Listen: Interview with Founder and President Birgitta Stone on WVOX Westchester Means Business
Our founder and president, Birgitta Stone, was interviewed on-air by John Ravitz of The Business Council of Westchester on WVOX this past May. In the interview, Birgitta and John discussed utilizing social media to help businesses throughout the pandemic, up-and-coming social platforms and trends, and how Birgitta and Local Social Media work with their clients.
You can listen to the recording by clicking below or you can read the transcript below!
Stay tuned now on WVOX for Westchester Means Business with John Ravitz. John Ravitz is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Business Council of Westchester. Now, Westchester Means Business on 1460 WVOX.
John Ravitz 0:21
Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. This is John Ravitz, the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Business Council of Westchester. For those of you who might be listening for the first time, let me tell you a little bit about the BCW and how it can help your business. We are the county's largest business membership organization, with over 1,000 members ranging from the multi-international companies that call Westchester home to the biotech firms that have really put Westchester on the map to all of the hospitals, universities, private sector firms, professional service firms in all different sectors, midsize and small businesses, and over 140 non-profits. And our mission is to help our members grow their business by helping them build relationships amongst each other, by putting them in front of stakeholders that might be able to help their business grow. And then by using all of our different communication platforms to help them market their business. In addition, we are laser-focused on helping our businesses by advocating for them on all levels of government. And to learn more about how the Business Council of Westchester can help your business, please go to our website, which is www.thebcw.org. And always feel free to give us a call at 914-948-2110. Each week, we have the great opportunity to bring a Business Council member to our show to learn about how their businesses are continuing to move forward during this challenging time of COVID but also about different trends in their sectors. And I'm very excited that Birgitta Stone who is the Founder and President of Local Social Media is our guest today and before we bring Birgitta on let me just give you a little information about her. She began her career in 1986 at NBC in New York and then moved to radio sales and Mix 105 New York. She continued with radio at local stations in Connecticut, where her positions included Director of Event Marketing. Birgitta then joined Citibank, Salomon Smith Barney and Legg Mason as Assistant Vice President in marketing positions. And that began in 1998. Beginning in 2004, she joined the insurance industry working for Mass Mutual and Northwestern Mutual. And in 2008, Birgitta went into business for herself and formed Stone Financial LLC, representing insurance and financial products. Enjoying life as an entrepreneur, Birgitta then established Local Social Media in 2011. From her experience in local businesses, marketing, and sales, she built local social media into a thriving business. Local Social Media has earned the trust of over 250 companies across the United States in creating a consistent local focus brand for her clients. She was one of the first to use the influence of social media to give her clients the edge over their competition. Starting with a social media specialty, Local Social Media is now a complete online marketing agency, creating effective online marketing solutions for small and midsize businesses. Birgitta, welcome to the show! Thank you for being with us.
Birgitta Stone 3:28
Hello, thank you so much for having me today, John!
John Ravitz 3:31
So your career is fascinating because you were in, obviously, the media area, you stepped back and went into more, I guess what you could call the private sector, and then obviously saw a need. And that's when you created Local Social Media. Talk to us a little bit about that journey.
Birgitta Stone 3:50
Oh, absolutely. I've always said that everything that I've done up until now has led me to be doing what I'm doing right now. So I started Local Social Media because I was sitting one day at a computer and I was updating some Facebook stuff for some of the non-profits that I work with. And then I said, wait a minute, if I don't have time to do this, then businesses don't have time to do this, and I think I can help them. And that brought me back to my television and radio days when I used to work a lot with small businesses, especially in radio and radio sales. So it was a great opportunity and I put everything together really within twenty minutes. I had the name, I had the business plan, I had everything ready to go. Within a couple of days, I had already made a couple of sales and I knew I was onto something. And it was so early on, there weren't even Business Pages yet, it was just friend pages. So I was really excited to get going into this new market, but I was one of the first ones to see it. So I'm very proud about that.
John Ravitz 4:50
And, you know, social media, obviously, you know, ten years ago, it was one thing and now it's completely a different area. I mean it's a changing movement. Talk to us a little bit about when you first started Local Social Media, what were some of the tools that you were using to help businesses, and how that's evolved over time?
