Heidi Naberhaus (left), owner of Linda’s Fashions, gets help Friday setting up an account on the website and mobile app Yelp from Connor Wilkins, Kate Larson and Westley Long. The local students are spending their first summer home from college voluntarily helping businesses boost their social media presence.Connor Wilkins (from left), Kate Larson and Westley Long, 2014 graduates of Greene County High, are giving back by helping local businesses get on social media.The front window of Linda’s Fashions (soon to be renamed Addie’s) on the south side of the Square now sports the logos of Facebook, Yelp and TripAdvisor. Owner Heidi Naberhaus hopes being on social media will help visitors to the casino find her store.

Millennials to the rescue

Jefferson Matters: Main Street recruits college students to get local stores on social media


Heidi Naberhaus has a personal Facebook account, but her profile is the kind without a picture, leaving people to wonder if she’s a hacker located somewhere in the former Soviet bloc or else just not technologically savvy.

But as a business owner, Naberhaus understands she can’t afford not to have a better online presence.

The owner of Linda’s Fashions — which is in the process of being renamed Addie’s — is among nearly a dozen Jefferson merchants being guided in their journey toward social media relevance by a team of local college students home on summer break.

Three members of that team — Kate Larson, Westley Long and Connor Wilkins, all 2014 graduates of Greene County High School — spent time last week in the women’s clothing shop helping Naberhaus get up to speed on Yelp and assisting her with something as seemingly simple as changing a Facebook profile name from Linda’s to Addie’s.

Only it wasn’t that simple. Naberhaus didn’t know her Facebook password.

“This isn’t any harder than mowing my lawn,” Long, 19, said.

“For us,” Wilkins, 19, added, “it’s a daily activity.”

Naberhaus is savvy enough to realize that.

“So many people do everything on social media now,” she said.

In ye days of olde in small-town America, a sticker on the door indicating that the business was a member in good standing of the local Chamber of Commerce seemed to suffice.

Now, Naberhaus’ front window bears the logos of Yelp, TripAdvisor and Facebook — signs that she’s happy to engage customers, who hopefully in turn will post positive reviews of their shopping experience.

“With people coming to town for the casino, this might help them find downtown,” Naberhaus said.

Jefferson Matters: Main Street program director Peg Raney recruited Larson, 19, and her friends to help boost the social media presence of downtown businesses beginning with a free seminar in July.

“People of all ages are using their smartphones and other devices to make decisions on where to shop, eat and look for entertainment,” Raney said. “With the many visitors coming into the community now, we wanted to help our businesses make this connection with their potential customers.  

“We can also help by writing reviews for our local businesses, complete with pictures.”

Larson cited the fact that even though she’s been to Ames countless times, she still pulls up Ames on Yelp.

“I want to see if there’s anything new or any cool coffeeshops,” she said.

Visiting a town and seeing only inactive Yelp accounts with little to no reviews tells them “it’s just a bunch of old people,” Long said, calling it the equivalent of a ghost town.

Even worse, a business with no reviews isn’t even worth a stop.

“I don’t like gambling my money,” said Larson, who will be a sophomore in the fall at Luther College. “I don’t want to go somewhere where the food is bad and the service is terrible. Then I feel like I’ve just wasted valuable college money.”

Even the occasional bad review — which a business owner can respond to on social media, something they strongly encourage — doesn’t faze them.

“If I get my car fixed, I want to see that they do a good job,” Larson said. “I’m looking to see if people have a good experience there.”

The team, which also includes Beth Teusch, started conducting one-on-one sessions with interested local businesses to set up their social media accounts.

“We’re just trying to help out whoever wants it,” Long said. “Nobody we went to knew what Yelp or TripAdvisor was.”

They’re visiting businesses voluntarily in between summer jobs.

The students are working with local business owners to flesh out their social media profiles with photos and initial reviews.

They’ve even done other tech chores, like setting up email accounts for businesses.

In Long’s case, he’s helping his own parents, Tong and Chantalle Long, owners of the Peony Chinese restaurant and Excuses.

A sophomore at Iowa State University who’s working in his family’s two restaurants this summer, Long gets why small-town Iowa by and large has been slow to embrace social media.

“In Iowa,” he explained, “word of mouth gets pretty far because we’re so close to our neighbors.”

But what about the out-of-towner lured here for the day by the new, $40 million casino-events center on Jefferson’s outskirts?

“It’s like a phone book without being a phone book,” Long said of social media sites and apps.

“You can ignore it,” he added, “but if everything’s moving and you’re standing still, you will eventually get lost.”

The college students would like to see the National Honor Society at Greene County High School, whose members are in need of volunteer service hours, take over for them once school starts, to ensure that this summer’s momentum doesn’t stop with a forgotten password.

Already, the change in Jefferson over the past year has been unexpected but welcome.

“It’s almost like a culture shock,” said Larson, who never envisioned a new Hy-Vee in her hometown.

“I walked in and almost felt like I was in Ames,” she raved.

Long has heard rumors of McDonald’s coming and maybe even Wal-Mart.

“Now that we’re on the up-and-up,” he joked, “we might as well put ourselves in the 20th century.”

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