Listen up, business Tweeple: social networking is 'in'

POULSBO — Facebook is good for finding lost loves, and Twitter demonstrates to the world the rich tapestry that is your life.

But the focus of a Tuesday workshop, hosted by the Greater Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce, was how to use the free social networking services for marketing businesses. The workshop drew a couple dozen, the majority of whom graduated from high school before the IBM Selectrics were replaced with PCs.

Neal Kellner of CM Travel 4 Fun in Hansville, left the hour-long workshop eager to try his hand at the technology which he had shied away from before, mostly because of concerns about security. At 61, Kellner learned to type on a manual typewriter.

"The world is changing," he said. He's convinced Twitter is the way to go - a mini-blog site where users answer the question, "What are you doing?" in 140 characters or less.

Twitter has been heralded as the successor of Facebook, which is still bulging with members. But in the social media world users can be fickle, as shown when was abandoned by the in-crowd, and sites like Friendster are barely mentioned anymore.

Why would somebody who hasn't joined the social media craze start now, when chances are in a few years a new bandwagon will roll along that everybody simply must climb aboard?

"Because there is so much information right now, you're going to miss the right now if you haven't done it," said workshop leader Jeff Dennison, public affairs manager for Embarq. He said the point of his presentation wasn't so much to instruct people how to start such sites - directions are available online and the sites are fairly self-explanatory - but why they are important to businesses.

Business owners may not be interested in social media, but that doesn't mean social media isn't interested in businesses.

"Your customers are talking about you and you don't even know it," Dennison said.

In one recent instance, a rental company sued a Chicago tenant for "tweeting" that the company didn't care its units were growing mold, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The fight between the tenant and landlord is an illustration of what Dennison's caution to think before hitting "enter."

"It behooves you to be polite," he said.

The Internet is used by consumers for researching clothes, appliances, food, vacation destinations, hobbies — the list is virtually endless — and customers are talking to each other, lending advice and giving tips. For business owners, this is a chance to market themselves, for free. More so, knowing how to tap into the stream of information can make business decisions more informed.

"There is a lot of stuff going on in Poulsbo, and you just don't know it's going on," Dennison said, showing a column of Poulsbo tweets, one from a city councilman.

Kellner said he came to the workshop to be "reassured and convinced," and it worked. But as one participant noted, it's free if time isn't money.

"It does take time and effort," Kellner said.

As one of the youngest in the room, Stacey Ames, 38, a marketing specialist for Paladin Data Systems in Poulsbo, said she could see the utility for a business, but didn't think she would soon run to join Facebook or start a Twitter account.

"Probably not," she said.

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