Internet social networking: Can it work for you?

Columns

When I attended the National Association of Concessionaires event in Boston recently, I was very glad to hear the keynote presentation by Chris Brogan titled “How a Business Implements Social Media.” Brogan is the president of New Marketing Labs, a social-media agency, and he is well-networked in the blogging world and often quoted and targeted for advice. It was a great presentation to kick off the convention.

The subject of his speech was stepping into and using social media to support your business. He easily took everyone into the room beyond the normal bounds of media and exposed just how large and growing some of the social networks such as Facebook and Twitter really are and what this phenomenon means.

According to recent reports, Twitter currently has 35 million users, and Facebook boasts an astonishing 250 million users, 50 million of whom just joined in the past three months.
The ability to reach consumers directly, without buy-in, opt-in or log-in, has never been greater. Put yourself out on the Web through your own website, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, and people will decide if they want to come to you.

How and why should this have business application for the concession stand? Promotions, product knowledge, product sales, and word-of-mouth advertising are a few reasons that come immediately to mind. In the seminar following Brogan’s appearance, NAC arranged for several operators to discuss just how they had put social media to use and I was further enlightened. One operator actually uses Facebook to manage scheduling changes. His high-school and college-age employees are on Facebook constantly, and he says it is without doubt the easiest way to keep the schedule up-to-date and visible, and is the most successful method yet to find a backup employee if another one isn’t coming in. He simply posts the information and they come to it—a much better method than trying to track down all his employees by phone and e-mail.

Another operator in the crowd said that his theatre used both Twitter and Facebook to advertise an alternative-content concert at the cinema, instead of the more costly route of print and radio advertising. He reported that this strategy was wildly successful, producing better results than they would have achieved with traditional media, in his view. It all came together: the alternative content, the alternative advertising, and the alternative meal catering that they provided to the patrons once there. He said it made them look hip, cool and with it to the young audience and enhanced the theatre’s image.

Larry Etter of Malco Theatres also indicated that his circuit is using these mediums to advertise products and programs they want to highlight and are enjoying great success.
Most of the people in the room were all familiar with the sites but had not really thought about them for professional purposes, only personal ones. However, as Chris Brogan pointed out, the ability of people to come to a website or a blogging forum and exchange ideas and be educated or be solicited and complimented is a great way to earn customers. Social media is about connecting people and ideas and doing so in a way that places the focus on the individual’s needs instead of the business’ needs. Ironically, this approach is good for business.

Coca-Cola has been marketing and advertising “It is about you” for a long time. Ever notice that Coke doesn’t advertise how great their product tastes, but rather how Coke fits into your crazy, fun life? They make their product usage about the consumer. This was Brogan’s best piece of advice for websites to attract the right “chatter” among bloggers in cyberspace. People like to see themselves, see a connection, be offered games and chat rooms that help them advance their own interests. This is what Internet social networking is changing. The interaction of personal and professional communication through individual websites or large community posting websites is allowing people to connect ideas and advice very quickly and very effectively. You want to advertise your product or your service as the best available? Better be ready to back up that claim, because there is a live, active Internet audience that will challenge you, and post their findings in places that make viral infections look slow.

Concession scheduling and promotions are two of the examples offered for putting Internet social networking to use, but there are many other potential uses. Think of direct consumer surveys and targeted advertising to produce a call to action. Or, you could set up movie showings and concession promotions for targeted groups of people, or arrange competitions between different groups and track them through your business page on Facebook. The ability of individuals to have their voices heard has never been greater. It is the second phase of the great proliferation of information on the Internet.

Think of it this way: Websites have brought the business world to individuals and Facebook and Twitter are bringing individuals to the business world. They ought to fit into your business plans somewhere, because individuals are your paying customers.

Please send any comments to Anita Watts at anitaw@reactornet.com.