Social media is a tremendously beneficial new technology that will forever change many aspects of our business and personal lives. But few people really understand how it works. Here’s a simple way to understand its power and influence.

Say you want to take a swim, but have no pool and only one litre of water. Here’s how you do it without social media:

You begin by shopping around. You search all over web, look in the yellow pages and make telephone calls, ask your friends for referrals and drive around visiting a number of different suppliers. Since this is such a significant purchase, you devote weeks of your time, money and energy searching until you finally find the one you like and can afford.

Now it needs to be delivered.

You arrange for delivery of the pool. A truck drives from the supplier to your home and drops off the materials.

Now it needs to be installed.

Depending on the style of pool, your installers must have a certain level of expertise to complete the job. This process can take a few days or a few weeks, and is not cheap. But they come everyday and finish the job and now you have your pool.

Now it needs to be filled.

You could fill it yourself with a hose, but that would probably be a strain on your water resources. It could mean running the well dry, or putting a lot of strain on your municipal water supply (and a lot of strain on your wallet). You could also have the water delivered, which though more convenient, would nonetheless not be cheap. You decide what’s best for you, get the pool filled, and you’re ready to swim.

Hopefully you know how to swim. If not, you have to learn, which involves time, lessons, driving, scheduling, etc…

Now you have to maintain the pool and water.

You have to buy kits to make sure the PH is balanced, purchase chemicals, do testing, keep it clean, etc. You may have to hire cleaners and testers if you can’t do it yourself. More cost. More hassle. Less time doing what you wanted to do in the first place: swim.

Here’s a better solution, courtesy of social media:

You sign up with a community of 10,000 other people just like you who have only one litre of water but want to swim. This community provides for you a pool already built and filled, and experts who perform all the maintenance and upkeep. The only catch is that everyone in the group has to contribute their one litre of water to the pool, and pay a small service fee to those who built and maintain the pool (which, because so many people are involved, is very low).

This is a great solution because now everybody gets to swim without any lost time, hassle, running around and expenses! Not only that, but the expert swimmers help out the intermediate swimmers, and the intermediate ones help out the beginners.

It’s the power of collaboration. It’s social media, and it works.

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It’s amazing how food has become one of the most engaging topics in media, especially on the internet. Food is a bonafide media darling. It’s more popular than Oprah, Paris Hilton and Barack Obama, combined. Nutritional importance aside, if just our interest in food could be harnessed as energy it would power every home on Earth. I bet there’s a new food blog created every hour of every day.

And why not? We have an insatiable appetite for this stuff! We know all the celebrity chefs by name. We support the countless number of food websites out there, scouring the web for recipes, news and information. Even the most casual among us enjoy watching The Food Network from time to time (and we’re even starting to admit it, too).

Food is our obsession. We want to experience it with all our senses, swoon over it with our friends, follow it around with our cameras, write it love notes, canonize its artists, and build great houses of worship in its honour. We consume food like, well, food. It really isn’t just something we eat, anymore.

Ok, we get it. Everyone’s talking about it. Now what?

Well, the first thing to do is find out what people are saying, and who they’re talking about. Television, radio, newspapers and the internet are where we normally get our information. These are great advertising outlets for big businesses with big marketing budgets, but small businesses need people talking about them, too.

One 30-second Super Bowl commercial alone costs $3 million to air! And why is it so expensive? Because millions of people will see the message, and this is very important for business.

Since very few businesses this much to spend on advertising and other resources, there has to be a better way – and there is! You can reach millions of people just like Pepsi and Budweiser, and do it by spending hardly any money at all.

Social Media Saves You Time and Money

With social media, you contribute a little, and receive lots in return. Here’s how it works:

Say you want to take a swim, but have no pool and only one litre of water. What do you do? Well, you collect 10,000 other people just like you who have only one litre of water but want to swim, and let a social media platform like Industry Blender serve as your pool. If everyone contributes their litre of water to the pool, then everybody gets to swim! All you’re paying for is the cost of the pool which, because of the volume of users, is very low.