Birgitta Stone 5:10
Oh, that's a great question. You know, Facebook was really the only game in town when I first started. So then they created the Facebook Business Pages, then Twitter started to get a little bit into the business area. And then Instagram came on afterwards. So it's constantly a moving target. Also, the stuff that we can do on social media has changed. So I mean, video was added about eight years ago. Everything has been evolving. What's one of the nice things about working with my company is that we've been doing this for so long, we've seen all the changes, and we've helped businesses grow through all of those.
John Ravitz 5:52
And look, I want to get to obviously this last year because I think every sector has been affected, every business has been affected by COVID. But again, are there some key principles as you go in and you talk to small businesses and midsize businesses about why it's important that they engage in social media. What are some of the examples that you use to show them that this is a path that they should explore?
Birgitta Stone 6:18
Yeah, it's, you know, it's much more common now. When I first started, people said, "Oh, I don't like Facebook," or, you know, they had a million reasons why they didn't like to do it, even though I would say to them, but your customers do. And slowly but surely, people started to go on it. I think this past year, I've seen businesses actually give it more value. They needed to. People weren't coming into their brick and mortar stores anymore, they couldn't allow them in. There were so many. I also saw in the very beginning, too, that a lot of the businesses weren't ready for online ordering, right, or anything that was e-commerce related. So in the very beginning, we were really busy updating everybody's website, so that it was more, you know, shopper-friendly, or online, shopper-friendly, which was good. But then they had to keep and stay in the top of mind for a bit for their customers, and also potential customers. So they really had no choice but to really invest in a good social media program. And it all depends on the type of business. So some businesses need Instagram, some don't. If you're a visual business, you should be on Instagram. You should also be on Pinterest if you're a visual business. Facebook reaches everybody. Are you engaging with groups? Are you sharing what you're doing? Press releases are important if you're doing great things for the community. So the most important thing is to create a holistic online plan that can keep your business top of mind because I don't think social media, except for the occasional gift certificate or whatever it may be, sells your business it but it brands your business. So it needs to be engaging, you need to do a certain amount of posts per week so you don't lose the algorithms from the week before. So for example, if you posted very well for two weeks, and then took two weeks off, you sort of ruin the whole thing that you did in the two weeks that you were doing well because that's just how the algorithms work. So it depends on the business on what type of, now, of course, it depends on the type of business you are, that will determine what type of social media you need, including LinkedIn.
John Ravitz 8:38
This is John Ravitz, the Executive Vice President of the Business Council of Westchester. Our guest this afternoon is Birgitta Stone, who is the Founder and President of Local Social Media. So talk to us a little bit about the team that you have in place. I mean, when you, and obviously how you start the engagement process with your client because you've already - if you've sold them on that it's important for them to do social media, but you then have to, as you said, you have to really find the brand and then be able to establish that brand and actually distinguish that brand from other brands in the same sector. How do you and your team go about doing that?
Birgitta Stone 9:20
Absolutely. I couldn't agree with you more. And that was really the basis of everything that we did from starting from the very beginning. Each business has its own personality, has its own voice, has its own look that it wants to set out. So each time I'm posting for someone it could be, for example, two Italian restaurants will look completely different. It depends on the personality of the owner, what are they looking to accomplish? Who are they trying to reach? What is their look? So absolutely, that's really important. Yeah.
John Ravitz 9:57
And can you talk about again, you know, obviously I'm sticking on this point because I find it so fascinating. You have to obviously distinguish that each of your clients has their own independent voice, and their own mission, and their own goals that they want to be able to accomplish. How do you put that social media plan into place for them?
Birgitta Stone 10:25
Ah, well, it's a collaborative effort. So, in the beginning, we work very closely with the business owners. We want to make sure that we're capturing their voice, what they want to sound like, what are some of the things that they - the types of look they have. And believe it or not, after a few weeks or a month or so, then we speak once a week. I'll send them an email or a phone call and say, hey, what anything special going on this week that you'd like us to help you promote? And we go from there. But it's really a collaborative effort. And it's really important to me that the businesses understand that this is their page, their business, I'm just helping them get the word out.
