SEATTLE - It's the question you get asked when you first join the mega-hyped social network Twitter: "What are you doing?"
The answer from Eastside entrepreneurs - in the form of a "tweet" - might be: "Trying to build a business."
The Social Media 101 Conference, held Friday at the Microsoft Conference Center in Redmond, attempted to help small and medium-sized business people figure out if the red-hot social media tools now on everybody's lips - Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube - can help them elaborate on that answer by finding new customers and engaging them in a conversation that could lead to more profits.
"In the way that Google changed the game for search, services like Twitter and, to a certain degree, Facebook, are changing the game for how customers and clients and revenue-generating opportunities are going to come to you, whatever your business happens to be," Seattle serial entrepreneur Chris Pirillo, founder of blog network LockerGnome, told the crowd.
The social network Eastside Entrepreneurs organized the event, with sponsors including Social Media Club Seattle, Microsoft, Comcast Business Class, MyBuzz, BizTechDay and Seattle Computing. The speakers included local social media experts, bloggers and software entrepreneurs, and those attending were there to hear sessions such as "Social Media Began with Blogging: Can You Afford to Ignore It?," "How and Why to Set Up a Twitter Account and Tweet for Business" and "How to Use Social Media to Attract High Quality Employees or Find Your Dream Job."
The man who led that last session, Eric Weaver, branding expert with Canadian advertising agency Tribal DDB, highlighted the generational differences involved in social media acceptance, and how established business people may find that daunting.
"If you're a baby boomer like me, Twitter can seem like the height of hubris," Weaver told the audience. "How can I get people interested in that I'm having a sandwich? My kids share everything on social media. It's amazing. They share religion, politics, and they don't care who they offend. Then you've got the endless joy of Facebook quizzes: 'How Well Do You Know Me?' Also known as, 'please give me ego gratification that I desperately need.' How am I supposed to use this for my business? Are these the kinds of people I need to find?"
But Weaver went on to confirm what many involved in the job interview process are already finding out: more and more businesses, large and small, are using Google searches and social network profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn to dig deeper about potential hires at the expense of traditional headhunters and even established web job boards like Monster and CareerBuilder. "Resumes never tell the full picture. You hope you get it in the interview process but people are on guard, or they're nervous," he said. "Two million people are singing up for LinkedIn every month. 80 percent of companies are using it to find employees, versus job boards. It's one place to look versus several."
Because of that, Weaver said it makes sense that the job applicants should manage their social media profiles to show themselves off in the best light; don't diss former employers online, and set yourself up as an expert in your chosen field. "The more you put out there about yourself, the more people will trust you know what the hell you are talking about. Recruiters want more proof - they want to see what you know. If you put that out there (in the form of blog posts on industry topics, or video/audio podcasts), you can share your unique perspective."
What's good for employees is also good for the CEO's of small and medium-sized businesses. One conference attendee, an independent mortgage consultant, was wondering if he should try to set up a blog, even though his line of work may not be considered by some to be "glamorous" or mainstream. "I would start a blog giving people tips on mortages and finance - then people will recognize you as an expert and would be more likely to use your services," answered Andru Edwards, proprietor of the technology/entertainment/pop culture website GearLive. "You have credential, you have created some free content and you're making it available."
"It's about building relationships and trust with people," added consumer electronics blogger and software marketer Jake Ludington of MediaBlab, "and it may be that much easier to get customers because they already know what you are."
And for those who think Twitter is yet another technology-induced, media-fed fad? Pirillo asked that question of the audience. A couple of hands shot up in the air, "So do I," Pirillo said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "Much like conversations, it's going away."
"If you want to call brands a fad, that's fine," Edwards said. "It's like Kleenex is a fad. if it went away, we would still have tissues. All that conversation is not going anywhere. If Facebook or Twitter died tomorrow, there would be replacements. It's part of our lives from now on."
John Cook, executive editor and co-founder of the technology business blog TechFlash, agreed. "It's a real transformation in how media is consumed." Cook mentioned his own experience as a technology reporter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 10 years before moving to the digital side about a year ago. "The old, traditional media are starting to finally figure out that people are communicating and sharing information in a new way."