The featured TAPinto franchisee for the month of December 2020 is Danielle Santola, who owns and operates TAPinto Livingston. Santola, a lifelong Livingston resident and graduate of Livingston High School, began her career at TAPinto as an intern and now owns one of the most successful online local news franchises in the TAPinto network.
Q. Why did you want to franchise a TAPinto site? What caused you to choose Livingston as your TAPinto location?
I’ve been working at TAPinto Livingston for seven years, starting as an intern at 20 years old in 2013 and working my way up through the company until officially taking over full ownership in June of 2020. I took the internship at the time because it was a requirement of the Print Journalism degree I had been working toward at Penn State University, but I stayed because I quickly found there was an addictive quality to being so ingrained in the community. Earlier this year, I took a step back from my part-ownership position in TAPinto West Orange and TAPinto West Essex in order to provide Livingston with the undivided attention it deserves. My family has been heavily involved in the township since the early 1960s, and I feel blessed to have found a way to follow in their Livingston footsteps while also finding success in a career that challenges me, inspires me and brings me joy every day.
Q. You have an interesting background. Can you tell us a little about it?
I graduated from Livingston High School in 2010, and if you had told me then that I would still be living in Livingston let alone owning a local business 10 years later, I would have laughed. From middle school straight through my senior year as a member of AM Wired—an audition-based television production program at LHS—my heart was set on a career in TV production. In an unexpected turn of events, I enrolled in college with my major undecided and didn’t land on Print Journalism until my junior spring semester—two short months before taking an internship at TAPinto Livingston. I was aspiring toward a career in entertainment writing when the opportunity to take on more responsibility at TAPinto fell into my lap. The owners at the time showed a confidence in me that pushed me to acquire business skills that I had never been interested in, but that have since become an integral part of my everyday life. My strong roots within the Livingston community combined with my desire to continue learning and growing within the newspaper industry is what inspired me to assume full ownership of a business that has been challenging me since day one.
Q. What do you enjoy the most about your town?
The list of things I love about Livingston is endless. We have an outstanding school system with the highest-quality teachers in the state; a group of council members and a township manager who are genuinely focused on the needs of our residents; a police department that is unmatched when it comes to community relationships; and so much more. But the one thing I love most about Livingston is the sheer volume of volunteerism among residents, and particularly among Livingston students. If it truly takes a village to raise a child, then you know our village is doing something right when the owner of a local newspaper needs to create a “Livingston Student Spotlight” section just to house all of the astonishing stories about what students are accomplishing outside of school.
Q. Is TAPinto full time for you? If not, what do you also do?
TAPinto Livingston is my full-time gig, but I do also make time for my other love, which is group exercise instruction. Following in the footsteps of my mother, who is the fitness director at the West Essex YMCA in Livingston, I began teaching group exercise classes as a sophomore in college and have continued to do so as a supplement to my journalism career ever since. I’m no longer teaching 11 classes a week like I once was, and the pandemic has put a temporary pause on my instructor position at Livingston’s New York Sports Club, but group fitness will always be a hobby of mine, and I hope to be able to pick up additional classes in the near future.
Q. How do you think businesses and readers can best utilize TAPinto Livingston? What advantages does TAPinto have that other marketing platforms lack?
I think the greatest asset that TAPinto Livingston has is that it is run by a Livingston resident who cares deeply about her community. Being a resident of the town allows me to understand the type of content that I know my readers want to see, just as being a small business owner in Livingston inspires me to do whatever I can to support my fellow local businesses. The main advantage to marketing with TAPinto that is often lacking with other platforms is customer service. As a sponsor of TAPinto Livingston, not only do you have unlimited access to our content marketing platform and the ability to communicate directly with our growing audience on a regular basis with a quick turnaround, but you also have someone managing your advertising campaign who is sincerely invested in making sure that you achieve your business goals.
Q. What are some of your business strengths? What’s something you would like to work on?
Outside the realm of writing and editing—which are both essential skills for TAPinto, but are ones that can be taught—some of my greatest business strengths are the ones that come naturally, such as creativity, problem solving, leadership and customer service. Things I need to work on that I believe will come with more experience include bringing in new sponsors and prioritizing my time according to my business goals.
Q. Describe the TAPinto culture.
As someone who works with many business owners across various industries, I can say that the culture at TAPinto is more unique than any other franchise I have come across. Although there is very little crossover with content and we don’t all get to interact in person as often as one might think, the atmosphere among TAPinto franchisees is extremely supportive, and we are all committed to communicating regularly in order to produce a universally trusted news source across all sites. Being a team of one in Livingston, it’s comforting to know I have a network of dozens of franchisees and employees with varying backgrounds and areas of expertise ready and willing to provide feedback, give advice and share ideas as needed.
Q. What are your goals at TAPinto? Any future plans for TAPinto Livingston?
Although the bottom-line goal is to continue providing timely, objective, original news content for my hometown, my immediate goal for TAPinto Livingston is to increase the volume and quality of original content being published on a daily basis. Now that I have decided to narrow my focus to one town, I plan to spend more time producing unique local stories that highlight residents and alumni, current students of all ages, township employees, businesses, nonprofit organizations and more current events while still continuing to cover “need-to-know” topics such as government meetings, police news, etc. I also look forward to networking with other local business owners once the pandemic finally subsides.
Q. Is there anything else you'd like to say?
Although I haven’t had many opportunities to show my face within the community during my first few months as the full owner of TAPinto Livingston, the COVID-19 pandemic has only strengthened my passion for Livingston and for all who live and work there. Livingston residents and businesses have been so supportive over these last few years, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to continue providing this service to them for many years to come. I welcome all Livingston community members to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, news tips or feedback that they may have.