By Hillary Markow
— Six months before it opened its doors for business, Uva Spa & Wine Boutique had Facebook fans. Less than a year later, it was working with a daily-deal site to market its products and services.
The company’s low-cost social media strategy paid off early on, with 60 percent of its customers learning about the company from Facebook, said Iris Alicea, owner of the Harwood Heights-based business, which opened last September. We got started with our Facebook account before we even opened to get a read on interest in the business and let people know what was to come, she said.
Social media provides small businesses with the power to communicate with customers and prospects, and that has implications that extend beyond promotions. Alicea developed Uva business strategy based in part on queries she received from Facebook fans. We got questions from them and applied some of that learning to our business plan, she said.
Facebook and Twitter can help small business owners connect with potential customers, learn what they like ” and don t like ” and build a community. And generally the only cost is in time spent.
The proportion of small businesses using social media doubled to 24 percent in 2009 from the prior year, according to a survey of 500 small business owners conducted by Network Solutions and the University of Maryland Smith School of Business.
And many more businesses planned to jump on the social media bandwagon. One-third of small businesses said they intended to use social media to build business, according to a national small business survey conducted in 2010 by FedEx Office. In addition, 46 percent of respondents reported plans to improve their online presence.
A new way of connecting
Social media is here to stay, said Daniel Rosenberg, social media specialist at ForeSee Results, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., which delivers online customer satisfaction analytics. Facebooking has become a way of life,” he said.
Rosenberg advises all types of businesses to leverage social media’s reach by networking or sending out news about a cause or promotion. The value of Facebook, Rosenberg said, is its volume of traffic. He pegged the number of Facebook users at 600 million.
At present, Uva counts 438 Facebook fans, 80 percent of whom have bought services at the boutique, which offers skin care services using products made from wine and grape seed essences. (Uva is Spanish for grape. ) Uva also sells distinctive wines and rents space for parties and special events.
And that just Facebook. Uva uses Twitter to post alerts for special deals and to inform followers about wine tastings and the health benefits of antioxidants, Alicea said.
Alicea credits her daughter, Tracey Garcia, for building and maintaining Uva social media presence. Tracey spends about 10 hours a week on social media, checking daily for questions or comments from users. You need to respond to people quickly and keep their interest, Alicea said. “If you don t put up anything new, people don t come back. Alicea also established a Uva website (www.uvastore.com) spending about $200 on the site.
Recently, Alicea used Facebook, Twitter and the Uva website to drive people to Uva Groupon deal. The Uva team opted for Groupon Merchant Stores, which list offers for a week and let store owners save money by composing their own deal descriptions. Getting the word out to a sizable database of Facebook and Twitter followers resulted in immediate calls and business, mostly from new customers, Alicea said.
A Design All His Own
When Dream Kitchens Inc., a kitchen-and-bath design and construction company, moved to a 2,500-square-foot showroom in Highland Park from Skokie, owner Rick Glickman could no longer depend on foot traffic and neighborhood presence to draw customers.
That when I started seeing social media as a logical way for people to notice me, Glickman said. Facebook was one way to reintroduce Dream Kitchens to Highland Park and to the community at large.”
Now with 80 likes and 104 active users a month, Glickman updates his Facebook page weekly and keeps track of usage data. He also posts news on remodeling projects, promotions, services and a link to dreamkitchens.com, where potential customers can see Dream Kitchens featured on HGTV. Glickman is currently using software that updates his website, Twitter and Facebook simultaneously. “We re using it to show creativity that they won t find someplace else. It reflects who you are, he said.
What’s more, social media provides a way for small businesses to demonstrate their industry knowledge, Glickman said.
Bang for the Buck
Rich Levy, owner of B2Bucks, which offers discount deals on products and services, has been using Facebook personally since late 2007. There was a definite tipping point that year when the site transitioned from college kids to professionals, Levy said.
The three-person startup is a virtual business, and the Internet is their office, Levy said. B2Bucks attracted 176 Twitter followers and 213 Facebook “likes” in about three months, he said. About half of the e-mail addresses the company uses have come through social media, Levy said. We have grown completely organically with no advertising, he said.
To use social media effectively, let customers and prospects know who you are, listen to what they want or need, and feature information that engaging and relevant. By using social media, small businesses can get to know their customers and win their business.
Hilary Markow is a freelance writer in Chicago and owner/creative director of Good Thinking, LLC, Creative and Marketing Services.