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How Small Firms Can Use Pinterest and Facebook to Sell Directly to Customers

WALL STREET JOURNAL – You see a picture on Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook. But there’s something different about it. There’s a button that asks you if you want to buy the product you see. Would you click then and there? Social-media giants are betting you will. And some small businesses are signing on to the idea. As social sites seek new sources of income—and people demand ever more convenient ways to buy online—they’re giving companies the option to add “buy” buttons to their posts. And some small businesses are already seeing encouraging gains from this new capability, boosting sales by leveraging the close contact they have with customers on social sites. But experts warn that businesses should take a soft and helpful tone when reaching out, because customers can get turned off when companies try to use social media to push them into making impulse buys. They don’t like it when companies post aggressive sales pitches in the comments on pictures at photo-sharing sites, for instance, or when companies send them pushy sales messages through platforms such as Facebook Messenger. Customers are “in a different mind-set when on social sites,” says Jay Baer, president of Convince & Convert, a digital marketing firm in Bloomington, Ind. “They don’t go there to buy. That transition to buying can be jarring.” Room to explore The idea of buying straight from posts on social media isn’t exactly new. But only now is the practice becoming feasible as third-party companies like Shopify and BigCommerce—or in the case of Pinterest, the site itself—make it easier to set up the purchasing options and handle the back-end processing. Companies pay the third-party companies a subscription fee, but the social sites aren’t charging anything yet to monetize posts. On Instagram and Pinterest, companies post photos the way anybody else does, and people find the pictures the way they find any other photos: searching by keyword or seeing what their friends have marked as interesting—“pinned”—or otherwise shared. The only difference is that people have the option to buy items companies have posted. On Facebook, customers arrive at company pages either by searching on keywords or by joining a group devoted to the company. Purchasable items are found by clicking the shop tab, and the transactions are handled by manually entering credit-card numbers that can be stored for later use. Facebook doesn’t charge for the transaction. How can entrepreneurs make the most of this new setup? The experts suggest that companies ease customers into the idea of buying on social media by gently letting them know, since the majority of online users are not even aware that they have the option to make direct purchases on social media. On Pinterest and Instagram, for instance, users are usually looking for ideas or inspiration, not to buy. Companies should not put aggressive sales pitches in the comments to photos, where most of the conversations on Pinterest and Instagram take place. Slava Furman, founder of Miami-based Noli Yoga, knew that yoga practitioners were posting scenic selfies of their perfected yoga positions on Instagram. Without making any sales pitches, he started posting his own photos showing customers in his activewear. Yoga fans discovered them while browsing through other yoga photos or doing keyword searches, since Mr. Furman attaches yoga-relevant hashtag search terms to his images. After building a sizable following, he turned to an e-commerce app called Snappic that lets people buy items in his photos. He currently gets 90% of his business from all of his social-media marketing and advertising efforts, and 15% of that comes from direct sales on Instagram. Special content Avoiding sales pitches is one thing. But companies should also be sure to post compelling content on these social-commerce storefronts that gives users a reason to visit, experts say. On Instagram or Facebook, that might mean streaming live video. In a Facebook shop, companies might offer a free PDF instructional guide for the product, along with a coupon. Pure Cycles, a 20-employee urban-bicycle manufacturing company in Burbank, Calif., posts events that show up in followers’ calendars on Facebook. As with click-to-buy posts on Instagram and Pinterest, visitors to the company’s Facebook shop page can purchase items in photos. But Pure Cycles says it’s careful to add extra content to keep customers interested. The company recently invited customers to its headquarters, where they could test-ride bikes and get free swag. It also features instructional videos and streamed Facebook Live video events where employees interact with customers. Another touch that helps, the company says: The live videos are often done by company owners as a way to make themselves more accessible to customers. When doing a question-and-answer session, they have opportunistically referenced products in the store. Jordan Schau, co-founder of Pure Cycles, says the human touch is crucial to show that there are real people behind the content, not a faceless marketing department. “In terms of shopping and getting the right stuff, it’s much more impactful if we’re behind the chat,” says Mr. Schau, who oversees the social-media efforts at Pure Cycles. He’ll often respond directly to social media inquiries on his personal phone and interact with customers after hours. “We’re not trying to actively hit people up by saying, hey, everybody, we’re having a sale on this,” says Mr. Schau. “We’re more like, hey, we’re your friend. If you have a question about your bike, we’re happy to answer.” You can read the full story here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-small-firms-can-use-pinterest-and-facebook-to-sell-directly-to-customers-1493605265

