BOISE, Idaho - With little money for marketing, specialty food maker Donya Schweizer struggled to spread the word about the products in her Donya Marie’s Beyond Chocolate line of gourmet foods.
But recently, she joined business giants like Dell computers, Hewlett-Packard and General Motors using the latest thing in marketing: online social networking. One step beyond e-mail, social media apply the power of the Internet to let people share and discuss personal and professional information with many people at once.
She now uses Facebook and Twitter to kick-start word-of-mouth about her chocolate-infused meat rubs, barbecue sauces and vinaigrettes.
“I have about 1,300 Twitter followers now,” Schweizer said. “Many of them have become important business contacts and good customers. It is an invaluable resource. Anything I want to know or need help with, all I have to do is send out a message on Twitter or Facebook and someone always responds. It saves me an enormous amount of time.”
Schweizer joined the Internet social world with the help of George Seybold, owner of Seybold Scientific, a Boise marketing company. Seybold and others involved in social-media marketing have an evangelical zeal for the field’s potential. They say social-media marketing combines the mythic effectiveness of word-of-mouth with the limitless power of the Internet to connect people.
Seybold is a marketing professional who creates social media strategies, among other services, including more traditional marketing campaigns. He helped Schweizer register for an account on Twitter and opened his network to her, telling his Twitter followers that she had an interesting business and they might want to follow her.
In addition to her Web site, donyamaries.com, Schweizer uses Facebook and Twitter daily. She sees social media as a business mixer that never ends.
“If there is an opportunity to pick up on a conversation, I will if I’m interested,” Schweizer said. “You just have to remember to use the same sense of courtesy and etiquette you would use if you were meeting people face-to-face.”
Former Donald Trump “apprentice” Troy McClain, of Meridian, Idaho, hired Seybold to remake his marketing plan, including his Web site, to make optimal use of social media.
McClain garners speaking engagements around the country, but he wanted to raise his profile in his home state, Seybold said.
Seybold made online social media like Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter an integral part of McClain’s Web site.
“Troy’s old site functioned like a brochure,” Seybold said. “The Web isn’t just about selling anymore. It’s about creating meaningful conversations and relationships, because people buy from their friends more readily than from a stranger.” McClain said he has booked enough work through his online networking efforts to carry him through 2009, including a job in Argentina.
“The only thing it cost me to land that job was time, and I did it from the comfort and safety of my laptop,” he said. “To get that job the old-fashioned way I’d have to get on a plane, fly to Argentina, and find the right person. What would that have cost me to do the old-fashioned way?”
Using social media can be an integral part of traditional marketing strategy, or it can be as simple as creating an account on Facebook and diving in. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Naymz are Web sites that allow people to connect and communicate with an expanding network of acquaintances. Either way, plan on investing more time than money. It takes a commitment to participate in a growing community and to gain the trust and respect of the people who use it.
“There are two ways to get the most out of social media,” said Brian Critchfield, co-founder of Boise’s Blue Line marketing company and owner of Navel Marketing in Meridian. “One is integration, and the other is monitoring.”
Social media marketing should be combined with traditional marketing strategies - using advertising and public relations effectively - so people get a consistent message people get about a business and its owner.
It is easy to monitor multiple social media sites using an information aggregator like Google alerts or Twitter search, he said. They will update you with blogs, Web sites or posts of interest and send them to your e-mail account or a smart phone.
Like a growing number of people, Critchfield likes Twitter for this because of its 140-character limit on posts.
Brevity is golden with a network like Critchfield’s. He follows 426 people on Twitter alone. In addition he participates in large, active networks on Facebook, LinkedIn and Naymz.
Critchfield says he manages it all by checking in on his Twitter feed three or four times a day for a few minutes at a time.
Registration on most social media sites is free, so for a small investment of time, anyone can use them.
Expert help will cost more. Critchfield said combined social and traditional marketing services will cost between $2,000 and $4,000 a month.
For that, you can expect your media will be managed for you - including correspondence and blog writing.
Jenn Harris may be the most zealous social media evangelizer around. Harris leads social media marketing and sales at TSheets, a Meridian company that provides time and labor management applications online. While she’s talking about Twitter, her hands fly in animated excitement and her BlackBerry beeps frequently.
Harris, like Critchfield, is an alumnus of Blue Line.
Later, she was a new media specialist at MPC Computers before being laid off last fall. The Nampa, Idaho, computer maker went out of business at the end of December.
“Two minutes after I was laid off, I Twittered,” she said. Her network of friends and associates responded so quickly that Harris had job interviews lined up within hours.
“It really is relationship-building,” she said. “Pretend there are no phones or TV or Internet. What would you do? You’d go out and have coffee and create relationships with people. It is marketing 101 from 1902, with the power of the Internet.”
Harris has lots of stories about companies that have used social media successfully.
Dell turned around a negative customer-service reputation by asking customers what they thought about new products and what they would like to see in future offerings, she said. The responses saved Dell a fortune in research and development and changed perceptions about the company, she said.
All three marketing experts say the most effective use of social media is in combination with a traditional marketing strategy. Critchfield and Seybold provide a range of marketing services besides social media consulting.
“It really takes that traditional marketing background to integrate the two,” Harris said.
Seybold agrees, but he also thinks social media will soon be a part of every business person’s world.
“There are two ways I find opportunity for my business: online networking and getting out and meeting people,” Seybold said. “We don’t advertise. We don’t cold call. And we keep 14 people very busy. I’ve been in business here for 10 months, and I know 1,000 people in Boise who I’ve met through social media.
“How could I have done that 10 years ago?”