Area businesses embrace benefits, challenges of social media
“Like” our Facebook page.
“Follow us” on Twitter.
“Check into” our business on Foursquare.
“Connect with us” on LinkedIn.
In recent years, these requests have gone from infrequent to mainstream. For many businesses, social media has become an integral part of their marketing strategies.
Yet in 2012, only about 10 percent of businesses in Kandiyohi County had a social media presence, according to a study done by the University of Minnesota. Yellow Medicine County also had about 10 percent of businesses on social media, while Lac qui Parle and Swift counties each had about 7.5 percent.
While west central Minnesota businesses may be arriving later to the social media game, experts in the area say that is changing every day, as more and more employers realize the potential of reaching customers through social media.
In addition, community resources and social media groups have become more prevalent in the west central Minnesota area, giving businesses a place to turn for information on anything from Facebook to HootSuite.
By and large, area marketers and business owners say they still have much to learn about social media, but all agree on one thing: Social media is here to stay, and it’s better to learn now than later.
Local businesses use social media to reach customers, engage
Jackie Edwards, the Redwood Falls Parks and Recreation director, started using Facebook two years ago for the parks and rec department. She created three pages: one for the community center, the aquatic center and Alexander Ramsey Park.
About a year and a half ago, she also started blogs for both the community center and the park. Since each facility has a different audience, she wanted to make sure she could tailor the posts to each one.
Setting up social media accounts for a department of the city did mean she had some extra concerns to take into consideration, but everyone at the city understands the value of social media and wanted to establish that online presence, Edwards said.
“We just felt that online is where the public is going,” she said. “With their smartphones, they’d rather surf at night or read on Facebook rather than pick up a printed material to figure out what’s going on. And it’s free. When marketing dollars are tight, how else can you reach virtually thousands of people at no cost?”
The low cost of social media is a big reason why Erin Daniels uses it to promote the Glacial Ridge Winery in Spicer. As the marketing and events manager, Daniels runs the winery’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“Any business owner would agree that free marketing is good and valuable,” Daniels said. “It’s a free outlet, besides the cost of time, for the business to promote themselves, their brand, their image and their events all at one place. Social media has changed marketing in general.”
Besides the cost and reach of social media marketing, Daniels sees it as a unique opportunity to interact one-on-one with the winery’s customers.
“There’s no other form of marketing where you can engage and be part of the conversation instead of just putting out the information,” she said. “For example, if someone is curious about one of our events, I can write a comment on Facebook and they can comment back. There’s nothing else like it.”
Daniels works part-time at the winery and estimates that she spends about five hours a week on social media. While it may seem like a big time commitment, Daniels said that it has paid off in a big way: The winery now has close to 1,200 likes on Facebook, double what it had a year ago.
“I’ve found that it saves you money and time once you learn how to use it,” Daniels said. “But there is a never-ending amount of knowledge you can learn about social media, and so it’s something you have to keep up with. But it’s exciting and it’s fun.”
For Edwards, the social media scheduling tool HootSuite has been a big timesaver. She spends an hour or so every Monday setting up Facebook posts on HootSuite for the week.
“It’s nice, especially if you have a crazy couple weeks,” Edwards said. “You can still schedule posts and make sure you’re reaching those people. It doesn’t take much time at all.”
Social Media Breakfasts offer chance to learn and network
In the west central Minnesota area, two Social Media Breakfast chapters have been organized to give local businesses a chance to learn more about social media and network with other marketers.
The Redwood Area Social Media Breakfast began in December 2011 under the direction of Sarah Kuglin, a web designer, online marketer and owner of Redwood Valley Technical Solutions in Redwood Falls. Kuglin had attended several Minneapolis/St. Paul Social Media Breakfasts and saw a need for the events in rural Minnesota.
At the monthly breakfasts, business owners gather for coffee, breakfast and conversation about social media. The breakfast brings in a different speaker each month, and topics range from a general overview of what businesses are doing on social media to a more specialized, in-depth look at certain platforms.
“There are a lot of businesses in our town and in the surrounding communities, and they’re embracing social media and using it,” Kuglin said. “A lot of that has to do with the social media breakfast. After every one, we get messages from businesses saying that they learned something new or have been motivated to try something different.”
The Willmar Area Social Media Breakfast chapter followed Redwood’s last fall and was organized by Heather Koffler, marketing director at Bennett Office Technologies and social strategist at REDstar; Nick Davis, web developer at Famous Davis; and Mike Negen, formerly of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. Over the past eight months, more than 150 business owners and marketers have attended one of the Willmar SMB events, and its coordinators have plans to grow it in the future.
“We’re considering having a panel of speakers and doing some more breakout sessions and workshops,” Davis said. “We’re also planning to host a social media conference in September, in conjunction with the Redwood team. We’re planning to have some big-name, national speakers there. It’s going to be very valuable.”
Kuglin, Koffler and Davis all say that one of the biggest advantages to these Social Media Breakfasts is the opportunity for businesses to bounce ideas around and learn from each other’s experiences.
“The breakfast helps people who are already using social media,” Koffler said. “It gives them a confidence boost to know that other businesses are using it and it’s working for them. None of us are experts, so we all help each other learn and grow.”
Experts: Social media is here to stay
Because social media changes every day, it would be nearly impossible for some small businesses to stay up-to-date on all the new networks and trends, Kuglin said. But since it’s also not going away anytime soon, it’s important that businesses take the leap and establish some sort of a presence on social media.
“People are researching online before they buy a product, a service, anything,” Kuglin said. “You don’t have to share secrets and tips, but tell them how they will benefit from your services. The more you’re putting out there, the more they’ll consider you.”
In the next six months to a year, Kuglin predicts that social media in this area will continue to grow, with more businesses establishing themselves on those platforms and sharing with their followers on a more frequent basis.
“The people who are already doing social media have seen how valuable it is,” Kuglin said. “You can’t just talk on the phone anymore. Businesses will need to find a way to get their brand and message out there and have conversations on a consistent basis, probably daily. We’re going to see the need for more dedicated time to those social networks.”
Edwards, who runs all of the social media accounts for the Redwood Falls Parks and Recreation department, said she knows that the time she spends on social media will only have to increase in the next year.
“I still have a lot to learn,” she said. “I’m excited about it though. I never thought this would be part of my job, but it’s definitely been a positive.”