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Businesses Gain Power From Social Media

At the Realtime NY 11 conference, new strategies emerge for Facebook, Twitter and beyond.


For many Internet users, online services like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare are simply fun ways to share news, look at photos, keep up with friends, or just waste time. But is that all they’re good for?

According to Web expert Tonia Ries and the attendees of Realtime NY 11, a social media conference that took place in New York City earlier this year, the answer is a resounding “no.” In fact, to these new media entrepreneurs, such innovations have tremendous potential as powerful tools for business—and this is just the beginning.

Realtime lessons
To help explore the use of social media in business, Realtime NY 11 brought together speakers from major companies like Delta Air Lines, Citibank, PepsiCo and IBM. Smaller technology startups such as Eventbrite, as well as nonprofit organizations like the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City, were represented as well. Through the course of the day, many speakers shared case studies about how they use Twitter to market their services, while others answered questions from conference attendees during panel discussions. 

“Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools present amazing opportunities for companies to connect directly with their customers,” said Ries, who founded the Realtime conference and serves as chief executive officer for marketing and events firm Modern Media. “Companies originally used these tools just for customer service, to help solve problems and answer questions, but soon realized that they could be used in many different ways to allow brands to connect with the community of customers they have in the real world.”

One poignant example presented to the attendees of Realtime NY 11 came from Rick Wion, director of social media for McDonald’s. “A mother had written a tweet because her son had received the wrong toy in his McDonald’s Happy Meal,” related Ries. “The company’s social media team saw the tweet and sent her a handwritten card with the right toy.” Delighted by the note, the mother wrote a blog post about the experience and became a strong advocate for the company, Ries continued. “That’s a great example of how a company can connect the digital world to the real world and create something tangible, something that has real value to customers. Whoever thinks McDonald’s is going to send them a handwritten card?”

Small businesses and customers
You don’t have to be a big company to use services like Twitter for your business, said Ries. “It’s not too late to use these tools and you’re not behind if you start now,” she said. “There are a lot of companies that haven’t done very much social media work yet, and the tools are always changing. It doesn’t matter what stage you get on, but it does matter that you do get on and experiment.”

Since every business has its own needs, Ries recommends becoming as knowledgeable as possible about Twitter, Facebook, and beyond, and understanding how to use each online utility. “You know your business and customers best and only you, over time, can really find the best way to use these tools for your own enterprise,” she said. “Just jump in and get familiar.”

Ries also recommends a cautious approach to building your business’ social media presence. “Start by listening,” she advised. “When you’re at a cocktail party or a networking event, or joining a table at a restaurant, you don’t just start talking as soon as you walk in. You spend time figuring out what people are talking about, and then you chime in. Get to know the environment and let that guide you in terms of how you decide to engage.”

In the end, Ries sees real-time tools like Twitter and Facebook giving power not just to entrepreneurs, but to customers as well. “When you think about how commerce has worked over the centuries, you used to go to the market and know your butcher, and the farmers who grew the food you ate,” she said. “There’s a great deal of value that’s been created in the last couple centuries with large corporations which can do far more than any one farmer, for example, can do on his own—but they’ve become much less individually focused. Now, that human connection, the ability for a company to truly understand its customers, is being added back in.”

Ries believes that when companies actively listen to the communities that support them, and organize themselves around the needs of their customers, they put themselves in strong positions to succeed. “Any good company wants that awareness and connection,” she said. “Now they have amazing tools to do it.”

 

Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.