Social Media: It's Business and It's Personal
It’s Business and It’s Personal Looking to build their customer bases, area businesses are discovering that social networking isn’t just for teenagers anymore By Lilly Rockwell Originally published in the Apr/May 2010 issue of 850 Business Magazine
In the midst of a slumping housing market, Sandestin Realtor Jessica Jones was eager to find a way to attract more clients than the ones who were responding to her print advertisements and word-of-mouth networking.
She turned to Twitter, a fast-growing social-media Web site that allows users to post 140-character messages while monitoring what other people are writing.
“It’s another beautiful day in Sandestin! Lots of buyers out there looking for property,” she writes on her @CompassRealtyFL Twitter account.
The next day, she posts links on Twitter to her Facebook page of her agency’s Sandestin resort market report, with a detailed breakdown of home sales in the area in 2009.
Jones is a Twitter fan. But she hasn’t been one for long.
“When I started, I wasn’t really sure about it,” said Jones, who owns Compass Realty. But after a few months, she grew to love the quirky Twitter lingo. She has accumulated more than 350 followers and has brought in new clients solely because of her posts on Twitter and Facebook.
“It’s easier for people to engage in something like Twitter or Facebook rather than a cold call,” Jones said. “They get a feel for your personality.”
In Pensacola, Shelley Yates helps manage the @GoodGrits Twitter account and Facebook page for Great Southern Restaurant Group, which owns four local restaurants: Fish House, the Atlas Oyster House, Fish House Deck Bar and Jackson’s Steakhouse.
She says the group’s efforts on Twitter and Facebook have yielded new customers and helped cement the support of loyal customers through social media-only drink and food specials.
When Tropical Storm Ida blew into town last November, Yates found participants at a nearby convention through Twitter and sent messages urging them to stop by.
“I knew there would be a lot of people in town that had never been through a storm and were frustrated by other businesses closing,” Yates said. “I said, ‘After the convention, if you’re looking for a place to eat, we’re open.’ ” It worked, and Yates said the restaurants stayed busy throughout Ida’s mild-mannered reign.
Jones and Yates are part of a tsunami of owners of small and medium-size businesses turning to social media. Many are finding that it’s a way to boost revenue, network with customers and competitors, and improve customer service. They’re following a lead set by Fortune 500 companies such as Wells Fargo, AT&T and Southwest Airlines that have fully integrated social media into their business model. They use Web sites like Facebook and Twitter to post news, answer questions or complaints, offer discounts, and provide a close connection with customers. They often find that the strategy helps to offset assumptions that large corporations are indifferent.
Internet usage data shows social-media sites are experiencing tremendous growth. Facebook is now the fifth most popular Web site in the United States in terms of the number of unique visitors and fourth in terms of hours spent online, according to marketing research company comScore. Only Internet behemoths such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft rank higher.
From a marketing perspective, social media offers the ability to reach consumers based on their location, interests, gender, age or job — an approach known as ad-targeted advertising. And social-media users are typically in sought-after age groups, technologically savvy and affluent.
Social media has evolved from a frivolous time-waster for teenagers interested in posting party pictures and chatting with friends to a mandatory business tool for companies of all types and sizes.
It’s more than a passing fad. Social-media gadflies characterize it as a communication revolution, similar to how television and the Internet transformed the way people interact with brands, seek information and entertain themselves.
“Like so many people, I considered it a frivolous waste of time, a productivity-killer and a distraction,” said Rick Oppenheim, who owns Tallahassee public relations firm RB Oppenheim Associates. “I scoffed at others who were involved in it because so many of them seemed like they were techno-geeks who were compulsive and addicted.”
His naysaying went away in late 2008 when he quickly realized the marketing potential of social-networking sites.
Now, Oppenheim is one of the most active Twitter users in Northwest Florida, and he advises clients on their social-media strategies, evangelizing about its effectiveness.
“What we’re seeing is a different type of communication with a different type of vehicle,” said Josh Hallett, a new-media strategist at Orlando-based Voce Communications who organized the successful BlogOrlando conferences geared toward learning about social media. Add social media to the buffet of advertising choices available to businesses, such as print, radio and TV, he added: “Twitter and Facebook are just different ways to communicate.”
But social media is still a frighteningly new concept for many business owners, who are skeptical that time spent chatting on Twitter or posting pictures on Facebook will really benefit their business. Won’t Twitter just be replaced by some other newfangled Web invention? Who has time for all this online stuff, anyway?
Michael Calienes, a self-professed social-media expert and ad agency owner in Tallahassee, chuckles about concerns that sites such as Twitter are a passing fad or have reached their peak.
