The Virtual Meetup

By Hannah Wallace February 28, 2009

Social media—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and even YouTube—can help the savvy entrepreneur establish a dialogue with customers and future customers.  But what’s the best way for a company to harness these powerful communication tools?

“People are talking about your brand online whether you like it or not,” says Anand Pallegar, owner of atLarge, Inc., which has developed digital campaigns that incorporate social marketing for companies such as IMG Academies, the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau and ActionQuest. Companies engaged in online reputation management can gain by learning how they are perceived, responding to feedback and boosting their brands.

“It’s reaching out and seeing what’s in the ether,” explains Emily Sperling, community relations manager of the Sarasota Economic Development Corporation.  Sperling launched an EDC Facebook group in December, and also is using social media to learn “not only what our local businesses need, but also to look at competing communities to see what’s out there.”

Most businesses considering relocation today conduct the bulk of their research about an area’s business climate online, or they hire professional site selectors. In addition to posting videos about the SarasotaCounty on YouTube and a MySpace page, the EDC uses RSS feeds and blog search engine Technorati ( to track companies they are following.

Social marketing platforms and audiences are expanding as exponentially as the innovation of companies employing them. “It’s a microcosm of the digerati of your customer base, those who are savvy about the digital medium,” says Pallegar. “I think you’re going to see a lot more [companies] entering the space. The question is, ‘What’s cost-effective and what produces results?’”

Pallegar offers tips for businesses in the early stages of developing a social marketing strategy.

Listen online. The simplest way to learn what people are saying about you is to set up a Google alert to be triggered any time your brand is mentioned. Establish a Twitter feed with keywords relevant to your industry or brand, says Pallegar. Then ask, “Where is the opportunity?”

Analyze what you have to offer. “If you’re in an industry that’s very competitive, and there’s a lot of dialogue, do you have something to say?  What’s the ROI?” Pallegar says. In real estate, for example, there’s a din of online chatter. But a technology lawyer might find a niche by posting tech law updates. “It’s really about short-form messaging,” says Pallegar. “If you can’t do it in short form, then don’t.”

 Identify platforms.  “Who do we want to communicate with, and how will we communicate? Build a protocol everybody understands,” says Pallegar. While national organizations such as H & R Block and online retailer Zappos are reaching out to customers via Twitter, other companies have posted tutorials on YouTube or created their own YouTube channels. 

Find your in-house experts. Identify experts who can speak to your particular topic. “People aren’t interested in being pitched on the social media channel. They want insights and expertise,” says Pallegar.

Implement a company policy. Create rules of engagement so that your employees are all on the same page. Pallegar recommends taking a look at Microsoft’s Channel 9 Doctrine ( or Intel’s guidelines ( for examples. “Build a mantra about your strategy and how you will implement it,” he says.

Measure results. It may be the number of hits, number of transactions or success in reaching a different demographic. “The key is to have some measure of success,” says Pallegar. “Did we find flaws in our customer service? Did we learn more about customer perception?”

Adapt. “What works on Facebook might not work on Twitter or MySpace,” says Pallegar. Your strategy should unfold based on results.

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