John Ravitz 11:09
And, you know, again, I want to spend some time about obviously, what how you have been handling your clients during COVID. But prior to this year, prior to the year that we've all gone through, can you explain to talk to us again, about what you were seeing? And some of the, I guess - and again, I apologize if I'm not using the right terminology - but the hottest social media tools, besides the ones that obviously everyone knows, like Twitter and Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Birgitta Stone 11:40
Oh, absolutely. And you know, someone said something to me funny recently, they said, "You know, all the years before, COVID are a blur now." But yeah, I mean, I think there's been a lot coming out. So take Clubhouse, for example, that was a hot topic for a little while. Clubhouse - it could be very good for business. Essentially, what it is, is it's a live podcast, so people start talking, they join rooms, you can position yourself as an expert in the field. There's TikTok, which has really taken off and created some nice influencers that some of the big businesses, especially in the midsize world, and also some of the manufacturers, you know, people who make their own products can use via the influencer market. I mean, LinkedIn has gone through a ton of changes. It used to just really kind of be a job-seeking site, a little bit more of a reference thing. So it's kind of nice. And then you have Facebook has changed. I've seen engagement go down on Facebook, like dive in the last six months or so. So, that's also very interesting. But it does depend on the client, on what they need.
John Ravitz 13:05
Our guest this afternoon is Birgitta Stone who is the Founder and President of Local Social Media. Birgitta, if people want to learn more about Local Social Media or possibly call you for a consultation, what's the best way they should do that?
Birgitta Stone 13:19
Oh, I would love that. My phone number is 203-788-8252. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And or you going to DM me or whatever you need on the social media because I'm on there all the time.
John Ravitz 13:44
And for those of you who want to learn more about the Business Council of Westchester, please go to our website, which is www.thebcw.org. And always feel free to give us a call at 914-948-2110. So let's talk about this last year because obviously, the world changed. Every business had to pivot, every business had to make a determination to see if they were going to be able to actually keep their doors open and their employees employed. How did you approach dealing with your clients regarding using social media during those first few months of the pandemic?
Birgitta Stone 14:25
I think that was the opportunity that we used to get the word out there that people are still open, they can do curbside delivery, you can order online. We had to keep the business flow going. People had to just keep selling it. They couldn't stop. Some of the most affected, as we know, were the restaurants. They were really affected by everything. But that's why we had to pivot. I suggested to a couple of the restaurants that I worked with, maybe start doing family dinner meals, maybe do special pizza deals 2 for $20, whatever it may be, just to keep the flow going. And you know what? They've all said that that was something that really made a difference. So it was really coming up with creative new ideas. And that's where my radio and television background came in. Because we used to come up with promotional ideas all the time. So it was, alright, so now we have this problem so how do we pivot your business so that we can still keep going. There were some businesses that had to take a break. So for example, I worked with a charter boat company, and it wasn't worth it to them to put the boat in the water last year, but they're back this year. So it's just about being nimble. And this is what I say to all my clients is that the more nimble you are, look for opportunities, that's where you can grow and be open to some changes if you have to make them.
John Ravitz 15:56
Well, and change is always hard, right. But obviously, having to change during a pandemic, probably really made it a struggle and a challenge for some of your clients. Again, sticking to the different tools that you provide for them. What were some of the ways that you could make that transition a little smoother?
Birgitta Stone 16:19
You know, I think it was an evolution, I think in the beginning, I know, everyone out there was just shocked. No one was sure what to do with everything shut. And then it was just slowly opening up some new ideas and what we can do, what are some new ways, maybe do some more video ads, do some specials for the businesses so that they can get some people to come into their place. What is the most important story that anyone can tell on social media? Because that's the best opportunity to tell your story. Who you are, what makes you special? What good things do you do for the community? People love when you do great things for the community. So whatever it is that you can do. And there were restaurants that provided meals to hospitals. Those are wonderful pictures and great promotions. There were people that that pivoted in some production areas who started making masks for people and donating them to all over. So there were so many opportunities that came out of this, that I think the businesses did a really good job of showing who they were. And this was their time to shine. Because what were we doing all day? We were on our computer or on our phone. So it was a good opportunity to tell people who you are.
