Social media phenomenon having impact on business
BY Greg Wiles
Advertiser Staff Writer
As many as 120 people are expected at the Hawai'i Convention Center Friday to learn how to use social media in their businesses.
Six experts will discuss the social media phenomenon and how to harness the power of the one-to-many Internet communications, whether it be for disseminating news, building name recognition, tsunami warnings or what's the daily special at your restaurant.
The event, Next Level Hawaii, is the latest in a string of seminars and classes here about use of such sites as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn. The jump in business interest is a barometer of sorts that follows the meteoric growth being experienced in the media .
Social networking site Facebook now lists 400 million active users and logs more weekly visits than Google. LinkedIn, a professional networking site, claims one new member joins every second and that it now has more than 65 million members.
Twitter, a so-called microblogging site, claimed 105.8 million registered users in mid-April, when it also announced it was adding 300,000 users a day.
"I actually sold a house right off of Twitter," said Kelly Mitchell, a Realtor with a background in technology who is organizing the Next Level Hawaii conference.
"An $850,000 house."
Mitchell is bringing in six experts — five from the Mainland and one from Hawai'i — to discuss the ins and outs of social media and how people can use it to their best advantage.
People attending the Friday conference are paying $199 to hear how to boost brand recognition with social media, enhance their public relations efforts and integrate Web technologies into marketing efforts.
Speakers also talk about developing strategic relationships, integrating social media on websites and use of video to drive Internet traffic. People should walk away with an idea about using social media to strengthen existing relationships and increasing market awareness, Mitchell said.
"They'll understand what is important in social media and how it can generate profits," said Mitchell, who is one of the most prominent Twitter users from Hawai'i with almost 63,000 followers.
"I think social media is intimidating to a lot of people who haven't engaged in it."
Mitchell's short messages on Twitter (the posts on the site are limited to 140 characters) also have caught the eye of researchers who put together a recent white paper on social media and the workplace for Altres Inc., a Honolulu-based provider of human resources administration and employment services.
The report released last week notes Mitchell's 5 a.m. message on the morning of the Feb. 27 tsunami alerted followers that a local Safeway was beginning to run out of bottled water, while cars were lined up for gas at a 7-Eleven.
The Altres report discusses the sometimes significant impact social media is having on local businesses such as Big City Diner's "Twitter Tuesdays," or a case where news of layoffs at a local company seeped out through posts on a social network.
"Social media is now impacting every facet of business," said David Bower, Altres director of business development.
"We realized it was a topic of growing importance so we wanted to be ahead of the curve rather than be reactionary."
But while noting the benefits and uses of social media, the report also notes the risks for businesses. Companies can lose control over disseminating information through errant employee postings and there are concerns about employees putting inappropriate comments about fellow workers or managers online.
Worse, employees may disclose confidential information about clients or make remarks that are damaging to the company's reputation.
"Most of what we see is all hyping the benefits, but there are risks," said Bower. "No one has talked about the risks and liabilities."
The report recommends companies have formal policies and that an existing dictum about not using the Internet on company time for personal use might be a start. Some companies might ban use of social media in the workplace, while others may rely on rules that employees represent the company online in a responsible, professional manner.
Other questions can arise, the Altres report said, such as how firms should treat what employees say in personal blogs. There may be rules spelling out that employees may not post a company logo or slogan and that they do not speak for the business.
There too are questions about employers' rights to monitor use of social media and what disciplinary actions may take place.
At Altres there's been no issues with use of social media, Bower said. But it knows there a lots of companies out there with questions.
"We actually hadn't seen any problems, but we try to be ahead of the curve."