Yesterday I attended a social media discussion panel.
I can hear the groans through the Interwebs, folks.
But it was worth the effort, particularly as a business operator, for whom the panel was geared. Further, if Mary Lower of Sterling Cross Communications is in any way involved in organizing a social media discussion panel, you should simply shut up and sign up. What I like about the Sterling Cross gang is that they adhere to the same philosophy I attempt to follow with our Foodservice News events: Provide meaningful content, and don’t waste peoples’ time. Accomplish one of those, and you’ve usually accomplished the other.
But back to the panel, an event sponsored by the National Association of Women Business Owners’ Minnesota chapter. Titled “The Evolving Role of Social Platforms and Traditional Media” it touched on how business owners and the media use—and fail to use—social media to their advantage as promotional tools and story-gathering devices. Those two things go very much hand-in-hand, and apply to restaurants and other foodservice industry businesses as much as any other.
Moderated by John Vomhof (@MSPBJvomhof), business reporter for the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, the panel was a familiar group of media types who use social media: David Brauer of MinnPost (@dbrauer), WCCO’s Jason DeRusha (@DeRushaJ), Minnesota Public Radio Interactive Producer Julia Schrenkler (@juliaschrenkler) and the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ tech writer and uber web geek Julio Ojeda-Zapata (@ojezap).
The familiarity was not lost on the panelists; three of whom were on one of the first social media discussion panels assembled locally in 2008. The fact is, Brauer noted, the majority of those in “traditional” media do not use social media—the reason why they keep showing up on panels—although the number is growing. On the MinnPost staff, Brauer noted, where not long ago it was only him using Twitter, about 30 percent do now. That fact isn’t inherently bad, either, he added. “If we are only going through social media contacts (to source stories) we’re not doing our job.”
That said, DeRusha gathers ideas for stories via social media, including the popular “Good Question” on WCCO. Anyone who has attached themself to his Facebook feed can see for themselves how that works. Still, he added, “The business community is way ahead of the working media with social media usage.”
So what does that mean for you, the business owner, to know that the media doesn’t necessarily consult social media for stories?
In my humble opinion, not much. My guess is the ratio is about the same for the remaining population. We all know more than a few people who don’t do social media, or dabble a bit in Facebook but not at all in Twitter, or vice-versa.
More are coming on board each day—and there’s more to join than just Facebook and Twitter. And you, as a business owner need to commit the initial time investment to get on board if you haven’t yet done so.
The six big takeaways from the day:
1. The consensus on the panel is that, as maddening as the evolution of Facebook has been from fun social and promotional tool to navel-gazing central for self-important blowhards (my words, not theirs), it is absolutely necessary as a business owner to use it.
2. While it’s not immensely popular at the moment, Ojeda-Zapata is an advocate for Google+ and sees huge potential for it. “Google+ is becoming a listing for businesses,” he said. “Google is the king of search, there’s nothing for you to lose. … in five years, it will be an important piece, especially for business.”
3. Don’t forget the power of e-mail. Schrenkler said it’s still a wildly effective tool at MPR. “Use e-mail as a social network,” she said. And that it is.
Here at Foodservice News, while I maintain the magazine’s social media outlets, we still get more traffic to our website when we use an e-mail blast to promote our events than any other tool (in part because the list is larger, but also because it’s regularly vetted). And, I would add, don’t forget direct mail where appropriate. We still communicate with many of our out-state subscribers with direct mail. Why? Because it works. And a mailing list is as much of a “social network” as your friends on Facebook. Think about it.
4. DeRusha suggested businesses join every social media tool out there: In addition to Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr and more. Even if you don’t use them, you have at least claimed your business’ name out there.
5. Addressing the point above, Shrenkler said, “Choose your energies.”
To which Brauer added: “Go where your audience is.” For his day-to-day professional life, Brauer is a prolific Twitter user. For his volunteer gig working with a neighborhood farmers market, the audience there spends a lot of time on Pinterest—a photography social media outlet. “I have to learn Pinterest,” he said.
6. Use your staff as a promotional tool. “I tell business owners, whatever business is, you have collection of experts under your roof,” DeRusha said. “Use them.”
7. Be yourself. Social media is just that: social. “Sometimes personality is powerful content,” Brauer said. “Try being yourself—at least your better self.”
How do you know when social media is working for you? The moment you start generating feedback. It’s that simple.
Even if you’re not ready to divulge time to social media, back to DeRusha’s point, it’s vital that you claim your company name within the realm so someone else does not. And do your name, while you’re at it—that includes webstie domain names. It can be a surreal experience doing that; I felt like an egomaniac as I went about the task. It’s understandable why someone like DeRusha, who’s on television every night and has 18,000 Twitter followers needs to protect their name and reputation.
But me? I’m a “B”-list food and restaurant writer in these Twin Cities, at best (and some would argue further down the alphabet). “It’s still important,” DeRusha said as we discussed the topic after the panel. He brought up an incident of a writer who had their identity “stolen” in the form of a blog. Which also reminded me of Lenny Russo, the James Beard-nominated chef and owner of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct and long-time Facebook holdout, who had a Facebook imposter for a time in 2008/09. Russo (the real person) eventually joined Facebook in August 2011, about nine months after he stuck his restaurant on the social media platform.
The thing about social media is you need to engage it to be effective. Further, as a business owner, you need to engage it because there’s likely a conversation going on about you—good, bad or both. It’s better that you (or your staff) engage that conversation, rather than not at all, or by letting an imposter do it for you.