Local businesses increasingly are turning to social media to promote events and connect with customers. Business people who are active on social websites such as Facebook and Twitter said the outlets can spark conversation with customers, bring them in for special deals and make them feel like part of a community around the business.
Many expressed nagging doubts about social media's impact on their bottom line. But social media also represents a low-risk experiment: it costs nothing, and takes little time, labor or materials.
"What it does is maintain our base," said Claudia Anderson, a bookseller at Andrea Kristina's Bookstore & Kafe who helps maintain the shop's Facebook page. "I don't know how much new customer base it brings in, but it very definitely helps maintain our customer base."
Andrea Kristina's Facebook page is most engaging to loyal customers who use the coffee shop and bookstore as a so-called "third place," a location where they can spend time away from home and work.
Anderson posts events, daily specials and occasional commentary on relevant news, for example, the death in May of children's book author Maurice Sendak. The business has 477 "likes" on Facebook; it also reaches customers through an email list.
00020000083500000547 82F,Twitter has been less helpful for Anderson. She said most customers aren't on the service.
"Twitter's a bust," she said. "It just has never caught hold in Farmington."
The city-owned Pi-on Hills
Golf Course uses Facebook to promote upcoming tournaments and provide updates on the course's condition. It has more than 1,000 "likes."
"We're reaching a certain number of people," said General Manager Chris Jones. "Not as many as we want to, but we're reaching some people."
Jones said he hopes to use Facebook to attract more customers during slow times at the course.
Three Rivers Eatery & Brewhouse also is active on Facebook, with nearly 3,000 "likes" by customers. Owner John Silva and Bob Beckley post on Three Rivers' Facebook site nearly every day.
"This type of social media is a way to keep our business in people's minds," Silva said.
Sometimes Three Rivers simply posts goofy photos.
"I like silliness, because in a serious world we all need to lighten up a little," Silva said. "I try to do things that would make people laugh or think or voice an opinion."
Three Rivers also toyed with rumors of actor Johnny Depp's presence in the area. Then there was an incident in which a local judge was ejected from the restaurant Three Rivers printed T-shirts commemorating the occasion, and explained the circumstances in a note to customers.
Putting a business out there on Facebook risks public exposure, both positive and negative. Three Rivers sometimes receives customer complaints on the Facebook page, and Silva said he is sometimes tempted to delete critical comments. But he doesn't.
"You kind of have to have thick skin on social media," Silva said. "What people write is their opinion."
He added, "I want to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. I'd rather hear good, but it's enlightening to hear about problems."
The restaurant and brewpub used Facebook to organize a Fourth of July water balloon celebration as an alternative to fireworks out of concern for fire danger.
"It was a big success and a lot of people had fun," Silva said. "And a lot of it is because
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