The Power of Collaboration – Imagine the Impossible!

If you operate a bakery, for example, social media platforms are helpful because they allow you to link with other bakeries in your area quite easily. Before you know it, there are 100 bakeries in your group.

You talk to each other about the challenges you face, share stories, recommend, give advice, and team up. You provide each other with easy-to-access information and resources, which means no more searching all over to find what you need. Over time, the sum becomes much bigger than the whole of its parts.

Know your Competitors

Wouldn’t this group make things too competitive, you ask?

Not really. A large group of bakeries will get much more attention than a single one here and there, and attracting bakery customers is your primary goal. You can also use social media to keep up with what other businesses are doing. Watch what successful companies do and try to emulate those strategies. Social media gives you detailed access to this information, and makes it really easy to find.

Understand your Unique Advantages and Let your Customers Know About Them

On the other hand, since no two bakeries are alike, you can celebrate your differences and market to different types of customers. One bakery may specialize in custom wedding cakes, while another is set up for mass production. The great thing about social media is you can have an actual conversation with your customers, which puts a face to your business that people require these days before they will buy. Cultivate relationships, reinforce your brand, and take control of what is being said about you.

Market to Millions of People on a Small Budget

The ultimate goal is to be highly visible to people searching for bakeries, and from there you develop niches and set yourself apart. This large union of bakeries is very noticeable to customers, and now you’re a force which demands attention. Now that you’re getting noticed, other bakeries will want to join your group, and soon you’re a powerhouse of bakeries. You continue to pool your resources, become more and more visible to potential customers, and everyone does better business in the end.

Harnessing the Power and Speed of the Internet to Stay Competitive

Things happen very fast, so you must be able to converse quickly. If you have lobsters or other inventory that hasn’t been selling that you need to get rid of immediately, you can’t wait to announce a special in the paper, or count on a sign being seen on your restaurant or around town.

The best method is to post your information where other seafood lovers go for the latest information, just like how Craigslist works for people with classifieds. Advertising online is instant; there’s no need to wait for the “next issue,” or worry if you have missed a deadline date

Word of Mouth Advertising

One reality emerging is that people trust word of mouth more than advertising. This is why customer referrals are so important.

People love commenting about restaurants, movies, etc…, so use their opinions as free advertising. Post referrals you’ve received on your website and use them in your other marketing, as well. Information that comes from unbiased members of the general public is most powerful in influencing the decisions of others.

Encourage comments about your business because, on the internet, they spread fast or “go viral.” You’re probably worried about negative feedback, and, yes these spread faster than positive comments, in fact. But not everyone is going to be happy, so luckily social media is very defensible. You can quickly put out fires before they spread because you’re always conversing with your customers.

Most social media sites like IndustryBlender.com allow customers to comment directly about the goods and services they received. These comments are set in stone, so if you’re a business that takes care of its patrons and provides an excellent service, you will be rewarded.

It’s tempting for business owners to hibernate during, this, the winter of our economic discontent. Everyone wants to freeze their marketing budgets, and hunker down until warmer economic climates arrive. We’re all feeling the effects of these trying times, especially small business owners, who must crunch their finances and try to make the marketing dollars stretch.

Luckily, it doesn’t cost you hardly anything to market anymore. Thanks to the internet, creativity and knowledge are the new currencies. Adhere to these simple promotional tools and you’ll get that extra publicity boost you need to take your business to the next level.

Advertising Vs Public Relations

Before you begin promoting your business, you need to ask yourself the following question: What’s the difference between advertising and public relations? It may sound like a no-brainer, but many business owners use these terms interchangeably. They’re different, and here’s how:

  • Advertising: This is the term for a paid public promotion of a product or service (i.e. newspaper ad or online ad banner)
  • Public Relations: This is an unpaid promotion intended to create goodwill for a person, product or company (i.e. press conference or press release).

