In the eight years SALON TODAY has been featuring its annual technology issue, we've explored a number of ways-from websites to e-mail newsletters-that owners are tapping into technology to enhance communication with staff and clients.
Today, a growing number of salon owners are riding the cusp of today's newest tech tools and enhancing their communicative power through blogging.
"Blogging?" you say. "Isn't that what teenagers and college students do?"
Yes, it is. But more and more, business owners are using blogs to attract new customers and build stronger communities of existing clientele. Short for "web log," the blog is defined as a specialized site that allows an individual or group to share a running log of events and personal insights with online audiences.
Don't take our word for it. Aura Mae, the owner of Azarra Salon in Tacoma, Washington, writes both a customer-oriented salon blog (www.getsomehairapy.com) and a blog for small salon owners (www.smallsalons.wordpress.com). She recently blogged the following reasons a salon should enter the blogosphere:
"You want to connect with potential new clients. A blog is a way for potential customers to get a feel for the place before deciding if your salon is the one for them. It is an amazing way to have a conversation with someone at their leisure. Fifteen minutes spent on your blog is better (for both of you!) than 15 minutes on the phone."
"You want to extend the salon experience to existing clients between visits. Make no mistake-your clients come to you for more than just their hair. The salon experience is about so much more. It's about connection and community. Belonging. Remember when you learned that by selling a client a bottle of shampoo, they thought about you every time they used it? Same idea. You want them to think about you. You want them to talk about you. You want them to come back to you!"
"You don't have lots of money to spend on marketing. Let's not fool ourselves. As small fries, we don't have the same advertising budget as the big guys. But the Internet is the great equalizer. A blog is a personal connection between the writer and the reader. It makes big business seem smaller and more approachable and small business feel bigger and more valuable. And blogging is free. How's that for budget friendly?"
Todd Suttles, owner of Noland Suttles Salon in Atlanta, Georgia, and author of www.toddsuttles.typepad.com, adds "the blog is a running dialog. It's like having a conversation with your clients, only you're talking to the world"
Sound good? Before you begin, Mae, Suttles and other beauty bloggers point out some common DOs and DON'Ts:
To optimize your blog, i.e. draw the biggest audience, you need to use the words and phrases that readers are currently entering into their search engines, says Michael Butera, general manager of MODERN SALON's www.beautyschooladvisor.com and search engine marketing manager for Vance Publishing, SALON TODAY's parent company. "Most people would be using a search engine, such as Google, Yahoo, or MSN to explore the Internet," Butera says. "You can tap into tools, such as www.wordtracker.com, to discover the key phrases that people are searching. Then use these key phrases in your title where you can and repeat them in the first and last paragraphs of your blog."
Noori Daili, owner of Next Salon in Santa Monica, hired a computer consultant for $85 an hour to research popular search phrases for the blog she hosts on her website, www.nextsalon.com. "It's really important to us to have the right marketing person to help us identify phrases," says Daili. "For example, two years ago we did a blog on eyebrow threading. We were the only ones to have a blog that explained this service and it brought us so many new clients. Some of our other successful blog topics have been eyelash extensions, beach weddings and waxing."
If you can type-and even if you can't-you can blog. Linda Reagan, owner of Linda's Shear Spirit in Mason, Michigan, freely admits she's not very computer literate. "I have enough trouble with my clippers, but even I saw that blogging was a way the younger girls are communicating with each other and thought it was the way to go for our salon," she explains.
Reagan started her blog (www.lindassalonblog.com) last fall after experiencing a devastating walkout of 15 staff members. "Our clients were very upset when they were contacted by these staff after they took their personal information from our salon files," se says. "First we mailed a letter to clients explain the situation, but then we started the blog to communicate them." Today, Reagan uses the blog to inform clients about product specials, introduce new staff members, share her staff's educational experiences, describe new products and keep clients posted with news about a staff member currently serving as a missionary in Africa.
"The days of word-of-mouth exclusivity are gone," says Suttles. "Now everything is researched on the Internet and you've got to be present. A satisfied client may recommend you to that friend, but that friend will also check out your website and blog before she books and appointment." When that client does reach out to you through technology, if all they discover is a strong-handed sales pitch, they may run the other way.
While your website communicates facts about your salon, your blog creates your online personality. Successful blogs tone down the sales, in an effort to keep communication real and very human. Suttles recommends using appropriate humor, sharing usable beauty and fashion tips and showcasing staff talents through before and after images. "We also like to take pictures of people showcasing good and bad fashion, similar to Glamour magazine's DOs and DON'Ts-it's fun but a little bit goes a long way."
That doesn't mean a little friendly promotion isn't appropriate. Amid your blog's chatter, feel free to share a product special or announce a new service.
While a daily blog entry might be the optimum communication, it's not always possible for busy salon owners. "But the more you can do it the better," says Butera. "To really get your return on your efforts, you should blog at least two or three times a week."
Mae has found an easier way to post multiple entries per week. "I've started writing them on my day off because that's when I have time, then I can scatter them to hit the blog on different days throughout the week," she says.
If you worry that you don't have enough to say to support several blog entries each week, remember that a blog's not just for speaking, it's for sharing.
Mae uses her blog to communicate the same tidbits she would share with a client sitting in her chair. She pulls information from the variety of online news services to which she subscribes, always crediting or linking to the source. For example, Mae's blog recently featured the results of a quiz asking women what celebrity perk they'd most desire; images from the NAHA finalists; a recipe for sparkling sangria; a comparison of Jenna Bush's informal wedding updo with Grace Kelly's ever-classic style; and the images showing the results of foot-binding. To make it her own, she simply writes a paragraph or two of personal thoughts on the subject as an introduction.
