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Follow the Tweeter to More Robust Business

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By Bridget Carey

RISMEDIA, June 18, 2009-(MCT)-Leo Benjamin’s social media marketing strategy is about as thin as his clients’ hair. He’s the owner of a hair restoration clinic in Fort Lauderdale and has sent about 60 messages on his Twitter accounts, AdriansHair and Medtress, since March 5. He writes about sales and how he likes helping his clients at Adrian’s Hair Center-always ending with a link to his homepage. But his posts tend to fall flat and don’t gain much-if any-response.

“This week alone, I haven’t posted a thing on either one,” Benjamin, 48, said. “Whether I get a lot of business from it, I don’t know.”

Benjamin admits he’s new to social networking and learning as he goes, but he’s among many business owners who are diving into Twitter and Facebook because they are cheap marketing tools at a time when cash is tight. More than 1,000 people are following his accounts, and those who stumble upon his messages are reminded that he’s a resource for hair-loss remedies.

For some businesses, Twitter and Facebook accounts have been extremely effective and profitable marketing tools. But companies without a social media gameplan are finding it tough to get results. To be effective, they need to hire someone who knows the ins and outs of social networks to make worthwhile connections with customers.

In the past few months, Twitter has taken the media by storm. It’s hard to get through a news program or talk show without a Twitter message flying on the screen, so more companies are flocking to the 140-character message tool to reach customers.

Twitter now ranks as the third most visited social networking website, behind Facebook and MySpace. Twitter had 9.3 million unique U.S. visitors in March, according to comScore Media Metrix. Twitter is growing rapidly: March numbers increased 131% from February.

And the customers are asking for it: 42% of online adults are interested in at least one type of social application from brands they like, according to the April Forrester report “The Social Tools Consumers Want From Their Favorite Brands.” And 37% of adults who use social networks want to connect with their favorite companies on networks like Facebook and MySpace.

“With any new topic or hot item, a lot of companies rush to it because they think it’s trendy,” said Brian Breslin, a social media strategy consultant and CEO of infinimedia in Coconut Grove. ‘Or their boss sees it in the Wall Street Journal and thinks, ‘Oh, we need an iPhone app.’ But they don’t really know why.”

Breslin, whose clients include EFTours, Scrapblog and Travelzoo, founded the monthly social event RefreshMiami, a gathering for Web and technology enthusiasts in South Florida. And on May 30 he organized the second Facebook Developer Garage Miami, where programmers shared best practices in creating applications and building communities on Facebook.

Breslin and other consultants preach that businesses need to have a social network strategy before just jumping blindly into a network. He sees many mistakes being made by companies that don’t engage properly with the network’s users.

“If you get on there, you need to be willing and ready to respond to people. There are many tools out there to help you do it, but it’s really not that hard. You can just look for mentions of your company and start responding to those people,” Breslin said.

For example, a Facebook Fan Page or Twitter account is more than just another way to send out press releases. Companies can use them to respond to customer service issues and to troubleshoot, which is what Comcast does on its Twitter account ComcastCares.

Businesses can survey consumers and fans through Twitter and Facebook just by asking for feedback. And, in some cases, there is money to be made. Dell reported that its Twitter account DellOutlet, which started in January 2008 and alerts followers of sales and coupons, generated more than $1 million in revenue for that year. Forrester Research reports that several travel and retail groups, such as Toys R Us and JetBlue, are generating sales by posting coupon codes on Twitter.

Toyota of South Florida in Doral joined Facebook and Twitter (Toyota-SouthFlA) in March. Inside the dealership are computer kiosks with large signs that read “Follow us on Twitter” and “Friend us on Facebook.” But the dealership took it a step further than just putting out news releases: Facebook fans can get a coupon for a year’s worth of free car washes.

“No one is going to make a decision to buy a Toyota based on what we tweet, but you’re creating conversations and keeping the fan base loyal,” said Alec Rosen, president of Miami marketing firm AJR & Partners, which manages the dealership’s social media presence.

Creating a page on a social media site might be free, but there is the cost of finding someone to spend time managing the accounts.

The Miami attraction Jungle Island started a Facebook Fan Page last June and has more than 100 fans, but it hasn’t made a posting since March. There’s also a Facebook group page with about 160 members, but the most recent discussion posted by a group member was in August. Jungle Island’s Twitter account (JungleIsland) with about 800 followers is more active: Users message JungleIsland about trips or photos, and the account posts pictures of new baby animals, coupons and events, which get retweeted, or forwarded, by followers.

“It really does take a full-time person to do it, and unfortunately I don’t have that,” said Sandy Edwards, Jungle Island’s marketing director.

Time also is an issue for Tate’s Comics in Lauderhill, which doesn’t have a Twitter account but does have a Facebook Fan Page.

Amanda Magnetta-Ottati, 33, wife of the owner Tate Ottati, runs the page and also puts ads on Facebook. By targeting the paid ads to specific audiences, like those who live within 50 miles of Hollywood, for example, she only spent $9.09 for almost 20,000 impressions. She also uses the site Eventful, which has an iPhone app, to keep the community notified of store events.

Worth the Time?

Magnetta-Ottati said customers have mentioned Twitter to her, but “I just don’t have time to update it consistently – because if we are going to do it, we’re going to do it consistently,” she said. “I feel like it’s a fad that’s going to die quickly, and I don’t want to invest the time.”
And because of the manpower issue, many companies are turning to marketing or public relations firms to manage accounts for them.

Jill Saperstein manages the Twitter account for her husband’s restaurant, Charm City Burger in Deerfield Beach, which opened in November. After tweeting photos of burgers and reminders of milkshake specials, it only took a few weeks before people started responding and messaging the account about eating there.

“We’re a fairly new restaurant, so we’re noticing sales going up,” Saperstein said. “If we didn’t have good food, people wouldn’t care to tweet about this.”

Her twitter slogan now is “Retweet so the geeks will eat!”

Saperstein said once she saw how successful this account has been for their business, she quit her full-time job with another company to start a business helping other local companies enter the world of social media.

Saperstein has been tweeting for five different clients since January, including an insurance company, a preschool and a real estate firm. She’s charging $150 a month for at least one tweet a day and for finding people to follow who are in the business’ area or might have an interest in the company. That comes to about $5 a day.

Miami brand management consultant Bruce Turkel, CEO of the marketing firm Turkel, explains to his clients the importance of having a presence on social media, even if they don’t use it themselves.

“You don’t need to understand all of it. You have to understand how it affects your business and how it affects your consumer,” Turkel said.

And what many of his clients don’t realize is that social media extends beyond Facebook and Twitter – the tip of the iceberg – and that a plan should also include utilizing tools like social-bookmarking site Delicious or link-sharing site Digg.

“You can’t do everything,” Turkel said. “But you have to have a strategy.”

©2009, The Miami Herald.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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