National News

Small businesses work to keep up on social media

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-05-14 13:00

In the middle of the night, Brenda Shapiro woke up and thought: “LibbyLicious.” The perfect name for a small baking business built from a mandel bread recipe handed down by her husband’s grandmother, Libby.

Unfortunately, the South Florida baker did not wake up with a social media strategy.

“This is why I have my daughter-in-law do this for me,” Shapiro said, “I’m busy baking, delivering, packaging, going out and selling my cookies myself. I’m a one-person show.”

There were 28.2 million small businesses in the United States in 2011, the most recent year of data available from the U.S. Small Business Administration. For mom and pop, the ins and outs of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram can prove tricky.

When Brenda Shapiro quit her job as a surgical assistant at 50 years old, it certainly wasn't to pursue a life-long love of hashtags and status updates. She was following her passion for baking. Shapiro’s social media strategy for LibbyLicious is to take pictures and send them to her daughter-in-law, who posts those pictures to the company’s social media accounts. As a result, Shapiro couldn’t actually remember her own Twitter handle.

“It’s ‘LibbyLibicious.co,’” she said. When it was pointed out to her that periods aren’t allowed in a Twitter username, she guessed again: “Just ‘LibbyLicious’?”

Actually it’s @LibbyLiciousCo.

Last year, the social networking site LinkedIn published a survey that found most small businesses are most concerned with attracting new customers. And that they’re banking on social media as part of the solution.

One potential reason: the voice of a single stranger on social media could hold irrational power.

“Remember back to the days when there were Blockbuster video stores?” said Angela Hausman, who runs the social media marketing firm Hausman and Associates. “Other customers would come up behind us and see us looking at a video box and say, ‘Oh yeah! I really liked that movie.’ Or, ‘no! That was a really stupid movie. Don’t get that...’ We believed them!”

Marcus Messner, a social marketing professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, says getting people to talk about your brand is a first step. “I think the real challenge is to go beyond people liking your Facebook page or following your Twitter account.” The Holy Grail, Messner said, is to “actually have them do something: Have them buy your product, show up at your store.”

In 2009, before its reality TV debut on TLC, Georgetown Cupcake started turning followers into customers by posting a daily secret flavor on Twitter and Facebook. The “FREE (not-on-menu)” cupcake goes to the first 100 customers who show up and ask for the flavor by name: “Vanilla caramel hazelnut” on the day this story was written.

@GTownCupcake/Twitter

Sofie Kallinis LaMontagne, who started the company with her sister Katherine Kallinis Berman, says they use social media to pull back the curtain on their business.

“Secret flavor is one of those ways,” LaMontagne said. “It’s giving [customers] an inside look at flavors we’re developing, things that are not quite on the menu yet. And they feel like they’re a part of the experience.”

Brenda Shapiro, the one-woman, mandel bread-baking show, doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location to lure customers into just yet. She’s still working on building her social media identity.

Niklas Myhr, a blogger and assistant professor at Chapman University, had a few specific ideas for Shapiro.

For starters, he said, “it could help to have a sort of backstory.” To tell people about Grandma Libby and her history and her recipe.

Also, he says, small business owners are experts in their fields. Hone that expertise and write posts that are informative, “something that is not just looking like an ad,” he said.

Finally, listen to people online. Be helpful.

“The same principles that Dale Carnegie wrote about in ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ still apply in the digital era,” said Myhr.

US-certified 'GMO free' on the way, for a price

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-05-14 13:00

Chipotle made headlines last month for its decision to remove genetically modified ingredients from the food at its 1,800 stores.

Now, the Associated Press reports that the United States Department of Agriculture plans to start issuing its own certification for foods that are “GMO free." There are currently no government labels that certify a food as GMO-free, nothing akin to Department of Agriculture’s “certified organic” label.

But, in a letter obtained by the AP, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack describes a plan to roll out a voluntary “GMO Free” distinction that  companies can pay to get; a government certification that could be a marketing advantage. The label was requested by a large food company. 

Brian Yarbrough is a consumer research analyst with Edward Jones.

“The natural organic food industry is exploding with growth and the regular food industry is just struggling,” Yarbrough says. “If you are just a core center-of-the-aisle, a Kraft Food or a Kellogg's, you can go back and look at the results, growth is hard to come by."

Yarbrough says it’s too soon to tell if “GMO free” will achieve the same market appeal that organic has. 

But consumer groups pushing for GMO disclosure aren’t thrilled

“We think this is an outrageous move,” Katherine Paul, associate director of the Organic Consumers Association, says. The group supports laws requiring companies to disclose all GMO ingredients.

Making it easier for consumers to find GMO-free food is a good thing, Paul says, but "not if it's going to cause the manufacturers of those products to have to charge consumers more because they had to pay for that certification."

Food companies oppose mandatory disclosure of GMOs, citing scientific consensus that GMO food is safe.

The Department of Agriculture has not said when it will start issuing the labels.

There are possible ways to check your food labels though. KQED's Mike Kahn breaks down how to read Price Look-up Codes (PLUs) to look for conventional, organic and GMO produce. 

Tom Brady Appeals 'Deflategate' Suspension

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-14 12:58

The NFL Players Association, which filed the appeal on behalf of the New England Patriots quarterback, is calling for a neutral arbitrator to hear the appeal.

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Why Some Detroit Residents Claim To Live Someplace Else

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-14 12:56

The city has some of the highest auto insurance rates in the U.S. Many residents there drop coverage — or claim they live outside the city limits. The mayor has a plan to cut the cost of insurance.

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Now, Ben Carson Leads In A Republican Poll

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-14 12:54

The retired pediatric neurosurgeon and Tea Party favorite may be having his moment in the crowded Republican 2016 presidential primary.

