If your business isn’t on social media, some say, it doesn’t exist.
It’s only been a scant 13 years since social media hit the mainstream. Yet as “new” as social media still is, it has become so pervasive in our lives that most businesses today need it to compete and thrive. For companies that are on the social grid, some take a bootstrap, DIY approach, while others rely on the strategic thinking of agencies like Bantam Social Media, a digital marketing and advertising firm on Market Street, founded in 2015 by Natasha Kalergis.
With a background in the creative arts—including a dual degree in photography and journalism from Virginia Commonwealth University—Kalergis says she was drawn to marketing and advertising as a career because of the creative variety and mix of disciplines business affords.
“I’ve always been very entrepreneurial and interested in businesses and what makes them work, and what makes them scale, and what makes a flash in the pan versus a long-term legacy—a business that stands the test of time,” Kalergis says.
After college, in 2011, she landed a job with local ad agency Payne, Ross and Associates (now Blue Ridge Group), and worked her way up from intern to communications director. “That was really when social media started. The landscape started to change for businesses,” she says.
It was then that Kalergis knew she would have to leave small town Charlottesville to learn how to maximize this evolving communication phenomena to full effect. Kalergis ultimately moved to Minneapolis, taking a job at Olson (now ICF Next), a leading advertising agency, developing and executing integrated social media marketing campaigns for bigger brands, including Supercuts and McDonald’s.
“I got to do really cool ‘pet influencer’ campaigns for Bissell vacuums, where we’d send celebrities Bissell vacuums and work with their pets’ Instagram accounts to show how the Bissell is so good at picking up the pet hair,” she adds. “It was really an incredible experience for me and I wouldn’t have been able to have that opportunity in Charlottesville.”
But the pull to return home was hard to resist, and her entrepreneurial spirit was beginning to lead her down a different path. “So I started taking on some side clients outside of my agency gig. And that grew and grew until I was able to leave that job and just work for myself as a subcontractor for these companies.” Soon after, she returned to Charlottesville and founded Bantam.
Business grew quickly. Today, Bantam has five full-time employees and several subcontractors who are involved in everything from graphic design and copywriting to search engine optimization. Bantam’s client roster has included Apex Clean Energy, Darden School of Business, Rebecca’s Natural Foods, Virginia National Bank, and Ragged Branch Distillery.
Whether it’s tapping a new app or devising innovative uses for existing platforms, Kalergis says her team is always looking ahead to the next big thing. “Where else is people’s attention, and how do we capitalize on that creatively?” she says. “Where are the eyeballs? And just because the eyeballs are there, a lot of times, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze depending on the client’s industry.”
So how can local businesses squeeze the most juice out of all things social? Kalergis shared a few recommended tactics.
1. Make it real. Find real-world, experiential ways to get people to interact with your product or service (like a QR code or selfie backdrop) and talk up your business on social media. “People talking about how great you are is so much more powerful than you talking about how great you are,” says Kalergis.
2. Be engaging. Devise calls-to-action, like a tag-to-win contest inviting customers to tag their friends to enter to win. “What happens is that becomes exponential exposure, because those three people, each of them tag three of their friends, and each of them tag three of their friends, and that can literally become hundreds and hundreds of people seeing this one post,” she says.
3. Get organized. “In order to have good social media marketing, you need something to talk about,” says Kalergis. “But in order to have something to talk about, you need to have some on-going programming or calendar that organizes how you think about what is happening,”