Workshop offers tips for business owners

L’ANSE – How much time and energy to invest in social media can be a difficult decision for business owners and which media platforms to focus on can be an even harder decision. On Thursday, Ron Miaso helped Baraga-area business owners and organization leaders gain a somewhat clearer picture of the social media landscape at a Baraga County Chamber of Commerce workshop held at Baraga County Memorial Hospital.

Miaso, co-owner of Delta Business Solutions, discussed the ins and outs of Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, LinkedIn, blogging and QR codes, all of which he said can play a valuable role – but not a stand-alone role – in building a business.

“These are not a replacement for current marketing strategies, they should supplement and strengthen what you already have,” he said. “You’re not going to reach everyone, but you’re probably going to reach a different market than you reach today.”

It’s also important to realize that the type of organization you run is key to choosing where you should invest your time and money, he said. For restaurants and local retail businesses, “Facebook and Yelp are very good for you,” Miaso said. But for businesses like his own consulting company, professional networking site LinkedIn and blogging have been more useful.

Optimally, he said, businesses can use several interconnected platforms.

“All of this stuff, if you use it to tie in together, that’s the value,” Miaso said.

Jerry Hill of Chassell invented a new type of tie-down strap for safely hauling loads on trucks and trailers and said he expects to use social media to grow his new business.

“I don’t think we can ignore it,” he added, noting that he’d definitely be using Facebook in his marketing efforts, and that “it sounds good to have Twitter linked in.”

Miaso said Facebook has a broad audience, and is good for engaging people, but didn’t spend much time on the topic. Blogging, he noted, was also widely used, but many people didn’t know how to blog effectively.

“A blog shouldn’t be about selling, it should be about an interest related to your product,” he said. However, it should also link to your businesses website.

Twitter is often dismissed because of its 140-character message limit, but it’s a great platform for sharing links to other sites, Miaso said. LinkedIn isn’t really for marketing, but it can slowly build businesses through professional networking.

Miaso said Yelp, which lets the public rate businesses’ goods and services, is overlooked by many business owners.

“You may think you haven’t signed up for Yelp, but you may already be on Yelp with four negative comments,” he said.

When businesses do sign up, however, they’ll get contact information for commenters, and can try to reach out, rebuild the relationship and get poor ratings reversed. Also, businesses that join can set up gift certificates and specials on Yelp.

Quick response codes, the large square bar codes now found on many products, can be scanned with a camera phone to bring customers to a website, take them to special offers or offer other types of data.

Two keys to remember, Miaso said, are that there’s no sure way to tell exactly what’s going to work for your business until you try, and that even online, results won’t show up overnight.

“It’s an extremely slow process. People believe you set up a website, Facebook and Twitter, and business is going to roll in,” he said. But actually, “You have to build electronic word of mouth. When word of mouth starts to build, thats when you hit the sweet spot.”

Jamie Palmer, executive director of the Baraga County Shelter home, said she hopes to use more social media to “educate the public, offer support for victims and network with other social service providers.”

She said the workshop gave her a lot of good information to think about.

“We’re redesigning our site, so knowing I can tie into a blog and tweet my address is very useful to me,” she said.