Tweets, friend requests and tagging photos are all terms that have infiltrated the business world in recent years, and Lexington companies are refining the ways they've adopted this vocabulary to connect with customers.
Social media is no longer just for social purposes. Some business owners resist the trend, thinking it doesn't have staying power, but others have logged on and signed up with Twitter, Facebook and other sites for networking purposes.
Fred Wohlstein, co-owner of Azur Restaurant at 3070 Lakecrest Circle, started using social networking a few years ago and tweets about special events at the restaurant and around the area. He combines Twitter, Facebook, a blog and a Web site to reach customers and create a dialogue about more than just the restaurant.
Wohlstein said that in their early stages, Twitter and Facebook seemed confined to a younger audience, but that has changed over time. He said old and young alike are using the sites to connect.
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"The baby boomers came on later than Generation X or Generation Y," he said. "When people started to get a hold on it, you would see waves of people embrace it."
Those who embrace social media can choose who they are connected with. Steve Baron, owner of CD Central, said he uses Twitter and Facebook because they let him reach a specific audience. To receive messages from a Twitter or Facebook group, you have to become a member or follower.
"It's a direct and targeted approach because the people you are reaching are the people who expressed a desire to be in contact with your business. They made it a point to sign up," Baron said. "You can send out a message, and the people who get it are generally very receptive."
When deciding what messages to send, most businesses stick to news about sales, events or links to media coverage of their business. But Whit Hiler, co-owner of scooter dealer Vespa Lexington, said he uses the company's Twitter account to have a little fun.
Hiler said that when his business opened in 2008, he knew social media was a helpful tool because it was a way to reach customers for free. When sending messages, he said, business owners want to avoid bombarding people with a sales pitch. Mixing in the sales pitch with other bits of information is important, Hiler said, because social media is a chance to show off the lighter side of the company and connect with customers outside the office. For instance, earlier this month, Hiler asked whether customers "ever just eat the sticker on an apple" and wrote that he's living with a permanent sweat mustache.
"It gives you a look into the business, not just the front of the house but the back of the house," he said. "It definitely puts a personality with your product."
Some companies, though, are doubtful of social media's benefits. Amy Maddox, marketing and communications manager for LBX Co., said the company, which sells excavators and heavy construction equipment, does not use Facebook or Twitter. She said she was unsure what the sites would contribute to the company's customer base.
"I use Facebook to communicate with friends, and an excavator is a product people use to make money," she said. "And honestly, I thought Twitter was kind of faddish."
Maddox said she understands the need to communicate with customers, but most of the conversations she has with clients require more space than a tweet or Facebook message would allow. Twitter limits messages to 140 characters.
LBX did find a technology haven in YouTube, however. Maddox said she thinks some companies, including LBX, are better served with more visual media outlets rather than communication venues. The company makes in-house videos to post on YouTube to inform potential customers or sales staff about products and provide a bit of humor, Maddox said. Instead of directing customers to a Twitter or Facebook page, Maddox said it is easier to show them a video that can be accessed from anywhere.
For an upcoming expo, Maddox said, she considered creating a Twitter feed or maybe a blog, but she decided to wait to see where social media is headed.
"There is a buzz in the industry about social media," she said. "We are all trying to figure out if it is right for us."
For those hesitant to, say, pick up a BlackBerry and start tweeting, most companies say they are not moving away from traditional means of communication, but are simply adding to their arsenal.
Susan Lancho, external-affairs manager for Kentucky American Water, said her company realized how prevalent social media was becoming in the business world but found a balance between the old and the new.
The company recently added a Twitter account, which it uses to promote events, tips about water use and more. But Lancho said she understands not everyone wants to use social media. Keeping the traditional means of communication — mail, a phone line and brochures — is just as important as staying up to date with technology.
"We understand different people have different desires for communication," she said. "It's just another tool in our toolbox."