Pilot Program "Root Social Merced" Is Harnessing the Power of Social Media Marketing for Small Business

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Being digitally savvy is a crucial component for small businesses to be able to compete and grow in today’s marketplace. Small businesses in California’s economically challenged San Joaquin Valley are experiencing success embracing social media marketing as a part of unique new program getting to the root of social media.

Toni's Courtyard Cafe & Bakery

Small businesses today face more competition than ever. Technology is leveling the playing field for many of these businesses and can be the springboard they need to improve profit margins and drive economic growth.

Small businesses in California’s economically challenged San Joaquin Valley are now experiencing success embracing social media marketing as a result of participation in a unique training program, Root Social Merced.

Recently concluding its third cohort, 51 local small businesses have been trained through the Root Social Merced program since 2013 in social media best practices resulting in engagement with more than 10,000 customers. Of these businesses, 75 percent increased their customer base by at least 30 percent and saw a 15 percent increase in revenue in-store and online.

“Increasingly, being digitally savvy is a crucial component in the overall success of small business,” said Mary Hogarty, Vice President and Community Development Officer for Citi Community Development. “Root Social Merced is teaching small businesses the very skills needed to take advantage of this ever-expanding medium to grow their business.”

“Merced’s small businesses have a unique opportunity to capture and expand their customer base through social media,” said Lori Schiffbauer, Client and Community Liaison for Root Social Merced. “Root Social Merced’s social media coaching program is teaching small businesses how to develop personal relationships with their customers and gain valuable insight into their shopping habits. This is crucial in today’s world where social media is now the online extension of word of mouth marketing."

Toni Fiorenza, owner of local restaurant Toni’s Courtyard Café & Bakery, entered the Root Social Merced program in 2013 with very little knowledge or understanding of social media and the impact it could have for her business. Eager to learn more about new ways she could engage with her customers, Toni quickly realized social media would be a critical element. But with very little practical knowledge, Toni believed she couldn’t compete with more savvy nearby restaurants.

When presented the opportunity to be paired with a social media strategist trained by Root Social at no cost, she jumped at it. During the three-month training program, Toni learned how to implement best practices to manage her time while utilizing tools and strategies to build awareness for her business on Facebook. Impressed with her newfound understanding of social media but still short on time, Toni elected to retain Root Social Merced to maintain and execute the social media strategy developed. As a result, Toni’s Courtyard Café & Bakery today has a 30 percent increase in new customers and more importantly, a 31 percent increase since entering the program. So impressed by the results, Toni continues to retain Root Social Merced today to manage her Facebook page and customer engagement through social media.

Often, small businesses need help to use social media to build relationships and engage in real-time exchange with customers. This is true across the country and especially in Merced where an evaluation of local small businesses by United Way of Merced County found that 82 percent of those surveyed need help setting up, and maintaining, a social media campaign for their business.

With the support of a two-year $215,000 award from Citi Community Development managed by United Way of Merced County, Root Social Merced was created to help the area’s small business community grow and succeed through coaching on the importance of adopting, learning and maintaining social media strategies. Root Social Merced pairs local small businesses and entrepreneurial interns to create successful marketing strategies giving them the resources they need to compete in today’s ever-evolving business climate.

The pressure of competition is challenging for small businesses, many of which operate on slim profit margins and have little room for error. Small businesses need new opportunities to compete yet; nearly half of low- to moderate-income business owners are not using social media to promote their businesses according to a 2012 Citi Community Development commissioned study by the Center for an Urban Future.

Continued Hogarty, “Small businesses today face more competition than ever. Technology is leveling the playing field for many of these businesses and can be the springboard they need to improve profit margins and drive economic growth.”

The economic growth experienced by California’s urban and coastal cities in the past year far outpaces much of what has occurred in the Central Valley. According to recent numbers by the California Employment Development Department, Merced County’s unemployment rate is now 12.7 percent – nearly double the nation’s jobless rate. And, for more than a decade Merced has been nationally ranked among the worst in poverty, education, health, and economic development.

Merced – and California – has much at stake in ensuring that more of its small businesses are able to compete and grow in today’s marketplace. Root Social Merced is using social media marketing as a powerful tool to empower local small businesses to do just this.

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About Root Social Merced
Created in 2012 by a grant from Citi Community Development and managed by United Way of Merced County, Root Social Merced is teaching small businesses how to build their brands through strategic social media marketing. Utilizing a strong network of business and social entrepreneurs supporting each other through strategically coordinated social media campaigns, Root Social is establishing processes to nurture and sustain a flourishing, vibrant ecosystem of entrepreneurism in the Merced community. For more information, visit http://www.rootsocialmerced.com.

About United Way of Merced County
The United Way of Merced County (UWMC) has been operating since 1954 and functions as a leader in collaborative relationships and community building in Merced County. Working with business, government and individuals, as well as the nonprofit community, the UWMC seeks to relieve the burdens of its most vulnerable and dependent citizens, and to help them become healthier, more financially stable and actively engaged in a stronger community. For more information, visit http://www.unitedwaymerced.org.

About Citi Community Development
Citi Community Development leads Citi's commitment to achieve economic empowerment and growth for underserved individuals, families and communities by expanding access to financial products and services, and building sustainable business solutions and innovative partnerships. Our focus areas include: commercial and philanthropic funding; innovative financial products and services; and collaborations with institutions that expand access to financial products and services for low-income and underserved communities. For more information, visit http://www.citicommunitydevelopment.com.

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Emilie Cameron
3fold Communications
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