This week's assignment was to track down industry-specific business owners who are active on social media, and profile their use, strategies and tips.
I chose to treat this as an experiment, searching for Canadian pharmacists, lawyers and accountants on Twitter, specifically.
At first glance, this was going to be simple: a few quick keyword/hashtag searches easily sent me a handful of options of people to interview. Score.
Basic searches on Google directed me to the top-ranking websites, most of which had a Twitter icon placed prominently on their home pages. Double score.
This is where things got a little more difficult.
One click through to the stream of 'tweets' left me a little shocked, mostly disappointed, for most of these businesses and business owners. Working in the realm of social media myself, one of the main things I always hammer away at is consistency. Starting strong, and then dropping off is a giant 'no no' in this world.
Unfortunately, I found more of that in my search than those who started strong, and stayed strong – honouring their followers with useful content and conversation that they had promised when they first launched their accounts.
Luckily, I did find a rare few who were present; appeared to have a consistent approach; and replied to me very quickly when I tweeted them to see if they were interested in being part of this column.
My first reaction: Wow, there are so many business owners totally missing the boat.
The following interviews were conducted in 140-character chunks via Twitter (that platform's limit per tweet) because that's the theme of this column.
Here are the best parts:
Adam Silverton, pharmacist and owner, Pace Pharmacy, Toronto
Mr. Silverton owns and runs Pace Pharmacy in Toronto, which prides itself on "quality customer service and individualized healthcare." Mr. Silverton launched into the world of social media for his business when he opened up shop a couple of years ago. For Pace Pharmacy, it's been a great experience, with a positive return on investment on a number of levels.
@LisaOstrikoff: When did you start using Social Media & how do you use it?
@PacePharmacy: I started using social media immediately upon starting my business – primarily via Twitter and Facebook; also Linkedin and Foursquare. Personal interest got me started but also knowing it was a cheap, easy and fun way to create awareness for my business. I share health news and tips, pose and answer questions, and chime in on topics of interest.
@LisaOstrikoff: Has being active on social media worked for you and your business?
@PacePharmacy: I have acquired many new customers via social media – this is a fact. I enjoy it and will continue to use and evolve with it.
@LisaOstrikoff: Do you see many others in your industry use social media?
@PacePharmacy: Many pharmacists don't have the time, interest, or comprehension of the social media realm. They also don't realize the biz advantage. I see more hopping on the bandwagon these days. When I started, I was definitely an early adopter.
@LisaOstrikoff: Do you have any tips for business owners new to the space?
@PacePharmacy: Whatever you do, be consistent and stay active. Social media is a commitment, but should be fun for you and your customers. Don't do anything that may be viewed as spam. That can be a fatal flaw. It is a fine line, but still should be clear.
Erik Magraken, lawyer and partner, MacIsaac & Co., Victoria, B.C.
Mr. Magraken's Twitter bio states "Award-winning legal blogger, personal injury lawyer, husband and proud father of two great boys." Based in Victoria, Mr. Magraken has maintained a strong online presence for at least five years, which continues to evolve as the online world does.
@LisaOstrikoff: When and why did you start using social media., and where has it taken you?
@ErikMagraken: I started blogging in 2008. It was meant to archive injury cases of interest to me. Certainly my largest social media presence. From there, I started using other platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to supplement my blog. Over time, it has grown to having 1,400+ articles. I saw value in these platforms in and of themselves. Now I use these to supplement my blog and to create new connections.
@LisaOstrikoff: Do you see many in your line of work using Social Media?
@ ErikMagraken: Many others in my industry (injury litigation) have taken to social media, not many on a daily basis, but a lot of light use. Particularly, the number of legal blogs I've seen has ballooned in recent years. Fewer are using other platforms.
@LisaOstrikoff: What are your thoughts on "tweeting" as a 'brand' vs a 'person'?
@ ErikMagraken: People like connecting with individuals, not corporate personas. Even when I connect with a corp account via Twitter, I like to know who the individual behind it is.
@LisaOstrikoff: Will you evolve your strategy as these platforms evolve?
@ ErikMagraken: Change comes with business but the successful recipe does not, (which is) good work and genuine engagement. If certain platforms lose their value I have no hesitation to move on.
@LisaOstrikoff: Do you have tips for newcomers?
@ ErikMagraken: Don't spam your followers, be genuine and engage. Otherwise it isn't worth the effort from a business perspective.
Eileen Reppenhagen, certified general accountant, Tsawwassen, B.C.
Ms. Reppenhagen is a certified QuickBooks Pro adviser who also writes and speaks about tax and accounting. She says social media is one medium for sharing her "passion/your rights about tax rules," adding it "keeps her clients in the loop and draws people to her website."
@LisaOstrikoff: When did you start using social media, and which platforms?
@TaxDetective: At least three years ago, I am an early adapter so not typical. I am (also) a writer and heard about SM in other circles. I like Twitter because it's short sweet and sharp and fun. Other platforms I use include Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogger, and Pinterest.
@LisaOstrikoff: Do you see many in your industry using social media?
@TaxDetective: A few do use social media, but most don't and some lurk (on Twitter) as they are not comfortable with 140 characters. Most are not early adapters.
@LisaOstrikoff: Do you have a specific strategy?
@TaxDetective: Be authentic and share what interests you to attract a following. Same as in life.
@LisaOstrikoff: Do you have any tips for other business owners starting to use social media?
@TaxDetective: Have fun don't always be serious. Be positive and helpful. Share useful stuff.
The moral of this story: The evolving social media world offers a handful of great platforms to share content that members of your target market want to consume, offering an incredible opportunity to highlight your industry expertise. If you are a Canadian accountant, lawyer or pharmacist using Twitter who was not approached for this column, you are not nearly visible enough via basic searches, or you don't engage with your networks in a consistent manner.
Don't wait. The time is now.
Special to The Globe and Mail