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:
- Twitter: Free
- Facebook: Free
- LinkedIn: Free
- WordPress (blogging): Free (although you might need to pay a few bucks a month for hosting)
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.
- Umigo Racing: Facebook, Twitter
- Wente Winery: Facebook, Twitter
- Ruby Hill Winery: Facebook, Twitter
- Tenuta Vineyards: Facebook, Twitter
- Bankhead Theater: Facebook, Twitter
- Campo di Bocce: Facebook, Twitter
- Checkers Catering: Facebook, Twitter
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.