“That’s what turned me on to this whole social media thing with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Plaxo and I had to attend seminars myself to learn about it,” Sheck said. “I understand this is something that’s not going to go away.”
But then he realized it could be an element of creating contacts for his business and the doors began to open. Access Pass and Design, a Sparks-based manufacturer of backstage passes for concerts and media credentials for special events, is turning to Facebook and LinkedIn to connect with others with similar business interests.
“It’s a great way to maintain relationships,” Sheck said. “It’s quick and easy and fun and sure softens the blow ... (of) a cold call because you can go into Facebook and meet somebody.”
Social media is the latest buzz concept of the business community with many professionals wondering how to apply it to their work, its pros and cons or even what it’s about.
On Wednesday, Todd Felts, an associate professor in the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno gave a seminar to community business owners and employees about the rules of social media and provided reasons for building an effective Facebook or Twitter account — including the basic human instinct to be social.
“Social media is the world’s largest cocktail party,” Felts said. “What do you do at a cocktail party? You chat. … Social media is as much about the human condition as anything in human history. We need to socialize. We created it out of necessity. We, by nature, were designed that way.”
Staying connected with friends or professionals through the online interactive platforms like Twitter creates opportunities to share ideas and network for mutual benefit and the evolutionary process is swift and amazing, Felts explained.
“Keep your eyes and ears open and understand what’s next,” he said. “Spend 15 minutes a day scanning the news. Then go on Twitter and you’ll find we cannot censor (messages). We make Twitter whatever we want it to be. And whatever’s happened, Twitter has changed the story.”
Felts, however, cautioned audience members that traditional means of advertising should not be traded for the new.
Engaging in the new methods of communication while still using traditional means of marketing and advertising will create more interaction, opportunities and optimization — targeting of specific “psychographics” of customers, Felts said.
“Social media is the new newspaper,” Felts said, but it – and other media – supplements existing platforms for delivery information that remain effective because of established practices.
It’s also a medium that everyone can learn, according to Reno speaker and consultant Dr. Meggin McIntosh.
“When we first started hearing about social media, we heard about MySpace and that really was started for young people by young people, not really for people my age,” McIntosh said. “But then Facebook started the same way and everybody else started realizing this is kind of cool and it’s a great way to connect with other people.”
But it’s also important to make choices about how you’re representing yourself in the site, McIntosh said, especially when it comes to blogging.
“You can put an idea out there on your blog and you’ve got people maybe down the street or 7,000 miles away who can give you input,” she said.
However, the blog in itself may be a tool to get ideas out there and help businesses with their bottom line.
“It gives people a wider market and then also because people are so connected, I can be traveling and maybe I’m going to be speaking in Savannah, Ga. and I need a massage but I don’t know a single person,” McIntosh said. “I bet I could put that on Facebook and someone might say, ‘Are you kidding? My brother-in-law runs a chiropractic office and runs the massage therapy.’ ”
For Sheck, using Facebook hasn’t had a direct impact on his business revenues, but it helps in other ways.
“What it can do is keep the wolves at bay,” Sheck said. “The stronger I can make relationships, the more I can keep them from going to the competitors. ... Part of it is it’s so new to us and new to people who are getting on for the first time every day. The whole thing is about how to get the most out of it and it’s an adventure and a journey and we’re learning as we go.”
The city of Sparks also has caught on to the notion that many networking and publicity opportunities could be mined by Facebook or Twitter.
City spokesman Adam Mayberry, originally a self-described skeptic of the function of social media for city government, logged on last fall and made his own Facebook profile incorporating family pictures and is learning how to connect with others. In the end, he became a believer.
“My job is to keep people informed,” he said. “I provide information on city program initiatives and I was struggling with the social media concept myself on the personal level. So last year, I created my own Facebook site and I was amazed how many people I connected with from my younger days. Then I began to see the value.”
While incorporating professional sites like Facebook and LinkedIn can be a boon to businesses, everyone agrees it has its cons.
“Unless their job is to be on social media, of course they’re on,” McIntosh said. “But if you’re writing articles for a newspaper or teaching or completing a research project for your dissertation and instead you’re tweeting or on Facebook, then you’re just messing around and people can get sucked in. You’ve got to set a time frame. For some people, the most important thing is to post on Facebook and people laugh and they’ve not fixed a hot meal this week, but by God, they’re up-to-date on Facebook.”
Sheck said while using social media “shows the humanity behind the brand” for a company, professionals should embrace these social sites while setting boundaries.
“It opens up a whole new set of rules and regulations,” he said. “I haven’t had any issues (with my employees), but it forced us to lay down some new rules. But I don’t think there’s any getting away from this. It’s not going to go away, like the cell phone or television.”
And while protocol may be necessary in the workplace, Mayberry said the frontier set before businesses and entities with social media, uncertain as it is, still has possibilities for the future.
“We’re just scratching the surface,” he said. “There are a lot of unique and innovative things you can do to use these tools. Our government may be a little limited, but the sky’s the limit. ... And the best thing is, it’s free.”