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Sweet Briar seniors using social media to market local businesses

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Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 9:15 am | Updated: 9:48 am, Wed May 8, 2013.

In the 1980s, one grandmother’s homemade pain remedy was confined to the cramps and sprains of family members. One trademark and FDA-approval later, five Sweet Briar College seniors intend to intensify the power of that remedy through social media.

The women are instrumental in developing a business practicum at Sweet Briar that would assist local businesses in harnessing social media to drive revenue, such as their work with the homemade paid remedy that now is known as Rubber Arm Muscle Rub.

A severe ski injury left Amherst resident Len Wentz with damaged ligaments. Instead of surgery, Wentz credits his grandmother’s homemade pain reliever for staving off the surgeon’s knife.

Accolades from the parents of two sore Little League pitchers later persuaded Wentz of a potential market for the concoction.

The result is Rubber Arm, an anti-inflammatory cream based from his grandmother’s “secret” recipe. The product launched in 2012.

“If you have a “rubber arm” it means you can throw and throw, and your arm will never hurt,” said Wentz, a former professional baseball player.

Rubber Arm is sold across the United States, Wentz said; national chains such as Apple Market carry the 3-ounce tube or squeeze bottles priced at  $12.99.

But despite its national reach, its social media presence is comparatively lacking.

The company hosts a Facebook and Twitter page; but posts are minimal.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said.

According to Tom Scott, assistant professor of business at Sweet Briar, companies such as Rubber Arm present an opportunity for incoming social-media savvy students.

“A Region 2000 report came out last year that Central Virginia is really good at starting companies but not really good at accelerating companies,” Scott said.

Scott aims to overcome that inertia through the Business 452 seminar.

The goal is to create an practicum that one day will provide a three-fold service: to offer Sweet Briar students needed experiential learning, to enhance the branding and sales for small local companies, and to potentially create a revenue stream for Sweet Briar College.

The experiential learning project is still in its preliminary stages, but seniors Whitney Waller, Elizabeth Hansbrough, Emily Sickelbaugh, Amanda Zack and Jessie Edington were instrumental in developing the framework of the course.

The goal is to focus on developing and delivering social media marketing strategies for “stage two” businesses. These businesses, Scott said, have reached a certain level of growth but may lack the revenue to expand further or to hire a social media director.

Tentative plans for the course will have freshmen students take introductory theory courses to introduce them to the businesses; upper level students may work directly with companies to help them achieve their marketing and research goals. A practitioner or faculty member will oversee the project over the summer.

If the targeted businesses experience an increase in revenue through the students’ social media efforts, Scott said there could possibly be a commission-based payment system set in place.

“If professors, and maybe practitioners, can share their business acumen in combination with their social media skills, you can help get to the next level,” Scott said.

Like many millennials, two students, Waller and Hansbrough, maintain active social media presences.

Social media gives companies the advantage of knowing their customers, Waller said, to see, “what they do and who they are, rather than sending out a hundred mailings and hoping that you get a sale or two off of it.”

“Part of the age we’re in, everyone wants every bit of information they’re looking for to be accessible,” Hansbrough said. “If they can go to Facebook and [see] what they’re friends are doing while checking out their favorite products and seeing what those companies are up to, I think it really adds a convenience factor for their customers.”

The women have met with representatives from Rubber Arm, Nanotech, a company that produces anti-microbial surfaces, and Amherst-based Hemle Clocks to assess the companies’ growth and social media needs.

“We have a lot of research capability here,” Scott said. “[Whether] it’s market research or competitive intelligence to help [businesses] clearly define segments.”

Who is the target market of a product such as Rubber Arm: athletes in their prime or the elderly? According to Wentz, he receives feedback from people suffering from arthritis but not 18 years olds.

Tools like Google Analytics can help define demographics by ages, Waller said.

“I think a lot of businesses, especially in these economic times, can use the help to get to that next level,” Scott said. “And it feel like higher education is at a unique point in time that we can offer that.”

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