Facing up to Facebook
It's a new year, and as every new year seems to be, it's full of new obstacles as well as new opportunities. Social media was one of many challenging topics discussed in the Green Industry Leadership Summit held at the National Green Centre trade show in Kansas City in January. The Summit "leadership" comprised a diverse body representing a varied array of associations and industries.
Social media replacing real, face-to-face networking was just one point this group pondered. I will confide in you that I have an associate, who shall remain nameless, who attended the summit. So far she has resisted the pull to use social media. Even though others are pushing her to, she questions why should she use Facebook or Twitter or any of the other types of social media.
I can't blame her. I have people asking me all the time what I get out of Facebook. This sort of reminds me of being a kid and wanting to do something just because my friends were. The standard parental comment was, "If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?" Should you use social media for your business simply because everyone else says you should?
Even though it is "free," it is still an investment of your time and/or that of your employees. And I don't know about you, but my time is pretty doggone valuable. I believe that if you are going to utilize social media avenues, you must first research, gather facts and determine what the bottom line benefit could be to see if it might be a good fit for you.
The first new social media tool I used was Facebook. Quite honestly, the only reason I signed up for it was to silence Tim Kline of Kline Nursery Sales LLC. Tim and I are close friends who were classmates from kindergarten to graduation. We were approaching our 25th high school reunion and our classmates had created a page for the event. "Everyone" was on it, people were asking about me and he said I "had" to be on Facebook.
I eventually gave in and set up my own personal page under "Maria Zampini." At first I just sat back and observed. I didn't make a post until after I'd had a few tutorials from friends. I was afraid I'd do something wrong and the entire world would laugh at me!
As I connected with people outside of my schoolmates, Facebook grew on me. In fact, for some it can become addicting. It was fun connecting with friends and business acquaintances. And it was really cool when someone I didn't know (but really wanted to know) agreed or asked to be my "friend."
Finally the light bulb went off. Although I started on Facebook for personal reasons, I saw what a powerful device it could be business-wise. In the simplest of terms, Facebook is an electronic conversation. And this was a window of opportunity for me to "talk" with, learn about and reach out to many more people than I ever could have otherwise.
For instance, while I was at MANTS in January, I made a post and a "friend" I'd only met through Facebook, Carmen DeVito, reached out to say she and her partner were also in Baltimore for the show and asked if we could meet. It was great to converse with Carmen and her business partner, Alice Marcus Krieg. I not only learned about their business - Groundworks LLC, which focuses on urban gardens - but also that they have an online radio program called "We Dig Plants" on www.heritageradionetwork.com. In turn, they got to know me. In the few short minutes we spoke, we came to the conclusion we will undoubtedly collaborate in the future!
Facebook has no doubt enabled me to convey to a larger audience my quirky sense of humor and down home personality, to educate readers on my products and services, and to promote myself, my company and my customers - all of which support my value proposition. Could I have done so without Facebook? Probably, but in what medium, and how long would it have taken me to get the same results?
My company recently went through a rebranding process, evolving from Lake County New Plants LLC to a new, fresh name - UpShoot LLC. We felt this name better reflected who we are and what we are doing as a business. The rebranding also meant updating our social media strategy.
I now have two pages on Facebook to deal with; one personal and one for my company. I also have personal and business pages on LinkedIn. I have a personal page on BranchOut. Do I get paid more for learning all these social media avenues and having to post to them on a regular basis? I wish! I also have a new Twitter account: @UpShootHort. Truth be told, this scares the bejeebbers out of me! But this is the way of Gen Y and the new "Millennium" generation, so in my case - for what I'm trying to achieve - I feel I must adapt or become extinct.
Is the reward for my time on Facebook quantifiable? In concrete numbers, no, not yet. But it is part of a business strategy that I see opening new doors every day. It will be up to me to capitalize on those chances, and I'm confident they will pay off in the end.
Is social media right for you? I don't know. But I wouldn't jump on the boat "just because." What I would say is this: Social media is a part of our newest customers' lifestyles practically from birth. I encourage you to at least put your toe in and test the waters. Join Facebook or LinkedIn, follow a blog or Twitter account. Maybe you never make a post but instead, use it as a window into the world of our current and future customers.
To Facebook or not to Facebook; that is the question. Only you can determine the answer.
Maria Zampini is the president of UpShoot LLC. Her company's focus is "living, sharing and supporting horticulture" through new plant introduction representation including LCN Selections. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and her website is www.upshoothort.com.