"We humans are social animals,” says Matt Dawson of Image Cog, a Trenton website development company. “Anywhere people gather is an opportunity for marketing a business. When they asked John Dillinger why he robbed banks, he answered ‘That’s where the money is.’ So when businesses ask, should we get involved with social media, the answer has got to be ‘Yes.’ The question then becomes, ‘What is the strategy?’”

Dawson, who emceed the social media panel at last week’s Princeton Regional Chamber Trade Fair, points out that most advertising messages “come at you” whether you want them or not. You see them on TV, you hear them on radio, your eyes pass over the ads in magazines — even E-mails arrive without your choosing to get them. But when people find you on the Internet, and connect with you, they do it by choice. It’s the same way with social media. “That’s a big benefit, and it can’t be overlooked,” he says. “Social media is really about relationships.”

Don’t look at social media too literally, he warns. “Our minds are always focused on where the dollars will come from. But social media is about creating relationships, and there is value in relationships, and value in becoming involved in these conversations.”

Social media is becoming a recognized job category. “It wasn’t so long ago that businesses realized they either needed to hire a person to build a website or to outsource that job to the company,” he says. “Now there are positions emerging, in marketing communication, that focus on social media. Just like event planners. “

Like the web, social media creates a more-than-level playing field for the small business. He tells of a karate studio that shot a really interesting video, stuck it up on YouTube, and it spread like wildfire.

The current push, for many media agencies, is to create such wildly successful clips. “What can we do that is going to get shared? That is exactly the arena that I want Image Cog to jump into,” says Dawson. “It is frankly a position I covet.”

“Twitter is the buzz now, and maybe the biggest anomaly. People have figured out why they should or should not be involved in LinkedIn and Facebook. On the surface, Twitter is messages flying back and forth of possibly little interest. But Dan Porcher, who is working with Image Cog on this, calls Twitter ‘a giant cocktail party that follows you around.’ You will not be interested in every conversation, but you might find a conversation that is of interest.”

Dawson cites Nomad Pizza twittering its followers to attract them to come to events where Nomad is selling product. He predicts that coffee shops will take orders by Twitter, just like they used to take orders by fax. But he makes no claim that Twitter will be the killer app for social media and, indeed, points to the MySpace trend, which had been all the buzz but has now been relegated to the younger generation and is being supplanted by Facebook.

“For the foreseeable future, Twitter is entrenched,” Dawson says. “But what will be the next thing? I don’t know.”

Image Cog LLC, 4 West Lafayette Street, Trenton 08608; 609-393-6222; fax, 609-393-6224. Matthew B. Dawson, president. Home page: www.imagecog.com.

Just Jump In, Says Fielding of Jumpstart

Publish a book on social media and it will be outdated by the time it hits the shelf, warns Veronica “Niki” Fielding, founder of Digital Brand Expressions, an interactive media agency on Route 27 in Kingston. That’s why the books she sells, Jumpstart Social Media, are sent electronically rather than published on paper, and they include free updates for a year. The personal book, for jobseekers and career enhancement, costs $9.95, and the business book, which has to be a lot more involved, costs $19.95.

Fielding provides an example: “My team chided me, when I was giving a presentation, because I said that a company couldn’t set up a profile in LinkedIn, that you had to wait until LinkedIn set up one for you — then amend it.” Wrong. The policy had changed.

Example 2: A company that wants to get a “vanity URL” for its Facebook page used to have to wait until it had 1,000 fans. Now, says Fielding, “only 25 fans are needed, so you can print your actual Facebook address on your advertising materials. Before you could say only ‘Find us on Facebook.’”

Fielding has an impressive pedigree for this work. A 1981 graduate of Rider, an English major, she worked at Blessing White and Dana Advertising, then focused on interactive media for Dow Jones for nine years, then partnered to start United Multimedia in 1995. Bought out by Princeton Partners, she stayed at that agency for three years and founded Digital Brand Expressions in 2002.

One big advantage of any of these social media forms — LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter — is that you reach out directly to the “reader,” with no middle man, she says. You don’t have to go through the webmaster. You don’t have to learn HTML coding. And it is two-directional, whereas web pages are one-directional. You can engage customers and potential customers.

But the direct-to-reader factor can be a disadvantage for a company that wants to control its image. “Offer guidelines to help employees present a unified message on LinkedIn,” she says. Create a boilerplate description of your company to reinforce the message. Be sure employees update their LinkedIn profiles to reflect the latest service or product offerings.

With LinkedIn, you can set up groups. You can look for new talent, directly or indirectly.

LinkedIn users can also explore procurement strategies: Search for suppliers on key words. You can specify the location. Or search for clients in a particular industry.

Post events, presentations, and backgrounders, and you track downloads and where they came from.

