Connecting Online and Off

Posted on Jun 1, 2010 :: Up Front
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Social Media Breakfasts

Heads down, thumbs twiddling, members of the audience tap away on their smart phones as the guest speaker takes the stage. Rude? Hardly. The monthly New North Social Media Breakfast is one of the only events where it’s OK – actually encouraged – to update Twitter and Facebook pages.

“It’s amazing how much discussion goes on online as the real-life event is going on,” says Abby Gutowski, public relations manager at the Weidert Group in Appleton, who helped start the event about 15 months ago. “At first, it was just eight of us getting together every month to talk about how we were using social media and what worked and what didn’t. Now, it has grown to where we have sponsors and 60 to 70 people attending.”

The April New North Social Media Breakfast (or #nnsmb for those following it on Twitter) tackled how manufacturers were integrating social media into their business. At previous events, educators, members of the media and restaurant owners shared best practices and learned from each other. It’s an interactive forum, and attendees come with a broad range of social media experience, from those just starting out to professionals who eat and breathe it.

“The social media breakfasts are a relaxed way to learn how to navigate the various forms of social media websites without being overwhelmed. It gives me guidance on how to use social media tools effectively and narrow them down to ones that work best for my audience,” says Becky Murphy of Romo Durable Graphics in De Pere, who is a regular at the gatherings. “It’s also an excellent networking opportunity to meet with other marketing professionals who are just as lost as I am since it can be so daunting.”

When it comes to social media, business owners must remember they are there to “listen and not dominate the conversation,” says Carla Hafermann, interactive media coordinator for Central Avian and Small Animals for the Chilton-based Kaytee and SuperPet brands. “That and you need to be involved, because if you’re not, someone else is going to drive the conversation about your brand.”

Hafermann says social media provides manufacturers with something they rarely get to do: interact directly with customers. “We can get feedback and know right away if something is working or not working with a product and can make those changes much more quickly,” she says.

Brian Episcopo, assistant marketing manager of interactive media for the Oshkosh Corp.’s Fire and Emergency Group, admits it’s a constant battle to stay updated on what’s happening in social media, but businesses shouldn’t wait to get involved.

“We’re all out here on social media learning together. It’s a constant evolution as you get feedback, see what works and what doesn’t and then figure out what you need to change to make sure you’re reaching your goal,” he says.

One key idea Hafermann shared was that Kaytee posts coupons on Twitter and Facebook for its followers as a way to directly track the response.

“It’s great feedback and you can then get ROI for your managers and say, ‘This is how many people downloaded the coupon and this is how many people used it,’” she says.

While Episcopo and Hafermann spoke to the gathering at Fox Valley Technical College, attendees quickly relayed key messages via Twitter to each other, as well as for people who couldn’t attend. That gets the message out and also draws attention to the event’s podcast, which can be found on its Ning Network page at

“With so much happening in social media, it is tough to keep up so whatever you can find to help, make sure you take advantage of it,” Episcopo says.

Murphy says she’s learned over the past year that with so many options regarding social media, it’s not necessary to try them all. Businesses need to find something that works for them, and then stick with it.

The online discussions serve as a way to publicize the monthly event and interests other people in attending, Gutowski says. “The event has really grown by word-of-mouth and has become a lot more than what I originally expected,” she says. “It shows how important social media is becoming to businesses.”

In addition to being an educational opportunity, the New North Social Media Breakfasts also provide a networking opportunity for Twitter followers to meet in person.