November 6, 2011

Scottsdale merchants urged to reap benefits of social media

Mitch Woulfe is annoyed by what he sees when he searches on Facebook for "Old Town Scottsdale."

Instead of finding a page dedicated to the area's history, the Scottsdale Historical Museum, and a mix of shops and attractions, visitors see a page filled with web links to entertainment district bars like American Junkie, Shotgun Betty's and Pussycat Lounge.

Woulfe is president of the Old Town Merchants Association and owner of Del Sol of Scottsdale. He recognizes that social media hasn't been a priority in Old Town, and as a result Facebook users have no idea what the district is all about.

"It's hard to differentiate the areas of downtown Scottsdale and people get that really confused, especially the younger generation," he said. "They think of Old Town and they think of it as that's the place to go party, and that's not what Old Town is intended for."

The association has set up a new Facebook page that's geared toward giving more accurate information about the district.

"We call it 'Old Town Scottsdale - Historic'," Woulfe said. "It's in the infancy stage."

Dan Semenchuk, director of the Scottsdale Downtown Map and Directory, has been urging merchants across the downtown area to jump on the social media bandwagon. There's a whole world of people out there who could be patronizing their businesses if they could learn about them online, he said.

Semenchuk recently moderated a presentation for downtown business owners on the basics of social media.

"Social media is only one component of marketing and advertising, but it's a great way to get publicity without spending money," he said. "It's going to take time, but it's not going to cost you any money to get the exposure. The challenge is to get people thinking, shifting the mindset to 'yeah, I'm going to spend more time online, but I'm going to be so much further ahead'."

Social media refers to web-based networks that allow for the creation and exchange of user-generated content. In addition to Facebook, other widely used social media networks include Twitter, LinkedIn and Google.

"There's 800 million users," Semenchuk said. "It means that we're all connected with one another, and that's the key that downtown merchants need to embrace. They need to have an online presence and they need to commit to that online presence."

Top of mind

Jay Feitlinger is president of Stringcan Interactive, a Scottsdale-based online marketing and social media consulting firm. He said successful social media is less about posting coupons and promotions, and more about telling people why they should patronize your business.

"If you have a unique product or service, people are going to want to come if they're made aware if it," he said. "So, it's understanding what makes you unique and communicating that in a very effective way to the right kind of people. You'd be amazed how well it could work for you."

The trick is "being genuine, being human," Feitlinger said.

"It should not be a sales channel," he said. "It should be an engagement, relationship channel. Use it to learn about what your customers want and if you get negative feedback, try to understand why they're unhappy and leverage that to help improve your business."

Citizen Public House opened 10 months ago at Craftsman Court and Fifth Avenue. Andrew Fritz, operator-partner, said the restaurant has exceeded all expectations and much of that can be attributed to successful social media.

The key is taking the conversation beyond strictly business, he said.

"For instance, recently one of our employees had a birthday and we wrote on (Facebook) that he was celebrating and going out on the town, and we got over 20 comments within a couple of hours about that birthday, just wanting to wish him a happy birthday," Fritz said. "We almost got a bigger response from that than when we talk about the nightly features that we have coming out of the kitchen."

Updating your social media presence can be done quickly and is as easy as spending a few minutes on your smartphone, he said.

"I can take the 2,000 e-mail addresses that I have plus my 1,500 Facebook fans, plus my 1,000 Twitter followers and now I've got over 4,000 people that I'm reaching right away," Fritz said.


Original Red Dirt Shirt, which has been in Old Town for four years, recently opened a second downtown location on Fifth Avenue. The business sells dirt-dyed T-shirts and has a factory in Mesa.

The company does a significant amount of sales through its website but isn't very active in social media, said Roger Williams, general manager.

"We are on Facebook, but we're not using it too much," he said. "We probably could be doing more, but we're running just as fast as we can just doing our retail stores and manufacturing our products. It requires somebody to spend full time at it and who has knowledge of it, and right now in the company we just don't have that."

Businesses tend to think establishing and maintaining a social media presence takes a lot of time and effort, but it doesn't, Feitlinger said.

"It's easier than people think," he said. "It's just talking with people. I think people overly think it through, like, 'How does this work, it's really kind of scary and what's my privacy?' They worry about all this stuff and all this noise that they have honestly little control over sometimes. My advice strongly is just get into it, start playing with it, nothing's going to break."

5 easy steps

In a presentation to downtown Scottsdale businesses, digital strategist Jay Feitlinger offered five steps for businesses using social media:

1. Use social media first as a customer. Without that experience, it will be hard to leverage it for your business.

2. Set up Google Alerts, Google Reader and Twitter accounts.

3. Join LinkedIn Groups and Facebook fan pages of companies you are passionate about. Start commenting and posting questions.

4. Create your own plan. What is your goal for social media? Who is going to be responsible for it? Which social media network makes the most sense for your business?

5. Measure results. Use tools like Facebook Insights and Google Analytics to determine results against your goals.

by Edward Gately The Arizona Republic Nov. 2, 2011 08:57 AM

Scottsdale merchants urged to reap benefits of social media

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