In addition to encapsulating nuggets of info on the blog and linking it to the full story on other websites as Mae does, you should look to link to professional websites with interesting fashion and beauty information that enhance your blog.
"For example, I recently started featuring a new straightening service and I linked my blog to the manufacturer's site, which gives more detailed information," Suttles says. "Those who are interested can click through for more info, while those who aren't can continue on with the blog."
But there's another important reason to link, stresses Butera. "Links are like a vote of confidence and search engines rate a site as more valuable when it has more links. While you don't want to go overboard with it, you also can create a personal blog on a social site like MySpace.com or Facebook.com and link that back to your salon blog."
Just as a magazine article is more exciting with stimulating photos, graphics and type treatment, blogs are better with some added visual impact. Blogging services help by providing visually interesting formats and making it easy to import your own images. For example, Mae recently blogged about a professional class she and a coworker taught at a beauty show and included images from the show. Suttles maintains a separate blog on his website just to show published work of the Noland Suttles staff.
Here's another perk of using photos-and even videos: Butera it can help readers find your blog more easily through a search engine than using words alone.
You can put your message out there, but how do you know anyone's reading it? Most blogging services offer methods by which you can measure visitor traffic.
Mae reports she's had 27,000 hits to her blog, and while she gathers readers from all over, the majority are clustered in her area. She also knows the most popular search phrase leading readers to her was "hair color trends" and "how to curl hair with a flatiron." Suttles also says thousands have visited his blog, and the highest average time spend on his blog was nine minutes.
You can supplement this information with internal measures to determine what impact the blog is having on your salon. Daili asks every new client how they heard about the salon. She was pleased to discover that of the clients who were not referred by another client, 80 percent found the salon through the blog. A coupon incorporated onto the blog offering 10 percent off any salon service also helps the salon track impact.
"My four-chair salon can't compete with the advertising budgets of a 75-chair salon, but our blogs have the same opportunity to reach as many people," Mae says.
But for a large salon, a blog can create an intimate environment. With 28 retail-focused spas in 13 states, Blue Mercury's owner Marla Malcolm Beck most likely will never meet the majority of her clientele. Buy she uses her Marla's Beauty Blog, located at www.bluemercury.com, as a vehicle for personally reaching out to them. A self-professed product junkie, Beck loves to blog about her personal experiences with different products.
Unlike a salon newsletter that you can directly mail to a targeted list, your blog can literally be accessed by anyone who surfs the Internet. That broad reach can have some surprising results.
Daili's blog has drawn regular clients from outside the Los Angeles area, where her salon is based. "Clients will drive far and spend $150-$250 in one day when they know are getting excellent service," she says. "I've even picked up a few clients from London who fly to LA a few times a year, and our beach wedding blog entry drew a bride from one of the Scandinavian countries who was getting married on our beach."
Your salon's blog is the perfect spot to brag about staff member's accomplishments. While they feel awkward telling their clients that they've been selected as a platform artist or have work appearing in a fashion magazine, the blog is the ultimate show-and-tell vehicle.
You also can encourage staff members to write blog entries (just be sure to edit them before they post). Reagan lays out proposed blog entries on the break room table, inviting staff members to review and add info before she posts. Many of Suttle's staff members have MySpace pages with personal blogs that link to the salon's blog. And one of his staff members recently designed a promotion targeted at college kids which he featured on the blog.
While Mae has encouraged staff members to write blog entries, she hasn't had many takers. That's why she overwhelmingly benefits from the new clients coming in by way of the blog specifically to see her, she says. When it comes to blogging, "The person with the voice is the person with the power," Mae says.
"I'm a four-chair salon in the Seattle-Tacoma market, which has 1,244 salons," Mae says. "Our blog communicates that we're a fun salon. Our blog goal is for it to be an extension of the salon experience-anything we're talking about in the salon is what we talk about on the blog. The idea is that you can still get a taste of the salon-and feel part of our community-even if you're not physically in the salon."
While Mae does use her blog to share a visit from a celebrity client or to tell clients when she and other staff members have been invited to teach a course, she also uses it to simply communicate fun news she thinks would interest her client community.
Salon owners who blog frequently often find themselves writing more than one blog simultaneously. Mae maintains her salon blog and the blog for small salon owners. Todd Suttles writes the salon's blog, as well as another blog that resulted out of a joint venture between the salon, the Institute Dermed MediSpa and Jim Buckhead Health and Fitness, both in Atlanta.
The three joined together to host Beauty Boot Camp, a competition that selected six semi-finalists from 200 applicants to undergo eight-week transformations through services from all three businesses. During the competition, the finalists were asked to post their experiences on Suttle's blog (www.mybeautybootcamp.com). The semi-finalists shared their personal experiences about losing weight and working with a trainer at the health club, undergoing skin procedures at the medispa, and receiving their hair and makeup transformations at Noland Suttles Salon.
"We asked each contestant to share their experiences every week and it created blog entries that were human and really resonated with readers. People would read the entries and post words of encouragement, cheering on the contestants," Suttles explains. "After eight weeks, we selected the overall winner-the person who embraced the concept and was the most committed to the process. It's hard to say how this has impacted our business, but I can say our new client figures have gone up 40 percent per week since we started the Boot Camp and its blog."
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