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How Small Firms Can Court Online Reviewers

WALL STREET JOURNAL – Looking for a low-cost way to market your products? Find an influencer. These high-profile reviewers can have thousands—or tens of thousands—of followers and fans on YouTube, Facebook and other social networks. Sending them products to review can be an effective way for a small firm with limited means to reach a vast new audience. But managing the relationship takes a lot of care. The main issue is disclosure: Influencers need to make it very clear how they got the products and what their relationship with the company is. Any lack of transparency can raise tax issues, get influencers and the company in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission and anger viewers. Companies may be face a very vocal online protest or even a boycott. Here are some things to keep in mind when working with a popular Internet reviewer. PICK CAREFULLY: Companies will get the most out of working with reputable bloggers who already maintain full transparency. It also helps to do research to find suitable bloggers who are a good fit with a company’s product and services and to approach them with a personalized message that recognizes their work. WATCH CLOSELY: Don’t assume that bloggers will act on their own to let readers know where they got a service, product or some kind of payment from a company, says Mary Engle, associate director for advertising practices at the FTC in Washington, D.C. It should be part of the company’s social-media policy to ensure compliance. Companies should also monitor bloggers to make sure they follow through. The disclosure can be as simple as “company X gave me this product to review,” says Carleen Pruess, an attorney from Chicago who also blogs about fashion. The message needs to be clear, conspicuous and in the beginning of a blog post. It also has to be more than a general disclosure that applies to the entire website or a link at the end of the page. For video reviews, the disclosure should show up in the clip, not the description, since videos are often embedded into other websites without the description. RESPECT THEIR OPINION: Companies shouldn’t try to strong-arm bloggers into making changes to a review unless there’s a valid reason, such as an incorrect fact. Besides getting on the blogger’s bad side, attaching conditions to a product or service can be legally construed as a contract with an exchange of service as opposed to a gift, says Stephen Slater, managing director at the New York City office of UHY Advisors Inc., an accounting firm. “The IRS may come back and ask you what this relationship is and why you’re giving this item to this person. Giving free samples may not work out that way. It’s really a barter transaction.” Many companies like B&H Photo Video in New York avoid tax and compensation issues by lending items like consumer electronics instead of giving samples away. They won’t send the item until a loan agreement is signed, and the package will include postage-paid mailing labels to make it as easy as possible to return the item. “It has been very good business for us,” says Henry Posner, online reputation manager at B&H. “We work with a lot of influential bloggers. We don’t pressure them to give a good review because we understand that their audience is looking for honest opinions. We will make some attempt to resolve any problems to see if it’s a mistake or manufacturer problem.” Illustration by SHAW NIELSEN. You can read the full story here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303309504579183623549148550

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The Nonpartisan Kindness of Strangers