“That’s crazy,” Calienes said. “The Twitter phenomenon is still so new that there is so much opportunity. That’s like saying that print advertising was going out of style in 1915.”
Will It Work for My Business?
Some social-media experts say every business can stand to benefit from using social media, no matter what industry or size. They cite the networking benefits, the opportunity to learn from peers, and branding and revenue-making opportunities.
Gerry Gilmer, an associate in communication at Florida State University, emphasizes that social media is a powerful tool for businesses because it is considered a trustworthy way of talking about a brand. One reason for the trust, Gilmer said, is because the information is passed along through friend networks. If a friend on Facebook recommends a new cupcake shop, “I will trust them. She likes it, I will like it,” Gilmer said.
But social media isn’t for everyone. There’s that familiar term ROI, or return on investment, which is used as a yardstick to measure the success of most advertising and media campaigns. With social media, businesses are struggling to establish a way to measure whether time spent online is bringing in dollars.
Short-term boosts in sales or instant customer satisfaction in a product or company can’t be guaranteed just by using these new Internet tools.
Hallett and other experts advise that business owners must be discriminating in how much time they spend with social media. The first step, he said, is to look at your established clients, customers or donors and determine if they are on Facebook or Twitter.
“If less than 10 percent are, it’s not a good use of your time,” Hallett said. “If maybe 40 percent are using it, then maybe it is.”
Experts also discourage business owners from joining social-media sites if they aren’t committed to it.
“If you don’t see the perceived value of what you’re generating, then you won’t make time for it,” Calienes said. Just as blogs need fresh content to stay effective, so do social-media sites.
“One of the biggest things is underestimating the time and effort it takes to maintain a relationship online,” warned Hallett, who said users of the new media must think seriously about content.
“A lot of (businesses) are latching on to it for the wrong reasons, and that is because they think they need to be on Twitter,” Gilmer added.
There are even some businesses, though perhaps not many, for which it just doesn’t make sense to be on social media, said Meryl Evans, a Texas-based writer and social media expert.
“It depends on the business goals and the target market,” Evans said. Construction companies, defense contractors and manufacturing facilities may not even have a Web site, much less a need to accumulate “friends” on Facebook.
Setting a Strategy
After establishing that social media is right for a business, determine your goal. Is the purpose to win over disgruntled customers, improve a corporate image, increase sales, monitor competitors, network with potential clients, or all of the above?
Target the people in your community who have a heavy presence on social media sites, also known as “influencers,” said Jessica Mansfield, president of Miramar Beach-based Vivid Publicity and Marketing. These people can get your message out to an even bigger audience, and they are considered a trusted source of information.
Next, determine how to measure whether you’ve met your goal. One simple measure of success in social media is the number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends one has. There are also customer-service surveys and social media-only coupons.
If the goal is to monitor what is being said about a company or industry, there are free software applications for Twitter, such as TweetDeck, that give alerts through keywords. For instance, a bakery in Escambia County could have alerts for “Pensacola” and “birthday party.”
With Facebook, there are opportunities to target customers based on their interests, location, political or religious affiliation, age, gender or relationship status.
“The ‘search’ and ‘monitor’ capabilities are great,” said Kelly Robertson, of Tallahassee-based public relations firm Kidd Group. “We have really been able to target audiences using specific keywords to begin dialogues and conversations.”
Many banks, airlines, and Fortune 500 firms have found success using social media, as have sole proprietors and small businesses such as restaurants and real estate agents.
Cable company Comcast used Twitter to improve customer satisfaction. Since joining Twitter in 2008, the company has improved by 5 percentage points its rankings in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, from 54 percent to 59 percent approval.
“(Comcast employees and executives) are known in particular for getting on these social-networking sites and finding negative things being said about them, and immediately contacting customers to try to make it right,” said Gilmer, the FSU associate in communication.
Comcast has a team of nearly a half-dozen people, headed by Frank Eliason, the national director for customer service at Comcast, just to respond to queries sent through Twitter. At a conference in 2009, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said Twitter had “changed the culture of our company.”
There also are the cable provider’s detractors, such as the @comcastcaresnot Twitter account. Its presence confirms what social-media experts say: It’s better for companies to stay on the offensive, jumping into the fray and helping disgruntled customers, rather than letting their critics go unchecked online.
Northwest Florida business owners using social media report mostly success stories.
“It’s probably exceeded my expectations,” said Christina Johnson, who runs Tallahassee-based On 3 Public Relations. “I thought it was another avenue for e-mail, quite frankly. But it’s more interactive, and you can tune in to what the community is talking about or what its interests are.”
