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Businesses use social media in new ways to reach customers

Three months ago, Corn Capital Innovations had fewer than 100 likes on its Facebook page. Today, the business has 530 Facebook likes and counting.

That growth can be attributed to a kilt, a red wig and a little outside-the-box thinking.

In April, director of finance Summer O'Neill posted a picture on Facebook of her husband and CEO Steve O'Neill holding a sign that said, "I agree to wear a kilt and red-colored wig for (1) full day at the AgVenture Inc. summer meeting if we get over 500 'likes' to our page."

The photo quickly spread, and soon the Olivia-based company had hundreds of new people liking the page.

"It went crazy," Summer O'Neill said. "We made it to 500 right before the event, and (Steve) actually had a lot of fun with it. It definitely had that 'viral' feel to it."

Read: Social media tips for businesses

While not all businesses go to such lengths to attract new followers, most agree that social media has become an important part of their marketing efforts. Many businesses in the area have begun to use various social sites - not just Facebook - to increase their network, engage with clients and attract potential new customers.

Affiliated Community Medical Centers, an 11-clinic network serving west central and southwest Minnesota, is active on 10 digital platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, a blog, Pinterest and Foursquare, according to digital media strategist Chelsea Lund.

The ACMC blog, Discover, encompasses three areas: medical professionals, medical students and hot topics. The goal of the blog is to provide timely, relevant medical information for patients, but also to show more of the clinic's personality, Lund says.

"It's finding that right balance," she said. "We want to make sure the content on the blog is more personable. We have a number of different avenues to provide information on our providers and clinics, but none that showcase the level of personality we can on our blog."

ACMC has also found a niche on the popular social networking site Pinterest, which allows users to "pin" images from the web onto virtual pinboards.

The clinic offers its followers a range of content on Pinterest, from health information to exercise tips to recipes. Although ACMC doesn't have as many Pinterest followers as it does on Facebook or Twitter, it's reaching a potentially new demographic there, Lund says.

"We're trying to have a presence on different networks, because we're reaching people there that we might not reach on other ones," Lund said. "When you're in social, sometimes there's no way to know how you're going to reach people unless you're there trying it. Whether we reach a few people or a thousand people on a network, that's great."

Conway, Deuth & Schmiesing in Willmar has also found success on different social media sites, including LinkedIn, a popular social network for professionals.

Last summer, CDS initiated a "comprehensive rollout" of LinkedIn to its employees. A team of staff, including marketing coordinator Jean Geselius, helped employees set up a LinkedIn account, wrote job descriptions for most positions within the firm, and developed a checklist that employees could follow when completing their profiles.

"It wasn't a requirement, but we wanted to give them tips for best practices if they chose to have an account," Geselius said. "LinkedIn is a way for them to showcase their expertise, and our expertise as a firm. We've received positive feedback from our clients and the community about our LinkedIn presence."

LinkedIn also allows professionals in similar industries to connect with one another. Shawn Guetter, a regional sales representative at Redwood Metal Works in Redwood Falls, uses LinkedIn as part of his sales strategy. He belongs to 12 different agriculture "groups" on LinkedIn, and every week he shares one of RMW's products with each of those groups.

"It's worked out really well," Guetter said. "Thirty percent of our website hits now come from LinkedIn. It's even brought us some international business. We did a sale in Costa Rica after connecting on LinkedIn."

RMW also has a business Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel, which Guetter oversees. On YouTube, Guetter posts videos of products being used in the field or at dealerships, which is a "huge selling point" for potential customers, he says.

"I've had people search for us online, and we've pulled up because of our videos," Guetter said. "We've actually sold product off of the videos being shown on YouTube. We have four manure spreaders in production now from one video."

In the last year alone, Redwood Metal Works' website traffic "has doubled, even tripled," Guetter says, and he accounts much of that growth to the company's social media presence.

For O'Neill and Corn Capital Innovations, which saw over 400 percent Facebook growth in a three-month span, the benefits of social media are obvious.

"It's name recognition," O'Neill said. "It's a great way to get your business out there and expose yourself and your message."

Lund, who runs the social media accounts for ACMC, says that while the message is important, it's how followers engage with the message that makes social media valuable.

"First and foremost, it's knowing that our patients are being educated and being engaged, no matter what network they're using" Lund said. "The great part about social media is that it's a platform where we can interact with our patients and be there for them. It's not just a one-way street."

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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