What Facebook Can Do in a Small Town: The Case of Morano Gelato

The growth of Facebook has often been associated with the increasing connectivity of people all over the world, bringing into contact those who could never before be part of the same network. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman views the rise of social media as a factor in the shaping of a “bottom-up” world whereby individuals have more power than ever to enact change. Yet for all its global functions, Facebook’s universality also has a powerful force at the most local level: it can foster community between small-town stores and their customers. In fact, behind the entertainment industry, local entities rank #2 in terms of Facebook users’ engagement.

In Hanover, look no further than the wildly popular Morano Gelato to see how Facebook’s marketing potential can be deployed even in such a small town. On its Facebook page, owner Morgan Morano has posted its available flavors for certain days, and held sweepstakes to draw them in—for example, “like” this page for a chance to win free gelato for a month. It’s likely that the winner will bring friends and post their victory as their own Facebook status, creating a ripple effect to attract even more customers. In the future, Morano is considering a sweepstakes that encourages followers to vote on a flavor they’d like to see, with ten participants getting it for free.

These tactics are fundamentally about building a more personal relationship with customers. Morano has heard people tell her that they saw today’s flavor on the Facebook page and just had to come in. Her Facebook posts are a reminder that even in the frigid cold, you can still have access to a dessert that is usually considered a summertime treat. It is, of course, difficult to quantify how marketing directly translates into further foot traffic, which explains the rationale for the more intangible goal of enhancing local people’s intimate connection to Morano Gelato.

Morano Gelato, which has emerged as the go-to place on Main Street, began in 2010 merely as a stand at the annual summer Hanover Farmers’ Market on the Dartmouth green, where Morgan—a Long Island, NY native whose mother now lives in the Upper Valley—sold her gelato to eager Dartmouth students and others. The next month she rented a spot in the back of a café in town, and then moved to the shop’s current location on Main Street.

Morano had never before done any advertising, relying instead on word of mouth in a town where it was nearly impossible to not know what or where Morano Gelato was. The new emphasis on Facebook marketing was spawned by Sebastian De Luca ’14, founder of PromoteU, which equips small businesses with digital marketing skills. De Luca has been designing many of Morano’s Facebook posts and sweepstakes, and has been collecting data on which people are engaged in the group’s Facebook page.

De Luca is looking to harness the computer-savvy abilities of college students to make social marketing more accessible and affordable for small businesses. As so many young people possess an understanding of these new technologies, there’s a less of a need for professionals within consulting companies. Instead, business owners can turn to college students who can work for much lower pay than expert consultants, in the same way that students can offer their SAT tutoring services for a much more affordable price than a private company.

PromoteU’s focus is on building the capacity of business owners to manage their own social media tools, departing from many firms’ approach of taking control of these tools. The key, De Luca says, is to reduce the cost- and time-efficiency of marketing. That’s why he connects them with the existing, least costly outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. And teaching them how to use these services effectively reduces the amount of time they have to spend on advertising efforts.

As Facebook has seemingly made us more connected than ever, we must also wonder whether it’s coming at the expense of more meaningful personal interactions and of our sense of community. Yet what Morano Gelato shows is that Facebook may indeed be a powerful force for strengthening bonds in local communities.