print edition of Providence Business News
As the Internet ingrains itself even further into people’s lives and consumers check reviews, prices and sales online all before stepping foot out of the door, a strong Web presence can be the key to success – so long as business owners don’t get overwhelmed by the options, say social media and marketing specialists.
The idea of multiple platforms is what trips up many business owners who feel pressured to spread themselves too thin. While the large majority of businesses have some sort of Web presence, whether a website or a Facebook page, companies that try to grab a stake in every new social media site can find themselves wondering if its worth doing anything at all.
In early April, the online scrapbook Pinterest was named the third-most popular social media site in a report by digital-marketing firm Experian Marketing Services. Essentially an online scrapbook, Pinterest allows users to post pictures from around the Web to different “boards,” where other users can see, comment and – if they desire – re-pin to their own boards.
Businesses everywhere were urged to flock to the site; that without a Pinterest presence they were likely to be overlooked entirely. Facebook, Twitter, Groupon and even Google’s less-than-successful social media venture Google+ were also all hailed as the next big thing in marketing, leaving businesses grasping at straws to figure out where they should focus their attention.
“The idea is to get outside your head and think about how your audience is thinking about your product and your service,” said Suzanne McDonald, content and social strategist and founder of the Newport Interactive Marketers group.
Launched in 2010, NIM holds monthly meetings to help businesses learn about social media, email campaigns and other marketing techniques. Their latest meeting, held on April 25, was geared towards teaching business owners about Pinterest. The meeting drew more than 90 people from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
“Pinterest has a lot of interest in it,” said McDonald, adding that it was good for businesses that are very busy and don’t have a lot of technical skills.
With its newfound popularity, Pinterest is ideal for boutiques or restaurants where owners can post pictures of their most popular lines and dishes.
The digital scrapbook, however, is not necessarily the prime target for bookshop consumers or hobby-shop patrons. “Really try to understand whose attention you’re trying to capture,” advised Attaran. “If your demographic doesn’t know what Pinterest is, you don’t need to be there.”
For businesses looking to build up a Web presence, Attaran recommends starting small and choosing one platform rather than diving right into the deep end of the social media pool. “See your resources, the people you have and the time you have,” she said, adding that she recommends Facebook and Twitter for businesses looking to get their feet wet.
“It can absolutely be overwhelming,” said Mary Weaver, owner of Newport Cooks!, a cooking school that caters to chefs from beginners to master level. Weaver’s marketing campaign so strongly relies on social media that Newport Cooks!’ Facebook page acts as its website. “[Facebook] should be in every business’ marketing plan in some form or fashion,” said Weaver, adding that the site can act as a catalyst between businesses and customers.
Ninety-one percent of online adults use social media, according to the Experian report – “ The 2012 Digital Marketer” – which went on to say that one in 10 Internet visits are to a Facebook page.
Companies such as Newport Cooks! build their online presence around Facebook, providing special offers and trying to get nonfans to “like” them, which drives clicks to their websites.
“It takes work, but it can be really effective, you’re building brand awareness, you’re enhancing your reputation and you’re enhancing a relationship with people who care about what you have to say,” added Attaran. “It’s not going to happen overnight but it’s definitely effective.”
Using social media as part of an existing marketing plan can also make it seem more manageable. Attaran advised businesses to look at Facebook pages as an extension of advertising rather than a whole new task to undertake.
“You can put all this money into advertising all over and [social media] is fast and cheap and immediate,” she said.
Users want to see personality in posts rather than just information, said Pam Akgun, owner of Sea Star Collection. Her Newport store sells seaside-themed furnishings, gifts and jewelry. Akgun said her first task when she walks into the store is to post something on Facebook.
Akgun, who operates the store alone, even posts anecdotes from her store to engage her customers. “Just had a 6-year-old, little girl come up to the counter and tell me that she wants to live in my store. How cute is that?!” she posted on the store’s Facebook page on April 20.
While Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest all require cultivation and care, there are ways to build an online presence without having to devote too many resources. By setting up a Foursquare profile, for example, businesses allow their consumers to “check-in,” sometimes offering discounts or prizes for so many check-ins in a month.
“The idea is to … think about how your audience is thinking about your product and your service,” said McDonald.