Tweeting Out of the Recession

By Beacon Staff

At Montana West Economic Development’s most recent “E2” forum for entrepreneurs, organizers weren’t sure how much the subject of the day – Twitter – would interest Flathead’s business community.

But after 60 people filed in the door on March 22 at Flathead Valley Community College, the answer was clear: Business owners want to know as much about Twitter as possible. It was the largest turnout ever for the E2 series, according to Kim Morisaki, manager of client development and resources for Montana West Economic Development.

“I wasn’t really sure which way it would go,” Morisaki said. “I thought maybe people weren’t ready for it. But clearly they are.”

“It was a huge success,” she added.

When Connie Cermak, who gave the March 22 “Twitter for Business Success” presentation, arrived in the Flathead from Chicago a year ago, she said Twitter was almost nonexistent within the business community here. In Chicago, she said Twitter was a standard mode of communication for her and most people she knew.

“I wasn’t even texting in Chicago,” she said.

But in the Flathead, everybody was texting and nobody was tweeting. It was clear to Cermak that most business owners were missing out on a vital – and free – networking and marketing tool.

Cermak teamed up with Mike Callaghan, president of Bigfork Web Development Inc., with the goal of increasing awareness about the importance of social media in business. Cermak is Bigfork Web Development’s marketing director and social media strategist.

Last year, she said she knew of roughly a dozen businesses actively using Twitter. Now she’s aware of more than 100. Restaurants, she said, were the “first to pick up on it here.” And more are joining everyday. Cermak was flooded with calls after the March 22 forum from business owners with questions about Twitter.

Kim Collier, owner of JAMU Spa Rituals in Whitefish, said she had already used Twitter before attending the E2 forum, but Cermak’s presentation taught her more about hashtags, Tweet Deck and other “pearls of wisdom.”

“Twitter and social media is as exciting as learning a new language or a new culture for me,” Collier said. “I went to learn and understand more about this dynamic, ever-changing form of communication.”

Collier has found other forms of social media such as LinkedIn to be beneficial for her business. Twitter, she said, is effective in spreading word about sales, promotions and leading people to her website.

“It’s quicker than email; it’s quicker than anything else,” Collier said. “And it can save money.”

Collier likes how Twitter encourages “positive networking,” in which “you support people in your industry, you cross reference and you give a good shout out to each other.” It also encourages “transparency,” she said.

This type of positive networking is a fundamental component of Twitter and social media marketing, Cermak said. Business owners within an industry can learn from each other and interact with each other, rather than engage in “cutthroat” marketing.

“Cutthroat is an old-school mentality,” she said.

By encouraging direct and frequent communication between both business owners and their consumers, Cermak said Twitter helps build a “community” that extends well beyond the local. Morisaki calls it “international marketing” and Cermark said it “tears down the walls of geography.”

Direct interaction with consumers is invaluable, Cermak said.

“(Social media) can be extremely successful if you understand the power of the people,” she said.

Callaghan said Google and Bing have announced that social media will now play a greater role in their page ranking criteria. Not to mention, social media is free.

“It’s the least expensive advertising that’s ever been available to a business,” Callaghan said.

The E2 forum was successful enough that within days a follow-up workshop had been planned. The Boiler Room in Kalispell will host a “Twitter 101” workshop on April 12, Cermak said. Attendance will be limited, so Cermak recommends contacting her at social@bigforkweb.com to reserve a spot.

The next E2 entrepreneurial forum will be at noon on April 26 at FVCC. For more information, contact Morisaki at (406) 257-7711 or kim@dobusinessinmontana.com.

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