There was a time not too long ago when ice cream entrepreneur Jeni Britton Bauer scribbled down requests for specific flavors of her now world-renowned creamy creations in a notebook behind the counter in her shop in Columbus’ North Market. When those flavors were created, she’d whip out that notebook and call every person on the list to let them know their coveted pint of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream was available. Social media changed all of that. No longer were her evenings filled with making call after call to customers eager for their pint of Salty Caramel, one post to Facebook and her fans knew what she was making, when and where to get it.
“When social media came up, it was immediate – this is the future, this is how it’s going to work now,” the pink-haired, La Croix guzzling, fast-talking-44-year-old said. “It was immediately this great thing.”
But the idea of how to use social media – as a company and as an individual – is forever rooted in that notebook and the conversations and exchanging of information that took place around it. Britton Bauer isn’t using social media to build an ice cream empire, she’s using it to build a community – one Instagram story at a time.
“We think of our company as a community and that includes everyone who interacts with us and our farmers, makers, growers – our team,” she said. “We do not think of [social media] as an advertising platform or just a cool-factor thing, we’re not thinking about ourselves as influencers, we really think of it as a service platform…It’s a window into what we do and how we do it.”
Britton Bauer relishes the opportunity to take people along on her regular visits to the farms that grow the produce or create the dairy products they use at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, especially using videos on social media. It’s a unique opportunity to connect grower and consumer, created by emerging technology and those willing to embrace it.
“We never would have been able to do that in the 90’s,” she said.
They create a connection that static photos on a wall in one of the 33 – and counting – Jeni’s Scoop Shops located across the US just can’t. Why? Because social media brings the story directly to any person who chooses to see it, wherever they are.
While her company has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest, Britton Bauer herself is an Instagram devotee, especially the stories feature.
“I do like that it goes away. I really love that a lot,” she explained. It’s the impermanence that allows her to say things and frame things according to her feelings on any given day, and knowing that 24 hours later, her story will change along with her mood. She likes other peoples’ stories as well. “I think there’s something about speaking directly to someone that is so powerful,” she said.
She uses the opportunity for direct interaction social media affords regularly, asking questions and challenging ideas with the hopes of getting a response; not for followers, not to pad stats, but in genuine pursuit of knowledge. She makes it her mission to respond to the messages she receives.
“I spend a considerable amount of time every day talking to people on Instagram,” she revealed. Why? She works roughly 13 hours a day, doing about 10 different jobs, surely social media is something she could farm out. It all comes back to what she’s trying to build. “I want to be accessible to people – inside my community but in the wider community too,” she said. “I’m just one person and I have to go to my office and go home and go sit on an airplane for hours, but I can still be accessible and have this great community where we’re sharing ideas and inspiring others. That, to me, is important.”
She also loves to promote like-minded businesses and community organizations through her personal feed. On recent trips to New York and LA, she was a one-woman cyclone (although in LA she was assisted by her 10 year-old daughter, Greta) blowing into non-profits, makerspaces, corporate headquarters’ and flagship stores bearing coolers of ice cream and boxes of buttercrisp waffle cones and engaging everyone within earshot in meaningful conversation about what makes a community, what makes a difference and what makes a business – all the while hand-scooping and serving tasty treats.
These actions garner her a lot of attention on social media. But don’t make the mistake of calling her an “influencer.” Britton Bauer actually bristles at the term, calling it a push for “sameness.”
“Part of being an influencer now is looking like every other influencer…It’s really about making money, and if you want to make money you have to look and be perfect – and perfection looks and acts like every other person,” she said. “I’m a risk-taker and I’m looking for taste-makers, not influencers. If you have 1,500 followers and you’re a really cool artist or you’re doing something that’s new and inspiring to me, I’d rather sit down in a room and have a real conversation with you as opposed to someone who has 80,000 followers whose life is just a little too pretty.”
“Real” is an important word to her. She is the face of a wildly popular gourmet food venture, she’s a James Beard Award-winning author, she’s recognized wherever she goes, and she could easily create a “pretty world” for her nearly 100,000 Instagram followers. But that goes against the absolute essence of Jeni Britton Bauer. She posts about her failures as readily as her wins, most recently kvetching to her Instagram audience as she was running out of gas on her way into work. Yes, she may be the founder of a multi-million-dollar business, but nothing grounds a person more than having to ask someone to give their car a push into the gas station.
