Every business has aspirations to build a dynamic online presence that captures the interest and spending of prospective customers while engaging its existing audience.. To achieve these objectives, businesses first need to mine the near-dizzying volume of digital marketing options out there, from email service providers to social media and content management platforms. To help narrow the vast, sometimes overwhelming space, we asked leaders across a multitude of business categories to share their insights about the online engagement tools that help them achieve a strong digital presence.

 Artist in black dress creates caricature drawing with black marker
For Caricatures by Courtney, social media posts provide both leads and insights into what captures the attention of and creates engagement among prospective clients. — Caricatures by Courtney

Courtney Sell, owner, Caricatures by Courtney Inc.

Who we are: Professional caricaturist based in Wyomissing, PA who specializes in flattering caricatures and creating one-of-a-kind gifts at private parties and special events.

Since I started my business in 2011, some of the marketing and customer tools I have used have evolved over the years. I have been using tools from Google, such as Google Analytics, to evaluate where my website traffic comes from. Being in the party and entertainment industry, I want to make sure that local customers can easily find my website since I travel to their locations for events. I have also found that using Google Ads (formerly Adwords) has been a valuable tool to my business in a world where everyone is competing for the number one spot on the search engine.

On the other hand, unpaid advertising that I do on social media posts (e.g., Facebook and Instagram) is absolutely necessary in today’s world, where people are scrolling Instagram for their next big party idea. I can gain invaluable engagement, and easily book a few events or commissions through direct messages from people anywhere in the world — all from a single post. The social media platform also has great tools for tracking engagement on each post, which can be helpful in ensuring that you are reaching the right audience, all just by securing a business account. Follow Caricatures by Courtney on Instagram & Facebook.

 Products by Pingree displayed with whiskey.
Pingree Detroit uses upcycled automotive materials to create home, pet, footwear and accessories, and counts Constant Contact and Canva among its most valuable marketing tools. — Pingree

Jarret Alan Schlaff, co-founder and CEO, Pingree Detroit & Pingree Mfg L3C

Who we are: A worker-owned, triple bottom line design and manufacturing cooperative that hand-makes footwear and home, pet and fashion accessories in Detroit with leather and other materials upcycled from the auto industry.

Relationships continue to be our strongest currency. We must communicate the multiple value-adds and benefits of owning an American-made piece of Pingree through authentic story-telling and weekly content on social media and our newsletter. This initiative involves our community of impact (customers) in our story to remain competitive. We do our best to lift up and involve our targeted audiences at various points in our sales funnel life cycle every week via Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok, Youtube, our newsletter, and Maker Mondays where we share videos and images of our team making our goods. Each product comes with a Maker Card that lifts up the name and story of someone who helped make that Piece of Pingree, along with a discount code on the back for future use.

Some customers begin their impact journey with us by sharing our story by word of mouth as a mission ambassador. Others may subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social channels. And, others become customers by making a purchase for themselves or someone they care about — then the heirloom quality of our goods will speak for itself.

Our favorite online tools are Constant Contact for email marketing, Monday.com for staying organized across all divisions of our company, and image editing tool Canva, which saves us hundreds of hours a year compared to Photoshop, to get clean studio-quality white backgrounds for products and photos for social media. Follow Pingree on Instagram & Facebook.

 Smiling colleagues have an informal meeting in a conference room
Switchboard Indy caters to the needs of its coworking community members with CRM platform Proximity, which integrates with other digital marketing tools in the company’s arsenal. — Switchboard

Emily Vanest, director, Switchboard

Who we are: A vibrant coworking community of seasoned businesses and startups in the heart of the growing Fountain Square neighborhood of Indianapolis, IN.

Our mission at Switchboard is to create a warm, professional, engaging space for all the members of our community. It's really important to me to communicate with my members, vendors and neighbors in a way that is clear, positive, inclusive and beautiful. I use Proximity as my CRM because of its very simple, clean, user-friendly interface. Prospective Switchboard members schedule tours, sign up for memberships or reserve conference rooms on our member site that seamlessly links to our website.

Once someone joins us, the one-stop Proximity app houses their billing, room reservations, WiFi and printing access, and even their keys to the door. Proximity connects directly to Stripe for payment processing and to Mailchimp for email communication. I'm able to start a free Mailchimp campaign, choose my audience (already segmented by Proximity into categories, based on membership level), and create beautifully designed emails to communicate with my members or prospects. I can drag and drop photos, link to surveys or other sites, and plug my personal messages into Mailchimp's templates in just a few minutes each week. I really appreciate that these systems are both easy to navigate on my end and provide a streamlined and efficient way for my clients to access all the information they need as well. Follow Switchboard on Instagram & Facebook.

 Open container displays skin care product
Kiss Freely, headquartered in Rockville Center, NY, counts social media among the company's most powerful online tools for its ability to engage with and glean customer insights. — Kiss Freely

Jennifer Kurko, founder, Kiss Freely

Who we are: A line of natural, allergy-friendly cosmetics and bath products, based in Rockville Center, NY.

Social media provides our business with valuable information at very little cost. It easily allows for idea and product testing with specially designed audiences for all budgets, which helps keep the risk low. Our customer base has very specific needs. Without the specific targeting, the information on what works best for our customers would be skewed.

Social media allows for such immediate feedback and engagement on what our customers need and want. This has been so helpful to our small business, allowing us to pivot to something that meets the needs of our customers quickly, and it has also guided our investment in new products. Follow Kiss Freely on Instagram & Facebook.

 Multi-colored men's dress shirts hang on clothing rack
Headquartered in Newport Beach, CA, TheManRefined is a direct-to-consumer e-commerce business that uses paid ads on Facebook, Instagram and Google to fuel its online marketing. — The Man Refined

Stephanie Araneta-Clifford, co-founder/creative director, TheManRefined

Who we are: Newport Beach, CA makers of custom-fit, beautifully tailored, well-priced menswear, crafted with high-quality fabrics.

TheManRefined is an e-commerce company that brings custom-made menswear to a new generation of free thinkers. Our company is a combination of fashion and technology powered by AI. Social media ads and marketing have helped bring brand awareness for TheManRefined, which launched just a couple of weeks before the nationwide lockdown in 2020. It is not an easy task to launch a new e-commerce company in the midst of uncertain times. The last thing people were thinking about when all cooped up was purchasing menswear. Nevertheless, paid ads on Facebook, Instagram and Google helped us along the way to get our brand on the map, especially during the holiday season, when we stepped up our ad spending.

We also rely on SEO management and reporting with a focus on geo-targeting, demographic reports, devices and user flow. With analytics, we determine the “sweet spot” in terms of age group along with what visitors like and dislike about our website, or, in other words, overall user experience. Our website is not a regular shopping site, as we mainly offer custom-made clothing along with non-customized basics. We value platforms that can deliver ROIs, but we also value a personalized relationship. Oftentimes, big platforms feel robotic versus having a partner who can support you as you scale your company. Follow TheManRefined on Instagram & Facebook.

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