To establish an “expert presence” post questions in your field, then post the best answer. If you are the one with the best answer, it will show up on your company’s website.

Most of Fielding’s clients (generally middle market companies plus some Fortune 500 firms and some entrepreneurs) are doing something in social media, even if it is only taking the first step, which is to claim their names on the various properties. The next step: Do an audit of the environment, to find out what stakeholders and competitors are doing, and how the client company is being talked about. Phase 3 is to develop a strategy and recommend properties. In the last phase, “Either they manage it or we manage it for them.”

As for her own social media strategy “I’m trying to use Twitter as a platform for talking about what my company is interested in,” says Fielding. She tweets about social media, search engine optimization, and job-seeking resources. “I retweet encouraging statistics and job-finding tips like crazy, because that is my personal brand,” she says.

In this communication environment, speed is valued, and abruptness is encouraged. “We used to say that young people couldn’t communicate very well,” she says. “Now what those early bell ringers were complaining about has come to pass. You don’t need to communicate the old way if you are texting, twittering, and facebooking. A lot of the courtesies fall by the way side.”

Digital Brand Expressions LLC, 4499 Route 27, Kingston 08528; 609-688-8558; fax, 866-580-6676. Veronica “Niki” Fielding, president. www.digitalbrandexpressions.com.

The Twitter Tale,

140 Characters

Plus Hash (#) Marks

Too many choices? Let #Princeton Scoop tell you what’s hot, what’s new, what to do tonight.

#Melissa Hall Klepacki, founder, reinforces Twitters with a Facebook page and a blog.

Am I Twittering from the #Princeton Chamber’s #social media workshop for 80 people @Westin?

Actually: pretending to Twitter:: writing Twitter-length messages, to show how it’s done.

Twitters are 140-character messages sent from phones and computers, received on phones and computers.

Twitters can be mundane or informative :: good Twitterers often let their personalities shine through.

For small businesses Twitter can level the playing field by leveraging #peer recommendations.

Use Twitter to create buzz says #Klepacki :: Use Twitter to establish yourself as an expert.

Twitter is a two-way street#Listen to customers, find out what people say, ask questions.

Hmm. Danger here? I asked re disgruntled customers#heard mumble of agreement.

Some of what you hear may not be good#but now you can appease the unhappy customer.

After beta test, #Princeton Scoop now sells subscriptions, $100 for four Tweets a month#Reading Tweets is free.

Clients pay $100 a month for 5,000 views, maybe more, if Tweets are reTweeted, says #Klepacki.

ReTweeted Tweets can grow virally, says #Klepacki.

I think of #Longfellow “I shot an arrow into the air and where it fell I knew not where.”

Measuring #Twitter ROI isn’t just counting eyeballs, it’s also counting feet #Klepacki claims.

Promising free #Princeton football tickets brought Tweet Readers to the #bent spoon.

Link Twitter and Facebook, says Klepacki, but the messages need to be different.

With 140 characters, including sender name, maybe web link, Tweets are to the point.

#Facebook messages, with 420 characters, can offer warmer, fuzzy-friendly image, says Klepacki.

Enough twittering, back to prose. If you are not familiar with Twitter protocol, punctuation marks replace words. A double colon separates phrases. The @ sign refers to people or organizations. The hash marks (#) denote possible themes. You can search for that subject later, to see what others are saying about that topic. Hashmarks also set off punchlines.

Each of those messages would include my Twitter handle (bffox) and could also have included a link to an article explaining more. Perhaps the link would have been shortened (http://bit.ly/2MY4V). Interspersed with “business” messages are personal comments, to give you the impression that we are buddies.

If you are not familiar with Twitter, you don’t have to actually do it, but you’d better learn about it soon, says Klepacki. That’s where the money will be, she claims.

A former coxswain at Boston University (the rowing team member who determines the strategy and barks out directions to the oarsmen), Klepacki is determined and focused. She aims for her company to grow as big as Craigslist, and she aims to grow it in the same fashion — virally.

A native of Westtown, Pennsylvania, where her father was in the insurance business, she is married to an Olympic rower who has a finance job, and they have two preschool boys. Her first business success was doing guerrilla marketing for Red Bull energy drink, when it was an unknown drink in an unknown category. Then, as a director of marketing, she rode the dotcom wave and got to pitch to big companies like eBay.

After the dotcom bubble burst, she and a partner bootstrapped their own firm, Toccare Design, which sold “entertainment kits,” every kind of paper supply for any kind of party, sold in 250 stores nationwide plus online. Daunted by managing that inventory, the partners then launched a virtual firm, HipKidart.com, which sold made-to-order personalized canvas wall art for children’s rooms.

