and signage, the person on-duty asked (in a rather condescending and snappish tone) if I was going to post these online or if I’m getting ideas for recipes. I responded that, yes, I probably will post the photos online since I like taking photos of food as well as to get new ideas.
Most times, when I take photos of a merchant’s food, I’m greeted with huge smiles or anecdotes about the product, simply out of their sheer pride. Other times, I get the raised eyebrow and a shrug to just continue taking photos. Never have I received this sort of response with rude undertones, so I was somewhat taken aback by her attitude. We decided to step back, linger a bit longer and take a closer look at the goods…
As soon as I got home, I fired up the computer to do some web canvassing. As far as my research can tell, Rockin’ Cupcakes is based out of Rockport, Mass., but they don’t have a website or Facebook page. Being a social media and PR person by-day, this is a tactic that I believe every mom ‘n pop shop should have as part of their marketing strategy, even if it’s only a simple website with your hours, location, contact info and a brief menu. But more about that in a bit…
There are several different flavors available to purchase at the mall, like the “The Love Doctor,” (pictured above) a chocolate cupcake filled with ganache and topped with strawberry buttercream frosting. It’s then drizzled with more ganache and a gummy strawberry.
I’m a huge chocolate and banana lover so I opted for the “Chunky Monkey” to-go. It’s a chocolate, chocolate chip banana cake topped with walnut banana cream cheese frosting and then decorated with a banana chip.
My ideal cupcake would be one that is moist and has just the right amount of cake to frosting ratio, and is slathered with a frosting that is creamy and flavorful. The two cupcakes (a cross-section of the Chunky Monkey is shown above) we purchased were both slightly dry and stuffed with enormous amounts of gritty, overly-sugared frosting, which made the cupcakes a diabetic nightmare or the perfect accompaniment for a tall glass of milk. As my husband put it, “There was just a copious amount of frosting to deal with.”
Since Rockin’ Cupcakes had no website or Facebook page that I could find, I dove into the comments on Yelp. While I take every online review I read with a grain of salt, I found the reviews to run the gamut from excellent to awful. But, there were a few comments that resonated with me and really mirrored by own opinion of the product.
It can be an easy scapegoat for businesses to blame social media for why no one is visiting your business or why they don’t like your product. But, if you’re an entrepreneur, you need to listen to the feedback that the public is giving you in whatever form it comes in. Say, you handed out 10 feedback cards in random take-home bags, and you received all of them back. Eight came back with horrible reviews and two with positive reviews. If 80% of your customers thought something was wrong and took the time to give you their personal feedback, you would listen to them and respond. It’s the same thing when a person takes the time to write an online review of your product or business. If there’s a consistent message that resonates throughout comments – no matter where those comments come from – you need to take those comments seriously and re-evaluate your product.
The best example I can use is an episode of Gordan Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares,” where a Los Angeles-based hamburger joint swears that “the Yelpers killed us.” At one point, the owner wanted to report the online reviewers for hate crimes to the LAPD. While this is an extreme case of an owner not understanding how to harness the true power of social media, it’s not that far-fetched from why I believe many businesses won’t engage in social media or other online pursuits. (To read more about this ‘Kitchen Nightmare’ episode and see video of the bloggers confronting restaurant management, click here.)
Social media – like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and Foursquare are excellent ways to gauge what’s working. It’s a free solution to survey your customers and, in turn, provide them with the best possible experience. The most important thing as a business owner is to keep your “brand” as strong as possible. When you have continuous feedback from any source, you must be transparent and respond to the comments in a quick and honest manner – no matter if its online or in person. That said, social media tactics should only be a small portion of your entire business strategy. In the end, your business model needs to grow and mature along with the available communications technologies and tactics so that your business can be the best it can be.
Taking this full circle, I really wish Rockin’ Cupcakes the best. I see a lot of great opportunities for them being a niche bakery in a densely populated area. There’s huge potential for them. I just wish more people weren’t as afraid of social media and the probable good that it could do for a business. Instead of interrogating people about how they’re going to use photos of your product, ask them what would spark them to take a photo. Start a dialogue with your customer base and find out what makes them tick. If the sales person took a quick second to re-frame her comments, my review here would probably have turned out much different, and not into a case study of social media and small business. She would’ve learned that I’m a blogger in my spare time who also loves to bake and get ideas for recipes and decorating. I don’t have any malicious intent when I go out to review a business, I simply take photos and report back with what I feel I received from the product. As a business, if you take that time to ask questions and get to know your customer base, you’ll soon have a larger picture of how your customers think and act so you will be better prepared to present them with exactly what they want.