Johnson, like many sole proprietors, reports that Twitter is a useful tool to stay connected within her industry, drum up new business and show off her clients and work.
Calienes, the advertiser, was laid off in 2008 from a local advertising agency, was looking for ways to market himself.
“I jumped on Twitter and Facebook,” he said, hoping that if he learned enough about this emerging medium, it would establish him as a player in the social-media arena.
That was in fall 2008. Over a year, Calienes said his presence on Twitter and Facebook helped bring in new clients and establish himself as an expert.
“It is generating business now,” he said. “It really is about building and creating the kind of content that draws people to or away from you. You become your own content. It helps you attract the kind of people you want for customers.”
Calienes now is helping several clients generate social-media content. And was successful in starting a Tallahassee business and technology lunchtime meet-up called “Conversation Fridays.”
Still, other business owners say it’s not yet clear whether their efforts on social media will bear fruit. Given the time spent developing content for social-media sites, many business owners and marketing officials hesitate to give it a thumbs-up.
Sandwich-maker Subway, for instance, has a Twitter account called @SubwayTally. It’s used for updates on menu items, coupons and promotions, and fun facts and trivia.
The Twitter account is actually run by Stacy Kader, an account supervisor with Birmingham, Ala.-based advertising firm The BLR Agency, which does regional work for Subway. Kader said the company is using the Tallahassee and Valdosta, Ga., market as a test case for Twitter.
“We manage seven different Subway markets in the Southeast region, and Tallahassee is our test,” Kader said. “We picked it because of the campuses, and I thought it would get a higher usage of Twitter and Facebook than other markets.”
It’s too early to tell whether it’s worth the time and effort, Kader said. She posts trivia questions worth a gift card or free drinks if followers mention the word “Twitter” but typically gets only a half-dozen responses.
“It’s interesting, because people keep telling me (social media) is a novelty — it’s the shiny new object in the room — and to be cautious with what we do and how much time we spend with it,” Kader said. “But at the same time, our users are increasing every day.”
Truth in Social Media
Many business owners complain about the time-intensive nature of social media. This has created an entire new business of the Twitter-for-hire, people who manage the social-media accounts on behalf of other businesses, much in the way that Kader maintains the Subway account.
But this practice is controversial. Some social-media experts say it’s disingenuous. Others defend the practice as a legitimate way to manage a client’s public relations efforts, just as you would write an ad campaign or letter on behalf of a client.
On Call Computer Solutions, a Tallahassee-based computer repair shop, hired Ryan Cohn to manage its Twitter account in 2009.
“He is basically, at the moment, operating under my company,” Mike Frieder, the president of On Call, said of Cohn. “There is too much we have going on during the day. (Tweeting) would take me away from doing even the smallest of tasks.”
Frieder, a non-Tweeter, says he is pleased with the results he is getting from Twitter.
“We are definitely getting some business out of it,” he said.
Cohn, who has started a business managing social-media accounts, says he is helping the time-challenged small-business owner delegate this important task.
“Small businesses don’t have the budget for a massive TV campaign or radio or a lot of the traditional mediums,” Cohn said. “What works well is social networking and social media.” They also are short on time, so Cohn steps in for them, setting up Twitter accounts or a Facebook page on their behalf and writing daily updates. To help sprinkle his updates with authority and knowledge on the subject, he stays in close e-mail communication with the owner and reads industry news to stay up to date.
Some social-media experts, such as Calienes and Gilmer, said they disapprove of what Cohn and others are doing — acting as online representatives for a company’s publicity efforts.
“That is certainly something I don’t do and don’t condone,” Calienes said. “It actually goes against what the mantra of social media is, which is to build a relationship.”
Gilmer said that if you don’t have time for social media, don’t do it at all.
“I have problems with (assuming an identity). It’s ethically wrong,” he said. “I think it will backfire.” Cohn said that when asked, he divulges his real identity or forwards questions to Frieder, On Call’s owner.
Personalization Is Important
Approach social media with a willingness to let the old rules of public relations, with formal press releases, carefully crafted speeches and campaigns, fall away in favor of a more relaxed tone with personal interjections mixed with business news, social media experts say.
Some of the most popular business-oriented Facebook pages or Twitter accounts, such as the one by online shoe retailer Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh, include a mix of personal asides and business news. Hsieh writes about his plane being delayed in Dubai and includes an e-mail he sent to Zappos employees about the company’s recent merger with Amazon.com.
That cliché about not just writing about what you had for lunch? That may be true, but sometimes writing about what you ate can add a human touch to your updates.