“There should never be a moment when a 12-year-old girl thinks that [attaining the success she has] is going to be hard to get to,” she said.
Sometimes, being super real on social media can get a person into a difficult situation and bring out the trolls. It happened to Jeni earlier this year, and briefly the company felt the repercussions of her actions. She credited the strength of the community she built in real life with helping her manage the negative and get through the storm. “We support each other first. So, when the shit hits the fan – and it does because we take risks for the company, and as a human, I do. But when that happens, the greatest feeling in entire world you can have is not the joy of being on top of the mountain, it’s when you fall and people gather around you and help you up.”
That’s crucial, she said. While social media is an incredible tool, it should never replace opportunities to live in the here and now. “I don’t work on my community online and not work on my community in real life,” she stressed. “The work I do on Instagram is just a tiny bit of what I do in real life. That’s the most important thing.”
Given that advice, it isn’t surprising that Jeni points to real life friends and fellow badass women entrepreneurs as people who bring her light and love on social media.
“I love watching her stories, just, break,” she gushed about Jen Gotch (@jengotch), Founder and Chief Creative Officer of lifestyle brand ban.do. “It’s so beautiful and real and funny and she’s just so brilliant.”
She called Ellen Bennett (@ellenmariebennett), founder and CEO of Headley & Bennett handcrafted aprons, “a fire-cracker personality” and a daily inspiration. “She has this energy, she’s just go, go, go and I see her interacting out in the world and I see how she leads her team and I just marvel at the fact that she’s just 30 years old and she’s got this amazingness and she’s very forward.”
Logging onto social media these days might feel like walking through a mine-field. And some days, the darkness there threatens to block out the light. But Britton Bauer is hopeful it continues to grow into a tool for building communities up and not tearing people down. “I’m curious to see how social media levels out and to see social media turn into something that is good. Of course, there are paths that you could imagine in the future it going really negatively, but we’ll see,” she said.
The Light and Love Project started out as assignment in a self-help book to make a list of the women who inspire me. It occurred to me some time after I compiled it that I made that it primarily by scrolling through my various social media channels. So, I began taking notice of whose posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram I gravitated towards, whose stories I consistently watched, whose content I shared, retweeted, liked and told my husband and friends about.
Those women all had a few things in common: they were smart, funny, honest, creative, self-motivated, driven and had a genuine concern for their “community” – whether that’s the people in their physical neighborhood, online or elsewhere. As I began to see the patterns, it became apparent that these women were the bright spots in my “social media day.” I’d open Twitter, fend off a few trolls (as a woman writing about baseball, I got a lot of hate from guys who felt I was better suited for making sandwiches than offering up thoughts on America’s pastime) and then scroll until I saw a post from one of these women. They were a balm to a soul that tends to grow dark.
And so, it occurred to me that these women might do the same for others. And that they have their own tribe of women who might do the same for them. And that by sharing who they are and how they approach social media, some of that light and love might trickle out across all of the platforms and make what can sometimes be a very dark place a little bit brighter.
Harness Magazine is publishing the first four profiles from The Light and Love Project. For background on each woman profiled, along with articles about the good things people are doing with social media and more, visit www.lightandloveproject.com and please follow us on Twitter (@LightAndLovePjt) and Instagram (@lightandloveproject).
Author: Joy Frank-Collins
Author Bio: Joy Frank-Collins is a freelance writer who got her start as a reporter for a daily newspaper in southeastern Ohio. Her work ranges from sports to travel to special interest features. She’s most recently been published in Pittsburgh Magazine, WOW (the airline) Magazine, The Marietta Times, on multiple sports blogs. In 2018, she contributed long-form features to two baseball books. After 20+ years living in Marietta, Ohio, Joy is excited to relocate with her husband and two sons to the Columbus area in late summer 2018. She enthusiastically chronicles her travels, beverages and cat on social media.
Link to social media or website: joyfrank-collins.com | Twitter @joyfc | Instagram @joyfc