John Ravitz 17:43
So as a follow-up to that, Birgitta, obviously now as Westchester County and New York State and the rest of the country begins to re-emerge from the pandemic and things begin to loosen up as regulations and guidelines continue to be tweaked. What are some of the strategies now that you're looking to use in social media for your clients over these next six months to a year?
Birgitta Stone 18:11
I think for sure, we're going to continue to ensure people have faith - their places of business are. We're going to continue to stress what precautions and things that they're taking, so that people feel comfortable coming back in. And I've seen a lot of change. I mean, a lot of people are much more willing to go into places of business. I don't see limits of people going into certain places anymore, where it used to be a max of six. Masks are still being worn inside. But we know that so. Yeah. So that's, I think there's a lot, there's a lot of opportunity, because I think that if they did it right and they did it well in social media, over and also email marketing, whatever it was that they needed to do, to keep in contact with their clients, that they stayed top of mind for their clients. And also I think the towns did a very good job of really trying to get people to support and buy local. So I think that was also something that worked very well in their favor. And I do think that that is going to stay. So yeah, I think it's all good. I think it was a very interesting learning experience for so many places and people. People were forced to learn how to be nimble and make some changes. But I think I see bright - I'm an optimist, so I see bright and great things ahead for everybody.
John Ravitz 19:51
But it sounds like during this challenging year, you and Local Social Media really stayed as positive as you say, but also thinking outside of the box, to be able to help your clients continue to utilize the different platforms that social media has available to continue to engage their clients.
Birgitta Stone 20:15
Absolutely, absolutely. And I saw that as that was part of my job prior to COVID. So when this hit, it really came into play, because then it really gave us an opportunity, not only from a business standpoint to shine, because we really did help so many, so many clients stay ahead of this game a little bit here. But it also was great with some of the non-profits that I work with as well. And they really suffered too through this pandemic. So you know, it's been a really interesting year.
John Ravitz 20:51
No, finish, please.
Birgitta Stone 20:53
No, go ahead.
John Ravitz 20:55
Oh, no. It's crazy because we are almost out of time. But I guess my last question for you is, as you look now, towards the end of 2021, going into 2022, are there two or three key objectives that you see Local Social Media doing to engage the Westchester business community?
Birgitta Stone 21:17
Ah, yes. Well, you know, there's something else I'd like to just briefly talk about before we run out of time, but I think this privacy ruling with Apple on the iPhones is going to be a little bit of a game-changer coming up for a lot of businesses. You know, everyone wants privacy on their phones. But at the same time, part of what the data collection is, is about location. And so let's say you're a restaurant and you're placing an ad through Facebook or Instagram, you want to make sure that the ad is being seen to the appropriate people. So I think that that's going to be very interesting. I think as far as Westchester is concerned, I think that I really do think just stay the course. Be nimble, do what you need to do, start opening up a little bit, spread the joy that you can. Remind people of the good things that you've been doing with the community. And it's a win-win for everybody then.
John Ravitz 22:18
Well, look, we're very excited at the Business Council of Westchester that we can refer our members to Birgitta Stone, who is the Founder and President of Local Social Media, to be able to utilize not only her experience but also continuing to learn about the new strategies that happen with social media platforms. Birgitta, I'd love it if you could just, one more time, give me your phone number and your email address for our listeners.
Birgitta Stone 22:45
Well, thank you. It's Birgitta Stone, and I'm at 203-788-8252. And my email is info@local socialmedia.net. Thank you so much for having me.
John Ravitz 23:01
Well, thank you and we look forward to learning more about the work that you're doing on behalf of the Westchester business community in the future. Folks, this is John Ravitz, who is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Business Council of Westchester. Again, if you'd like to learn more information about the BCW and how it can help your business, please go to our website at www.thebcw.org. always feel free to give us a call at 914-948-2110. To learn more, again, about the different programs that we have at the Business Council of Westchester to help businesses grow in Westchester County. And on behalf of all of us at the BCW, the most important thing is that we hope that all of you remain safe, healthy, that you continue to wear your mask, continue to really do all you can to stay safe. The vaccines are important. We're seeing great, positive trends in Westchester County for folks who are getting vaccinated. That will only help us as we look to rebound from this awful year that we've all had to go through. Again, this is John Ravitz, the Executive Vice President of the Business Council of Westchester. We look forward to having you all tune in again next week.