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Twitter & Social Media Make Marketing Easy

Written by Randy Nelson & Alan Pruitt

AZ SBDC LogoSometime last year we started exploring more efficient uses of technology in our Center. The need was apparent for new technology due to the following areas:

  1. We had challenges with our college-based website. For some reason, any changes had to be submitted weeks in advance and there were always other priorities that pushed my request back.
  2. Our clients had affordability challenges with their websites and had no easy solutions.
  3. Our local newspaper, which has always been wonderful to us, was having some financial challenges and a new way to get our information out to the public might become necessary.
  4. Our community presentations were well done for 5 years ago in Powerpoint but not up to today’s standards.
  5. Our Staff, one Director and one Business Analyst/Admin Assistant, had little technology expertise.

I hope these challenges sound familiar, especially to the rural SBDCs. As I go through our story, I hope you can use some or all of the strategies we have developed with your centers and your clients. In developing the strategies we identified certain parameters for our decision making:

  1. It had to be simple enough for us to use.
  2. We had to have enough in the way of benefits to change our current practices.
  3. We would have to be able to use our technology to show our clients options in their strategies.
  4. It had to be free, or close to it.

The first thing we did was to hire a part-time Business Analyst with some basic skills and a love for technology and new toys. The Business Analyst had no experience in website design, e-mail marketing or Social Media but was using some of the Google Apps for business.

From this point, we started looking at the Google Apps for businesses and after a Google Apps workshop, our plans were set in motion. We first developed a Google Gmail account, a storage area for collaborative documents and switched our Center calendars over from Microsoft Outlook to Google Calendar. We found the transition mostly trouble free and really began to appreciate the benefits and flexibility of the new technology. Our website, http://www.azsbdc.net/ transition came next and so far the only cost was our domain name registration fee of around $1.12.

After we developed three more inexpensive websites we began to have some questions, “What good is a website if you are buried on the search engines and had no real way to get people to your website?” We then decided to finally develop our newsletter using Constant Contact, another powerful and free product thanks to ASBDC.

Once our newsletter went out, feel free to join our list on our website, we discovered social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. So far, our resources spent were under $20 and a lot of time, but we began seeing some great results.

Our service area is very technologically challenged and has one of the Nation’s highest unemployment rates, over 22%, Thus, we needed to determine how the technology tools met the needs of our clients? Would our time investment be justified? How would we measure results gained by using different technology?

This was also the time we discovered Twitter, http://twitter.com/awcsbdc/, another free web social media service that was really growing. As we developed our Twitter footprint — we also tried to look at our strategy. Twitter was very easy to do, you basically sign up as a business and your e-mail lists could be imported with ease. The other important factor with Twitter was that we could send out a “tweet” to all of our social media outlets through Twitter and not have to resend everything out through each medium separately. Twitter actually made our efforts much more efficient.

Our strategy was now developing and we laid it out on a paper diagram prior to an electronic format. You can see our social media strategy on our website, .

We looked at what we were offering as far as services to the business community, to our expected outcomes, what we do and how we were going to get there. As we mapped this out we actually found a hole or two in what we were doing. We needed a blog, , and we were still using our traditional community partnerships for promotional activities.

Globe and Computers ClipartWe found quick success especially with our technology. Our requests for online counseling have gone up 10-fold. Our workshops are now promoted through our newsletter and a reminder is sent out via Twitter and account for 60% of the attendees. We have added online registration and electronic surveys freeing up hours of telephone time for my Admin. Assistant.  We have had clients follow our counseling and develop a much stronger web presence at a fraction of the cost of a traditional website developer.

The downside has been reaching the people who are technophobic and are barely using e-mail at this time. Then again we haven’t exactly been targeting those clients through our Social Media efforts.

There have been other benefits as well. Working with Google has allowed us to get additional insight on maximizing Google Maps for clients. We found Shoeboxed.com to help transfer our stacks of business cards into an electronic format. Our blog, website, and social media have become virtual libraries accessible to the world with some of the latest small business and entrepreneurial information available in near real-time to our followers. Tokbox.com has allowed us to use video e-mails at no charge. We have also gained a number of followers and contributors from other SBDC professionals and from around the world. Probably most importantly, we have made a difference with our clients, partners, stakeholders and ourselves by showing them how to get on and leverage the technology bandwagon.

If you are interested in implementing Twitter and Social Media in your Center or with your clients have no fear. In the SBDC, we learn as we go anyhow and have the flexibility to change our strategies at the speed of business.

From our experience the best way to redo your marketing is to keep it simple, change one area at a time and let that change develop. Feels free to follow what we are doing online or follow someone else to learn what to or what not to do. Show off your developing skills to your clients and help them develop their strategies. If all else fails send us an e-mail or sign up for our free and confidential counseling services through our link on our website.

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