The Adirondack Folk School specializes in traditional crafts — and uses modern digital marketing strategies to grow their audience.

by Olivia Dwyer, ANCA CPR Program Navigator

A flooring factory seems an unlikely place to find a social media mastermind. But that’s exactly where Scott Hayden headed soon after he became the executive director of the Adirondack Folk School (AFS). It was June 2016, and Hayden wanted to meet Eric Matthison, the owner of Square Nail Rustics, and learn how he’d used Facebook to find customers and grow his business.

After Matthison cut the ribbon at the new site for his wide-plank flooring and rustic furniture business, Hayden asked if he could buy Matthison lunch and talk social media. In December 2015, Square Nail Rustics had 20,000 likes; that number would double by December 2016. In the midst of that growth Matthison said he was too busy for lunch breaks, but Hayden could bring lunch to the shop if he wanted to talk. Hayden did, and he still remembers what Matthison said. “He said focus on the who, not the what,” said Hayden. “That stuck with me.”

And, Haden wondered, who would “the who” be for the Adirondack Folk School? Simply put, anyone whose personal interests align with the unique opportunities AFS provides.

Founded in 2010 and based in Lake Luzerne, N.Y., the nonprofit arts and cultural organization offers non-competitive classes and workshops in the arts, crafts, and traditions of the Adirondacks. In 2022 alone, the AFS course catalog includes 280 classes from 47 expert instructors in 20 areas of craft — from fiber arts to blacksmithing to Schreiner’s class on making birch bark picture frames. Classes are capped at eight students, and each attendee leaves with a finished work.

“We draw people who value the expertise of artisans and the fulfillment you can only earn by achieving something you worked hard for,” Hayden said. “If we can connect the right ‘who’ to the right ‘what’, that’s how we’re able to make an impact.”

In the next few years, Hayden and AFS Program Manager Amy Fasulo — the school’s only full-time employees — turned that work ethic to their digital presence. They created AFS accounts on Instagram and Facebook, tested online advertising options, and created content with photos of classes in progress and finished work. And when they heard about an eight-week digital marketing series available for free through ANCA’s Center for Pandemic Response (CPR), they saw a chance to learn from experts.

“Given our limited capacity and budget, we try to take advantage of every opportunity to advance our mission,” Hayden said. “We jumped at a chance to become more effective at reaching our ideal market and growing our audience.”

First, Hayden completed an ANCA CPR interest form. Next, Hayden spoke with a program navigator to identify his organization’s challenges. Then ANCA CPR created an individualized resilience plan for AFS recommending technical service providers available through the program for free or at low cost. That included the digital marketing series presented by the North Country Chamber of Commerce and Workshop, a full-service advertising agency in Lake Placid.

Valued at $3,000, the program was delivered free of charge to 33 ANCA CPR clients, who learned about website development, search engine optimization, content strategy, public relations and influencer marketing, web analytics, and how to prioritize and budget for digital media. “The ANCA CPR program helped us use best practices and look at data to analyze who we are missing down to the zip code,” said Hayden. While the series concluded in March 2022, recordings are available to businesses and organizations enrolled in ANCA CPR.

AFS has already seen the value of implanting ANCA CPR services. Recently, a woman from Massachusetts registered herself, her daughter, and her granddaughter for a stained glass class this July. Hayden pieced together the digital path she followed to AFS: she Googled “chair caning”, which AFS once offered but discontinued. That search resulted in Google ads with related keywords, including one for the Adirondack Folk School. One click brought her to the AFS website. A few more uncovered what she was looking for — a hands-on learning experience to share with multiple generations.

Much like AFS connects curious minds with unique opportunities  to create beautiful crafts, ANCA CPR introduces small businesses and organizations to technical service providers that support COVID-19 recovery and building for a successful future. “It’s so important we keep our small businesses, whether it’s a restaurant or a cultural organization,” said Hayden. “We appreciate ANCA’s forward thinking in strengthening what makes our region special.”

ANCA CPR clients continue to access free expert knowledge. On April 26, experts from  CITEC Business Solutions, the Cooperative Development Institute, the SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center discussed what they offer at the event Strategic Tools for Small Businesses Navigating COVID-19. Watch a video recording of the workshop on ANCA’s YouTube channel.

In May 2022, these experts will lead workshops on strategic planning, participatory management, and planning for business growth. View a full schedule and description of the workshops, and email to sign up.

ANCA CPR is funded through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and The Mastercard Impact Fund, which is administered by The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth.

Check out the ANCA CPR webpage to learn more about the program, upcoming opportunities and how to enroll.


Photos courtesy of the Adirondack Folk School.