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Have Business, Will Blog, Tweet, Post

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Should you participate in social media to further your business? And if you do, can you make money doing it?

Tommy Clifford, manager of digital development at HC Miller in Green Bay, joined the Buzz Live webcast on Monday to give his unique perspective on the subject of social media.

He's known to more than 100 thousand people as the prolific "@tommytrc" on the Twitter microblogging site.

Here, an edited transcript of the conversation.

Q: Other than athletes, movie stars and singers, you probably have more followers on Twitter than anyone?

A: Yes. I have about 125,000 followers. I'm the No. 1 Twitter user, according to Twitter Grader, in the state of Wisconsin.

Q: How about nationally?

A: It goes up and down. Last time I checked, I was in the top 25.

Q: How long have you been using Twitter?

A: I've actually been using social media since 2007. I really hated it when I first started. I didn't get it. People would post little things like "I'm going to get some sausage pizza." It was dull. Once I got it, I understood the tool. I understood the whole social media puzzle and how that fits into it.

Q: What else do you besides tweet?

A: I'm on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. I have a YouTube channel. I blog. When you think about a business, they're not just going to do radio, TV, newspaper or yellow pages. They involve all of these other pieces into that strategy.

Q: If you're picking one form of social media for your business, what would it be?

A: I think your top one is to have a business blog. That's probably different than you were expecting. Everybody has something to say. Once your blog is set up, you can post and ask for feedback. If you're a baker, "Hey what do you think of this recipe?" If you're a restaurant, "What do you think of this new thing?" I think that's a really simple tool because it kind of goes back to the whole guest book type of thing in days gone by. You post something and you gain feedback -- that's social media.

Q: So if you have a blog, you should promote it on the other ones?

A: Yes. People go "Tommy, its so amazing. It's overwhelming. How do I do it all?" Start small. Start with something. Maybe Twitter's that something. Maybe YouTube is that something. Certainly the blog can be your something. You're going to get good at it and you're going to go "Ok, now what?" A few weeks or months down the road, it won't be overwhelming anymore. Then do something else. You understand how all these pieces fall together. I like the "crawl, walk, run" mentality.

Q: Give an example of a business that's doing it really well.

A: I like what Harmony Cafe downtown is doing. They have their website, they integrate well with the Appleton Downtown website. They have Twitter, Facebook and they even have Foursquare. After x amount of check-ins you get a coupon for something off on a drink. I like their implementation.

Q: What are some examples of how you should not use social media?

A: Just posting, posting, posting and not listening, listening, listening. Sometimes people will post many times an hour. You reach out to them and you never hear back. That's not how it's supposed to work. It's supposed to be an engagement.

Q: Social media is great for exposure. But give an example of a company that has done something and made a buck.

A: Monetized the tool? I have two really good examples. One was Dell. Dell actually tracked their engagement. They have a very extensive army of people on Twitter.

If you follow them and have positive or negative comments, they will respond to you. There's a case study that says they were able to increase sales by over $1 million based on their engagement in Twitter.

Another case study was Domino's Pizza and Foursquare. They ran a Foursquare promotion in Europe and they attributed $25 million in increased sales due to Foursquare check-ins.

Q: Anyone here using it successfully here?

A: Harmony Cafe is one of them. HuHot is definitely another one that sticks out. Pizza Hut has run some successful campaigns using Foursquare. Certainly there are a lot of companies here in town that are starting to get it.

Q: Are their customers mostly teens and twenties?

A: I don't fit in to that and I'm certainly using my smartphone to check into all the different venues I go to. My mom uses her laptop to check reviews on Amazon, which is social media, or hotels.com to see what people are saying. It's not just high school and college kids. High school kids don't even like Twitter. More are Facebook, YouTube and blog users. As you graduate college, that's where the Twitter audience really is.

Buzz Live viewer question: Can we live without social media?

A I'm going to answer this from the business aspect. I feel that businesses that choose to ignore social media aren't going to be businesses much longer. It's kind of like "Well, I don't want to use my telephone, or I'm not going to answer my email." These are all channels that you need to get on board with in order to continue growing and surviving. You need to listen to your customer. If you don't go to social media on your own, your customer will take the dialog there. If you can't comment on it, or join in that dialog, how are you going to be able to control that? I think you need to be there.

Viewer question: Any thoughts on Google+? Is it going to overtake Facebook?

A: I'm not a Google+ fan. I don't get it. I can go to Facebook and Twitter to get the same things. It doesn't fit into my workflow. Will it overtake Facebook? No way. Facebook is 800 million people. Google plus is only 25, 30 million. I don't think the momentum can shift.

Q: I've been seeing more and more businesses that don't have their own websites. They have Facebook pages instead. What do you think of that?

A: It's a bold move. It's a positive risk. Facebook has no cost, just the time and energy you put into it. With your own website, you have hosting fees and you have to learn to code. If you can live within the Facebook parameters -- you don't have your own look and feel -- I think it's a great idea. Facebook is making it easier to join the conversation.

Q: Will it replace websites in the future?

A: No, just because of the control the companies want. When the content's on Facebook, it's Facebook's. If something happens and Facebook takes (your page) down, you don't even have a phone number.

Q: Your company, HC Miller, is a good test study. It has manufacturing and services. Which side benefits more from social media?

A: That's hard. You think business-to-business vs. business-to-consumer. Everybody's making the same widget. But it's what you do with that widget, and what differentiates you in that industry. That's what the social media tools are allowing people to do at a relatively low cost, with the exception of the time. Those tools need to be part of your marketing strategy. How is it going to fit? Once you get involved in social media, it's not a 9-to-5 type of job. If something's going on at 11 at night, you've got to be there.

Viewer question: What will be the next big thing in social media?

A: Customer driven content is the next big thing. I don't know which interface is going to take it that way.

Viewer question: What are the ways to gain new followers?

A: You've got to make sure you highlight other people's content. You need to be gainfully involved in other people. If you become involved in what other people are excited about, then they'll get excited about you. As soon as you reach out and go into someone else's circle, then everybody else in that circle sees your circle and it starts multiplying.

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