An interview with Jo Henchy and Aimee Swift from The Yard, Stamford.
Recently, we asked ourselves: “Which local businesses are doing Social Media really well in our area?”
It didn’t take long for us to come up with ‘The Yard’ as just one of several examples of what we consider to be ‘best-in-class’.
The Yard (for those who don’t know) is an indoor soft play centre & cafe dreamed up by two local mums, Jo Henchy and Aimee Swift, who craved a place that accommodated and appealed to adults and children alike. Unit 2, West Street, Stamford is home to the large play centre, an under 2’s play space as well as a clean, bright and airy café serving grilled cheese sandwiches, sweet treats and insanely good coffee – all sourced from local suppliers.
We paid them a visit this week, to find out…
What’s been the biggest benefit of using social media to you?
We started using Facebook right at the infancy of ‘The Yard’ initially to let people know that we were going to be opening soon and it proved to be a great way to drum up interest and support before we even opened.
Now we often use Social Media almost as a Batman-style warning light to communicate with the swarms of parents heading our way! Particularly useful if it’s time sensitive, like occasions when we’re full on a rainy day!
Our customers know to check our Facebook page before they travel to visit us, so we don’t get upset customers (or children). It allows us to be more effective and timely in our communication.
We use social media to remind people that we have air conditioning or that we’re showing Wimbledon on the big screen (for example). It’s a great way of reminding people that we’re here and retaining business over the (trickier) summer months.
We’ve also really seen the benefit of partnering up with other local businesses and utilising our collective wider audiences on social media.
Most recently we’ve hosted clothing and toy pop-ups shops with Annualstore and Young.Double, adult art classes with paisley_art_workshops, Paint-a-pot-classes with TootyScott. We’ve also worked with Smallish_magazine (which led to an industry award!) and we regularly share posts and tag our local coffee supplier TwoChimpsCoffee
Any negatives you’ve experienced using social media?
The vast majority of interactions we have on social media are incredibly positive and supportive, however we have had 1 or 2 negative comments in the past and that has been challenging. When this happened we’ve been careful to word a diplomatic reply (ensuring that we were positive and polite) and it has always blown over. I guess the challenge with social media is that people can be more bold and argumentative behind the comfort of a phone!
What kind of posts do you find get the most traction?
One of the best posts we’ve done was a short video of the ball cleaning machine. That went crazy! We couldn’t believe it! Over 12k views. I guess it hit a nerve with our customer base and helped to reassure people that we take hygiene very seriously!
Also our video of our Easter Egg Hot Chocolate got over 12k views. Our audience was sharing and tagging each other in it! That was a surprise success!
What platform do you find works best for your business?
Definitely Facebook for engagement, as most of our customer base is active on Facebook but Instagram gets lots of views. We’re always really pleased with how many views our Instagram stories get, especially as stories sit at the top of the newsfeed.
We find that Instagram tends to be better for brand positioning and easier for brand alignment with like-minded businesses. In fact we discovered Annual Store and Young Double on Instagram which led to fantastic collaborations.
Did you go on any social media training courses?
No! We are self taught. It’s been fairly intuitive to learn along with everyone else as Facebook initially and then Instagram have become mainstream. Facebook ads took a bit of work to master and we probably could have used some training for that!
Who else do you admire, or think is doing their social media well?
NatalieDamsbeauty always does great competitions, you feel like you know her team really well, MissPickering is so clever at telling a story and featuring the people of Stamford. WeAreTheEnergyGirls post some great content. The bathtub /toilet photo was brilliant! A real talking point and something brave and different!
Further afield Mombini and NuboPlay (soft play centres) are accounts that we admire and take inspiration from. AppleSeedsnyc is play centre in New York with a really nice Instagram feed and larkcafe in Brooklyn has been an inspiration to us in terms of in-store aesthetics & community feel.
Young.Double and AnnualStore (who we regularly work with) are great at keeping it personal and real.
Have you ever run a competition?
Yes, competitions work well for us. We tend to do things like VIP entry for events and free coffee and cake. We always get a good response.
We recently did a Wimbledon related one, a competition relating to our re-opening after our refurbishment and another one that went well was our easter egg hot chocolate competition.
What pitfalls would you warn others about?
If you’re doing a competition, keep the mechanics simple. We once did a “guess the number of balls” competition and we didn’t anticipate quite how many responses we’d have to wade through! We ended up giving ourselves quite a bit of work!
How do you manage your social media marketing?
There are three of us who tend to do the majority of the posts between us. It’s not a formalised plan. We tend to text each other at the end of an evening, when we’ve had a chance to sit down and think about who and what we want to post the following day. Our little system works well for us!
Molly is our manager and she’s great at boomerangs and quirky little videos. She also runs some classes called ‘Hello Molly’, so she’s really good at marketing those for us on our accounts.
We’re very lucky that we have a great team. Charlotte and Molly are both particularly good at social media, so they capture great content for us to use and share.
We also try and do an Instagram story every day, just to ensure people don’t forget that we’re here.
What do you think you could do better?
Utilise geo tags and use more nearby locations in our hashtags, so that we are widening our field. We’re also working on our Bio’s (to ramp up the keywords & phrases).
Do you monitor your performance on social media insights?
We do look at our reach but we probably don’t make the most of what is available. I think because we feel it’s working for us, we don’t do too much analysis. Perhaps that’s something we could do more of though.
Do you do sponsored posts?
Very rarely! We are quite organic in our approach to our content so unless there is a really important message we want to get out there (like when we had our refurb) we wouldn’t bother. We get good reach and our followers are doing a great job of spreading the word without too much effort from us. Advertising could be something we would look at in the future though.
Do you use print media?
In the early days we tried, but it didn’t seem to translate into any actual customers, so we moved away from that. There is no point spending money for no return, so it seemed sensible to move over to doing all our promotional content on social media.
How much of your content is scheduled vs in real time?
Most of our posts are done live or later on that day.
As Mums ourselves we know our target audience are most active on social media early in the morning or after the children are in bed so we save our content to post at those peak times.
We tend to keep our content very organic and natural, and we like to think that’s why our social media is so successful. Hopefully this helps us come across as authentic.
What are you most proud of?
The way we’re able to bring our excellent staff into our brand story and feature them in our posts. We want people to feel that they’re really connected to us and our business.
We are also proud of having our children featured as part of our logo giving a real family feel to our business, the personal touch.
Our customers genuinely feel like friends. We’ve known many of them since day 1 of opening & seen them through pregnancies and important events like birthday parties (with all their family members). It’s a very personal relationship we have with many of our customers.
What advice do you have for any business owners unsure about using Social Media?
Being active on Social Media an absolute MUST to be successful in business these days, you just have to give it a go!
Keep things as simple as possible and remember having loads of followers is lovely, but what matters is sales through the till… We’re extremely proud to have followers in Australia (for example), but paying customers is ultimately what’s important, so keep that in mind!
Also important is investing in a decent phone (a good camera is essential). Learn a few basics, like Canva (for making photos look professional) and how to make Boomerangs and get good (license free) images from Google.
If you’re unsure what to post, it’s worth finding accounts that you admire and utilise what they’re doing by applying it to your business. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel!
Above all else, have fun with your social media! Positivity always shines through & people respond to humour.
Any Final thoughts?
It’s really important to get into the mindset of your customer and talk to them in their language. This has been pretty easy for us, as we are the embodiment of our target market, so we know what times of day our customers are likely to be scrolling and what things might be on their mind like entertaining kids with cabin fever!