All those faces of eager small business operators, in the estimation of U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, were one for the book as they came to Hernando to learn how to leverage Facebook to bolster their bottom lines and help put the economy back on top.
"Can you believe how much this world has changed in just a decade?" the Mississippi Republican said Monday at the Gale Center. "We use social media in my Senate office every day, and last year we used it during my campaign for re-election."
Wicker termed the gathering of nearly 100 people "a good coming together of five partners": Facebook, the National Federation of Small Business, the Hernando Main Street Chamber of Commerce, the city and DeSoto County.
At the "Small Business Boost" stop, part of a nationwide program sponsored by Facebook, marketing experts from the network demonstrated for the throng how to set up basic ads and pages for promoting their businesses, and offered advanced tips for engaging with customers and attracting new ones. Participants also got $50 in advertising credits to help them get started with efforts aimed at building a community around their businesses and linking with customers among Facebook's 1 billion users, including millions across Mississippi.
"It's the new medium for commerce," said Hernando Chamber executive director Susan Fernandez.
"What's great about small businesses is that they 'get it'; they know they should be using social media," said Brooke Oberwetter, a Washington-based assistant manager for external affairs for Facebook. "But they don't always know what to do when they get there. We're here to help."
Among those glad to get an assist was Whitley Rives, office manager for the Mississippi RiverKings hockey team, a franchise that draws crowds to the Landers Center in Southaven and wants to keep the fans coming.
"Creating awareness is a huge thing with Facebook," said Rives. "We're looking to expand our fan base, and to make our public more aware of our activities, products and initiatives. And we're after feedback on what people want to see at the games."
As small businesses build on social media, so will the economy, says Wicker.
"Facebook and other networks give these businesses another opportunity to be effective," said the senator. "It's small businesses that employ 97 percent of the people who have jobs in our state.
"We love it when we get a big Nissan plant or a Toyota plant, but it's these jobs created by small businesses that make the difference. It just stands to reason, if we're to get out of the economic doldrums in this country, it'll be through growth of small businesses."
Facebook also has been a boon for them, say city leaders.
"We had to close Commerce Street the other day so Atmos Energy could repair a gas leak," said Hernando Mayor Chip Johnson. "And we used Facebook to get the word out. So social media isn't just for chitchat; it can be a very useful tool."
"It's our go-to messaging center," said Shelly Johnstone, city community development director.
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