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Starting excelamktg in 2009, young entrepreneur Ashley Ranger leads her team with over a decade of experience in social media. As the youngest person to head up a social media division at Universal Music Group, she was in the forefront of social media. She spearheaded the social media departments for Universal Music Group, Globe Shoes and Lucky Strike Entertainment, was highlighted by Mashable for creating innovative social media strategies and has developed online sharing technologies that are still used today at social media agency Fanscape.
Currently, Ashley is leading and managing 27 employees at excelamktg with new developments and initiatives in the capacities of online marketing, digital PR, web design, SEO and more.
MO: What influenced you to launch your own marketing agency?
Ashley: I’ve had entrepreneurial aspirations ever since I was a teen. I always wanted to be my own boss someday and experience the creative freedom that comes with it. For 10 years, I worked in marketing at large companies and soaked it all in. I learned what works and what doesn’t. After gaining the necessary expertise in my field, it was a natural progression for me to start developing concepts that I could grow into a business of my own.
The stars aligned a few years ago when I met my business partner, Dexter. He had been itching to start a marketing arm of his company, which at that time offered Creative services (web design, print, branding, etc.) and it was the perfect fit. It has been a great ride so far, nothing beats being your own boss! Although there is definitely a give and take–You never really stop working when you’re a business owner.
MO: Can you tell our readers a bit about your “Virtual Showroom” that you’ve been developing?
Ashley: Absolutely! This is an initiative I’m really excited about. We have a service that we call “Digital PR,” which is a monthly retainer service. It is similar to traditional PR, except our focus is on digital placements, like setting up giveaways on popular blogs or getting interviews with online versions of publications. We have a large network of blogger contacts that we’ve built in this department, and we also have hundreds of brands that we work with to some capacity, but that don’t necessarily contract us on a retainer basis. Our idea with this project was to bridge the gap between bloggers and brands using a pay-per-placement model.
Our Creative team built a website platform, which we coined “Style Mined,” that is only accessible to approved bloggers. Clients submit promotional products to be featured on the site, and bloggers request products that they are interested in featuring on their blog for a review, giveaway, outfit post, etc. This technology has enabled our clients to get more online exposure than ever, at an extremely low cost. And we’ve only just begun!
MO: If you received a generous gift certificate for Etsy what would be the first things that you would buy?
Ashley: We recently moved into a new office space, a big, converted warehouse in Los Angeles. The old tenant was Artemide, a Mid-Century modern lighting company. In an ode to Artemide, we put up their signage from the outside of the building on the wall in our conference room, and are currently collecting old Artemide lighting fixtures to complete our tribute. So, I would score some killer vintage Artemide with my Etsy gift certificate.
MO: What’s your favorite social media tool?
Ashley: There is a new tool that our Analytics specialist discovered that I’m really loving – it’s called BudURL. It’s a URL shortening service that has more click-thru data than the tool we were using previously – bit.ly. What’s really cool is that you can customize the URL that you use for shortening. We have customized ours so now all of our URLs have “exc.la” as the prefix, which has allowed us to promote ourselves in a unique, subtle way.
As far as social media platforms go, my current favorite is definitely Pinterest. It’s a little unconventional for some businesses, but for our fashion, beauty and lifestyle clients, we always recommend it. All the trendsetters are active on it, and we see it emerging as a heavy hitter for traffic referrals. It’s also just a lot of fun to collect and share inspiration!
MO: Why do you have your 30 employees to use Toggl and Wedosit? What are the advantages of having your team use these programs and would you possibly recommend them to other companies?
Ashley: As a company, we believe that it’s vital to incorporate a system of checks and balances to keep organized and on task. We give our employees a certain degree of freedom and responsibility, but they are required to report their activity to their managers and their clients. We use these tools to ensure that each client is getting the proper amount of attention and that their requests are being addressed.
Toggl is a tool used to track the time spent on each client, each day. We check it against their schedule to make sure each client is getting the amount of time they pay for. Wedoist is used as a to do list manager, where we store all assignments from the client and from management. The employee uses Wedoist to keep track of pending to do’s, as well as report the status of items in progress. I am a strong advocate for organization, so that you can become more efficient. These platforms help us get more done for our clients.
I would absolutely recommend these two tools to other companies looking for time tracking and to do list management solutions, but every platform is a little different and you should pay close attention to the feature set before you decide if a platform is right for you.
MO: What are 3 things companies should and should not expect from social media?
What to expect:
1. CULTIVATE BRAND ADVOCATES
A good social media strategy starts with finding a way to add value to your community. When you successfully figure out this important first step, over time you will begin to develop Brand Advocates – or people who speak favorably about your brand or product, and then share positive word-of-mouth messages with their networks. Eventually you reach a Tipping Point, where you begin to experience exponential growth on social media because other people are helping you broadcast your messages and attract new users to your network.
It’s important to note that you should incorporate techniques into your social media strategy that help you identify these people, and cultivate relationships with them by recognizing their work and incentivizing them to continue spreading the word.
2. GATHER FEEDBACK
One of the most valuable components of a social media presence that is often overlooked is the ability to collect feedback from your community. Social media enables brands to have an open dialogue with their customers, and if you are smart enough to listen – to complaints and praise equally – you can gather invaluable takeaways. Always acknowledge the feedback, apply it to your business practices and users will feel like they’re being heard.
3. BUILD YOUR AUTHORITY
When the Social Consumer shops, they shop smart. They might ask for recommendations from their friends and family, read product reviews and/or research and compare brands. Brands with a strong web presence have a big advantage over those that neglect this vital component. They’re looked at as more of an “authority” within their industry than their competitors whose web presence is lacking.
Just like we do at /excelamktg with our social media tips and tricks, you want to find a way to get people to view you as a thought leader. This is very powerful in swaying purchasing decisions. Not to mention your company will look more reputable and savvy.
What NOT to expect:
1. IMMEDIATE ROI
Good social media takes time. You can’t expect your first Tweet to result in a sale. This is a common misconception we hear from new customers, who don’t yet understand the long term value that social media provides. I typically tell people who are starting from scratch with social media that you need to be willing to focus on building the foundation for up to 6 months before you can start asking your social media community to move. You have to get them to trust you first.
If fans see that you’re focused on blatant self promotion and getting more sales, they won’t be as interested in following you. Find your voice first, by being analytical about what pieces of content users are responding to. After you feel confident that people are responding positively to what you have to say, you can start experimenting with things like discount codes and interactive campaigns to increase sales in an organic way.
2. IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME
One mistake that I see time and time again is brands setting up social media accounts and not integrating them into the rest of their touchpoints. The easier you make it for people to find and follow you, the higher the conversion rate to social media fans.
Do you have an e-mail list? Blast it and tell them you’re now on Pinterest. Put a banner on your website cross-promoting a Facebook campaign. Include links to your social media accounts in your company’s e-mail signatures. You get the picture.
Be sure to tell people why they should follow you. Or take it a step further and give them a special incentive for liking you! A good call to action can do wonders.
3. I CAN STOP ALL OTHER FORMS OF MARKETING
Social media works best when supported by other forms of marketing. It can be a very powerful tool, but more traditional approaches such as advertising and PR still have their place in the marketing mix. We sometimes encounter clients who want to drop all of their marketing initiatives to jump head first onto the social media bandwagon, but we always recommend testing the waters for awhile before you put all of your eggs in one basket. It doesn’t always fill all of your marketing needs.
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