After eight long days shooting stories in Humboldt County, our tired PBS SoCal Suburban gave it up at a gas station in the tiny agricultural hamlet of Maxwell, Calif. Even the minimart attendant could hear the tensioner pully bearings seize, shredding the serpentine belt that operated the power steering, brake booster, water pump and alternator. We were lucky that our misfortune happened in a safe place since we’d spent that entire morning driving up and down curvy mountain roads, pursuing a story about how illegal pot growers were operating out of the national forest and were using banned pesticides that were so toxic that even a spoonful could and did kill an adult bear. Our family-sized behemoth was filled with camera gear so difficult to stop and steer without power assistance. A middle aged guy in a torn t-shirt and ball cap asked if we needed help. He was gassing up his Dodge Neon and had heard the Suburban’s death knell. He told us that his friend was the best mechanic in the area. Our executive producer, Karen Foshay, exchanged a few words with him before she got into his car and disappeared down the road. It all happened so quickly that Annie Valdez, our assistant producer, and I were left standing there possibly watching Karen disappear forever. We quickly got into the hobbled SUV and I strong armed the Suburban down the road in pursuit. The accelerator still worked fine. Annie called Karen to maintain a lifeline and was told they’d just pulled up to a farm a few miles down the road. It took everything that I had to turn the SUV onto that long dirt driveway. We didn’t know what to expect. To our relief, the mechanic was legit. They were all laughing as we arrived. He worked on tractors for neighboring farms so actually had spare Chevy LS belts in his barn that would have fit perfectly! Problem was that the Suburban’s previous mechanic had relocated the belt tensioners so that a nonstandard belt could be used. Who knows why. The mechanic worked for hours swapping pulleys and belts out of numerous GM vehicles that he had sitting around his property. He finally gave me a list of what he needed to finish the job and told his friend Bill to drive me to an auto parts store 20 miles away. Bill was a heavyset Native American gentleman that lived in the nearby Colusa Indian Community. He worked four jobs to support a big family and loved to bird hunt on weekends. He also loved food. We were talking about our favorite local restaurants when a rank meaty odor started to fill the cabin. I honestly thought Bill had shat his pants, and I couldn’t even look at him as he continued talking about his favorite local burger joints. The odor eventually dissipated but the smell returned on the drive back and again when the belt we’d purchased didn’t work. On our final leg home, Bill belatedly pointed out that the organic rice farms in the area used a “foul smelling” bird fertilizer that he’s never gotten used to. He’s had to drive past the rice fields for years. I laughed and told him to stop so I could buy him a pizza. The mechanic installed the belt and started the Suburban. It worked perfectly. He then offered us a tour of his farm. Much of his repair work was done in the barn which was crowded with machine presses and long tables covered with unfinished projects. He and his friends liked to cruise the local flea markets and collect boxes of records, old industrial equipment and vintage coin operated machines. In an adjoining room, the mechanic showed us a beautiful old Nash Rambler that had belonged to his father. He planned to do a ground up restoration. We were so flattered that he showed us his personal projects. The mechanic offered us a drink and started to unlock the doors to a nearby shed that he’d turned into a roadhouse. It had a real bar with padded stools, beer taps, neon signs and Trump campaign pennants plastered all over the walls. We weren’t surprised by the MAGA paraphernalia since we’d been seeing a strong pro-Trump/Pence presence in the area. But the politics didn’t matter to any of us. The entire day was just about helping people in trouble and being genuinely interested in each other’s stories. Unfortunately, we had to pass on happy hour since we had to do our last interview in Sacramento. We were worried about the bill since the repair had taken most of the day. Our show budget had been slimmed with the recent loss of a big grant and the trip had been expensive. Amazingly, the mechanic waved us off. No charge. Karen insisted on paying so he told us to just give the money to Bill. We handed the mechanic an envelope filled with cash for Bill and drove south in a daze. All I could think about on the drive home was the generosity of the mechanic and how easy it was to get along in this partisan time when talking face to face. You can see the story’s that we worked on here Cannabis Country and here Who Killed Josiah?

