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In my first blog post in early March, which Andy talked me into writing, I talked about hopping on board the social media train.  I said:

“Social media has given us a free method for reaching a targeted audience, a way to embrace your fans, followers, and mayors. No matter what you call them, they are your customers.  You ought to hang out your sign in this virtual world, or the train will not stop at your station.”

Hopefully you have read my post in full and already know that my little train station is Bocktown Beer and Grill. I am in my fourth year of business, and this is my first business venture.  I opened the restaurant in a shrinking economy when many things were heading in the wrong direction.  Lending was tightening; fuel prices, fees and utilities all increased tremendously in a very short period.  Costs skyrocketed when I was trying to show the community that we were a place for affordable quality dining!  How to survive?  Which way to turn?  Would people still eat out?  Could my staff afford to stay through lean periods?  Would I be able to borrow more money if necessary?

Somehow, in spite of all of those concerns, in our first three years, our sales have grown steadily.  I think it was as simple as providing quality and creativity, and delivering on our promises.  Our patrons took it from there.  They were out there doing our ‘social’ networking for me.  Everyone refers to this as ‘word-of-mouthadvertising.  These outside salesmen have been building the train tracks and talking to the passengers on the train, and by doing so, have led other folks straight to us, since day one.

How funny is it that some of the people who are shunning Facebook and/or Twitter are actually primaries in the process of social networking?  After all, it all begins with a conversation.  Someone is saying something, and somewhere, someone is listening whether the conversation is held in person, over the phone or online.  Win, win, and win.  It’s human nature to interact socially.  We just have new modes to do so.

Fortunately, for small business, mass acceptance of these new modes of communication has been wildly successful.  You now have thousands of real customers with new ways to communicate, and hopefully they will communicate about your business.  It’s word of mouth to the extreme.

With that understanding, last month I dedicated myself to finding more fans and followers. Someone recently said to me that on Facebook you keep your customers, not find them.  I see why they feel that way, but logic tells me that they are wrong.  With messaging, special offers, contests and in house marketing we have grown our fan base by over 33% in one month.  We have seen more interaction and replies on both Facebook and Twitter.  Our foursquare check-ins have soared.  We are seeing people come into the restaurant reacting exactly to what we are ‘selling’ in our posts.  There is no doubt at all in my mind that this increase in the number of ‘outside salesmen’ will lead directly to more passengers on the train, and therefore, more customers stopping by.

I did work on a few other things this past month in the social media realm, including tying some accounts together, running a Facebook ad, setting up Foursquare specials and changing our twitter name to a shorter, and much more appropriate @Bocktown!  None of these things are easy to accomplish quickly. There are a lot of logistics involved in creating a successful contest or promotion.  One of the most common complaints I hear from other business owners is that this just takes too much time, and that they can’t afford the luxury.  I say if we didn’t have these tools to communicate and advertise, how long would it take to build a promotion?  How successful would it or your business be?  How long would it take you to grow 1000 cheerleaders the ‘old-fashioned’ way?

This work isn’t going to get any easier anytime soon and you may need some help, I know I do. New widgets and mobile apps seemingly show up daily!  My best advice: Just get involved even if you aren’t sure about all of the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ of it.  This is definitely learn-as-you-go stuff and a fringe benefit is that it is actually fun.

Listen, I think I hear a train slowing down out front.  I’ve got to run.  It’s time to get some food prepped and some beer flowing!

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