MARSHALL - The 35 participants in the "Using Social Media in Business" seminar on Monday morning were first invited to introduce themselves to each other and discuss why there were there and what they hoped to do with the knowledge.
After the exchanges, University of Minnesota Extension Educator Neil Lindscheid pointed out the first lesson of the seminar: it's hard to concentrate when everybody is talking.
If social media is like a huge conversation, then it's hard to get people's attention for your business if you don't know what you're doing.
Photo by Steve Browne
University of Minnesota Extension Educator Neil Lindscheid held a short course on “Using Social Media in Business” on Monday morning at the MERIT Center.
The seminar was a joint project of the University of Minnesota Extension, Minnesota West Community and Technical College, the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Southwest Initiative Foundation.
"The purpose of the course is to first have people share their experiences with social media," Lindscheid said. "Second, to talk about the fundamentals of using social media and best practices."
Participants ranged from savvy, long-time users of social media, to Web neophytes.
Mike Boedigheimer was looking into social media to help out his post-retirement job.
"I'm selling real estate now," Boedigheimer said, "and I'm trying to figure out how to use this in real estate."
According to Lindscheid, the course agenda revolved around three questions and a list of tools:
What is social media, how do you use it, and who are your customers?
The tools are Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and YouTube.
Facebook allows individuals to have a profile, and businesses to have a page, Lindscheid said. Blogs are the long form of getting your message across. YouTube allows anyone to create and publish videos, and Twitter is something unique, it's own thing.
"It's like reading headlines," said Lois Schmidt, non-profit resources manager at Bremer Bank. "It's used for a quick scan, and you can follow up through the hyperlinks. It's how I find out about things."
In the new social media-driven world of business, consumers expect companies to be approachable, human, and engaging, according to Lindscheid.
Dennis Jensen is marketing manager at the Marshall Runnings store.
According to Jensen, social media is a great way to let people know what's going on in the store, updated instantly. But there is a downside.
"If a customer has a bad experience in the store, it can spread in seconds," Jensen said.
The example brought up the thorny question of censorship of comments on social media, and how to deal with a customer with a legitimate complaint versus a chronic complainer.
'We've been on Facebook one year, and have removed one comment," Jensen said, "and she was swearing like a trucker."
Lindscheid said he had no firm line on the question of censorship.
But on one of the most controversial questions, about potential employers looking at applicants' Facebook pages, or demanding passwords to applicants' closed sites, Lindscheid was more definite.
"I would withdraw my application," Lindscheid stated.
However, another participant pointed out that first impressions can be made without having to look at personal social media sites.
"I don't even look at people's applications whose email address is "cupcake," said Karen Yant, director of the Marshall Area Fine Arts Council.