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Deep Dive Into Production Audio

The last few seasons of SoCal Connected were produced on a shoestring budget which is why camera operators had to handle their own audio. I naturally took it a bit further since I have never been satisfied with the heavily companded audio that you get from budget gear. Over the past few years, I’d been upgrading my serviceable prosumer gear to the Hollywood production sound trinity of Lectrosonics, DPA and Sound Devices. I’d schooled myself in their field use by working on independent documentaries where I learned how to properly gain stage and swing a boom. It took me some time to learn how to plant mics. Hidden lavs pick up everything around it including the rub of beard stubble on a starchy dress collar. I’ve since fashioned some good lav rigs that work for most situations. The last audio job I did was an exception. A friend of mine was hired to direct a commercial for a Japanese suit company, and he wanted some basic audio. A pro skater and bmx rider were hired to do park tricks while wearing the suits. The conversation between takes was unexpectedly funny. Both pros were familiar with the brand and actually preferred the fit and cut of Japanese suits to other more well known European and domestic designers. I wasn’t as happy with the synthetic fabrics. They were incredibly noisy. I ended up running a Countryman B6 lav out the bottom of their pant legs and under the laces of their shoes so it could pick up the wheels being transmitted through the board. The only problem were the spills and there were many. Patches of suit would abrade into nothingness when sliding down the walls of a bowl. My lav cables were literally hanging out of the holes in their slacks! The B6 mics are not the best sounding but they are tiny enough to be placed in the open—even with wind protection. They’re also waterproof, have pretty thick cables and are a lot cheaper than my DPA lavs so more affordably expendable. Of course, the suits cost way more than all of my DPA mics put together. Wardrobe was throwing away complete sets of damaged clothing between takes. I was the only crew member tempted to dumpster dive. How difficult could it be to patch holes?

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Covering My First Wildfire

I live in Los Angeles and all of the smoke in the air is giving me flashbacks of the Woolsey Fire that raged through Southern California in 2018. I remember it well because I had been asked to cover the wildfire by the executive producer of KCET’s SoCal Connected who called on a Friday evening. Her story, The New Normal, was about how overdevelopment into fire-prone areas and climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of wildfires in California. We put on flame-resistant turnout coats and drove down the eerily empty 101 freeway through the police blockades. Power throughout the burn areas was turned off so we were either operating in total darkness or by the intense red flare of raging fires that were burning down entire neighborhoods. It was a pretty harrowing sight to see children’s toys and clothing on fire and old burning yearbook pages blowing in the wind. I documented much of what I saw on video but had a few close calls. My header photo is of an incident we had on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). We had our backs to the ocean and were shooting a hillside that was filled with burning homes. The wind suddenly kicked up and blew debris and a swirling tornado of fire right at us. Downed power wires were literally whipping in the air. Pepperdine UniversityUploading footage from the fieldNeighborhood locals team up to put out fires in MalibuBurn areas in Northern California Previous Next We were fortunate to be traveling  with an experienced stringer who kept his always running Dodge Charger pointed in the right direction for quick escapes. We got out of there and ended up following the engine crews that were working PCH. Overworked firefighters were frantically going from location to location, trying to save homes and businesses throughout Malibu. But it was a windy evening. Embers were blowing over our heads. We followed one crew to Pepperdine University, which is literally surrounded by hillsides that were on fire. I used a 400mm lens to get shots of students huddling in the library since campus security was chasing away reporters. Most of the university was spared. I returned to the sites I’d visited the previous night to shoot the scorched aftermath. Only emergency crews and press were allowed onto PCH so access everywhere was easy. While shooting locals distributing food and water in a parking lot, I stumbled across a group of local lifeguards and surfers that were patrolling the neighborhood in pickup trucks with shovels tossed in back. They had formed an ad-hoc spotter network using radios and were guiding each other to any smoke sightings. I had to jump a few neighborhood walls with all of my camera gear to keep up with them. They were able to save a few homes and celebrated by drinking a lot of beer. The week after I drove up to Northern California to shoot drone shots of burn areas outside of Yosemite. A producer and I met with Cal Fire who took us on a bumpy tour of several restricted burn areas. We did our best to follow along in a rented Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. The locking diffs kept us out of trouble since recent rains had washed out the road. One heavy crew carrier got bogged down in the mud. Overall, The New Normal became one of our best stories of the season and has since won a Golden Mike, an L.A. Press Club award and a couple of Emmy noms. You can see The New Normal here: https://www.pbs.org/video/the-new-normal-jz1jpu/

