By Barry Adams
The Wisconsin State Journal.
It wasn’t that long ago when businesses handed off the management of social media accounts to the intern.
That’s no longer the case for companies serious about reaching their customers through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and, more recently, Snapchat.
The shift is helping Kelly Ehlers to rapidly grow Ideas That Evoke, an agency along the Beltline and near Babe’s Bar & Grill that specializes in managing social media accounts. About 70 percent of Ehlers’ work is with beauty, salon and spa companies like Procter & Gamble, Wella Professionals, Elizabeth Arden and Racine-based Andis Co., a maker of hair clippers.
The remaining 30 percent of her work varies and includes Tide Dry Cleaners, CapTel Captioned Telephone, Steve’s Wine, Beer & Spirits and Vocal Point, a social community targeted at mothers.
Ehlers founded her company while living in Arizona. Since moving in 2012 to Wisconsin, where her husband works at William Ryan Homes, Ehlers has seen her business take off, so much so that’s she’s looking for a larger space for her company.
But despite her digital focus and success, Ehlers remains grounded and is reminded every day of her Iowa roots thanks to her desk made from the door of her grandmother’s farmhouse.
QUESTION: Why is your company growing so quickly?
ANSWER: All of our business has been 100 percent referral and word of mouth. When I started in 2009, I started consulting with my colicky baby at my kitchen table. It was not glamorous, it was very stressful. One of the reasons we’re growing so quickly is that we overmanage the details, not to be confused with micromanaging the details. We excel in areas that other agencies don’t pay attention to and that is the finite little details of the (social media) relationship.
When I started the business, it was to be incredibly niche. Nobody has wanted to own social media, mostly because there was never a budget for it. But now the light bulb has sort of come on. There’s a line item (in the budget) for social media now.
Q: What’s it like looking for office space?
A: I would say relatively challenging. I have an awesome broker, but I want our space to be open and collaborative and, at least on the West Side where I’m looking, there’s not a lot of options. And because of the boom of construction in Madison the cost to build out an office is relatively high, too.
Q: You like to read. How important is it for a business owner or manager to continue to self-edcuate?
A: I think it’s really important. I often get the question from a social perspective of “Who taught you all of this? How did you learn all this and when and where?” I really self-educated myself on what these new communication tools were. That’s a question I get a lot. “What should I read, what do you do and how do you keep up with this?” Through reading and self-educating, the biggest thing I learn from are the ups and downs from other entrepreneurs. So, self-education is a huge piece of the puzzle, especially in what we do because social is changing every day. If you’re not educating yourself or reading or keeping up with the trends on a daily basis, then you’re going to get left behind.
Q: What are your morning social media habits?
A: The ritual is when I hear my 3-year-old say, “Come and get me.” I do that and then admittedly I grab my phone and I check my social sites before I do anything else. I think that’s probably a pretty common habit. I look at my calendar for the day. I check my e-mails. I check Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and I usually check to see what’s happening on a multitude of our clients’ pages as well. The habit also includes reading the Skim in the morning, which is kind of what you need to know for the day (from a pop culture standpoint). It’s like your water cooler for the day.
Q: What printed publications do you read besides the Wisconsin State Journal?
A: My first one is probably Advertising Age, then Inc. magazine and Entrepreneur magazine. I’ve gotten out of the habit, but I really love the Harvard Business Review.
Q: How do you find time to read?
A: It’s very hard. I’ll take some time out during my day, but it’s mostly during the weekends in the mornings before everyone is up for the day. I make time here and there, but a lot of it I do on social (media). I use social as almost a news aggregate.
Q: When Facebook launched in 2004 and Twitter in 2006, many users tried to separate their personal and business lives on the platforms. Is that still a good idea?
A: A couple of years ago, the trend would have been to say no. But now I think we live in a world that’s so transparent that I encourage the people we’re training, our employees and even myself to live in that world of transparency. Know who’s watching you and what you’re digital footprint is. Tweets are stored in the Library of Congress so who you’re following is a representation of what you’re interested in. When I get an application from someone, the very first thing I do after I skim their resume is to look at their Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn profile and see who they are.
Q: Do you monitor your employees’ social media activity?
A: I do watch what our employees are talking about (on social media) because their personal brand is a representation of the agency’s brand. From a business leader standpoint you have to think about your positioning and your brand on social. People may say, “Well, I don’t have a brand on social.” Well, guess what? You do. If you are on social media, you have a brand and a representation and you want to be mindful about the things you’re talking about.
Q: If you’re applying for a job and you have some questionable material on a social media account, whether it be political, profane or otherwise, what is your recommendation?
A: Take it down. Take the questionable information down. You have to be cognizant that if you’re looking for a job you have to put your best foot forward just like you would on your resume or during an interview. Social is your minute-to-minute representation of your brand so you’ve got to be very cognizant of who’s viewing your content.
Q: How does a business capitalize on Snapchat?
A: A lot of big brands have jumped on the Snapchat bandwagon in the last few months. We were at an event in Chicago with a client recently, and we noticed that most of the attendees were using Snapchat because it was a fashion show. That event was actually trending on Snapchat, and we as a brand had not inserted ourselves into that conversation. I think for live events, it’s really important to have those captured conversations and stories on Snapchat. But first you have to build a following.