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Can we stop just for a minute?

This post originally appeared on Techburgh earlier this year. Thank you Andy for your encouragement and advice.  I highly recommend Andy’s blog. You will learn something amazing with every post! That is a promise from me. Here is my very first blog post from March of this year:

Can we stop for just a minute?

Everyone take a breath. How much technology, information, statistics & convenience do we need? Will we be living in the world depicted in movies such as Wall-E, Idiocracy and Surrogates? Do we need more so we can do less?

I have to admit that I was hesitant to guest write for a blog called Techburgh. I poked around there and found things that I never heard of and will never use. I see references to technological wizardry that I will never understand. Then, I had an ‘Aha’ moment. If Andy walked into my world and looked around at over 400 bottles of American craft beer, listened in on my meetings where we discuss pairing chocolate beers with raspberries and cashews, or infusing an American craft beer with bourbon soaked oak, he might be a bit overwhelmed with it all too. He might be interested to learn a little more, but he’d be satisfied by just tasting the final product, rather than worrying about the sources and the methods used to bring that amazing beer to his taste buds.

I took those concepts above and shook them around in my snow globe of a brain, which led to a bit of personal growth on my part, or at least personal acceptance and understanding of just how technology has improved my quality of life. I am old enough to have owned an Insta-matic camera with a big square disposable flash bulb. I had a Walkman that was just a transistor radio and a cassette player. As a teen I fought to use the one telephone in my household which was on a 25ft cord enabling private conversations in closets and on porch roofs. I am also old enough to remember that my dad’s cars were all rear wheel drive, and that he would ‘can’ cucumbers, peaches and tomatoes to last throughout the winter. Today, I will gladly admit: I love my digital SLR, my satellite music on my XM Roady, my smart phone, front wheel drive and traction control, and the convenience of a fresh vegetable being a just few miles away year round.

So yes, change is good, new technology save lives, entertains us and helps us do the tasks we must do just a bit better. Now, enter the idea of social media, (which is what this blog is supposed to be about) location based services, cell phones that are smarter than their users, and placing your most important and previously, private thoughts all over the world through something called twitter or facebook. Again, I was hesitant. Wow, everyone can hear me think! This is a change that might not be so good for some. I will sit on the sideline here and see what this is all about. I don’t really want to be texting instructions to the staff, or accepting their texts for call offs. I surely don’t want to know whether they are playing Mafia Wars rather than working. I don’t want to be a spy or voyeur in this world, nor do I want to be spied upon. Can I get past this? Is forty-five the line for me, to say “Go ahead technologically advanced world, pass me by.” Is this a mid-life crisis? Will I have to hire a social media coordinator? What is a social media coordinator? Do I need an IT person? Wait, what does IT stand for again?

As I wrestled with just how much was enough, along comes another player to this game, foursquare. Here, this is really creepy stuff… Oh, good, this is exactly what I don’t like about this all, right in a nutshell. Why does anyone need to know this stuff? What is the benefit? Why do I care if someone is picking up their dry cleaning or buying shoes? Why would I want to tell anyone what I am doing and when? I hope most everyone is too busy for this one. It’s gonna #fail. Ha, ha, slang and a hash tag is creeping into my everyday lexicon. What is going on? I think I am actually getting caught up in this. (I hope I don’t use an emoticon before this is done.)

As a business owner, I realized I never accept status quo and I have to push the envelope daily, these social media leaders do the same. By the time I am done writing this there will be a new gadget or widget, a new platform, and we will all adjust. I had to hop in. I don’t want to be on the outside looking in. My personal makeup won’t let me. So here I am with a fan page, a few twitter accounts and now a foursquare ‘special offer.’ Most all it is for the business, but some of it is personal, too. I just put the foursquare application on my phone last week to understand it better, and I have to admit, it is fun. I am already the mayor of something! It’s not too creepy. If someone is going to creep on you, they can do it with or without social media. And hell, let them creep away, if they have nothing better to do. If you’re talking, you ought to want someone to notice, right? If you are bothering to type your innermost thoughts, check in, post a picture of your dinner, voice frustrations or give advice, someone better be on the other end of the ‘conversation.’

So hop right in, if you want, understand it or don’t. I am glad it is there and I don’t need to understand API, GPS, or 3G to get by. I just need to understand that there are many new ways of communicating out there, and that I, personally, love to communicate and that my business needs these channels to grow. Thank you ‘technogadgetry’ for giving me new avenues to share my thoughts, my living history, and a few swear words and emoticons. Oh, and the benefits from a business stand point are endless. Here is a living billboard! 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 hang out your sign in this virtual world, or the train will not stop at your station.

So the next time someone stops for just a minute, hopefully they will be checking in on foursquare, shouting something to someone, and adding something new to this world, and if you do your part right, it may just be about you or your business!


My Little Train Station

This post originally appeared on Techburgh! Thanks Andy for allowing me to re-post it here.

In my first blog post in early March, which Andy Quayle from Techburgh 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-mouth’ advertising. 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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