If you pause before posting, it’s probably not okay. I’ve found if I even hesitate for 5 seconds, it’s not going to be worth it. If I’m not comfortable having this conversation in public, then why would I shout it online?
As a part of my interview series about the things we can each do to make social media and the internet a kinder and more tolerant place, I had the pleasure to interview Chelle Neff. Chelle has been a leader in the U.S. salon industry since founding Urban Betty in 2005. As the CEO, Neff has successfully grown Urban Betty year after year and today has a salon company that houses more than 50 employees and 2 locations. No stranger to innovation, Neff designed and developed her own app, FyleStyle, which allows stylists to track client information and color formulas, and in 2017, she launched her own series of educational classes called Betty Bootcamp. In 2018 & 2019 Urban Betty was named as one of the fastest-growing privately held companies by Inc. 5000.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I began my journey as an entrepreneur by first being an employee in the salon industry. I knew from a young age that I wanted to do hair. At the age of sixteen, I was offered the chance to enroll in Cosmetology school at my high school. During my junior and senior years of high school, I attended half days of regular classes and half days of Cosmetology school.
When I received my license, I started working behind the chair at Supercuts. I slowly worked my way up the ladder to higher-end salons. Five years later, I got a small suite at the Gallery of Salons in Austin, TX and was an independent contractor. That was my initial stepping stone to running my own business.
I was all by myself for the first week when I opened Urban Betty Salon and had only one hairstylist/contractor for the first 3 months. I didn’t hire my first employee until 6 months after opening. At that point, everything that I did behind the chair paid for the entire salon and my household. It was a very stressful situation. I figured out after having one employee that it was much more profitable to have employees rather than booth rental/contracted hairstylists. After about six years, I slowly phased out all of my hairstylists that were contractors and transitioned to a 100% commission-based salon. In 2011 we moved into a space that was double the size of our original salon. Now eight years later, I have two locations with over 50 employees.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I originally structured the pricing list for services at my salon, I offered package deals and all sorts of special discounts. I thought surely this was the best way to draw in new business. After struggling to make ends meet, I finally ran a report to see how much money we were giving away. It was an astonishing $50,000 in just one year! After that, I hired a salon consulting company and a business coach (Summit). Within the first 3 months of hiring Summit, we restructured the pricing on our service list to an a la carte menu with only a limited number of discounts. Our revenue grew by 30% the following year! Once our profits quickly turned around, I was able to retire from doing hair in 2016 and focus solely on managing Urban Betty.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The first thing I did when I started my company launched a website with a terrible logo. This was around 2002. I mistakenly thought that I could just do updo.com. Which is hilarious because I had no idea that such a basic domain name would already be taken. Also, can you imagine how hard it would be to actually find my salon if anyone did a search? Back then, no one knew about SEO and the importance of a domain name. It then required me to think outside of the box and come up with something that would be original and catch people’s attention. So, from that, I came up with Urban Betty, which comes from my given name Betty Michelle. At the time, I thought my logo looked good. It was a lady with a city background, and she looked very cartoonish. Think of Sex and the City if it was a children’s book. Not good. We reworked it after a couple of years. Recently, I found an old scrapbook with my first brochure and the original logo. I showed it to my employees, and they couldn’t believe how bad it was. We all had a good laugh!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! I am working on creating an Urban Betty product line. So many of the products that we use out in the world today are filled with toxic chemicals. One of my stylists created a completely clean and safe conditioner and included me in that project. Before experiencing the creation of that, I wasn’t that interested in doing my own product line. But, once I saw that you can change people’s lives with just one product, I decided that I wanted to be a part of that initiative. So many people are looking for chemical-free, organic products that are safe to use. I would love to help create something that changes the beauty industry for the better.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Have you ever been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media? Can you share with our readers what that experience felt like?
Yes, in 2016 right after the election happened, I posted a picture of the back of a Cheerios box. On it, it said, “Made for tiny hands.” I made a joke on Twitter about it being a cereal specifically for President Donald Trump. I was quickly attacked by one of my followers who also happened to be the professional printer for all my salon materials. It was an uncomfortable situation. I tried to handle it with professionalism, especially since both of us were tweeting from accounts that included our business names. I slowly backed out of the situation and tweeted “peace and love” to him. I was extremely embarrassed and had the realization that you can alienate potential vendors and clients with your political point of view. It’s one thing if it’s from your private account with only your name. It’s a whole other level if you are on a public account that represents your business. I would never do that again and learned a valuable lesson.
What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?
It took a few days, to be honest. I talked with some friends and my husband about the whole ordeal. I was also not happy with the way I was treated by this vendor on Twitter from their professional account. It’s okay to have different views politically, however, it’s not okay to attack people for their personal views. That’s the action that I didn’t agree with. So, because of all this, I had to find a new printer simply because of an awkward joke about the President on Twitter.
Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?
I know we would all like to feel that we are perfect on social media, the fact is that none of us are. We can only do our best. I have regretted some things that I have posted on social media. Not because they were too harsh or mean, but because they were posted in the height of my emotion over an issue. You know what they say, high emotion equals low intelligence. And yes, I’ve been guilty about that. Especially when it comes to political issues. I have learned that only personal experience changes a person’s mind, not comment on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or, Instagram. I tend to stay away from commenting on something that I don’t have a personal experience with. It only leads to frustration, anger, and loss of friendships.
Can you describe the evolution of your decisions? Why did you initially write the comment, and why did you eventually regret it?