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American Sumo

MUSCLE & FITNESS – Trent Sabo is in the moving business. He moves grand pianos, iron weights and 500-pound sumo wrestlers. And, on occasion, he himself is moved. For instance, in the summer of 2003 at the U.S. Sumo Open in Manhattan Beach, California, when the 5’8″, 185-pound American found himself standing across the ring from Akebono Taro, a 6’8″, 500-plus-pound tectonic disruption of flesh and blood, and one of the most celebrated postwar wrestlers in the sport of Sumo. Sabo, 26, the coach and founding member of California’s Oceanside Sumo Kyokai, had been called out by Akebono and had no choice but to accept the challenge. He relished the rare opportunity to face a legend. As he stepped into the dohyo (sumo ring) that hot August day, he snugged up his mawashi (belt), attempting to make it more difficult for the former grand master to grab. He knew he couldn’t go head to head with Akebono, so he adapted a freestyle wrestling tactic: Off the line, he deftly ducked under Akebono’s open handed swipe and latched on to his right leg with a meaty smack. Tucking his head down and shifting his weight, he tried to topple the giant, who remained as stable as a brownstone. Sabo then felt Akebono reach down, grab his belt and tear him off his leg like a Velcro doll, then punt him into the audience. Chairs flew and topped—along with Sabo’s pride. The spectacle was meant to teach him humility; he hasn’t forgotten it yet. Sowing Sumo SeedsSabo took up sumo wrestling in 2000. He saw an add for a sumo tournament in a magazine and figured, What the heck? He had wrestled in high school, tried bodybuilding and gymnastics and even had a brief stint as a mixed martial arts fighter—sumo seemed like a natural choice for him. So he signed up for the tournament’s lightweight division (up to 187 pounds) and won. Later that year he went to a national competition in New Jersey. He didn’t train, figuring his past experience would put him over the top. “My first opponent was thing gangly Canadian,” Sabo says. “I was thinking, I’m gonna make this guy’s liver bleed.” All of a sudden I’m spinning, and it was over. It was an embarrassing defeat made doubly so by the presence of Sabo’s father, a career Marine who was a competitive athlete himself. He wrestled and boxed in the Corps but couldn’t get his mind around his son wearing a thong and smashing bellies with Japanese monsters. When Sabo told him it was white guys and women, his father became suspicious. “Is this even legit?” Sabo had been skeptical in the beginning as well, but the sport got under his skin, and he found himself training for the North American Sumo Championship in 2001. He took second place. The following year he won his weight class. Sabo also started entering the open-class matches, because like professional sumo (all sumo practiced outside of Japan is considered amateur), it’s a one-size-fits-all competition. Despite his comparatively diminutive stature, he has ways to beat the bigger guys. “I keep moving around the ring; if I can get them to chase me or charge me, it makes it almost a guarantee that I’m going to beat them.” But staying competitive in amateur sumo requires more than just a well-founded athletic background—it requires commitment. “It’s more time than a lot of amateurs can give,” says Andrew Freund, director of the U.S. Sumo Open, who notes that most American competitors view the sport as a hobby. European and Mongolian competitors dominate the sport because they’re paid to be athletes. Sabo, however, is a good example of an athlete who sacrifices for his passion. A few years ago he quit his job so he could train full time for the Sumo World Cup in Rotterdam, Netherlands. He lived out of his Ford Probe for eight months, doing nothing but training and eating. “Not having to work or pay rent definitely made all the difference for me,” says Sabo, who won his weight division at the 2004 World Cup. “Mine was the second gold medal an American had won overseas. It was a tough road, though.” These days Sabo follows a more conventional routine, through he’s still serious about winning the World Sumo Championship, the pinnacle of the amateur sumo world. He works full time as a mover and lifts five evenings a week at First Class Fitness in Oceanside with teammate Jovann Rushing. They’ve been training partners since high school and often try to match each other rep for rep in the gym. As sumo wrestlers, they focus on developing off-the-line power. “It’s like