“It’s more conversational and a different type of medium and tone,” said Kidd Group’s Robertson. She recommends having one person for each company be in charge of a Twitter or Facebook account to maintain some continuity in tone.
“The smaller the company is, the more important it is to personalize it,” said Andy Martin, the president of Orlando-based Al Dente Marketing.
Don’t be too aggressive about promoting your business, social-media experts say. Marketing through social media is subtle. It takes the form of advice, links to company blogs, or discounts and coupons. Roughly one out of every eight to 10 tweets should be self-promotion, Robertson said, adding, “There is an underlying etiquette with all of these tools.”
Sites such as Facebook and Twitter also encourage ongoing dialogue. It’s not enough to post a status update and log off. To be successful, a user might also comment on someone’s Facebook picture or respond to a Twitter update that resonates with him or her.
Conversations between two people on a Web site such as Twitter and Facebook can be viewed by the public at large, or by a list of approved friends or followers. Social-media experts say this can be a benefit, allowing a business to openly illustrate how it handles customer questions and complaints.
“You have the opportunity to do it in a public realm, so all of the other individuals are following and watching to see how you handled the situation,” Robertson said. “You are able to change the perception and opinion of your organization.”
Reluctance to participate in social media will eventually give way to widespread use and acceptance, social-media experts say. However, they caution that it may not be the right tool for every business, just as some businesses haven’t developed Web pages.
“The big mistakes are people who just want to wait,” said Martin, of Al Dente Marketing. “There is no rule book for this. They say, ‘Show me a case study.’ The case study will be you.”
Social Media By the Numbers
- Founded in February 2004
- More than 350 million active users
- More than 700,000 businesses have active pages
- Average user has 730 friends
- Facebook is valued at close to $10 billion in 2009
—Compiled from Facebook and The New York Times
- Founded in August 2006
- More than 11 million accounts
- There are more women on Twitter than men (53 percent vs. 47 percent)
- New York has the most Twitter users of any city
- Just over 85 percent of all Twitter users post once a day
- Twitter is valued at $1 billion in 2009
—Compiled from analytics firm Sysomos and The New York Times
- Founded in May 2003
- Over 55 million users
- Executives from all Fortune 500 companies are LinkedIn members
- LinkedIn was valued at $1 billion in 2008
—Compiled from LinkedIn and The New York Times
- Founded in February 2005
- Hundreds of thousands of videos are uploaded daily.
- Each minute, 20 hours of video are uploaded
- Of all users, 51 percent go to YouTube weekly
- Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion in 2006
—Compiled from YouTube
One of the most intimidating aspects of joining a social-media Web site is learning its culture. Each site has its own shorthand language and way of doing things. To make things a little easier, we have compiled a handy guide to speaking social, with an emphasis on Twitter and Facebook.
- Tweet: The core of Twitter. The 140-character-or-less messages you type.
- Follower: A business or individual who has chosen to follow your Tweets.
- Following: A business or individual whose Tweets you would like to see.
- RT: Retweet, or repeating what someone else said.
- @name: Used to respond to another Twitter user.
- DM: A direct, private message to another Twitter user.
- #name/place/person: The number sign, often called a hashtag, is used to identify topics, such as a city, a conference, or even a celebrity.
- List: Used to organize Tweets under different topics.
- Status Update: Typically short messages (420 character limit) on what you’re up to. Can also post links to Web sites, pictures and video through a status update.
- Friend: Someone who can see your profile information and status updates, and vice versa. Typically used for personal pages, not for businesses.
- News Feed: A list of all the status updates from friends you interact with the most.
- Live News Feed: A list of all the status updates from all of your friends.
- Profile: Click on this and it takes you to your personal page — sort of a mini-Web site that includes basic information about you, as well as your recent status updates, photos and video. Businesses use “Fan Pages” instead of Profiles.
- Inbox: When someone sends you a message, it appears in your inbox. It’s very similar to e-mail in that it is a private message between two people.
- Chat: Located in the bottom right-hand corner of your Facebook page, it will appear as the word “Chat” with a number by it indicating the number of friends available online to chat. Double-click on a name to open a chat window with that person.
- Tag: A way to identify someone in a photo, video, status update or link. You will be notified if someone “tags” you, and the linked material appears on your profile page.
Social Media 101
What is social media? It’s a catch-all phrase for Web sites that allow users to connect and share information with each other. Most social media sites allow users to pick and choose who can see the information being posted, so it allows users to “cherry-pick” their audience.
