By Lee Shearer
Athens Banner-Herald, Ga.
Entrepreneurship today is about technology and pushing your message out on social media, but it’s also about old-fashioned ideas such as customer service and trust, according to the panelists in a Tuesday discussion on the University of Georgia campus.
The panel comprised four people exploring and using the digital world for different purposes — a graduate student building a grant-funded web site designed to educate food stamp recipients on nutrition, two business owners and a marketing research analyst.
Diana Harbour uses Facebook, Instragram and every other kind of social media for her Red Dress Boutique, she told an audience of about 50 who’d come to hear “Digital Disruption: The Latest Ideas Driving Change.” The panel was part of UGA’s Thinc Week, designed to encourage entrepreneurial thinking. Many in the audience were students in UGA’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences, which sponsored the panel.
Business advisers sometimes counsel entrepreneurs not to overload customers with Facebook and Twitter posts and the like, but Harbour does the opposite.
“We are really heavy on that,” she said. “Our website exploded because of social and digital media. We couldn’t afford to put ads in a magazine. We got into every form of social media you could think of.”
But the company didn’t grow from an Athens storefront into a multimillion-dollar online retailer by blasting out its message, she said. That success came from asking customers questions and then listening.
“Growth has come from engaging our customers,” Harbour said.
“We have a huge number of returning customers,” Harbour went on to tell panel moderator Debbie Phillips, herself an entrepreneur as owner and founder of The Quadrillion, a business services company.
UGA graduate student Sarah Stotz had a different kind of idea — SNAP-ED, an online education site to deliver nutrition information, including recipes. Part of it is specifically for people enrolled in the federal food stamp program — now known as SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The site is needed because of Georgia’s high rates of food insecurity and adult obesity, she said. Part of what’s on the site, www.foodtalk.org, is available to anyone, but parts are restricted to those in SNAP.
Among other features, the site offers six video lessons on various nutrition- and health-related topics such as “Eat Well on the Go” and “Keep Your Pressure in Check.”
Bill Kearney, a longtime worker in child and youth services, also saw an educational need he thought he could fill.
Some 4 million people work in child and youth services, from giving ballet services to working with youth gangs and many areas in between, he said. Many of them have never taken a class in child development or other relevant areas, but now they can through Kearney’s Equipping Quality Youth Development Professionals (E-QYP), the first iPhone and iPad app for child and youth services workers or volunteers.
Kearney encouraged the audience to build apps, too.
“Apps are getting easier and easier to do,” he said.
But they can’t be expensive, he counseled.
“It’s got to be less than a Starbucks (cup of coffee),” he said.
Even though keeping customers satisfied is just as much a priority in these digital times, some things have changed, like speed, said Win Blair, a marketing research analyst at the Atlanta-based Southern Company, which owns the Georgia Power Company and other electric utilities.
“The digital disruption is speed,” Blair said. “Everything is much faster now. Customers want solutions now.”