Donna Marie Antoniadis, the co-founder and COO of ShesConnected.com, a social media site for women, was the only Canadian named to the recent Forbes list of the "20 best-branded women on Twitter." She's labelled a "digital, mobile and social media leader" on a list that included celebrities such as Maria Shriver and Ivanka Trump, and swimsuit-model-turned-multimillion-dollar brand, Kathy Ireland.
We caught up with Ms. Antoniadis over a couple of non-fat lattes in downtown Toronto.
What is your brand?
My passion is my company, so I am ShesConnected. I am that brand. I am everything it embodies, so I don't know if I really separate myself from my company. As an entrepreneur, I work seven days a week, but I love what I do so it's not work for me.
What is ShesConnected and ShesConnected.com?
Think of ShesConnected as an interface between brands and consumers. The consumers happen to be women and the brands want to connect with these women. So we are first a consulting company connecting brands with these digital women.
The second part of our business is ShesConnected.com, the first "dual-profile social networking for women." It's like Facebook meets Linkedin, where you have the ability to have a personal profile and a professional profile with one login, and nobody knows you have both a personal profile and a professional one unless you want them to. We strongly suggest, because we think your personal life should be personal, that you use an avatar and a screen name.
The reasoning behind it is that not all women have time to go to multiple social networking sites, and many want the ability to manage both their personal and business networking on one site. You're essentially two profiles linked together as one. The site is primarily North American and English speaking, but there are people from about 30 countries who have found us.
When was it founded and why?
It was founded at the end of 2006, with co-founder and CEO Mark Grindeland, because we thought there was a real opportunity in social media in setting up a site for women. We logged on to other social networking sites and said "we're building this site" and asked for feedback, so we got real-time feedback from women as we were building. We made our decisions based on what the users wanted.
How do you use Twitter with ShesConnected.com?
Twitter is one of our great marketing tools. We find that Twitter is the best way to make a connection to women and one of the primary tools that got traffic to our site. Just from tweeting out that we had a social networking site for women, people would come to our site. We've integrated Twitter into our daily updates, so if you want to update your status on ShesConnected.com, you can also hit the Twitter or Facebook button and it would update it on that site as well. We try to make it simple.
How many people follow you on Twitter and why?
Almost 30,000 people follow me on Twitter. People follow you when you can give them great information. If I find something very interesting, I will tweet about it. I don't tweet about my personal life, about getting my hair cut or being stuck in the airport. I only tweet about what's important and relevant or else nobody's going to follow me.
Besides the time-saving aspect, what do women like about the site?
Women sign up for two profiles, one personal and in some cases will register two or three businesses under our business directory. We act as a directory listing for women so they can list their blogs and businesses on our site. Then they can connect with other women who can help them or purchase their products.
How does ShesConnected make money?
We make money by connecting women with brands. Advertisers love advertising to women because we have the most economic clout, representing over 80 per cent of consumer household spending. Women make the decisions.
We initially thought we would do online advertising, but we don't. We have a database of over 400,000 bloggers, social networking sites, forums and women. So when a brand wants to connect with these women and have conversations with them, we have a methodology that allows them to do that, based on our experience over the past three-and-a-half years on ShesConnected.
We provide outsourced community management services to the brands that are our clients. We tell them what social media sites to be on so we create a social media footprint for them. We've used what we call community managers from the start - we have over 1,800 women bloggers already active on sites. We can provide staff who work three to four hours a day from home, making connections on behalf of the brand and promoting the brand through various social networking sites. It's not a campaign-based approach to marketing because there is no quick hit in social media. It's a sustained year-long program that we do with our business partners.
What we do is that before a marketing campaign starts, we start to chatter about it. Once that campaign hits the market, we make sure we spread the word by socially amplifying that message through social media channels. When that promotion is over, our women still connect with other women to ensure continuity. In social media, you can't become a friend to start a conversation and then stop. You have to continue that conversation.
Don't companies expect people to talk about their products for free?
Our business model is that these are women who provide a valuable service and they should be paid. They fully disclose that they're community managers working for ShesConnected for X brand. Even their avatar says that they are a community manager. We couldn't be in business without total transparency.
These are women with kids or who need extra income by working a few hours a day from home. What the brands get is a diversity of women working for them across the country. I'm just the connector of these women who want to work with the brands and the brands who want to work with the women.
What do Canadian companies lack when it comes to Twitter?
If Canadian companies aren't already on Twitter, they need to be. I think what's missing is that most companies don't have what we call a dedicated community manager to manage their Twitter account and participate in the conversation. The way we look at social media is that it's nothing more than a platform for conversation, whether it's Twitter, Facebook or a blog. So the biggest mistake companies make is not dedicating resources or recognizing the opportunities to connect with their customer base.
You're on every single social networking site out there - Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, MySpace. What's most valuable for business?
Facebook. Because everyone's on Facebook. Over 500 million people are on Facebook every single day. If somebody makes a recommendation on Facebook to their friends, you're more likely to check it out. Brands need to be where their customers are and they need to let them do on Facebook what they'd normally do on their website. No. 2 would be Twitter.
When I'm on Facebook, I'm not looking to connect with brands, so how do companies reach people?
The wonderful thing about Facebook is that you connect with your friends. If one of your friends makes a recommendation, you're much more likely to check it out and that drives traffic to the company's Facebook site.
The average person has more than 300 friends, so if their friends see that you like something, then they're going to check it out and then their friends see it and check it out ... and so on. That's why you get millions and millions of hits on the big brand pages. People want to know what the cool applications are doing. So companies need to be on Facebook and Twitter.
What's been the biggest challenge along the way?
The biggest challenge for me was being underestimated. A lot of people didn't believe I could pull this business off but I did. Don't underestimate a woman.
Where are you going with this?
We're growing the consulting and community management business for big brands. Plus, we're now holding events off-line where the brands can meet with the women.
What's your advice for entrepreneurs who want to build their brand through social networking?
Embrace it as a way to connect with people and build your business. Make the time to learn how to do it. It doesn't need to be eight hours a day.