Social media makes or breaks small businesses

Story and photo by ALEX HARRINGTON

Small-business owners struggle to find the time in their lives to simply start a business, let alone worry about the smaller tasks like establishing a presence in social media. But, having a solid presence on social media like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram is critical.

Kristen Lavelett, executive director for Local First Utah, knows from her own work with the educational group how important social media influence can be. Local First Utah has more than 20,000 followers on Facebook, through which it informs its audience about various campaigns and services it offers. Local First Utah can quickly and effectively distribute information about its mission.

However, social media are not all rainbows and sunshine. There are difficulties with social media that aspiring business owners must grapple with as well.

One artist, Talin Tanielian, experienced these difficulties firsthand. She had been creating art from a very young age, dabbling in everything from watercolors to animation. She even traveled to France to take art courses at “Gobelins,” a prestigious art school where she received training from animators who worked with Walt Disney Studios and Pixar. After she graduated from the University of Utah, she started thinking about turning this passion into a career.

She began selling her art out of her home in Sandy, Utah, via online websites like “Deviantart.” In January 2014, she turned this process into a new business, “TabbyToons.” To start to advertise her newly built business to a wider audience, she branched out from Deviantart and posted various drawings she had done on Facebook and Instagram.

Though she could now more easily distribute her art and show off her talents, Tanielian found the change from doing art as a hobby to doing it for a living was much more daunting than she expected. Before creating her business, she received nothing but positive feedback for her many art pieces. Hardly anyone outside her friends and family had access to her drawings, paintings, and animations. However, when she started using Facebook and Instagram as a medium to advertise her various creations, she experienced an unexpected and disheartening result.

Her newfound viewers began critiquing her art, posting comments from the constructive to the downright cruel. Tanielian said it was difficult to receive “harsh feedback from others.”

But she realized these critiques didn’t have to have a negative impact on her or the artistic reputation she created. She strove to use the criticism as another positive aspect of social media, rather than retreating from the judgments people have made about her art. “Feedback is inspirational and pushes me to keep going forward,” she said.

So Tanielian embraced social media. She put her art out on Facebook and Instagram and prepared for the judgments that would inevitably come from complete strangers. “[TabbyToons] adds to who I am and what I do,” she said.

Her business has grown from a small group of admirers to dozens of fans and buyers, due largely to social media. She said she still has a long way to go to get “TabbyToons” where she wants it. But her goal is to have multiple websites devoted solely to selling her art.

Ann Marie Thompson said the Women's Business Center is available to help all small-business owners, both women and men.

Ann Marie Thompson said the Women’s Business Center is available to help all small-business owners, both women and men.

This growth may have occurred in a small business like Tanielian’s, but can a larger, locally-owned business expect the same success?

Ann Marie Thompson, program director of the Women’s Business Center, works with small businesses ranging from a one-woman operation like Tanielian’s to larger ones. She swears by the importance of this online presence. “[The] Women’s Business Center utilizes social media every day,” she said. “Business appears to be driven more by social media than traffic.”