Opinion: Turning tweets into treasure

When Dave Hale started managing the Facebook page of a popular local business a few years ago, even he admitted he wasn’t quite sure what to initially expect.

“I was trying to make a little bit of extra money, and I kind of fell in love with what I was doing,” explained the CEO of Ottawa’s newest social media firm, Soshal Group.

But after growing the local business in question’s Facebook fan count from 400 to more than 4,000, and making money while doing it, he knew there was a ripe business opportunity in the making.

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Enter the Soshal Group. The new company, launched just a few weeks ago, helps other firms – especially small- and medium-sized businesses – manage their social media and other electronic-based offerings, from Facebook to Twitter to Bahu (well, maybe not that last one).

Mr. Hale acknowledged it’s not an original idea, by any means. Other firms offer similar services to Soshal. New York-based Spectrum Interactive Media offers a solution called FanPilot. Spredfast is another service out there. And so on.

But it’s certainly a smart idea.

“The thing with the small businesses is that they’re too busy to keep up with this stuff – too busy running their businesses,” he said. “And consumers and users of social networks are starting to expect a certain level of engagement in order to maintain interest.”

Dipping one foot in the social networking pool without fully engaging customers, said Mr. Hale, is a sure-fire recipe for a superpoke of the worst magnitude – disengagement, apathy and general discontentment with the brand.

But Mr. Hale also explained the perceived downside of outsourcing, especially in an era when social networking is still very much in its infancy. “People are willing to outsource web design, branding, public relations and advertising,” he said, but added there is resistance by some in the business community to the very concept of outsourcing social media.

“There’s a very fine line,” he said. “Some people feel social media is very personal thing.”

Regardless, our whole conversation got me thinking about the power and implications of social networking in business.

I remember the first social media site I ever joined, back in 2002. It was a local underground music site called xvi.com, and in many ways was far ahead of its time.

But it’s fascinating to think of how the power of social media has increased since then – in a very telling statistic, Facebook outdrew Google among U.S. web surfers for the first time ever this past August – and how its business implications will no doubt keep growing.

Take pollsters, for instance. I’d argue social media sites such as Twitter have made them almost irrelevant. After all, if you want to know what people are saying or feeling, you can gauge that through the Twittersphere.

Sure, it’s not a scientific poll. But we all know people give misleading answers on those as well. And as more people get onto the social platform, the more accurate that snapshot will become.

Facebook, as well, has had an immense impact on my own industry – news gathering.

Five years ago, if a journalist had reported information posted on someone’s Facebook profile, the piece would have come off as at best slightly eccentric, and at worst ridiculous.

Now, it’s nearly impossible to read, hear or watch a news story on someone who has passed away – as an example – without the reporter flashing to that person’s Facebook page or the public memorial that’s been set up on the site.

The growing power of Facebook petitions are another good example. Indeed, Facebook has become a “go-to” source for news gatherers so fast I’d say even the site’s creators are likely a little shocked.

But the real sign that social media has taken over the business world? Atlanta-based branding firm Vitrue earlier this year estimated each social media follower of a business equals around $3.60 in revenue.

That, my friend, is a return on investment.

And in the meantime, if you don’t have time to tweet and friend your way to the top, there’s always someone willing to do it for you.


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