Small businesses embracing social media



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One intriguing aspect about the skyrocketing use of Facebook and Twitter for businesses and organizations is how local it has become. To borrow from the old nursery rhyme, the butcher, the banker and the equivalent of the candlestick maker are taking the social media leap and surprising themselves by the results.  “It’s a way to develop loyalty as well as receive feedback from our customer base,” said Justin Rosberg, a co-founder of the successful The Meat House butcher shop chain who now leads the company’s franchising arm. He said The Meat House started its Facebook page six months ago and now has over 2,300 fans. Recent Meat House entries include supplying the ingredients of what became the world’s largest meatball (cooked by the Concord restaurant Nonni’s) and a call for customers to share their favorite fall recipes.  “Not a lot of marketing gives you this type of feedback,” said Jeff Savage, president and chief executive of Franklin Savings Bank. “Some of the immediate (customer) responses have been really validating. I have to admit, it’s been exciting and fun.”  Since it relaunched its Facebook page in April and decided to give it much more attention with frequent updates, Franklin Savings has gathered more than 690 followers. The page has become an important marketing tool for current and future promotions, including a launch of the bank’s new Web site in the coming months.  “The speed which this (social media) has been embraced is revolutionary,” said Savage, who has 30 years in the industry. ‘Where it's at' Social media is revolutionary and fast becoming mainstream, said Chuck Martin, chief executive of Madbury-based NFI Research and an author of several books about business trends. “It has happened lightning fast,” said Martin, who also teaches marketing at the University of New Hampshire. How fast? Beginning in January, he will teach the first credited class in social media for business at UNH — less than six years after Facebook was created and only a few years after the concept of social media emerged as a serious communication avenue for business. (To find out more or sign up for the Social Media in Marketing class, visit www.unh.edu/januaryterm/ #courses and search under marketing.) The course will be heavy on the practical aspects of mobile and social media but won't ignore the theoretical, Martin explained, because it's important to consider the “trends of how people are going to reconnect in the future.” Martin's class, in fact, will show how local businesses are using Facebook and Twitter in real time while students offer class crtitiquescritiques and suggestions, Martin said. Martin's latest book, which will published next year, is about social media, how businesses are using it and the marketing peril that businesses could face if they don't employ the various tools in the social media bag. He doesn't hesitate when asked who can benefit the most. “Small local businesses are where it's at,” Martin said, in part because they can have the immediate impact on customers who are already open to communication about sales, new products or the latest buzz. Rosberg of The Meat House said his firm's Facebook followers “have shown a very high interest in what we are doing. They wouldn't be signing up if they weren't interested.” He said social media, along with more traditional forms of marketing, have become an integral part of the company's branding as it has grown from a single store in Portsmouth to a 14-store, multi-state operation (with 20 more openings scheduled in the next 12 months.) At Franklin Savings, Facebook has helped it develop what Savage called “a business relationship portal” that mixes bank products with photos and cash drawings — and incorporates the bank's commercial customers with coupons and direct links. Savage said the bank also sees Facebook as a means of communicating with younger customers, especially younger women who often handle pocketbook issues in the home. “It's difficult to identify cause and effect, but (Facebook) gives us the ability to target our audiences very well,” Savage said. “What we are building is excitement, and we plan to introduce more variety. It's clear from our postings that people like having us there.” The social media explosion is still at the liftoff stage, said Katie Delahaye Paine, a public relations and social media expert and chief executive of Berlin-based KDPaine & Partners. Paine said that governmental and nonprofit organizations are ahead of the curve — due to their ability to experiment more freely — but businesses are catching up fast. “Each is using social media differently,” Paine said. “Comcast is using it to solve their customer service issues. Sodexo has cut $300,000 out of their recruitment budget by using Twitter instead of Monster and the like. The Department of Defense is using it to get their side of the story out there – what better than stories told by the front lines?”

 

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