Now that you know the difference between advertising and publicity, it’s time to consider including some “public relations” initiatives into your marketing plan. Here are some can’t-miss actions you should take:

Create news-worthy press releases:

Not all news necessarily warrants its own press release, so exercise a bit of caution, here. Before you send out a press release, consider if it’s a topic that would interest the local media (or national media – depending on the scope/region of your business).  It’s really quality over quantity, here. If you are a food supplier, get to know your local community groups so you may contact them to break your news. If you’re a restaurant, send press releases to your local newspapers, internet groups, and advertise, advertise, advertise on many social media outlets. There are many places to post your press release online, and make sure to check your press release for errors and mistakes before you send it out.

Websites, blogs and social networking sites:

These are free publicity tools (a website is more expensive, but it’s an essential long-term investment) are readily available at anybody’s fingertips. If you haven’t developed a website or created a blog, then you are missing out on crucial promotional opportunities. Social networking sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Industry Blender are tools of connectivity and promotion that you simply cannot live without. They generate potential leads and customers, and can reach many more people than traditional advertising at a fraction of the cost

Organize free or low-cost special events:

Utilize your company’s conference room or restaurant for an after-hours or off-hours event that will help you meet new people and generate buzz for your business. It’s important to thank your customers and clients in this way because the gesture makes them feel appreciated. Even if it’s only an inexpensive morning coffee event, it’s important to put a “face” in front of your clients and customers. In this age of the email, text messaging, and voicemail, business owners sometimes forget that people buy from people, and that physical meetings will only enhance your transparency and “realness” that people seek when they’re buying in person and online. Free or low-cost special events put you right in front of your clients again.

Become involved in your community:

Even if you can’t afford to make a monetary donation, your volunteer time is just as important both for promotional purposes and to help worthy causes. Involvement allows you to give back to your community and provides a great networking opportunity. You can also give in-kind donations for auctions (both products and services), which is another great way to promote your business (and are tax write-offs). Pick a charitable organization that has personal meaning for you, and become a good steward within your community. You will meet other business owners and possibly land new clients and prospects.

Attend events that really target your audience/target market:

Before you take on every networking event or trade show, ask yourself a few questions: Is this event going to help my business? How many people are attending? What’s my return on investment? Is it free or is there cost involved? How many leads/contacts do I hope to land as a result of this event? Don’t get into the bad habit of saying “yes” to every event because you THINK you need to attend them all. Pick and choose the best networking events that you think will provide the most benefit.

21st century business owners market smarter, not harder. Try out some of these cost- effective tips and you’ll boost your reputation, become more visible to your customers, and improve sales more than you ever thought possible.

It’s amazing how many parallels can be drawn between the Web 2.0 revolution and food. First, let’s look at how food got to be so popular. Here’s some Web 2.0 for thought:

Our interest in food has increased dramatically in the last 20 years and now receives a level of attention normally reserved for celebrities and musicians. We can identify television cooking shows and the internet as catalysts for this shift, delivering new ideas and trends in food production to the mainstream.

Our consciousness about health and wellness has put food right under the public’s noses. Most mass-produced food contains chemicals added either during the production process, manufacturing process, or both. With cancer rates on the rise, food recalls receiving more press than shark attacks, and obesity an epidemic issue, consumers are fighting back against the supposedly “regulated” products that government agencies and their producers have deemed fit for consumption.

And most importantly, we want the truth, and unlike with television or newspaper articles, the internet is a medium where we can be immediately heard, and have, in effect, become a vocal driver in how businesses operate.

Consumers want accountability and transparency from the companies with which they do business. Big corporations have been attached with horrible stigmas for years, and with social media the opportunity for unflattering news to spread has never been stronger. Smart companies realize this, so they’re going right to the source for their validation: their customers. The customer is either your most valuable asset or a force of complete destruction. Word travels fast (bad news many times faster than good) so reputation management is becoming just as important as the actual product produced.

