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Posted on Apr 1, 2009 :: Features
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Businesses tap into social networking

When “Wicked” rolled into the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in February, marketing director Tara Fletcher used social networks to get the word out about the hit Broadway musical and to keep the buzz going.

As part of the P.A.C.’s comprehensive marketing campaign, Fletcher utilized Facebook and Twitter to reach customers and keep them up-to-date on all things “Wicked.” For example, she used the center’s Facebook fan page to promote a special cabaret event and used Twitter to send out links to media coverage and fans’ thoughts on the show to the center’s followers.

“When I was walking around the event, I had several people tell me they heard about it from our Facebook page,” Fletcher says. “The other thing about these sites is that it’s a two-way communication. We can have our followers tweet us to say they loved a show, for example.”

More businesses, as well as professionals, are logging into Facebook and Twitter as a way to help spread the word about what they’re doing as well as keep in touch with customers, co-workers, former co-workers and friends from college and high school. Another social media site – LinkedIn – is geared more toward professional usage and closely resembles a resume – but with more bells and whistles.

Social networking and social media sites — all part of the Web 2.0 movement — have attracted millions of users since their inception. In fact, participation in social networking sites grew exponentially between September 2007 and September 2008. Twitter’s audience grew 343 percent during that time while Facebook grew 116 percent, according to Nielsen News.

Lisa Cruz, owner of Red Shoes PR in Grand Chute, has seen firsthand the growth in social networking. When her firm opened less than a year ago, few clients mentioned Facebook or Twitter. Now, it’s one of the first things they bring up.

“Clients say ‘I’ve heard about Twitter. I want to be there’ even if they don’t know what it is. It has such a buzz around it,” she says. “The key with Twitter is to really engage with other people on it and use it as a way to increase your brand awareness.”

Engaging other people is exactly what Will Weider, chief information officer for Affinity Health System and Ministry Health Care, has in mind with his tweets, those 140-character updates that answers the question “What are you working on?” Weider uses his tweets along with a blog to connect with IT staff at 15 hospital sites across Wisconsin.

“Twitter is a real communication device. I use Twitter and my blog as a way to talk about what I’m doing,” he says. “People work with people and with Twitter, you can inject some personality into it and get to know each other better. I find it more effective that way than e-mail.”

Weider also uses Twitter to connect online with people who have the same interests, which can lead to the sharing of ideas with a whole new group of like-minded professionals. “I’ve connected with some interesting people who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Twitter is de nitely a two-way street,” he says.

While social media sites make sense for an organization like the P.A.C., it’s not for everyone, says Greg Linnemanstons, owner of the Weidert Group, a marketing communications company in Appleton.

“You have to look at Twitter or Facebook and see if it fits in with the rest of your communication planning. If you’re a small business, just don’t jump into Twitter to be there,” he says. “You need to first make sure other parts of your communication strategy are firm and in place, such as having a strong website.”

Weidert utilizes Twitter as a way to drive traffic to a blog and then uses the blog to drive traffic to its website. “Right now, there’s a lot of noise on Twitter. You have to cut through that and make sure you’re reaching the people you want.”

That’s what Mark Lezotte, director of online marketing services for Skyline Technologies in Appleton, tells customers he’s working with. He says right now there is a growing interest in advertising on Facebook because it can be targeted to a specific location and demographic.

“Facebook advertising is really ramping up in the Valley right now. It used to be a lot of business-to-consumer advertising, but now it’s changing to more business-to-business,” Lezotte says. “But you can’t be there just to be there. When working with clients, we tell them they need to walk before they can run. They need to make sure their website is optimized and they have a successful e-mail marketing program in place before they get out there on Facebook or Twitter. You can’t just jump into something because it’s ‘hot.’ We need to look at your goals and  gure out a way to meet them.”

Lezotte says another attractive aspect about social networking is that anyone can get a Twitter or Facebook account for free so businesses may see it as a very inexpensive way to advertise and spread the word about what they’re doing.

For the P.A.C.’s Fletcher, integrating Twitter and Facebook into the rest of her marketing plan has paid off. “Social media is a part of our overall communications plan. Just as we plan out ads, e-blasts or news releases, we are planning what we’re going to do on Twitter and Facebook,” she says. “It’s not something to just jump into willy-nilly.”

Cruz agrees completely. “It’s all about integrated communications and keeping the word out there about your business,” she says. “But with Twitter and Facebook, it’s a little more fun.”