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Social Studies

by Jessica Beym
You may be a pro at working a room, but working a chat room requires a whole different skill set. Here’s how to start making social media work for you.

Whether they’re announcing dinner specials, posting recent real estate listings, offering information about new products or answering customer questions, more and more businesses throughout South Jersey are connecting with their clients through social media.

And those who aren’t tuned in to the benefits of Facebook or Twitter need to update their status immediately, says Jennifer Regina, marketing professor at Rowan University’s Rohrer College of Business.

“The key part of social media is communication. That’s the ultimate goal,” says Regina, who’s also chief executive of The Marketing of Everything, a social media consulting company.

Businesses that are just starting out can use social sites to build brand awareness, promote their services and products, establish relationships, bill themselves as experts, and share news. Even minimal investments in social media can yield substantial results. Here’s what you need to know to get started on the road to social success.

Select Your Site
Many businesses elect to use some combination of social media sites, including Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube. “Facebook has the biggest user base,” says Howard Yermish, a Burlington County-based Internet strategist and online marketing expert.

“Twitter isn’t for everyone,” he adds, noting that many people don’t understand how to connect with others on the microblogging network. Yermish likens Twitter to the ham radio networks of years past, where amateur users would broadcast messages to each other and tune in for specific conversations. Instead, on Twitter, users add the “#” symbol, known as a hashtag, to categorize a post under a given topic. This enables companies to latch onto trending topics, or even create a conversation surrounding their own business. This can allow the savvy to solicit ideas and opinions to help improve their products and services.

“Once you know how [Twitter] operates, you can do amazing things with it,” Yermish says.

Making Friends
Online contacts can include a mix of current clients and new prospects. If you’re just starting out, it may be helpful to offer incentives for new friends and those who recommend you, Regina says. She suggests business owners offer discounts to users who sign up.

As well, be sure to spread the word within your existing network. “The most important thing to remember when developing a business page is to suggest it to your friends,” Regina says. “Then, you want signage in your store saying, ‘Find us on Facebook.’”

Constant Contact
Once you’ve built up your friend count, it’s vital to keep the posts coming on a regular schedule.

Many companies create a Facebook page and post once a month or so, Regina notes. “That’s not enough,” she warns. “If you’re not in their news feed, they’re not seeing you. You need to be there so they click on your links.”

That’s just what Erin Kelley has been doing at the United Way of Camden County for the past two years on Facebook and Twitter. At least once a day they post something for their followers, whether it’s photos from a live event, links to articles about the United Way or news about upcoming initiatives. “We want to give people information they’re interested in and keep them informed about issues that are important in their lives and the investments they’re making through us,” Kelley says.

As a nonprofit, the United Way would normally need to set aside money for advertising efforts.

By contrast, Facebook is free. “And it’s fun. It’s not a huge e-mail you have to put together. Changing a status or sharing an article is a lot smaller of a job than to prepare a newsletter, and that’s how people want their information these days,” Kelley says. “Talking to my donors needs to happen all day every day, and Facebook is an easy way to do that.”

Building Relationships
The best social media users do more than just promote themselves to online friends; they build relationships. One example is the international gluten-free food company Schar, which is constructing U.S. headquarters in South Jersey. Schar frequently posts recipes for some of their latest products on Facebook.

When they held the groundbreaking for a new manufacturing facility in Pureland Industrial Park in Logan Township, they were quick to upload photos and video of the event. Many of their 5,000 Facebook friends commented back. They were excited to hear the news.

“Through Facebook, we can keep in touch with those customers who do not visit our website on a daily basis,” says Jasper Radeke, marketing communication associate for Schar USA, Inc. Since joining the network in July 2010, Schar has crafted plans to expand its online offerings, including posting videos on healthy gluten-free living ideas and offering advice for people recently diagnosed with celiac disease.

Most importantly, says Yermish, social media marketers need to focus on the quality of their interactions, not just the quantity. Twitter users should engage their followers, rather than limiting posts to promotional content. “To get people engaged, do what you would do at a networking event,” Yermish says. “Talk to people about things they find interesting. Ask questions people might comment on.”

And, be prepared to set aside the time required to respond to their comments and questions—turning the online interaction into a true conversation.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 1, Issue 5 (May, 2011).
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