I’ve worked at Ben Bridge Jeweler for 12 years. When I started, the corporate office was running on sneakernet. I was the first person to get a flatbed scanner and use Powerpoint at manager meetings. I converted a huge handwritten open-to-buy binder into an Excel workbook. I consistently achieve my objectives with very limited resources, and get a real kick out of outdoing myself every time.
Ben Bridge Jeweler is based in Seattle and has been family operated since 1912. Currently, there are 75 stores in 12 states. The Bridge family is very well respected in the community, and the company is well-known in the industry for its strong ethics in dealing with customers and vendors. Employee longevity is measured by decades at Ben Bridge, and most executives have been with the company since graduating from college. I have the priviledge of working alongside members of the Bridge family on a daily basis, and appreciate that it’s not their style to brag about the good things they do. At the same time, people are now looking for reasons to connect with companies, not just to buy from them, so I’ve been searching for more effective ways to spread Ben Bridge stories. In 2008, I started exploring the possibility of applying my knowledge about social media to help Ben Bridge. I don’t work in sales, marketing or PR, and had trouble finding a receptive sponsor in the company for my ideas. Despite having been raised to color inside the lines, I decided to test drive the saying “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
On September 8, 2008, I started a Facebook group for employees as a way to assess the level of awareness of social networking tools among employees. Those who found the group are thrilled to discover others in the company who are also on Facebook. I use the Facebook group to send out news and messages about cool things happening at the office and good news about associates. Since creating the group, many employees from all over the company have contacted me: in person, by phone and online. It’s been very positive for filling in the gap between associates in the corporate office and stores.
I’ve been active on Twitter since early 2008, and have been observing jewelry industry professionals’ and competitors’ activities. In January 2009, I quietly created @BenBridgeGirl. I didn’t use a logo, link it to the company web site or reveal my name. I did, however, clearly state that the account was an employee’s own initiative. I don’t use the account to push out sales messages. Instead, I chat up other jewelry retailers, connect with wedding related service providers, brides, department stores, and nonprofit organizations. I search for opportunities to provide assistance by sharing gift ideas, asking about existing customers’ purchases, and directing prospective customers to the appropriate stores. In April 2009, Victoria Gomelsky (a writer/editor specializing in jewelry and travel) found @BenBridgeGirl. We exchanged emails and had a great phone conversation about the jewelry industry and its adoption of social media. Later that same month, Mary Todd McGinnis (VP of sales and e-commerce) and Marc Bridge (CEO’s son) both found the @BenBridgeGirl account, and I revealed my name to both of them via DM (direct message), but there was still no discussion about it at work. By that time, Some Ben Bridge employees and several loyal customers who are on Twitter began communicating with @BenBridgeGirl and are all very happy to have discovered her. More recently, I helped Gray Ribbon Gala secure a donation item for its auction to benefit brain cancer research. I especially enjoy helping other jewelry retailers and industry organizations connect with each other by talking about them when they join Twitter, such as Jewelers of America, Jewelers for Children, Jewelry Information Center, JCK Magazine and Platinum Guild International. I’m also very forward about exchanging friendly tweets with competitors, such as Zales Diamond Gal, Blue Nile Diamond, Fred Meyer Jewelers and Robbins Brothers. Michael Schechter of Honora Pearls has been a cheerleader for @BenBridgeGirl since day 1, and he is clearly a social media pioneer in the jewelry industry. It absolutely makes my day when wonderful people like Peggy Jo Donahue sends me encouraging messages. The response to @BenBridgeGirl has been very positive.
In early September 2009, I took things one step further by creating a Ben Bridge Jeweler page on Facebook. My philosophy for the page is similar to how I handle the Twitter account: not to push sales, but to provide information and points of interest to encourage conversation. The “fan base” has grown at a healthy pace because of the network I have personally built over time. On September 28, Marc Bridge joined me in managing the fan page and soon started the “piece of the day” postings. He is also responsible for the birth of a Ben Bridge blog on September 14.
Why am I doing all this? Because I’m a “trust agent” (hat tip to Chris Brogan and Julien Smith). I believe this is the next move that will truly set Ben Bridge Jeweler apart in customers’ eyes. So many people are ready to hear from and rally around Ben Bridge. Amazing things happen when a company begins speaking with a human voice instead of a corporate one. Frank Eliason has done it for Comcast. Scott Monty has done it for Ford. Richard Binhammer has done it for Dell. I know I can do the same for Ben Bridge Jeweler.
Photo courtesy of my good friend Jean-Luc David.