the best of football,” Sabo says. “The first person to be pushed out of the sumo ring or to touch the floor with anything but their feet loses. That’s why football players make good sumo wrestlers.” Where the Giant Things AreIn the summer of 2006, Sabo went to Japan to train with the masters. The trip was organized by the head of the International Sumo Federation, who arranged for him and two of his teammates to live and train in a heya, a sumo stable at Nihon University. Because Sabo was a foreigner and a sumo novice, he was treated worse than the students who have to prove their worthiness to the sport. He even got punched in the mouth for being too noisy. The discipline at the university is an extreme form of tough lough that’s inherent in the culture. “They never want you to forget that you’ve made this bad mistake,” Sabo remarks. Although his visit was officially organized, Sabo still had to beg for matches. Most of the time, scrawny 15-year-olds were assigned to practice with him. “They were the lowest-ranked in the class. They couldn’t have been above a buck forty,” Sabo recalls. “They kept driving me out of the ring, match after match, like they’d had a bad day. It shows how much good technique makes a big difference.” In an attempt to save face, Sabo resorted to freestyle wrestling techniques. When a student charged him, Sabo would catch him in a front headlock, forcing the student to release Sabo’s belt and work on his hands, whereupon Sabo would drag him out of the ring. The instructors just frowned. “The Japanese have real strong opinions on a lot of stuff. Stepping away from opponents and dodging and avoiding the fight is not very respectable,” he says. While at Nihon, Sabo was fed impressive amounts of rice and noodles. Students would check their weight several times a day and take naps to keep it on. At night, the younger classmen who were confined in their dorms would ask Sabo to bring back food on his nightly sushi run. “You look at them and they’re not cut, so most people think they’re fat,” Sabo says. “They’re extremely sold. Just punch one of them and it’s like punching a brick wall.” Onward and Upward with the ArtIn March of the U.S. Sumo Open, Sabo wrestled a 420-pound heavyweight named Mark Sagato. During the match, Sabo grabbed Sagato’s midriff, slid around to his backside and pushed him out of the ring. It was a surprise to the audience that had laughed when the two seemingly mismatched opponents stepped into the dohyo. The maneuver, called okuridashi, or push form the rear, is considered one of the most humiliating ways to lose. In Japan, such defeats were often accompanies by beatings with a cane or cigarette burns, Sabo says. In fact, Sagato’s troubles were a good example of why technique is so important, and why Sabo would like to see more bodybuilders and football players try sumo. He believes size, power and drive give them an advantage. But he thinks it’s the diaper—the mawashi—that scares most people off. It looks like a thong made from a fire hose, which in fact it was at one time. Modern versions are made of heavyweight cotton or silk, and amateur competitors, especially women, tend to wear spandex shorts or underwear underneath, but Sabo mostly wrestles raw-dog. He says it allows the mawashi to be worn tighter. Plus, it just looks better to him, even though he says that’s not really the point. “What you wear isn’t what really matters. It’s sumo because it’s highly competitive, very intense and short. You can go out there and you can really go to war with somebody,” he explains. Beyond the World Sumo Championships, Sabo hopes to enjoy one more glory: the Olympics. Sumo is being considered for the 2012 games in London. “Once it’s a full medaled sport, more people will take it seriously,” Sabo says. “They’ll be able to see that it’s not just two fat guys in diapers.” Japanese officials have conceded to the International Olympic Committee requirements for weight classes and allowing women to compete. Traditionally, women weren’t even allowed to touch the dohyo because it was considered defilement, but the sport has changed a lot. Sabo says he would try out for the U.S. team, even if he had to live out of his car again. Sabo’s father, who has seen his son win internationally, now approves of the sport. “M pop has never been afraid of anything and has gotten into some hellacious fights,” Sabo says. “My brother and I are just like that. We’ve got our fathers fire. Now it’s just up to me.”

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