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Small businesses test social media training
WOODVILLE – Four months ago Elease Sullivan knew very little about Facebook or the potential it held for her business.
But the Mississippi Bricks to Clicks pilot program changed that.
Mississippi State University’s Extension Service partnered with Woodville/Wilkinson County Main Street Association to test a program that helps small businesses understand and use social media to market their products or services.
The program focuses primarily on using Facebook but also helps small businesses develop websites, blogs and other e-commerce tools. Participants learn about other popular social media sites, such as Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and SnapChat.
“I knew about Facebook because my kids use it, but I knew nothing about how it worked and had never been on the site,” said Sullivan, who owns A Step in Faith Daycare. “But when I got in the class, I realized if I learned how to use it, it could help me boost my business.”
Owners and managers of five Woodville retail and service businesses spent three months learning to use an iPad, market their businesses using Facebook, engage their clients through social media and track their success. From late May through August, the group attended eight classroom sessions and received one-on-one attention at their businesses.
Wilkinson County Extension Service Coordinator Ann Davis and Woodville/Wilkinson County Main Street Manager Polly Rosenblatt knew their rural community would benefit from the class and asked to be considered for the training.
“It is very difficult for business owners in rural communities to market their products and services in today’s marketing environment,” Davis said. “The ability to connect with people outside our community offers businesses a wonderful opportunity to expand.”
James Barnes, creator of Mississippi Bricks to Clicks and an Extension economist with MSU’s Department of Agricultural Economics, taught the class with Chance McDavid, Southwest regional Extension Broadband Education and Adoption Team coordinator with the Extension Center for Technology Outreach. e-BEAT is aimed at aimed at helping Mississippi increase the availability and use of broadband Internet. It is funded by the Office of the Governor and facilitated by CTO. Barnes and McDavid will continue to chart the businesses’ progress and provide assistance as needed until summer 2014.
“Social media is a great marketing tool for small businesses, especially those in rural areas,” Barnes said. “But they have to invest some time each week into managing their Facebook pages, including engaging their fans, who are potential customers.”
Barnes said business owners gauge some of their success by tracking how many likes, they get, friends of fans they garner and people they reach each month when they post. All these statistics are provided by Facebook.
These statistics can be translated into financial value for a business.
“I’m not sure if people realize that these pages represent intangible assets, and intangible assets represent real economic value for businesses,” Barnes said. “We’re working to help them see that and how to grow that value.”
When social media is managed correctly, businesses like Sullivan’s childcare gain concrete results, too.
“Since I’ve been on Facebook, I have seen a big increase in the number of children I serve,” she said. “I’ve done traditional advertising, but Facebook helped more people find out about me. I am being blessed now, and if I keep growing, I hope to open another facility soon.”
Facebook provides an unparalleled opportunity for networking, Barnes said.
“Facebook has 1.1 billion users worldwide,” he said. “In a small town like Woodville, there are only so many people. Foot traffic is limited for any business in a rural area. Social media provides a way to grow your business beyond its rural borders.”
To learn more about Mississippi Bricks to Clicks, visit http://www.facebook.com/msbrickstoclicks or Barnes’ Extension blog at http://www.FacebookEconomics101.com.