socialSocial media is something we're all told we need to market our goods and services, but few small businesses really get around to tapping its potential. It's understandable why so few businesses take the leap. Understanding the nuances of Facebook, Twitter, Linked­In, Yelp and other platforms entails a steep learning curve, and besides, there are only so many waking hours in the day to get it done.

So what's a small-business person to do?

Richard Adair, founder of Velos Marketing (www.velosmarketing.com), a Hono­lulu-based social media consultancy, helped me to cut through the clutter and offered some solid tips on where to begin.

Richard starts with a definition of social media: Think of it, he says, as the word of mouth of our Digital Age — as a bridge between your customers and your company. An effective social media campaign can strengthen the relationships of existing customers and leverage those relationships to increase branding, leads and sales.

Thus your mission, explains Richard, is to spread this digital word of mouth as much as you can.

The daily homework assignment of an entrepreneur is to take 20 to 30 minutes reviewing what your customers are saying about you online. Follow up by responding to them in whatever manner is appropriate. Customers with a complaint need to be assuaged with a discount or a free item, whereas others may just need an encouraging word or a tip.

The main idea, says Adair, is to add to the mix and stimulate the conversation. That might entail taking photos of your top-selling products (or customers), promoting discussions or just asking questions, such as, "What do you think of our new window display?"

The upshot is that time spent engaging with your audience will result in an uptick in interaction, appreciation, foot traffic and, ultimately, sales.

So where do you begin investing your time?

For most types of businesses, he recommends Facebook. It's straightforward and powerful, and there are more users on it than any other service. In addition to sheer numbers of eyeballs, Facebook users spend more time on this platform than any other.

Why? That's where their friends hang out and interact.

Once you're set up, the most important rule to follow is don't spam.

Repeating the same posts, says Adair, is just asking to be "un-followed."

Rule No. 2 is to say something interesting or post a cool photo — even if it has nothing to do with what you're selling. If you want some ideas on how to do that, Adair suggests following a local company called happyhourhawaii.com, which he believes has really mastered Facebook. He estimates that 70 percent of happyhourhawaii.com Facebook posts are not related to the company at all, but rather are great "conversation starters," which include shots of delicious food, scenic Hawaii photos, pretty girls, recipes, etc.

If you need some help learning the ropes, you always can hire a consultant.

The price can range from $20 an hour to six figures. Adair's company charges fees as low as $25 per hour.

The main thing is to jump in, invest some time in learning and have fun with it. Getting your customers engaged in an app like Facebook can pay off handsomely. Keep in mind that a social media user can simply ignore an ad. But when a friend recommends a product or service based on good experiences, the result can make the cash register ring.

Mike Meyer, former Internet general manager at Oceanic Time Warner Cable, now manages IT for Honolulu Community College. Reach him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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