Thursday, December 10, 2009

Guest Post: Why Should a Business Owner Care about Social Media?

So, in an effort to make our blog more diverse and reflective of our membership, we're going to start having our members write guest posts.  This post comes to us courtesy of Donna Hosfeld of Hosfeld Insurance.  Donna has done a great job of appropriately using social media to push her business and has proven that social media can help any small business, even fields that you wouldn't normally associate with this area (like insurance). 

Her post is below.  By the way, if anyone else would be interested in writing a guest post on a topic of your choosing, please E-mail me at mikes@lehighvalleychamber.org and let me know!

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WHY SHOULD A BUSINESS OWNER CARE ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA?




When asked to write a “guest article” for the Chamber Blog, I was flattered. Confused and bumfuzzled as to what perspective I should take, but still excited about the opportunity.

Ignoring social media would be ridiculous. Thinking it is something that will go away is just as crazy. Yet, many others still give me an “eye roll” or a chuckle when they hear that I post, tweet and blog. Odd, isn’t it? As a business owner, one needs to be alert and aware of what’s going on outside the box. We operate within the box we’ve created. Yet, we reach out on a daily basis to those outside of it. By recognizing the reach of social media, we simply extend our ability to communicate with the world around us.

I started with Linked In. It was easy to use and understand. It seemed “safe” because there were many other business professionals using it. My online resume and page did the same thing as my business website. It made me “real” and credible. Yet, it also did more. It “linked” me to other people I knew and ultimately other people I hadn’t yet met in the real world. The web of networking was never so clear and visualized.

Facebook looked like a fun thing. I didn’t really see it as anything that made sense for business, but it had all the bells and whistles that would make anyone intrigued! It was a virtual amusement park for adults! There are games and quizzes that could engage one for hours. Heck, I learned I type 92 words per minute, faster than in high school! Who said this aging thing was bad? Then the photo section! Wow! In minutes, I could “visit” high-school classmates, the countries they’ve visited, their pets, their kids…and I could post mine, too! Like Grandma at the grocery store when she pulls out her wallet to show off the grandkids…I could “whip out” my virtual wallet of history to show whenever I wished! Updating is addictive. Realizing how much we love to communicate didn’t surprise me. We’re human. But being able to process what all of my friends are doing throughout a day or week is amazing. With a telephone or email, we might know what a few are doing. But with this? Wow.

Soon I found Facebook had an option for the business! A “business page” linked to my personal page allows me to inform and advise “fans” when something interesting crosses my insurance radar screen. I can send updates about weather situations, seminars, open houses, helpful tips and news! Kind of like having my own personal podium out in the middle of Main Street!

Getting cocky with my newfound skills, I figured it was time to start a blog. Months before, I didn’t even know what a blog was. It sounded nasty…didn’t it involve a gelatinous monster that was going to eat the city? I watched enough late-night television to know that there was danger ahead for Will Robinson.



But I forged ahead and made friends with the program. You can insert photos, videos, do all kinds of creative things. Again, it became one more way to share the information I had with others. The blog is now a part of my regular website (www.hosfeldinsurance.com) and it can be updated anytime! I can do it myself, whenever I have something relevant to say. I no longer have to make my web guy nuts every time I feel a need to add something…I can do it from anywhere! He handles the big website stuff, but this is so within my skill set!

What else could there be? Ah, little grasshoppers…there was still the Mighty Twitter. I had signed up for it, decided it was useless, stupid and difficult. Made no sense. Who could ever get a point across with 140 characters? And who was listening? Strangers? No thanks. I closed the account.

Perplexed that I was missing something, I tried it again. There HAD to be something to this thing! I “followed” some folks who seemed reputable. I let them “follow” me. The whole thing screamed “STALKER” to me…

When my first stranger “followed” me, I freaked. Why would she do this? Who is she? What does she want? Oh, Lord, what have I started? I consulted with a friend who is a “social media guru” and he assured me that this is the way Twitter is SUPPOSED to work…that this was a GOOD thing. Whew! Who knew?

Eventually, I got it. I made friends with folks I’d never met! I then met them at organized gatherings at local bars and restaurants. I realized how cool this thing really was! Suddenly, I “knew” people from various towns, jobs, age groups, just through meeting on Twitter! After meeting in person, tweeting with them became even more fun!

Emoticons have become my friends. I can LOL with the best of them. I tweet with my tweeps on Twitter and I sponsor Tweetups. Oh yeah, it’s that crazy!

These venues exist and prosper because we’re human. We want to communicate. We want to share. Work is busy, life is busy…yet, with a few spare seconds, you can still reach out and know there are others out there with similar experiences. We may not have time to sit at the diner for coffee, or at the pub for a beer, but we can “chat” via the Blackberry anytime, anywhere.

When I started my insurance agency in 1998, I was incredibly lonely. Working alone, there were many days the only person I saw was the postman. Four walls and a telephone. Cold-calling strangers is not as fun as you might think.

Had that been 2009 instead of 1998, I would have had a network of “links” “friends” and “tweeps” upon which to rely. Whether you have a sick cat, a flat tire, or a bad case of the flu…there are folks who are a keystroke away from offering advice and/or a kind word of encouragement. From a personal standpoint, or a business one, this is invaluable. Fewer than 140 characters “Hang in there” “Congratulations” or “Go get ‘em” can mean the world when you need to hear them.

By providing a free-flowing stream of fresh information and data, Twitter rocks. By “following” the right folks, you are up-to-the-minute on local or global news, weather, traffic or any subject that intrigues you. Earthquakes on the other side of the world are tweeted before you see them on CNN! You can know when that new Thai restaurant opens…you can see the fabulous pasta dish that someone ordered within seconds of it arriving at their table!

I’ve been able to be a resource to others as well. Whether it’s answering a basic insurance question or arranging to meet for a personal review of someone’s policy, these models allows conversations to occur. Late at night, I can chat on the Blackberry, having conversations I wouldn’t ordinarily have in my pajamas chugging hot chocolate!

Time sucker you say? Not as much as you might think. Relatives have asked me when I find time to work since they see me on Facebook “so much”. Truth is, I work a lot. But because I can communicate from anywhere on that Blackberry, I use those empty time pockets to post. Whether I’m waiting for the dentist, bored during the commercials, or just being a passenger in a car…I can share things in an instant. Maybe it’s an amazing sunset. An astounding plate of chili-cheese fries. Or an update on a bad traffic situation. Most of what I post is useful, relevant or fun. Hopefully, all three!

Will social media replace regular networking? Never. The virtual interplay is enhanced by “meetups” and “tweetups” and informal gatherings for coffee. We’re human. We still like to see smiling faces, hear chuckles and giggles, and connect with warm, firm handshakes. Social media options simply provide valuable introductions before we enter a room.

We need not worry about our world becoming cold and impersonal. These simple tools allow us to go back to the playground and “make friends” on the most basic terms. The rules didn’t change. It’s easy. Just like Mama taught us, BE NICE, SHARE and HAVE FUN!



@hosfeldinsuranc (On Twitter)

Hosfeld Insurance, LLC (On Facebook)

www.hosfeldinsurance.com

1 comment:

Keith McIlvaine said...

Donna - You do a fantastic job with social media and interacting with your connections or followers or friends, etc.

Interesting thought on blogging - I was at a social networking conference in NYC and a venture capitalist who helped get Indeed.com off the ground (amongst many other successful companies) said that companies should have the blog be the front page of their website. Why? Because people want to better understand a company from a personal perspective.

Interesting at least.

Keep up the great stuff!