Our evolved obsession with food came about because food has a tremendous amount of “trend-worthiness.” Every good trend requires a high-volume interest base, prolific players within the activity or idea, and a level of accessibility.

The first proof of this is to consider the simple fact that everybody eats. Who wouldn’t take an interest in food? But food can be looked at from a necessity and interest standpoint. Yes, we all have to eat, but we also need constant hydration without just drinking water all the time. Gatorade, juice and soda all provide a little spice and variety to the experience. And it’s the same reason people still eat out at restaurants despite the fact it’s discretionary spending. Eating at home is uninspiring at best, unless you live with a professional chef. There’s only so much the average person can do in the kitchen, so they need restaurants to satisfy their needs for elevated taste experiences.

As a culture, we’re very keen on keeping up with celebrities. I think professional chefs make the perfect celebrities because they’re very enigmatic, charismatic, and often have unique personalities. They’re a lot like artists; they express food in extraordinary ways which can take your breath away. The fact that the best chefs in the world just do it better than most everyone else means that people are going to find them interesting, follow them, and thus the best ones are exceedingly popular.

The final reason food is ripe to be a lasting trend is that it can be prepared by anyone. Only the fortunate few ever become celebrities from cooking, but the ones that have made it are constantly in our consciousness, selling products, starring in television shows, releasing cookbooks, and opening restaurants. And people love them. I can’t think of a single celebrity chef that isn’t positively embraced (or, at least, not hated), but I can think of countless athletes, businessmen, actors and generic celebrities that are less than desired by the public. All in all, it’s great to be a celebrity chef, and if you have a stove, some ingredients and a few good ideas, you can impress your date, serve high-rollers, and maybe one day get a cooking show of your own.

You may have heard about people “tweeting” or using Twitter. You may have even tried to understand it. This important phenomenon is not that difficult to grasp. Let me help explain it to you in plain English.

For those of you who don’t know, Twitter is a micro-blogging platform where everyday millions of people answer this simple question: “What are you doing right now?”

Why is this important? Because you might be doing/reading/learning something that someone else wants to know, and someone might be doing/reading/learning something you want to know. It’s a search engine created by people. And it’s a big attention-getter.

Many people think Twitter will replace Google as the next big search engine. Since Google is 2nd most important thing in the universe behind water, you might want to stick around and read this.

Twitter is micro-blogging, or sending out short snippets of information to a group, and receiving short snippets in return. If done correctly, Twitter serves as a virtual soapbox of sorts, where you can say to your network, “Here I am! Your attention please! I’ve got something interesting to report. It is a great way to exchange information.

I should note: The site imposes a 140 character limit for posting so you don’t get the urge to write War and Peace. You might think 140 characters is not nearly enough space, but the limit is there for your own good.

One important rule of thumb for Twitter is to keep your posts short, sweet and interesting. If Twitter becomes “What are you eating right now,” nobody is going to care about what your posts.

Establish yourself as a legitimate source of information, and people start “following you,” or receiving your posts in their “inbox.” As people come to rely on you for humour, information, etc…you’ll receive more attention.

Why is this important? Well, because people like attention. If you’re a business with a good or service to promote, it’s even better.

Say a breakfast cereal company wants more people exposed to their products and more website traffic. They use Twitter to send out great coupons or discounts. CLICK HERE FOR 2 FOR 1 RAISIN BRAN COUPON. People love a good deal, so there’s a great chance that you could become really popular. When friends of friends of friends pass this information along, word will travel fast.

Since you only have 140 characters to work with (the size of this sentence), you link back to your site where people can redeem your offers. And you can be creative with how you earn your traffic. You could stage a gimmick, advertise a charity effort, or produce a funny video. The goal is to stay visible, and build relationships with your followers.

This might be difficult to manage, you say. It’s not.

Here’s how you send out information to all your networks in 3 minutes, AND find out how much attention is being drawn to your tweets.

