Social media are your friends

At a recent Ontario government conference for successful growth companies, a marketing consultant touted the benefits of social media. Recognizing that many business owners are still shy about Twitter and Facebook, he suggested they look at these new channels as a recruiting tool.

Social media let you spark conversations with potential employees and promote your business as a great place to work. When you’re satisfied with your results, he said, you can tackle more marketing-oriented conversations.

I found that suggestion sensible, and sensitive to many entrepreneurs’ doubts about social media. So I was shocked when some delegates denounced the consultant’s proposal. They said people are the most important part of business, and expressed fears that social media will wipe out face-to-face relationships.

The consultant adroitly responded that social media don’t replace anything. Blogging, Web video, Twitter and Facebook help you build new relationships, by promoting and sustaining conversations with the growing numbers of customers who don’t read your brochures or prefer interactive media.

Still, I was struck by the hostility in the room. You’d expect entrepreneurs to lower their defences when they find a better way to hire. But it’s hard to blame them for being suspicious of social media.

The hype has been higher than the payback, successful case studies are rare, and it’s tough to know how to get started.

But it’s precisely because these new media are in such flux that businesses should be exploring how to win in social media. LinkedIn and Twitter and Facebook (oh my!) are growing like Topsy, and companies that don’t learn how to use them are digging themselves into a hole.

Looking for a success story? Meet Provident Mike, aka Michael Jagger, founder and CEO of Provident Security in Vancouver. He founded his company in 1996 to provide security services for special events and pay his university tuition.

Today, Provident offers alarm and security-guard services for business, and residential security services — including a guaranteed “five-minute” response time for homes in Vancouver’s west end.

Jagger uses all possible media to promote his company. So he’s become an expert at public relations, public speaking, video, blogging and, most recently, Twitter.

He believes in integrated promotion. When asked to make a presentation on security, he has the presentation taped. Edited portions of the speech — say, talking about new security technology — may be uploaded to his website and his blog. Then he’ll tweet about the videos on Twitter.

A key advantage of social media is that content posted online may remain there forever — and great content never goes stale.

One day last week, Jagger tweeted about “Disabling a burglar alarm.”

Clicking the accompanying link took you to Jagger’s 2007 blogpost explaining how a clever thief in Kitsilano had broken into an office and disabled the burglar alarm before roving the office stealing computer parts.

Jagger proves you don’t have to be a professional writer to maintain an intriguing blog; he just writes about what he knows, using an even, “just the facts” tone reminiscent of Dragnet.

So that old blogpost is still useful, warning businesses of vulnerabilities in their own offices and proposing innovative solutions, such as radio-based alarm systems, vibration sensors and “look down” motion detectors.

Jagger credits his willingness to share his expertise through social media as a key reason the company has grown consistently and now has more than 100 full-time staff.

Another integrated campaign: Two weeks ago, Jagger read a New York Times article by “Wealth Matters” reporter Paul Sullivan on the failings of home-security systems (e. g., slow police response, and drained alarm batteries that take weeks to replace).

Blogging about that article, he linked to the Times story and noted the situation is worse than Sullivan had suggested.

Then he pointed out that his company solves many of those problems — through alarms that automatically signal Provident when their batteries are low, or its five-minute response guarantee.

Jagger then cited the benefits of “Five-Minute Proofing” — installing window blocks, or deadbolts on your bedroom door, to slow thieves down. And he linked to both a previous blogpost and a video he’d made on the subject.

But Jagger didn’t stop there. He emailed Sullivan about his blogpost. So when Sullivan wrote a follow-up article a few days later, he devoted one-third of his story to Jagger’s “five-minute fixes” and quoted from his blogpost.

Best of all, he mentioned Jagger’s response guarantee, giving Provident a huge marketing win for very little effort.

Then of course Jagger Twittered about the whole thing.

Social media don’t replace relationships or marketing practices that are working for you. Social media provide new channels for getting your message out.

But before you can reap any of these benefits, you have to lower your natural defensive shields against new tools with silly names.

Published May 17, 2010 · Financial Post · Written by Rick Spence

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