What types of social media sites exist? Twitter: A micro-blogging service similar to text-messaging that allows users to post 140-character status updates that can be viewed by “followers.” Twitter has set up a Business 101 Web site that is a good guide for businesses at business.twitter.com/twitter101/
- Facebook: Users create their own “pages,” or miniature Web sites, where they can post information including photos, videos, links to other Web pages and status updates, as well as respond to what other people are writing. One-on-one chatting is also available, as are private messages. Privacy settings give you control over who sees your content.
- YouTube: Designed for uploading and sharing videos. Allows users to comment on videos, share them with other users, and post easily on other Web sites. Content can be anything from “American Idol” replays to a video of your cat doing a silly trick.
- LinkedIn: This service is for professionals interested in networking with business and personal contacts. Each user has a network of contacts that can be viewed by other users. It’s popular to use LinkedIn when looking for a job, and it serves as a virtual résumé.
- Blogger/WordPress: Both Blogger and WordPress are platforms that allow users to write online journals and, in some cases, develop simple Web sites or “blogs,” short for “Web Logs.” Users control privacy settings. These sites are often used in tandem with Twitter and Facebook.
Should I pick Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn? Which one is best for a business? If you can, do all three, say social media experts. If you’re a consultant or in a business that requires a lot of networking, pick Twitter. If you need to post lots of videos, pictures and host events, choose Facebook. If you’re looking for a job, check out LinkedIn.
Isn’t Twitter just people posting boring things about what they had for lunch? Sure, some Twitter users might write about more mundane things, but the vast majority of people on Twitter use it for professional reasons, networking with industry leaders, talking with customers and potential customers, and having conversations.
Can I sign up for an account but not actually use it? Sure. Experts say the best way to learn about social media is to sit back and watch.
How do I find friends or people to follow? Twitter has a “find people” search function in which you can type in a name or a business and see if it matches a Twitter account. There also is Twitter.com/search, which is similar to Google in that it searches all Twitter accounts for a word or phrase. On Facebook, use “search” at the top of your main page and enter a name. There also is targeted advertising available based on a Facebook user’s interests or affiliations.
Why can’t I set up a Facebook page for my business? You can, just not the same kind of account as for an individual. Facebook permits businesses to establish either “fan” or “group” pages. Either option gives businesses the same capabilities as a regular Facebook page, just no “friends” list.
I keep hearing about Twitter and Facebook applications. Should I use them? Some Twitter applications are very useful. TweetDeck, for instance, makes it easier to set up keyword alerts and track what is being said about your company or industry. There also are handy mobile applications, typically for smart phones, that allow users to access their account, update a status, and even submit video and photos.
What’s a tinyurl? What’s a bit.ly? Since Twitter has a 140-character limit on its status updates, there are several free ways to shorten links with lengthy URLs so they fit on a Twitter screen. Tinyurl.com is one option, as are bit.ly and tr.im. The main difference is that bit.ly allows users to track who has clicked on the link.
Should I pay attention to who is “following” or “friending” me? Yes. Social media experts say it can reflect badly on your brand if there are spam or pornography accounts attached to your company. Go through your followers periodically and block the inappropriate ones. This will remove them from your followers list.
Top 850 Twitterers
@OnCallComputers This Tallahassee-based computer company hits the right mix of business advice, personal musings, and nods to other area businesses.
@CompassRealtyFL Sandestin Realtor Jessica Jones understands Twitter is more than posting links to her own property listings. She includes information about green building and design as well as her personal thoughts.
@SubwayTally An advertising firm runs the Twitter feed for the Tallahassee-Valdosta area franchises, with a mix of coupons, promotions and personal reflections.
@Trusteria This Tallahassee business helps connect businesses with consumers. Their chatty tone and strong promotion of local business is just right.
@RyanCohn One of the undisputed social media kings of Tallahassee, Cohn manages the Twitter feed for several local businesses and is a frequent Twitterer himself.
@RickOpp This public relations guru is a huge Twitter fan and one of the best at engaging the community in a dialogue. He also includes reflections on the news, business advice, updates on his comings and goings and jokes with other Twitterers.
@GoodGrits This Pensacola restaurant owner shows how to use Twitter to drive traffic with social-media only promotions and other tidbits about its waterfront restaurants.
@michaelcalienes Tallahassee advertising man and co-founder of social media networking event, the Conversation Factory.
@tallycpa Accountant Adam Watson writes about tax tips and general business advice, always useful and never crossing the line into obvious self-promotion.
@PcolaFLrealtor Jack Lara is a Pensacola-based Realtor who posts frequent updates, from his adventures listing homes as short sales to his thoughts on sports.
@CRASeaside The best way to stay plugged into the comings and goings at Seaside is through this rental agency’s Twitter feed. Everything from good deals on airfares to national media articles about this quaint New Urbanism community.