Published on April 7, 2021 at 4:30 p.m.
by Maggie Palmer.
Small businesses are often considered to be the lifeblood of the American consumer market — there are probably a few in your own backyard.
The statistics say so, too. In Alabama alone, there are almost 400,000 small businesses, comprising over 99% of the state’s marketplace.
In today’s online world, it is more important than ever that small businesses use social media to their advantage. Platforms like Instagram and Facebook can be valuable tools for success, allowing businesses to establish their brands, show off their products and connect with new and existing customers.
Small businesses actually have an advantage in the world of social media marketing when compared to larger companies. A community feeling is born when a small business reaches its target publics, and social media is one of the best ways to foster these budding connections.
Botanica in Birmingham and Oz Music in Tuscaloosa are two small businesses that are making a big impact with social media, using it as a tool to build their brands and cultivate relationships.
Botanica is a boutique houseplant shop that opened its first retail location in downtown Birmingham in 2019. It has since opened one other storefront in Huntsville, Alabama. Tropical and desert houseplants, and the pots to grow them in, are available at both locations.
Caitlin Hastings is Botanica’s founder and social media manager. She worked as a physician assistant after graduating from college but quickly found that she needed an outlet to satisfy her creative side. Thus, Botanica was born; Hastings offered consultation services and held pop-up events before opening her brick-and-mortar store.
“With Botanica, I wanted to take my passion for people and plants and marry the two while actually educating people on what plants they were buying and how to care for them. I felt like nobody was doing that around town,” said Hastings.
Botanica is active on social media, using Instagram as its platform of choice. Photos of the store’s current stock and newest shipments fill its feed. Hastings also ensures to engage with Botanica’s followers; she frequently answers questions and offers plant care tips in the comment sections of posts.
Hastings believes that social media has played a large part in growing Botanica as a business.
“I really credit 90% of our success to Instagram. I feel like our generation uses Instagram more than anything, and they see pretty pictures and plants that they like and want to know more,” said Hastings. “We’ve really been able to grow a lot just by using Instagram to get our name out there.”
Instagram has also helped Botanica establish its brand. Hastings described Botanica as “fun, approachable and not overwhelming,” and she wants customers to feel comfortable when they visit her shop. This feeling is reflected in Botanica’s colorful Instagram posts and emphasis on plant care education.
Hastings believes that her store’s welcoming visual identity and helpful staff are what keep people coming back to Botanica.
Oz Music, or simply Oz, opened its doors in Tuscaloosa in 1989. From new and used vinyl and CDs to audio equipment, Oz specializes in all things music.
Anna Rahkonen is the store manager at Oz and one of three employees who work as the store’s social media managers.
Rahkonen wanted to reestablish Oz’s online presence when she began helping with its Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts almost two years ago. She credits her authentic approach for the recent influx of high school and college students who have become regular customers at Oz.
“When I got access to the social media accounts, it was important to me to up our social media presence and make it a little more relatable and accessible, especially for young people,” said Rahkonen. “Within just a few months of taking that approach, all of us noticed that a lot more college students were shopping in the store.”
Oz keeps its social media presence relatively casual. While Rahkonen has experimented with social media scheduling programs, she frequently finds herself making spontaneous posts instead. Rahkonen prefers this approach; she feels it conveys that there is “a real person making posts and not just an algorithm.”
Rahkonen credits the sense of community that Oz creates between its staff and shoppers for its regular customer base. Safety and acceptance are important to her, and she believes that many have found this feeling while visiting the shop.
Botanica and Oz are living proof that social media can be a valuable tool for small businesses. By establishing their brands and building relationships with new and existing customers online, both stores have made big strides in establishing themselves far beyond their cities’ limits.