Klepacki started Princeton Scoop, she says, to meet her own need. “This is a vibrant local community, but I kept missing fabulous events. I didn’t have the energy or time to figure out what to do. I needed someone to tell me, to say, ‘This is cool,’ ‘Go here,’ ‘Hey, there’s a green market today,’ ‘Here’s where to have lunch.’ Surveys show that 78 percent of the population pays attention to peer recommendations. We try to give you a reason to go in the store that you have walked past 100 times.”

She launched last spring and, as of October 1, began charging for services. If clients pay $100 a month, she says, they get four Tweets, and each Tweet is seen by her 1,250 followers or a total of 5,000 views. “If they get a 0.1 percent hit rate, they are getting five new customers,” she says. Plus, many of her Tweets are “reTweeted,” i.e. passed on, by other Tweeters, such as Princeton Regional Chamber, other Tweeters associated with Scoop, such as Katie DeVito and Tweeters who pass items along to their friends. “It could easily be 10,000 she says.

And anyway, the proof is in who shows up. When she Tweeted free Princeton football tickets at the bent spoon, she could have given away a dozen pairs to some who might have been new to the ice cream shop on Palmer Square. She Tweeted discounts at Rouge on Communiversity, a day that is generally terrible for retailers downtown, and, sure enough, a handful of women made Rouge their destination that afternoon.

Scoop successfully enlists volunteers. Klepacki has recruited a dozen Princeton University students to spread the buzz. People love to help, she says. It can bring psychic as well as monetary rewards. One of Scoop’s bloggers and Twitters, DeVito, found herself sitting next to John Thurman at the Chamber workshop. Thurman Twitters for his job at Thomas Edison State College. DeVito experienced the adrenaline rush that comes to a writer who gets to meet and talk to someone who has actually read her work.

Those who have helped Scoop in a major way, like lawyer Jared Witt and Howard Design Group, will have an equity share in the firm’s growth, says Klepacki, pointing out the business is scalable. After Princeton, she has her eye on the next five markets, and she would open them personally. “I am passionate about what I do,” she says. “We are small enough but poised for something big.”

Princeton Scoop, http://twitter.com/princetonscoop.

For Social Media

Content Still Counts

Though she calls herself a “Twitter voyeur,” none of Marion Reinson’s clients are on Facebook, or on Twitter, and just one has a blog. Reinson has clients in such varied fields as commercial mortgages, pharmaceutical software, leadership consulting, gear manufacturing, and education curriculum.

“Most are not in the business of creating content,” she says in a telephone interview. “Those forms require constant content. You can’t just let them lie. The clients would have to designate somebody to create it for them, and often they don’t have the resources.”

At the Princeton Chamber’s social media workshop on September 29 she warned how difficult it can be to create content, even for a newsletter. You shouldn’t start it unless you have content for four issues. And though you can taper off from sending newsletters, once the Facebook or blog page is up, people expect it to be fresh.

She cites the Tabasco sauce brand as an example of an excellent Facebook page, good partly because users help to create the content by adding recipes. “But you must monitor the page and be prepared to get negative comments. If you remove the negatives, people will create an ‘I Hate Tabasco’ page and put it up.”

Reinson learned a “do-it-myself” attitude from her paperboy days in Edison, where her mother was a teacher and her father was in commercial sales. After graduating from Rutgers in 1986 her first marketing job was for J. Seward Johnson’s firm, Alexander Road-based Seapharm, the research arm of the Harbor Branch Foundation.

“We did trade shows, set up booths, had surveys, did focus groups — all hands on experiences that I would never have been able to get anywhere else.” She worked for J&J for a short time and then spent 12 years at Argyle Studio, a boutique ad agency.

Now she does communications consulting, managing client projects and writing words for print and the web. “But listening to the clients is as important as writing. I also talk to their customers and listen to why their customers think they are great.” Surprisingly those two messages are usually different.

Earlier Reinson had focused on search engine optimization and she plans to partner with Google ad word expert Frank Montero to start a business, ThinkSmartSEO, working in the area of SEO as well as the development of search engine friendly content.

For her own marketing plans, she does not depend on search engines, but on client to client referrals.

Reinson does put all her clients on LinkedIn, and they all get Wikipedia entries. And, Reinson does not rule out the other choices if a client has a vertical market or an event. “Unless they have an event, or a focus, the resources that go into maintaining that effort cannot be sustained. There is so much noise and so little attention span.”

To the Point Consulting Inc., Box 288, Princeton 08542; 609-466-2449; fax, 609-613-5209. Marion Reinson, president. www.tothepointconsulting.com.

Klepacki says she regularly “prunes” her company’s Facebook friends to be sure that they are legitimate people or businesses and are sufficiently local to be worthwhile references. She admits she doesn’t often peruse her list of Twitter followers, but says her “follower count” allows for a percentage not from the central New Jersey area.

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