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After Suicides, MIT Works To Relieve Student Pressure

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-14 12:52

In the past year, four students have died by suicide. The school has responded by asking professors to lighten workloads and is launching new suicide prevention efforts.

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She's Almost Real: The New Humanoid On Customer Service Duty In Tokyo

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-14 12:52

In Tokyo, a stylish new department store receptionist isn't a human at all. It's a lifelike silicone robot with movements so real, it's fooling some customers.

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Six things to do with your new free time on Facebook

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-05-14 12:43

Facebook's new Instant Articles feature allows news organizations like Buzzfeed and the New York Times publish articles directly to the site. The pitch is that they'll load faster, so users won't waste precious seconds waiting for content to load. Here's a few things you can do with that free time.

This video was produced by Preditorial.

Elon Musk's evolution, from sci-fi dreams to Space X

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-05-14 12:33

Elon Musk runs a couple of high-tech companies, but they do more than code.

They make things like space rockets and electric cars. Elon Musk is the CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla, and now he’s the subject of a new biography by Bloomberg Business reporter Ashlee Vance. It’s called "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future."

Vance's book is getting some buzz this week. We talked with him about, arguably, one of the most important entrepreneurs of our time.

On Elon Musk’s upbringing:

He was born in South Africa, and ... as you might kind of expect, he was really into sci-fi and video games. He was a bit of a loner at school. He was very bright. Growing up, his father was pretty hard on him. It’s one of these things in the book where Elon and his family members talk about it, but they never say what was so difficult about his dad…but you know that it left this big impression on Elon’s life.

About Musk’s evolution in Silicon Valley:

He had to learn a lot during that period. At Zip2, he was the CEO of the company and he was not a great CEO. He worked really hard, and people were impressed with that. He outworked everybody and he had this hustle. He was smart but he wasn't great at managing people. Then he gets to PayPal and it sort of repeats, although he’s getting a little bit better as time goes on. And he’s finding ways to sort of marshal people and learn to encourage them, and then he realizes you get more out of people if you do that. You see him evolve.

On Tesla’s charging stations and innovation:

I was one of many people who thought that was crazy and it would never happen, and today there are hundreds of these charging stations, not only in the United States but in Europe and Asia. So you have a guy who built the electric car and then built the fuel infrastructure to pull it off. When he starts doing things like that, you start giving him the benefit of the doubt.

On Space X:

I think Space X has changed the space industry. All of its competitors are reacting to it. There’s still huge gambles and risks but the companies are very healthy right now.

New England Patriots Clarify: 'Deflator' Refers To Weight Loss

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-14 11:59

The Patriots say staff members used the term "deflate" to talk about losing weight — not about breaking the NFL's rules on football inflation, as the league says.

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Your Wallet: Can you buy exclusivity?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-05-14 11:55

On next week's show, we're talking about exclusivity. 

What does it mean for you, in your finances? We want to hear your stories of exclusivity...tell us about the time you paid a premium for a special service (or didn't!) or signed up for a high-rewards membership credit card. We want your stories of being excluded and included when it comes to finance. 

Write to us here, visit the Marketplace Facebook page, or tweet us, we're @MarketplaceWKND

Fast-Track Trade Measure Clears Key Senate Hurdle

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-14 11:32

The 65-33 vote comes two days after senators rejected a measure to take up the bill giving President Obama fast-track trade authority.

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Nurse Visits Help First-Time Moms, Cut Government Costs In Long Run

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-14 11:23

The Affordable Care Act has made available more assistance to new mothers so they can raise healthier kids. But critics say the standards for those programs are too lenient.

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Historian Says Don't 'Sanitize' How Our Government Created The Ghettos

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-14 11:16

Historian Richard Rothstein studies residential segregation in America. His conclusion: "federal, state and local governments purposely created racial boundaries in these cities."

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Face-to-face transactions at the farmer's market

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-05-14 11:01

Transactions are getting quicker, easier, more digital, less personal. At convenience stores and even grocery stores you can check yourself out. In a growing number of stores, you can pay with your phone

Sometimes, simple transactions come at a cost.

But one marketplace remains mostly unchanged by technology and mostly un-marred by fees: the farmer's market. There, you can still find tables piled high with fresh fruits and veggies, see the same familiar faces selling flowers or handmade soaps, try hummus and dips made the day before, and interact with the farmers who grew your food. 

Even though an increasing number of market's accept food stamps, prices are higher than what you'd find at a typical grocery store. Still, there are deals to be had — sometimes if you're willing to haggle a little bit, other times if you're willing to buy in bulk. 

At the farmer's market in Los Angeles, we brought $20 and left with pounds of strawberries -- enough for two pies -- seven avocados, a half-dozen eggs, two nectarines and two donut peaches, the first stone fruit of the season. 

A few tips for how to make the most of your money at the farmer's market:

  • Buy in bulk: if you have a vendor you like, buy a few things from them, they're more likely to throw in something extra or knock a dollar off the price
  • Don't pick out your own fruit: ask the farmer what's ripe, and if they have time, have them pick out what you're looking for. You'll end up with the best tasting fruit, and if you ask for "$4 worth of ____" instead of picking it out yourself and having them weigh it later, you'll stay on budget. 
  • Buy in season. Produce is cheapest when it's in season, no matter where you're buying. 
  • Try things! Take advantage of free samples and deals on new products or seasonal specials. 

What NATO Diplomats Do On Their Downtime: Sing 'We Are The World'

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-14 11:00

NATO foreign ministers in Antalya, Turkey, were persuaded at the end of their meeting this week to join in a rendition of the '80s-era pop anthem. At last check, they were all keeping their day jobs.

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