Social networking helps some businesses gain customers

ALLISON MILES

Aug. 23, 2009 at 3:23 a.m.

A black and pink sign stands outside Trendy Nails in Victoria, advertising the pedicures, acrylics and other services the shop offers. But potential clients can also grab up info online, through the business' tweets, status updates and online profiles.

Going digital was just one more way to get Trendy Nails' name out there, owner Rosalinda Salinas said.

"A lot of people are networking," she said. "I started out with MySpace, then got Twitter. Facebook has been recent."

And Salinas isn't alone. Many businesses are finding their way to social networking sites.

A Jobvite survey of 438 human resource and talent management professionals found that 72 percent of those surveyed plan to increase their use of social networks in the coming years and 68 percent plan to use such sites for recruitment efforts.

Younger generations are going to networking sites right away, while many older people hold back, said Joe Harper, executive director of the University of Houston-Victoria's Small Business Development Center.

"For the next generation of entrepreneurs, that's going to be their go-to marketing platform," he said. "The rest of us will have to play catch-up."

Such sites allow businesses to develop a following, gain credibility and get exposure, Harper said.

"It gives people a more rounded image of who you are, what your capabilities are," said Harper, who recently underwent training on Twitter, a site that allows the user to type updates on what they're thinking or doing in 140 characters or less.

Networking sites can also help internally, Harper said. If the SBDC set up a Facebook account that gave directors a place to write about their experiences, others would gain from that knowledge and have a better idea who to send clients to for additional help.

There is another side to the phenomenon, Harper said. People aren't meeting up face-to-face, which eliminates the ability to pick up on body language and other physical cues. He said he also wonders what will happen with traditional marketing. As social media evolves, marketing strategies will, too.

"It will be interesting to see how things change," he said.

People were just curious about the technologies four or five years ago, but have begun to pay more attention recently, said Manjit Yadav, a professor in the Marketing department for Texas A&M University's Mays Business School.

Networking sites are almost a high-tech type of focus group, Yadav said, but free of charge. Consumers and clients can go online and discuss various products and companies - both the good and bad aspects - and companies can learn a lot, he said.

It comes at a price, however.

Putting a company out there means it has less control and people's comments are available to the masses.

"That lack of control bothers some more traditional managers," said Yadav, who is also research director for A&M's Center for Retailing Studies. "That's the challenge."

Habitat for Humanity's Victoria chapter has been active on Facebook for about six months, said Leslie Ruta, the organization's resource development manager.

The site provides an easy way to stay connected to volunteers and supporters, she said, and is quicker to update than its official Web site.

"And, honestly, one of the really neat things is it's an easy way to share pictures of what it is we do," Ruta said. "It's immediate."

The group's builds move pretty quickly and being able to share photos means volunteers - even those who just go out once or twice - can see how the home they worked on is progressing.

Jeremy Bludau owns The Nest Sound Studio, a professional recording studio in Victoria. The business has its own MySpace page and he said it's a win/win for him and the artists.

They sometimes agree to add each other as "top friends," so people who go to the band sites see his work and profile, and vice versa.

Artists can record their own music now and reach global audiences through social networking sites, Bludau said, explaining he once worked for a major Dallas recording studio, where they searched MySpace and other sites for bands.

"Without MySpace or Facebook, I probably would not have any clientele whatsoever," he said. "It's crazy, like everybody's helping each other."


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