Monday, March 28, 2011
 
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Doug DeMay of the Investment Center at the State Bank of Lincoln listens to a conference call presentation on the benefits of social networking for business. The webinar-seminar was hosted by the Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce and Frontier Communications.

Social networking webinar explains possibilities using modern technology

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[March 28, 2011]  The Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce had a very busy day Thursday. After hosting the 12th annual Ag Scholarship Breakfast at Lincoln Christian University, they moved on to the Lincoln Public Library, where they hosted a webinar-seminar on the topic of using social networking as a marketing tool for business.

This seminar is just one of several that have been sponsored by Frontier Communications. On hand from Frontier were Michael Boebinger, regional manager, who served as the meeting moderator; George Johnson, business technician for the local area; and Dan Fishback, the local technical manager for this area.

A telephone conference call was hosted by Bill Fuesz of Frontier Communications with presentations by Albert Maruggi, president of Provident Partners, and Shama Kabani, president of the Zen Marketing Group.

Maruggi is a senior fellow for the Society of New Communications Research and host of the Marketing Edge podcast.

Fast Company and Business Week recognize Kabani as one of the 10 most powerful and influential women in social media. She is the author of best-seller "The Zen of Social Media."

The majority of the discussion revolved around social networking using Facebook and Twitter, but the presentation did begin with a brief discussion on a newer Web-based coupon site called Groupon.

With Groupon, retailers or service professionals are the advertisers, and their customers are the subscribers.

Advertisers place online coupons with Groupon with very lucrative deals, such as 50 to even 90 percent off a retail price on one item. Subscribers print out the coupons and visit the advertiser to take advantage of the special price.

This is all very much like any printed coupon one would receive in the mail, but the special prices are supposed to be exclusive to Groupon subscribers.

Like printed coupons, the drawback is that this does not necessarily equate to return customers who are willing to shop with the retailer regularly.

At the moment Groupon does not have a "group" in central Illinois. The closest regions the advertiser can use are either Chicago or St. Louis, which brings up another issue for retailers in central Illinois: Which region are our residents using?

When Maruggi spoke he talked about social media being everywhere and a normal part of todayís society. He noted that in the final quarter of 2010, smartphones outsold personal computers.

With these types of mobile devices, anyone anywhere can immediately convey their pleasure or displeasure with a product or service to literally thousands of people.

He used as an example an instance with TV talk show host Piers Morgan, who recently had a bad experience on a flight and tweeted about it on Twitter as it was actually happening. Within seconds, all of his followers knew that Morgan had had a bad experience with an airline.

Maruggi said those tweets are going on about us as retailers and service professionals, and in this instance, "what you donít know can hurt you."

It was also brought up that due to Twitter, Facebook and other forms of mobile communication, people are now their own media sources. Like walking newspapers, they are reporting their experiences as they go.

Kabani spoke mostly about using Facebook as a source for free advertising.

She posed these questions: "If I were to tell you there was going to be a trade show with 650 million guaranteed attendees, would you want a booth? Letís sweeten the deal. Would you want a free booth? Well, yes. And then we can make it even sweeter. What if you didnít have to have someone sitting there at the booth all of the time? This is the power of Facebook. It is a massive coffee shop at a massive trade show."

Kabani outlined that Facebook is an open-forum tool that can be used to the advantage of all businesses, but it cannot be the first step in building a successful social network advertising base.

"It comes after you have an established brand. It comes after you really know what your business model is. It comes after you have a really good website in place. It's the last step when you're ready to amplify what you're already doing," she said.

During the course of conversations during and after the telephone conference, it was brought out that when setting up a page on Facebook, business owners need to be prepared for the fact that not all the comments from "friends," or fans, will be positive.

Those negative comments need to be addressed and hopefully turned into a positive.

Boebinger commented that when he gets negative comments on his Frontier page, he addresses the issue; then he emails the commenter and asks them to post that the issue was addressed to their satisfaction.

A question that came from the local group was, "How do I make friends?" While it brought a chuckle from everyone, it is one of the issues with Facebook.

Boebinger said one of the best ways to get friends is to ask for them. In the marketplace or in other media advertising, invite people to join you on Facebook.

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Kabani and Maruggi had also spoken about this, cautioning there are those out there whom a business will not want as a friend for a variety of reasons, including issues with spam.

They warned to choose friends or fans carefully and not to be afraid to remove someone from your list.

Additionally Kabani spoke about setting up the ground rules for posting to your page. She said that on Facebook, posting the ground rules in "Notes" at the very beginning is the smartest thing to do.

In the rules you should state what kinds of posts are not acceptable. This can be anything from use of language to antagonizing fellow posters or whatever you as a business owner decide. As long as it is in your rules, then you cannot be chided or criticized for removing a post that you deemed as out of bounds.

After their presentations Kabani and Maruggi answered questions that were called in or emailed in to them, but time ran out before they covered all of the issues.

After they logged off, the group at the library had a working lunch courtesy of the Owlís Roost and talked about some of their own experiences and concerns.

Facebook was launched in February of 2004 as a social networking tool for individuals. Only recently has it become more of a marketing tool for businesses.

Around the room many of the questions that came up involved keeping personal Facebook accounts separate from business accounts.

In Facebook, many use it to stay connected with family members or friends from high school or college. The consensus was that while the posts are not inappropriate, most business owners are not interested in having their personal conversations logged on their business pages.

On the other side of the coin, Andi Hake and Heidi Browne of the Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce said they had two Facebook pages: one for the Lincoln Art & Balloon Festival and one for the whole chamber. They would like for the two pages to be linked all the time and have not been able to find a way to do this.

At the table, no one was really able to answer any one of these questions. Boebinger told the group he would forward the questions to the presenters to see if they could include answers in the transcripts they will provide to participants.

While not every question the group had was answered, in general it appeared that everyone left with a little more knowledge than they had come with concerning the importance of becoming part of todayís latest social networking tools.

Early on in the meeting, Dale Schaffenacker, owner of Molanda Co. in Mount Pulaski, said he was looking for anyone who could teach him how to do all this, and it was brought out that some of the local colleges, including Heartland College in Lincoln, offer classes on social networking tools.

In addition to Hake, Browne and Schaffenacker, others who attended the meeting were Susan Shaw of Central Illinois Event Catering in Elkhart; Nancy Saul, representing the Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau of Logan County; Sandy Blaine of Regional Office of Education 38 in Lincoln; Doug DeMay of the Investment Center at State Bank of Lincoln; Gladys Dutz, representing Main Street Lincoln; Deron Powell, State Farm agent in Mount Pulaski; Camille Springer, prevention coordinator at Chestnut Health Systems of Normal; Ally Leesman, membership services director for the chamber of commerce; Karen Hargis and Nila Smith of Lincoln Daily News; Joe Ryan of Country Financial in Lincoln; and Nina Huddlestun, administrative assistant and director of support services for the Logan County Department of Public Health.

[By NILA SMITH]

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