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Area Businesses Use Social Media to Engage With Customers

Social media is definitely part of our local culture and it's here to stay.

Social media are the new buzzwords. Is this social media thing a passing fad or is it here to stay?

In the early days of the Internet, information was produced as a one-way push. Websites were nothing more than electronic brochures with information about a company, its products and services. If you needed to talk to customer service, you had to call a phone number during business hours and hope to reach a real person.

All this changed in the last few years in what some call "Web 2.0." It's now a two-way street where we can have conversations directly with companies online almost in real time.

What has changed to enable this massive online conversation? First of all, the tools have matured to the point that it's dirt simple and dirt cheap to set them up. What I call The Big Four include:

How Do Livermore Businesses Use Social Media?

If you've read any of my columns, you know I work a lot with the Livermore Chamber of Commerce. A few years ago, it had a web presence that had basic information about its services and upcoming events. The chamber rebuilt and rebranded its website in 2008, and started adding other tools such as its weekly e-mail newsletter (delivered to about 1,800 people every week), and a Facebook page (more than 1,000 "friends").

The immediacy of the Internet has enabled the chamber to engage with many more people at any given time for less money than traditional print media would cost. This has increased its reach and lowered costs over time.

Just a couple other examples of local companies that have embraced social media to engage with their customers include the following, but I know there are many more.

Patch — A Social News Medium

Even Livermore Patch is a socially interactive "newspaper" that allows us to read, comment and discuss things that are important locally. Its Facebook page has more than 400 "fans," it has nearly 200 followers on Twitter, and even though the Livermore site has been up only since October, it attracts several thousand readers each month.

A recent example of an online conversation that had a huge response was an article about how the . This article garnered a whopping 474 comments (as of this writing).

A more recent article about has 38 comments. Clearly these are both hot buttons for the Livermore community.

Blogging Has A Tremendous Reach

Nicole and Reggie Nicolay are both heavily involved in the Livermore real-estate industry and have become almost a household name when you say "social media" and "real estate" in the same sentence. They started a real-estate-oriented blog, MyTechOpinion.com, in 2005.

I sent a simple tweet: "@nik_nik Do you have a minute for a quick question about your blog www.mytechopinion.com? Writing an article & had a quick question or 2."

This was a message to Nicole, whose Twitter username is nik_nik. I figured she'd be "listening" and sure enough, got a response in a couple minutes. Fifteen minutes later we were on the phone.

She said that she and Reggie started their blog to educate those in the real-estate industry about how to use and embrace social media as a means of marketing. She said that they pay for no advertising  — it's all done through Twitter, Facebook and their blogs. MyTechOpinion.com gets roughly 1,000 unique visitors per day, so it's very well read by people in the industry.

The bottom of the site says, "We dig into the real estate technosphere to bring you the trends, tools, and tips that make sense for your business. So if you're ready to learn, join the conversation."

This is the essence and key to successful social media — it's a two-way conversation, not just a "push" of information. 

They do not use it to monetize their business or accept any advertisers, although they probably would do well with that strategy. Instead, they use the site strictly as a brand building and educational resource for those in the industry.

"Everything that has happened to us in the last five years is because of this blog," Nicole said. "Reggie got his dream job, and I get to be the West Coast Agent Reboot Emcee, which will be in 24 cities this year!"

She said even her parents, Joel and Cindy Engel, are getting into blogging. They started 365 Things To Do In The Tri-Valley about their favorite place to live.

It's clear that social media is here to stay. Businesses are starting to use social media in more and more creative ways every day to inspire, educate and attract customers.

Fred Campos March 01, 2011 at 01:32 PM
Thomas, I think you are right on the money. We have seen about a 10% increase for most of our clients in the small business arena using social media. The smaller the business and the more niche their products and services, usually the greater ROI that social media can provide. That said, it must be embraced by the business owners and taken serious. Just setting up a Twitter, YouTube, Facebook or Foursquare account is not enough, but diving into it and spending some time educating and connecting with your clients in these area usually pays back 10 fold. Fred Campos, Chief of Marketing for FunCitySocialMedia.com, which specializes in social media marketing for small businesses.
Thomas Petty March 01, 2011 at 01:54 PM
Thanks Fred, I appreciate the comments. It's difficult to put an actual $ return on social media, but I know that customer satisfaction, customer engagement, and keeping "top of mind" all go up. The tools are free (and you mentioned a couple others that may be a future article), but you're absolutely right, you have to use the tools to get something out of them.
Bill Davis March 01, 2011 at 09:15 PM
There are so many benefits to getting involved with social media. It IS a 2-way conversation. You can respond to prospects and customers in near real-time (about as real-time as it's going to get), take care of any pressing issues, promote your brand, syndicate content (it's a biggie), and reach influencers (and become one, too) in your industry. Many folks believe participating in twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, and YouTube (my "Big 5") is a waste of time. While it is difficult to quantify "bottom line" ROI, I can assure you that--if used wisely--social media can boost your bottom line and build your brand. Great article, Tom. Thanks for sparking a discussion.
Thomas Petty March 01, 2011 at 09:22 PM
Thanks, Bill. I appreciate your comments, and yes, YouTube is huge. Probably another article in the making at some point.
Jeremy Hartmann March 02, 2011 at 06:18 PM
Social Media Marketing is taking hold for a lot of businesses. Owning a technology support business in Livermore, I leverage Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, LinkedIn, and my own website in various forms to communicate tech news and helpful hints to my current and potential customers. An associate of mine also uses Youtube for her real estate business to communicate property listings and open houses which I found to be a very effective way of communicating this information. I also believe though that social media does not work for every business type. You have to realize who your customers are and if they are really using all or some of these mediums. Twitter is a good example of this. At the rate the information is piped into Twitter, it is difficult for people to keep track of it all so your message can often get lost in the shuffle. Being in the thick of all things technology, I even find myself trying to keep up with the waves of communication. I utilize products like TweetDeck or Sprout Social to compile all my various marketing channels. Without services like that, I'd be lost in infinite loop of 140 characters.
Thomas Petty March 02, 2011 at 07:24 PM
Hi Jeremy, You're spot on with your comments. There's a LOT of noise on Twitter and some of the other tools, so it's important to focus your information output to what your audience wants, and not overwhelm them. I also tell people that social media should be 80% about other people, only 20% about you. If it's all "me, me, me, me", people get bored very quickly and disconnect. Provide useful information about things going on in the industry, cool stuff or articles or trends, and occasionally sprinkle something in about yourself. TweetDeck is definitely a very useful (free) tool for filtering out all the stuff going on in Twitter-land.
a local citizen March 06, 2011 at 06:30 PM
I have seen Thomas Coyne Winery using Facebook and Twitter.

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