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Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Social Media Week offers small business a wealth of online insight

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2011 First published in Business in Vancouver September 13-19, 2011 issue #1142 High Tech Office column

I know that you’ve heard of social media – services like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Like huge numbers of Canadians, you probably have accounts at one or more of these services. But you’re probably using those accounts to keep in touch with family and friends. While you may be aware that these services can be used as business tools, most of you are a little fuzzy on just how to do that.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of using social media to build your business but not sure how – or if you feel like you’re already doing a good job and want to tell your story – keep some time open on your calendar for Social Media Week (September 19-23).

Besides Vancouver, the week is being held in a dozen cities from Beirut to Rio, Moscow to Chicago, with some 25 – mostly free – events organized locally. According to “instigator” Shane Gibson, they won’t be bringing in out-of-town speakers, but will instead be sharing and celebrating local social media best practices.

Focus areas include legal issues, advertising and marketing, journalism, government and “social media for public good.”
“Summits” (larger events ranging from keynotes to panels) include “social good,” “government 2.0” (both held September 19, morning), “enterprise 2.0” and real estate (both scheduled for September 23).

“Mash-ups” are smaller, more focused events. The September 20 mash-up features “leading women in social media” while September 21 mash-ups will look at “journalism 2.0” and green issues: sustainability, clean energy and more.

A session on September 22 will focus on social media use by advertising agencies; mash-ups on September 23 will look at mental health (both from the point of view of professionals and those whose lives have been affected by mental illness) and health promotion.
Other sessions on September 19 look at social media issues for public companies and how to use these tools to build brand awareness. September 20, there will be a “litigation perspective” that will examine “the use and abuse of social meeting” and “who can be held accountable.” On September 21, a session will look at intellectual property issues and using social media to market lawyers and law firms. The following day, a session aimed at employers looks at the use of social media in hiring and firing decisions and in monitoring employees.

Oh yeah, there are parties, too, or in Social Media Week-speak, “soirées.”

More at www.socialmediaweek.org.

Even with the help of Social Media Week’s “Social Media 101” get-started track, though, your company might not be there yet. Google research suggests, for instance, that about half of Canadian small businesses don’t yet have a website.

Reasons, suggested Chris O’Neill, country director of Google Canada, include technophobia and cost. Together with the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and others, Google is offering a free service called “Get Your Business Online” (www.gybo.ca). It offers any Canadian business a “.ca” domain name, a year’s web hosting and templates, advice and resources to create the website quickly. The program also offers businesses a $75 credit toward Google’s AdWords advertising program.

If you’re a small business and not yet online, it’s worth checking out www.gybo.ca – at a minimum, make sure your business is listed with Google Places. However, besides technophobia and cost, I suspect that there is another limiting factor for businesses that are not yet online or engaged in using social media: time. Building a website for your business is one thing; keeping it up to date requires an ongoing commitment.

And it’s the same thing using social media as a business tool. You can do it, and do it well. But that takes regular follow-through. Social Media Week and services like www.gybo.ca can help you get started and get motivated. After that, though, it’s up to you.

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