1. Go to http://www.BudURL.com and get a custom link.
2. Go to http://www.HelloTxt.com and post my Tweet with your BudURL link.
3. Later on, go back to http://www.BudURL.com and see how many people clicked on the link.

There are a couple of things you need to know about these websites to make this process work. First, when you create your http://www.HelloTxt.com account, you will need to enter your login info for all the social networking sites you want to update. This will take 20 to 30 minutes, but it’s a great investment in the long-run. Second, to get the click data, you will need to pay http://www.BudURL.com $4 a month. Fortunately, you can take advantage of their trial offer if you want to check it out for a while first.

Not only will this process tell you what people are interested in, it also makes you a more effective communicator. Sure, you have to be concise to fit an idea and link in 140 characters or less. But it also gives you the opportunity to be creative, set up some suspense, and make people absolutely HAVE TO click on the link.

Again, this process takes about 30 minutes to set up and costs $4 a month, but it will prove to be well worth it! You can be sure your tweets will reach a wider audience and the value of this will reach far beyond the realm of Twitter.

I just returned from a private stakeholder meeting at City Hall today, regarding the potential revisal of city liquor regulations.  Yes, this is an issue of concern and interest for members of the food and beverage industry, but it also represents policy decisions that will undoubtedly affect the general public.

The nature of this gathering is discussed in greater detail on the main page, so I won’t go into too many specifics.  What I will address is the unfortunate reality that the public (or absent industry pros, for that matter) has no forum with which to A.) be kept abreast of this and other issues and B.) direct questions and comments to other concerned and applicable parties.

There were approximately 40 industry professionals in attendance, all sitting around a large round table or in the audience.  As I watched the discussion unfold, it once again reinforced my belief that a collection of individuals, when given an outlet for their opinions, will seize that opportunity and can have an immense amount of influence when it comes to solving problems that affect their lives, communities and businesses.

This, folks, is a collection of people with similar vested interests coming together to have their voices heard for a common goal.  There simply isn’t enough of this going on in our industry, and I think it’s deplorable that the public has no easily accessible channel with which to be heard on issues that affect them.

But in a world where people have easy access to technology and information in the convenience of their own spaces, there should be an online forum for comments, questions, suggestions regarding this and any industry-related issue.  Social and business networking is the best way to gather information on a topic that is relevant to you.

My suggestion to the city of Vancouver or any other organization or industry would be to create a specific network that caters to the needs and voices of its members.  That’s one of the reasons we started Industry Blender:  Because the Facebook and Myspace models have showed that people need to and will congregate with their peers if given the opportuniy.  We need to be the catalysts for this change.

Social networks make our lives richer and easier and give us the opportunity to have our voices heard.  They make possible meaningful and profitable connections with people we never would have met before.  Their power is immeasurable, and it means you will change the way business is done in the future.  You’re the ones conducting the business, so it is imperative that you be front and centre and totally in control of your own fates.

Gathering physically is very important and can never be replaced, but a virtual network is a room that never gets full.  And it requires no driving or schedule juggling to get there.  We could suggest to City Hall or any other decision making organisation to make available a forum where people can voice their opinions on issues.  The technology and ability to do this is before us, it’s just a matter of organising and stratifying interests.

If the City started a network which allowed restaurant, lounge, bar owners and their patrons to comment on the liquor regulation issue, which people are very passionate about, you can be assured there would be a mob of support and comments.  It’s amazing how all these old and established organisations haven’t caught on to the idea.  No matter.  We’ll work together to educate the business world and show them how things have evolved in the 21st century.  We’ll give our customers and colleagues the opportunity to be collectively heard, and we’ll be on the forefront because of it.

So…what does this mean for us?  It means that the Food, Beverage and Hospitality Industry in Vancouver can be on the forefront of this change which market research shows is going to be in full swing in the next 2-4 years.  We’re a progressive bunch that knows our city and customers, and recognise the need to facilitate this change. 