Recently I posted in a group forum that’s for our shopping center where the salon is located. The post was about towing cars on a Sunday that were parked illegally. What I didn’t realize is that because of our HOA you actually can’t tow cars on a Sunday. I was immediately schooled about it in a comment by someone else and felt very uneducated. I approached the commenter with my error, apologized and we worked on a better way to handle the situation. I regretted not taking the time to educate myself on what the actual rules were before posting.
So again, I learned I need to take time before posting emotional topics. I have to let my lizard brain calm down and allow my logic to come back into focus.
When one reads the comments on YouTube or Instagram, or the trending topics on Twitter, a great percentage of them are critical, harsh, and hurtful. The people writing the comments may feel like they are simply tapping buttons on a keyboard, but to the one on the receiving end of the comment, it is very different. This may be intuitive, but I feel that it will be instructive to spell it out. Can you help illustrate to our readers what the recipient of a public online critique might be feeling?
Yes, I can tell you that a person can feel extremely hurt. We deal with Yelp, Facebook and Google reviews on a daily basis. About 1% of the reviews we get are 1 star and they are very hurtful to our staff and managers. People writing those reviews on the other end think they are simply typing their opinion out into the abyss. On the other end, you have business owners that can’t sleep and employees that are crying after being publicly called out. I am not exaggerating about this either. When you type a comment or review about a person or a business you are essentially affecting their livelihood. I don’t think the general public who haven’t ever owned a business knows what this feels like. Imagine if I could come to your job and write a public review for all to see about your work habits or that last presentation or report you gave? We all have off days and it would be great if people could be a little more sympathetic to that.
Do you think a verbal online attacks feel worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?
A verbal attack feels worse because you can’t connect eye to eye with that person and truly explain your side of things. When we are one on one having a conversation, the results are completely different. People are much bolder and mean spirited behind the protection of a screen. You also can’t differentiate context correctly online. You put your own emotions behind what the other person is saying. And sometimes what someone is saying and what you are actually reading is not the same. Hearing it in person provides a whole other level of understanding between the parties communicating.
What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?
I think the long-term effects are either that the person gets offline completely, or they start to take being shamed as the truth, and it can affect their emotional health negatively. That to me is extremely sad. It takes a very strong person to not care what others think. You have to get outside of the little voices in your head that agree with the trolls. I recently read a book called Little Voice Mastery by Blair Singer. I think this would be very helpful for anyone who has been shamed online.
Many people who troll others online, or who leave harsh comments, can likely be kind and sweet people in “real life”. These people would likely never publicly shout at someone in a room filled with 100 people. Yet, on social media, when you embarrass someone, you are doing it in front of thousands of even millions of people, and it is out there forever. Can you give 3 or 4 reasons why social media tends to bring out the worst in people; why people are meaner online than they are in person?
I compare trolling people online to those of us who have road rage. In-person we are nice, patient, and happy. Then you get on the road, suffer a slight injustice, and turn into a crazy person.
1. You are protected by the car/computer. No one is going to yell at you in person, so this is your outlet to say whatever you think.
2. You are likely very unhappy in some aspect of your life and you take it out on innocent bystanders that don’t necessarily know you in person.
3. You don’t feel in control of your life and being online and able to type out a mean comment or drive like a jerk without a consequence somehow fills that void for you temporarily.
If you had the power to influence thousands of people about how to best comment and interact online, what would you suggest to them? What are your “5 things we should each do to help make social media and the internet, a kinder and more tolerant place”? Can you give a story or an example for each?
- Give yourself 24 hours before you comment. If you feel extreme emotion over what someone has posted, wait. I learned that if I have anxiety immediately after posting the comment and let it ruin my day, it wasn’t worth it. Again, give your lizard brain time to settle down.
- Know your audience. Visualize the other person’s point of view and think about it before you comment. When I posted the Donald Trump joke, I should’ve thought about who my followers were and how they would respond.
- If you pause before posting, it’s probably not okay. I’ve found if I even hesitate for 5 seconds, it’s not going to be worth it. If I’m not comfortable having this conversation in public, then why would I shout it online?
- Know that arguing with people online usually only cements their beliefs even more. 99% of the time people change their views and habits only through their own personal experience. When you argue behind the protection of the screen others come up with more and more proof to solidify their argument which in turn is the exact opposite of what you are trying to do.
- If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it online. Just like our parents taught us. If you don’t have something nice to say don’t say anything at all. Let’s use social media to build each other up not tear each other down.
Freedom of speech prohibits censorship in the public square. Do you think that applies to social media? Do American citizens have a right to say whatever they want within the confines of a social media platform owned by a private enterprise?
I believe that it’s okay to say whatever you want unless it’s some sort of threat to a person or place or hate speech. Why would that ever be okay to anyone? Anything that threatens to hurt, or harm other humans should never be okay on any platform. Others that use social media to build up groups against other groups and instill fear only perpetuate the problem instead of solving it.
If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?
I honestly don’t feel I have the credentials to take over either of those social media platforms. I want to trust that they are making improvements every day to overcome some of the challenges that they have faced in the past regarding privacy issues, hacking, and overall bullying.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” I heard this quote right after opening my salon company and I was completely overwhelmed with all of the things that I needed to do. I believe that all movement is forward movement. Even the smallest thing like having coffee with another business owner and asking them one question will help get you to where you are going.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I would love to meet J.K. Rowling. I am a huge Harry Potter fan and I love her success story. She literally wrote an idea down on a napkin and turned it into an empire. I have a burning secret desire to write a book and I feel like she could really give me a few pointers.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram & Twitter: @urbanbetty @urbanbettysalon
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!
About the author:
Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder of Medium’s Authority Magazine. He is also the CEO of Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator, which guides leaders to become prolific content creators. A trained Rabbi, Yitzi is also a dynamic educator, teacher and orator. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife and children.