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Entrepreneurs: Internet is becoming key business medium

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Co-founders, from left, Elliot Bohm and Marc Ackerman of CardCash.
Co-founders, from left, Elliot Bohm and Marc Ackerman of CardCash.

When Elliot Bohm and Marc Ackerman founded CardCash, a company that buys and sells gift cards at a discount, they were a little strapped for cash themselves.

With no money for advertising, the duo took to social media to bring their business to the people.

That was in 2008 — and Bohm and Ackerman soon found that the burgeoning social media landscape was a tremendous, cost-effective resource for targeting, engaging and educating potential customers.

“People are all familiar with coupons and other methods of saving, so gift cards was like a new concept,” Bohm said. “So it took some education. Just putting up a billboard won't really do that.”

The founders of the Wall-based business are not alone in taking this approach.

Steve Jones, CEO and founder of Websignia, has been in the business world since 1990 and watched it changed with the emergence of online platforms. He started the Newark-based marketing and media company in 2003, as the Internet was integrating itself with our culture in a big way.

By 2009, social media had taken that transformation a step further — and he had to reassess how he approached customer outreach.

“It changed everything. Not just how we advertise our business, but how we think about communication,” said Jones, who joined Bohm at a recent event on the topic at Stevens Institute of Technology. “Social media has become one of the biggest tools in anyone's toolbox because Facebook is bigger than any one country in terms of population.

“Where else can you go to reach all those people?” he said.

Speaking with Jones, you might think there had been a revolution that had overturned radio and television.

Not quite, but it's certainly more than a fad. According to Bohm, when it comes to social media, companies better hop on or risk getting left behind.

“With the older demographic, it's taken some time for them to get used to online shopping and trust online (platforms), but that's definitely changing over time. And younger generations are definitely very much out there online,” Bohm said. “Five years from now, there's just going to be that much more of a younger generation.”

And if you consider the city of Newark to be a business, U.S. Senator Cory Booker had a similar epiphany in 2009 while serving as the city's mayor.

Speaking at the Stevens event, Booker recalled staying up late with a pint of Ben & Jerry's when he heard Conan O'Brien quip that his newly announced health care plan ought to include a bus ticket out of Newark.

Having his city mocked on national television seemed like a big deal until he realized his social media following could rival the viewership of “The Tonight Show.”

“Media has become so fractured,” said Booker, who hosted the July 11 event. “I opened my laptop to see how many Twitter followers I had and it was over a million.”

Suddenly “The Tonight Show's” 2.5 million viewers didn't seem so big. After weeks of a spirited back and forth, Booker appeared on the show, where O'Brien and NBCUniversal each donated $50,000 to Newark.

E-mail to: andrews@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @andrewsnjbiz

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