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Building a following A social media presence can help build a brand, but it doesn't work by itself

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James Proodian was initially turned off by ‘playful’ social media sites, but eventually got into blogging, Facebook and Twitter. He says he’s glad he did so.
James Proodian was initially turned off by ‘playful’ social media sites, but eventually got into blogging, Facebook and Twitter. He says he’s glad he did so. - ()

Before Dr. James Proodian jumped into the world of social media, he spent many months pondering the idea and doing research.

“There’s not much impact if you really weren’t going to commit to it and stay consistent with Facebook and Twitter, as well as a really good blog site,” Proodian said.

The founder of Proodian Healthcare is familiar with marketing and media. He runs a natural health care center in Long Branch, an online vitamin store, and also gives health education seminars and hosts an online radio show. He wanted to extend his brand to social media, but without sacrificing his professional reputation.

“We take health care very seriously,” he said. “I saw social media, and to tell you the truth, I really didn’t like most of what I was seeing. I found it to be too playful. I found it to be people running their business social media like they were running their personal social media.”

But after doing his homework and hiring a consultant, Proodian last fall decided to take the plunge. And while the effort is still in its early stages, Proodian said he’s glad he did.

Deborah L. Smith, the consultant hired by Proodian to run his social media effort, said businesses come to her small-business-focused consultancy for a variety of reasons.

“I get some people that are incredibly eager, and actually, their expectations have to be managed,” she said. “Others are feeling pressure from the industry they’re in, but they’re not so sure why they should be doing it.”

Both are important pieces of information, Smith said. While social media is free, it has limitations.

“I can’t point to one business that only uses social media for their marketing channel,” she said. “It would be pretty foolish to put all your eggs in that basket, since you don’t own the platform.”

Kevin Napoli, general manager at the New Jersey Beer Co., in North Bergen, said there was a simple reason his company has used social media since its inception three years ago.

“First of all, it’s cost effective when you’re just starting out,” he said. “It’s easy enough to start a Facebook page and get your friends to start liking it and, hopefully, getting people on there.”

The company also uses print advertising, but Napoli said social media is uniquely beneficial because it’s instant — meaning they can beam messages about events or other news instantly to customers’ smartphones, and because it enables a kind of community building with its customer base.

“If we don’t have an event to promote, we’ll put up pictures of what we’re doing that day,” he said. “And I’ll meet people in the grocery store who will say, ‘Hey, I saw you on Facebook,’ or, ‘I saw you at an event.’”

New Jersey Beer Co. uses Facebook and Twitter, as well as the restaurant rating service Yelp (which also organizes meetups with customers), and the beer-rating and check-in network Untapped. Last month, the company launched an Instagram photo-sharing page.

Napoli said they make sure to announce their social media presence prominently.

“We tell people when we go to events to check us out on Facebook, on Twitter,” he said. “We put all the social media logos on flyers and things we hand out. I don’t know the percentage, but a lot of people have smartphones, and with a smartphone you have the ability to get information out quickly.”

Smith said that’s one of the best practices she teaches clients. She also advises them to know the differences between the networks. While Facebook and Twitter might be great for a company like Napoli’s, business-to-business companies often find LinkedIn a more effective tool, she said.

Another lesson: Don’t set up a social media account only to ignore it.

“If you haven’t posted in a few months, it really is a very bad reflection on your business,” she said.

She recommends at least one Facebook post a day and five tweets per day.

And while posting regularly is a good thing, annoying customers with a constant stream of advertisements isn’t.

“We go by the 80/20 rule,” she said. “Eighty percent is all about community — sharing great informative, valuable information.” The rest can be marketing pitches, so long as they’re done tastefully.

Proodian’s Facebook page, for instance, links to new study results and healthy recipes, among other tips.

Proodian said his profession hasn’t been the fastest at adopting social media — except perhaps for orthodontists, who must appeal to a teenage crowd. But he said times are changing.

“I think as (social media) continues to evolve, like with any other technology, if a small business is not prepared to evolve with technology, it’s almost like using a rotary phone today,” he said.

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