More than 90 percent of American children younger than 2 already have some sort of digital footprint, social media expert Shama Kabani reported Thursday.
"People are now the media," Ms. Kabani said, adding that Twitter often is breaking the news.
Ms. Kabani, of Dallas, is president of The Marketing Zen Group, a full-service Web marketing and public relations company, and author of "The Zen of Social Media Marketing."
She was the keynote speaker Thursday at the third annual Retail Summit, hosted by The University of Texas at Tyler College of Business and Technology and Center for Retail Enterprises, and attended by more than 100 people.
Ms. Kabani talked about social media in the retail world -- the trends, how far it's come and what to expect in the future.
"Do you think Facebook will be here in the next 10 years," she said. "I don't know, but the idea of social media is not going away."
A customer's experience at a retail business once was measured from the time they walked through the door of the business to the time they left. Now they often have "preconceived notions of the business long before they walk in because of what they've found online," she said.
She said everything a person has done online that makes up their persona on the web creates their digital footprint. Individuals and organizations have digital footprints, which are "not only what you put out there about yourself but what others say about you," Ms. Kabani said.
Ms. Kabani earned a master's degree in organizational communication from The University of Texas at Austin. When she wrote her thesis on Twitter, it had a few thousand followers and now has 375 million users, she said. When she graduated, there was no social media industry. She couldn't find a job so she moved back in with her parents and became an entrepreneur, she said.
At the time she saw a lot of demand for social media at the small business level but not in the corporate world. She built her company, which now has 30 employees, using social media marketing alone. She teaches others how to do the same, and her clients span from Dallas' 24 branches of YMCA to Hagar apparel.
Ms. Kabani originally wrote her book as an e-book and through Twitter, it was picked up by a traditional publicist and is now in its third print edition. She said it is the most popular text book for social media courses around the country.
"I think businesses are really hungry to reach their customers who are not responding to traditional ways" of marketing, she said. "It's huge," she said of social media marketing. "Look at how people get their information now."
People often go to Yelp to pick a new restaurant or check their Facebook for reviews before going to see a movie, she said.
"If you want to know how important retail is to Tyler, drive down Broadway," Dr. Harold Doty, College of Business and Technology dean, told the group.
He said retail has an economic impact of about $3.5 trillion, or more than 25 percent, of the overall economy.
Retail marketing has become sophisticated. "If you want to know the reach of social media, one in eight people on the globe have a Facebook account," Doty said.
Dr. Kerri Camp, assistant professor of marketing and director of UT Tyler's Center for Retail Enterprises, said retailers employ many people and generate sales tax revenue.
"Retail business is one of the most important businesses in East Texas," she said. "It is vital to the economic success and the sustainability of East Texas."
Barbara Wooldridge, associate professor of marketing at UT Tyler, said how retailers communicate is changing and it is critical to stay up above the curve with students and focus on social media. "It is a changing landscape," she said.
Dr. Camp said the biggest request she sees from businesses looking to hire college graduates is their experience with social media.
"Social media is evolving. It's one of the things we do in marketing that always changes," Dr. Camp said, adding that people have to adapt to what is going on.
She said the reason business owners should integrate to using social media is because it is affordable -- low or no cost -- and it is where the customers are.
"In retail you need to be where customers are, and right now they're in social media," she said.
Ms. Kabani said the primary reason people use social networking is to showcase their identity. If businesses can use that knowledge to make it about the audience instead of themselves, they will win, she added.
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