Social media helps business owners connect with communities, find customers


Mary Hamel, Metro Independent Business Alliance’s executive director, described herself as a “late adapter” to social media. It’s not something she would naturally gravitate to, she admitted. However, she’s learned how important it’s been for Metro IBA and its members to make the leap.

Hamel was a panel member at a New Normal 2012: Get Connected! community meeting held at Open Arms of Minnesota on July 26. She joined Loren Schirber, Metro IBA’s marketing chair and president of Castle Building and Remodeling, Josh Becerra, cofounder of Monkey Island, Inc., a software development firm, and Marcos Lopez-Carlson, neighborhood engagement coordinator for the Twin Cities Media Alliance. 

Developing a “social mindset”

Building an audience through social media requires a “change in mindset,” said Becerra. He urged business owners to constantly ask themselves, “What’s happening in the daily life of my business that I can share?” Becoming savvy with tools like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube will “humanize your brand or product,” Becerra said. “It adds to the appeal of your business.”

Get Connected Metro IBA

Foreground: Peggy Clark (l), Julie Ingebretsen (r)

To attract new followers, Schirber urged business owners to incorporate their social media into every piece of marketing they do and each communication they send out. Becerra agreed, saying that Facebook and Twitter addresses should be included on letterhead, the bumper sticker on your car, and anything placed on your shop’s wall.

Used well, new media tools offer independent businesses “unparalleled ways to connect with your communities, and differentiate yourselves from big-box and chain stores,” said Lopez-Carlson. Social media also has the capacity to expand an independent business’ reach, allowing people in the wider community to discover it, said the panelists.

Overcoming tweeter’s block

Most Metro IBA members are Facebook users, observed Hamel, but find Twitter intimidating. She urged people to get past any intimidation they have, because Twitter permits them to broadcast more widely and to be found by others outside their normal circles.

Keeping up with tweets can seem daunting, the panelists noted, but they said it doesn’t have to be. “It’s okay to miss things,” said Becerra. As for tweeting regularly and at appropriate intervals, Schirber said there are tools to help with that. He recommended Hootsuite, a social media management dashboard that helps users manage multiple social profiles and schedule messages and tweets, so that they go out sporadically during the course of the day. Becerra suggested Twitterfeed as another potentially valuable tool for posting in multiple places.

Becerra emphasized how crucial it is for business owners to use Twitter smartly, first by designing quality profiles that match the needs of business so that the customers the business owner is seeking will find them. Feature your location, he urged, and name the demographic that’s your target customer. Schirber advised following those who are following you on Twitter.

Do-it-yourself and try everything

“Try it all” was one main piece of advice offered by panelists. Schirber said that in his business he’s tried everything and urged others to do the same. At some point, look at the medium and decide if it will work for you or not. “Pinterest really took off for us immediately, because it’s so visual.” But Pinterest might not make sense for other businesses. “There’s no silver bullet.”

Foursquare, the app that allows people to share the places they visit, was promoted by Becerra, who said that businesses can draw customers by offering a discount to those who “check in” with it. Lopez-Carlson urged people to consider “vlogging” via their smartphones, too. Vlogging is short for video blog.

Becerra told attendees to purchase a smartphone if they don’t have one. “A smartphone allows you to use social media on the spot, take a photo, or shoot a video.” Photos and video can help “humanize what you have,” and demonstrate how “authentic” you are. 

“Whatever you do,” Schirber advised, “be on top of things, have a strategy, and make whatever you use fun and engaging.” He observed that there are companies who can be hired to do that work, but cautioned against it. “They may not understand your business. They certainly won’t understand your business as well as you do.”

Get Connected! community meetings are part of a larger project of the Twin Cities Media Alliance and Daily Planet. With support from the Bush Foundation, each Get Connected! event is planned and co-hosted with nonprofit organizations that work on one of six issue areas: education, work, health care, immigration, transportation, and the environment.  Get Connected! meetings will be scheduled through October.