Cats Need Facebook, Too!

Here’s a twist on the old chicken-and-egg metaphor: Busch Pet Products, based in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, opened its brick-and-mortar store nearly two years after launching its website. So it shouldn’t come as a major surprise that owner Stacy Busch-Heisserer has been using social media since her pet supply company’s early days. She continues to use Facebook, Twitter, and several industry-specific sites to help grow both her online and physical stores. The strategy appears to be working: The company has plans to expand in 2011, including moving to a larger retail location and hiring additional staff.

For owners that think they lack the technical know-how to market their business online, the Busch Pet Products story should inspire confidence: “I’m just a girl with a degree in English from our local university. I know very little about HTML and all that stuff,” Busch-Heisserer says. She recently shared with us some of her experiences using social media for business, including what has worked well — and what hasn’t — along the way.

ISBB: When did you first begin using social media?

Busch-Heisserer: I began using social media not long after I opened my website in October 2008. I had been on Facebook personally already, so I added a page for Busch Pet Products. Twitter came next. I don’t have a lot of friends that tweet but it was the next logical step. When I decided to open our brick-and-mortar store in July 2010, I was able to announce the opening on Facebook and the store gained even more fans.

What prompted you to create a social presence for your business?

When I started the website, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t understand anything about keywords or tags. I didn’t know if people would find my site or not. I realized I would have to do some advertising to get the word out, but [traditional] advertising turned out be way beyond my budget. I started reading some online blogs and industry publications about other ways to advertise and social media seemed like an easy alternative. I set up a Facebook fan page and recommended it to all my friends. I then also set up a Twitter account. As I began to get tweets from others who were pet lovers, I realized there were also social media sites dedicated to the love of pets, so I set up accounts with them. Sites like Cuteness, Dogster and Catster, Dogasaur, Doggyspace, and others cater to pet lovers, who spend lots of money on their furry kids.

What have been the biggest benefits for Busch Pet Products?

I think the biggest benefit to social media for my business is the idea that I can communicate things so much more quickly than waiting for an ad to come out or to make a flier and spend tons of time posting it all over town. The information is instant. When I post something on my Facebook page, over 800 fans see it immediately. And, since my Twitter account is linked to my Facebook account, there are thousands more people who see it. It really does embody the sense of the word viral. I can post a photo of a new product that just arrived in the store and lots of people can see it. I also like to post photos of our four-legged customers. Since pet owners love to brag on their pets, it’s a win-win situation for both the business and the pet owner.

Have you made any mistakes?

Oh yes, of course! The whole social media thing has been a major learning experience for me. I was content to have a personal page on Facebook and be happy with it, but when I saw what could happen with a business fan page, I had to do one. I realized quickly that not all my friends were interested in becoming fans… which I realize now is okay. Not everyone knows how to use Facebook like I do, and I’m no expert by any means. I also had to learn the ins and outs of trying promotions on Facebook. The site has guidelines that have to be followed and I’m constantly looking back to their promotion page to make sure I’m not breaking any rules. I’ve also found myself spending too much time posting sales, specials, and so on, which I think can turn fans off. This year, I’ve started posting a weekly “Did You Know?” post, which gives a bit of insight into dog and cat behavior. So far, I’ve gotten some replies on those topics, both good and bad. You want feedback from your fans, for sure. Closer to Valentine’s Day, I’ll have fans post photos of their pet valentines. I don’t want my page to be one-sided. I want comments and interaction. It keeps people interested and it ups my hits.

What advice would you give to a fellow business owner just getting started with social media?

Take some time to learn how social media works. Knowledge is power. I feel very comfortable on Facebook — until they go and change it yet again — and I’m learning more and more about Twitter every day. Twitter has been great in helping me find new and unusual items to sell on my website and in my store, which I tout as one of the strengths of our business. Products like the Sink Drink get lots of comments, which in turn can become a sale.

About Kevin Casey

Kevin Casey is a regular contributor here, at InformationWeek and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @kevinrcasey.
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