The Windsor Star
BY JASON VIAU/SPECIAL TO THE STAR
June 30th 2011
WINDSOR, Ont. — Social media has increasingly become a necessity for businesses in Windsor to achieve optimal client engagement.
Many local entrepreneurs are utilizing free online tools — such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn — to attract clientele, connect with consumers and stay competitive in both the local and global markets. Social Media Day marks its second annual event Thursday and encourages social media gurus all over the world to celebrate and interact with other likeminded web enthusiasts.
Known on Twitter as hashtag, #SMDay, the concept was created by Mashable — a news, technology and web culture source — and designed to foster the use of advanced technology and promote the ability to send real-time information around the globe. Last year’s event encouraged more than 12,000 tech fanatics to celebrate social media technologies at over 600 venues in 93 countries. The success of the gathering lead Victoria, B.C. to declare Social Media Day an official holiday. Human beings aren’t the only ones to attend communal events — an alpaca, the most social animal on the planet, pranced into the Social Media Day party in Cleveland last year.
Last minute efforts to assemble Windsor’s first Social Media Day came to fruition after Daryna Kulya, a business and computer science graduate from the University of Windsor and a local tech-savvy social networking advocate, supplied a location and promoted the event. Prior to this, the nearest location to celebrate the occasion was at Motor City Casino in Detroit, which is expected to attract 1,000 techies.
“I thought it would be good to increase awareness, have people connect and put Windsor on the map,” said Kulya.
Social media is one component of a business’s success and many seasoned entrepreneurs strongly encourage new startup ventures to integrate this marketing strategy into their business plan.
“I think with social media we are starting to see a lot more startup (businesses) and entrepreneurs especially in the younger generation,” said Jessica Apolloni, co-founder of Blab!Media, a Windsor-based company that assists other businesses with social media development.
Katie Stokes, co-founder and CEO of Blab, said companies who don’t take advantage of social tools to market their business on the World Wide Web are “missing out.”
Ali Al-Aasm, co-founder of Red Piston, a company specializing in building applications for mobile devices in Windsor, said he surmises social media to be a new advertising concept, one where others advertise for you even though they may not realize it.
“People will push products to succeed if they feel a connection with the company,” said Al-Aasm.
The amount of time spent on social media websites will dictate the return on your investment and Pina Ciotoli, co-founder of WindsorEats, a company which showcases local eateries, refers to social sites as an “invaluable” resource. Although they are free, she says, you’re essentially paying with the amount of time spent socializing and interacting with your followers.
“I definitely don’t say that having a social media account for your business is free. Sure, the application is free for you to use but you have to input the time and the energy to keep it going. It’s not something that you just create and leave on its own and think ‘I’m done with that,’” said Ciotoli.
Ciotoli’s brother, Adriano Ciotoli, is the co-founder and has been the “face” of WindsorEats since its inception in 2004. He said applications such as Facebook and Twitter have been essential to achieving truthful and honest feedback from his patrons but cautioned that if used improperly it can lead to a loss of traffic to any business.
“A lot of the things we do is through feedback that we’ve gotten from people through social media.” said Adriano
“If you use (social media) as a one-way communication it’s almost certain you will fail. You really have to leave it open for dialogue. It has to be a two-way street and you have to give as much as your taking but you can’t think of it as traditional advertisement where your just pushing a message,” he added.
When selecting specific tools, social media whiz Stokes says companies shouldn’t spread themselves thin and attempt to use every platform but instead track down an audience, seek out competition and assess which programs best suit the businesses’ needs.
“I think it’s important to note that just because there are hundreds of social media networks does not mean that every business needs to go out and open an account on every single one of those,” said Stokes.
“Social media is not the be-all (and) end-all. You can’t just have social media accounts and expect your business to have sales through the roof. It’s more so apart of a successful marketing strategy … if you choose to ignore it you’re ignoring a place where you can interact with your customers.”
Large corporations such as Kodak are taking note of the growing trend and realizing the importance of social media as it has become more prevalent in recent years by employing a chief listening officer (CLO). Beth LaPierre is Eastman Kodak’s first CLO and compares herself to an air traffic controller as they are responsible for safe and efficient flow of air traffic; she is at the helm of ensuring the efficient flow of social media data.
“As far as importance goes you’re seeing large corporations now creating positions called CLOs … it just goes to show how serious that businesses are taking it and rightly they should be,” said Adriano
Social media use amongst small businesses has doubled over the past year from 12 per cent to 24 per cent and one-fifth actively used social media as a snippet of their marketing strategy according to a study sponsored by Network Solutions, a company with the sole objective of providing resources to small businesses, and the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. The study also revealed that 75 per cent of small businesses surveyed have a company page on a social networking site. Firms in the education, health and social services sectors rely more heavily on social media to convey their message.
“It’s really neat to see the kind of scope that social media does bring to a small business who can’t afford to pay the regular prices for advertising. It’s hard for me personally to front that cost until my business gets to a point where I can really really justify it. Social media is my primary source to get out there,” said Shane Potvin, founder of a locally-based web design, branding and illustration company.
He added that the vast majority of his business comes through referrals, whether it be word-of-mouth — which he describes as “old school media” — or social networking sites.
Potvin said he utilizes his iPhone as a mobile social tool and interacts with clients via Twitter and Facebook and responds to emails, all while waiting at the dentist’s office. He said he believes the future of social media will be a lot more automated and hopes it will promote more entrepreneurship.
We’re still dealing with the old way of things and the new way of things. I’m tired of not being able to do everything in one place. I hope it moves towards a world where business people can latch on in a certain way and personal can latch on and there is some division,” said Potvin.
“Moving forward we’re going to get so heavily connected …”