Garrendenny Lane Interiors is a home business based in Carlow. Owned and run by Lorna Sixsmith, it offers a new and unique way to shop for your home. Rather than browsing in a standard shop in town, Lorna’s background in Interior Design allows her to provide a personal service where products can be displayed in a relaxed “home” environment. Not having a shop front in the town does mean that Lorna faces some additional challenges in promoting the business.
Interior design is a relatively new career choice for Lorna, having worked as a teacher, lecturer and head of department previously. Within those roles, she had to plan, deliver, work to targets, (persuade teenagers to complete coursework – easier said than done!), work to time scales and lead teams. While her current business has many of the same requirements – working from home means that these tasks are all done by her and at any hour of the day (or night).
The website was launched in late 2007 and the online shop (www.garrendennylane.ie) opened in August 2008. It stocks items such as kitchenware, bed linen, accessories for children, gifts, tea sets, clocks and candleholders. Such a wide variety of products can make search engine optimisation tricky on a small site.
Lorna first heard about blogging via an Enterprise Board training course and had her web developer integrate the blog into the website to get the most benefit from incoming links. Lorna freely admits that IT is not her strong point – but this does not hold her back from running a successful blog.
Some of the benefits of blogging provides for her business are:
- A better opportunity to reflect her expertise in the Interior Design business on a regular basis
- Information is available to customers 24 hours a day
- Customers have the opportunity to see some of the latest projects
- Constantly updated content keeps customers returning
- The blog and twitter account provides direct access to customers in a way that is difficult with static web pages
- It’s easy to post photos and descriptions of new products without producing a catalogue type interface
- Products can be promoted in a more personal way – without the bland description a traditional online shop may have
- The blog offers more opportunities for search engine optimisation
- Twitter allows customers comments and questions to be dealt with immediately
Lorna spends up to one and a half hours per week writing for her blog (circa three posts per week) and spends about the same time following other people’s blogs. This will be good news for business bloggers that are concerned blogging will take up too much time. Almost 32% of the respondents to the IIA Business Blogger Survey noted that they spent four to eight hours per week on their blogging activities. Lorna recently appeared on RTE’s Not Enough Hours program – where she claims the amount of blogging she does was exaggerated. The program did highlight the difficulty of balancing a work and home environment.
From the first day the blog articles were a mix of personal items, product reviews and tips. Lorna felt that this mix would be most suitable for her target customers because it enhances the personal service she provides. She feels the personal touch is very important for her business – both online and for direct contact. While the blog articles provide a behind the scenes view of her business she also provides an unusual twist on the theme. Customers can send photos of a room (via email or twitter) and get interior design advice by phone and email. The importance of seeing the products is not forgotten either as she sends samples via the post.
It’s not yet clear how useful Twitter will prove as a long term business tool for GarrenDenny Lane Interiors. While it provides direct contact to customers (especially home users outside of normal business hours) Lorna is aware how some users seem to be addicted to it. The majority of her customer contact is via the blog, email or phone calls. Currently she monitors activity on Twitter but only occasionally “tweets”. While also using Google Adwords, Online Directories, LinkedIn and Facebook to promote the business, Lorna says the blog is the focus of her activities. She does admit to being new to Twitter and has not ‘worked’ it properly yet.
One of the major issues for businesses is which metrics can they use to measure the success of a business blog. The IIA Business Blogger Survey found that the top ways that Irish businesses measure the success of their blogging activities include receiving positive feedback from customers and being referred to positively in other, more traditional, media. On both these counts Lorna has been successful with her blog but says she still has a lot more she wishes to achieve. Specifically she says she needs to write articles with a higher focus on potential search engine optimisation.
Her success rate so far has been excellent – she says 30-40% of her business has come via her blogging activities. Her blog has helped her gain customers(*) and make sales in the UK and in the US as well as Ireland. The exchange rate has meant that sales to the UK have drastically reduced but she says the export sales she gets are related to the blog. Lorna also guest writes for an American blog and sends a monthly newsletter that helps remind her customers of her online presence.
With house hunters and home decorators becoming increasingly Internet savvy it’s important for businesses like Garrendenny Lane to not just have an online presence but to be available for their customers and to give them direct access to real people. Lorna is leading the way in showing what a small business can achieve.
(*) How does Lorna know she is gaining customers via the Blog? At this point one might expect details of Google Analytics accounts, cookies and other tracking mechanisms but Lorna uses the most reliable method of all – She talks to her customers. When a customer contacts her with queries – she makes a point of asking them how they found her.
Thanks to Emmet Ryan of Villa81 who made this video which sums up the launch yesterday of “Join the Conversation: The Guide to Blogging for Business“.
I am delighted that the IIA Social Media Working Group are launching “Join the Conversation: The Guide to Blogging for Business” today. Being a member of the working group (and we are all volunteers) I know how much work went into the guide and all the agonizing that was done over the tiniest details . I hope you find it useful and inspiring. However the whole group would love if you could share your thoughts and feedback in the comments here or via twitter, by email, by skype; whichever is your preferred medium!
I have prepared a social media press release for those of you who might like some background information on the guide and those involved. This includes links to media, images, content and a Delicious page with all manner of related content. It might be worth grabbing a feed for this as I will add to it as more content appears online. I hope you find this a useful way of sharing information and I would love any feedback you have on this approach.
A big thank you as well to IIA Member Company Vermillion Design who developed the design of the Guide. It is designed to work best on screen but can be printed also.
The IIA Social Media Working Group not content with the imminent launch of Join the Conversation: IIA Guide to Business Blogging in Ireland next week are forging ahead with their work on the next set of guides. Expect to see guides on social networking, podcasts and RSS in the very near future.
Last Thursday some members of the group and other interested parties came together in The Digital Hub to workshop the draft guide to podcasting for business. You can listen to the whole workshop on a set of three podcasts available from the IIA. You can grab them from our website or ITunes. (N.B. The latter link will attempt to open your iTunes)
A big thank you to Krishna and her team in Biz Growth Media for recording and editing the sound files from the workshop.
Karlin Lillington, the Irish Times technology journalist, who has recently started podcasting herself, came along and has a written a great summary of the thoughts that were shared that evening.
If you would like to read the draft of the Guide to Podcasting for Business you can check it out on our wiki. We welcome any comments or questions that you might have on the wiki itself.
And just for Friday larks you can also hear me be a total eejit in the podcast. Brian Greene, who gives some excellent guidance and tips, asks something along the lines of, “Can I make a point about the importance of silence?” and I say “Yes please do.” Nice one, Roseanne!
This is the first in a series of Social Media Case Studies that the Irish Internet Association Social Media Working Group will be producing over the next few months. This is written by Eoin Kennedy, Slattery Communications. All comments, queries and case study suggestions welcomed via comments below. – RS, IIA.
Using Social Media to Drive the Recycling Message
Repak is a packaging compliance scheme that funds packaging recycling activities in Ireland. It collects levies from organizations that produce packaging and then uses these funds to pay subsidies to waste contractors and local authorities for collecting used packaging from recycling supporting Household Recycling Bins, Bring Banks and Recycling Centres.
This has helped Ireland achieve its EU Packaging Recycling targets. Its license also has an educational remit to drive awareness of recycling and improve actual recycling behavior.
The organisation runs a series of traditional campaigns but these were generally one way so in 2007 the organization looked to embrace the online community and social networks in particular to help further engage younger audiences in a more interactive and media rich way.
- To educate, motivate and engage people in recycling of used packaging
- To create online platforms to engage with a different demographic groups
- To develop compelling online content
- To position Repak as expert on packaging recycling issues
- A profile page was established in Sept 2007.
- Full editorial calendar covering relevant Repak content reformatted for Bebo style and covering key initiatives such as Bring Banks on the Street, Repak Christmas Campaigns and Easter Campaigns, Award Winner, Green Schools Calendar.
- Videos developed and uploaded including Building of ‘blinged’ Bring Banks and Interview with UK artist at launch of Repak Recycling Week in BT2.
- Photos from key launches.
- Answering of recycling queries.
- Series of competitions on the whiteboard.
- Per material a day updates/ updates recycling facts.
- Frequent blog posts.
- Posting and visiting of other profiles.
- Friends network expanded to 1076 and views over 19,700.
- Multiple entries to competitions. Some of the entries were pretty elaborate and allowed us to play back how they drew them.
- 200 Comments after 2 months– some of which were one liners, others were queries while others were supportive.
- 307 Quizzes taken.
- Over 500 Polls.
- Over 1000 view of videos.
- Expanded network and community of people interested in recycling.
Other social media channels
Repaks also deployed a number of other online platforms to spread the message to a wider group and target older age groups including:
Video coverage from different Repak initiatives and launches. Over 1,000 views of different videos.
Community creation through uploading photos to photo sharing sites (generic for reuse by others) and specific launches. Generic photos of recycling activities made available for the community to use. Others give a snap shot of colourful recycling launches and campaigns.
A blog was created and populated focusing on recycling issues in Ireland. Written, video, audio and photo material utilized from different initiatives. The blog aims to create a repository and debating point for recycling issues, topics and updates from Repak.
A group within Facebook has been established to interact with an older audience and create a platform for sharing on recycling issues from seeding discussion and sharing material from video to photography.
The wide range of online properties means that Repak can communicate with a broader range of online communities in a media rich format not possible previously.
- Wider online footprint.
- Positioning of Repak as expert in packaging recycling issues.
- 24/7 Availability of Repak and recycling issues.
- Engagement and community development with other recyclers.
- Regular and easy to update content from video to photography.
- Better search engine visibility.
- Driving higher recycling rates and acceptance of recycling message.
- Direct contact with harder to reach demographics.
- More positive public face of the organisation
Repak has now established a number of communications channels and communities through which it can interact and with which it can communicate. The organisation produces a wealth of content and through customising the messages for the different platforms and utilising video, audio and photography it can portray the recycling message in a variety of different and engaging ways. Further engagement with these new communities needs to be undertaken to create a truly interactive relationship, in conjunction with the ongoing development of content and other tools such as applications. Social media now forms part of the planning process for all Repak initaitives.
Repak are a client of Slattery Communications who helped develop and maintain their online presence.