But change is slow to take place, especially for bohemoth, slow moving companies where it takes much more time for things to get done because they’re reluctant to alter their business models.  But our industry is primed for this transition, and we can get in on the ground floor of this transition.

Rule # 1: Be Engaging!

The bellwether example, engagement is a very important word in today’s
media landscape. Studies show that people choose a product based on
its personalized or “engagement” feel, which means that businesses must
establish a rapport with customers if they wish to be successful.
Consumers also want to make sure their money is spent wisely, so they
are increasing their efforts to thoroughly research products and
services before making financial commitments.

Mark Brooks of the Motley Fool and AOL writes: “Corporations are
non-entities by definition, and consumers have had enough. They want to
deal with people at some point. I’ve done a lot of direct selling work
and one of the first things I was ever told in my direct sales training
is that ‘People Buy From People’. Sounds funny, but think about it.”

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seize an opportunity to be creative,
but those out-in-left-field ads are no longer striking the same chords
with customers. This is actually better for companies because it means
they can market themselves in a straightforward manner. It’s a pretty
simple formula: If you know you have a good product and believe in it,
you can be upfront with your customers. Gimmicks are yesterday’s news.

Rule # 2: Use it or Lose it

Social media is an umbrella term that refers to all kinds of
user-generated content on the internet. It employs the same principals
as traditional word-of-mouth, but the web-based equivalent. Fred
Lebhart on Biznik.com says that “social media has proven its value over
the past few years, even playing a role in both the Obama and McCain
campaigns during the 2008 presidential race.”

Obviously, social media is going to be of no benefit to you if the
opportunity is not seized. And why not? Lebhart ads: Social
networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter as well as forums and
blogs make communicating with wide audiences easier than ever, and as a
natural result, online discussion about companies and products are
taking place constantly all over the Web.”

Social media is still an intimidating to many who are not experienced
with its ways. Despite this, it would serve you well to become as
versed as possible with this medium, as it will undoubtedly be an
essential component for doing successful business in the future.

Rule # 3: Pay Attention to the Numbers

According to a report based on a March, 2008 worldwide survey of 17,000
internet users, social media, especially blogs, are “becoming a more
important part of global media consumption for internet users than some
traditional media channels.” The report surveyed 29 countries, and
concluded that social media is an international sensation, though its
use is subject to a parameter of cultural differences.

Here are other numbers from the report:

– 83% watch video clips, up from 62% in the last study in June 2007
– 78% read blogs, up from 66%
– 57% of internet users are now members of a social network
– RSS consumption is growing rapidly up from 15% to 39%
– Podcasts are now mainstream digital content, listened to by 48%
– 22% of social network users have installed a widget or applications
– 55% have shared photos
– 22% have shared their videos
– 31% have started a blog
– The world’s biggest social networks are MySpace (32%) and Facebook (23%)

Rule # 4: Define Your Goals

In order to measure the success of your social networking excursion,
make sure to set clear qualitative and quantitative goals to determine
your effectiveness with the medium. Decide what you want to gain from
your social media experience. To again quote Fred Lebhard: “Do you
want to increase subscribers to your company newsletter? Improve
customer retention or referrals? Decrease negative customer service
feedback? Think overall strategies, not tactics, and map each goal to
your social media strategy.”

Rule # 5: See for Yourself

Spend a bit of time researching on your own, and don’t rely on the
pundunts to deliver the gospel for you. Even though the sources
compiling the information may have the best intentions, and often wish
to save the reader time and energy, the internet allows you to not rely
on the middle men if you don’t wish to. The same principle applies
with respect to marketing to your customers. A well proportioned
platform designed by experts makes it a lot easier for those of you who
are busy doing something else, but education is the real key to
success. Here’s what some of the professional sources are saying:


Social media and marketing:


Social networking site, Twitter:


Social Networking Ettiquite: