Views of social media can differ greatly across generations. While tweeting, texting and tagging photos may be a way of life for millenial children, boomer parents may see those activities as damaging to face-to-face interaction and grammar.
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Some older entrepreneurs view the Web as the dilution of customer service--but it doesn't have to be that way. Twitter can be an ideal platform for enhancing customer relations. Traditional customer service is limited by place and time, but Twitter offers a global, interactive, 24-7 sounding platform.
And what better example of Twitter’s customer engagement than the hashtag?
Disclosure to non-Twitter users: a ‘hashtag’ refers to when people put the # symbol before a word in a Tweet. Adding the # turns that word into a hyperlink. For instance, if a person were to Tweet ‘Just submitted my #taxes’ users could click on ‘#taxes’ and be directed to a list of all tweets about taxes. In its simplest form, the hashtag generates a modern discussion board.
In 1945, Earl and Flora Handy, two immigrants from Lebanon opened a diner called Handy’s Lunch in Burlington, Vt. Fast forward more than 60 years, and the diner is in its third generation of family ownership with grandson Earl Handy in charge.
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Handy’s Lunch is the only original family-owned and operated diner in Burlington and the diner's target customers are local young professionals, college students and tourists.
"I use hashtags to hit certain target audiences which make up a new demographic, " explains Earl Handy.
The most commonly-used hashtag on Handy's Twitter feed is #btv which stands for Burlington and is used to find out what’s going on in the city.
Handy’s Lunch also uses variations of this hashtag such as #btvbreakfast, #btvlunch – and even #btvhangover."For fun I created the #btvhangover tag for when you wake up the next day looking for food."
Handy also incorporates the popular hash #FF, which stands for #FollowFriday. Tweeters use this to recommend other accounts they enjoy following, and Handy sees #FF as a financial tool. "I typically #FF other small businesses as a support center during the recession."
And Handy knows the value of recommending other businesses on Twitter."Twitter has increased our business about 20% which is amazing considering the economic times we are living in."
He also uses hashtags to increase sales by offering special promos. For instance, in the past Handy hashtagged #ladiesday when women receive lunch for $5.
The diner has earned a loyal following of Tweeps. In 2011 Handy says The Burlington Free Press omitted the diner from its list of ‘Best Breakfasts in Burlington. When the diner tweeted its frustration over being left out, Handy says in just three hours 100 people submitted tweets protesting Handy’s Lunch absence.
"Twitter allows us to keep our business true to what my grandparents started which is great food at an affordable price…Each generation has put their mark on the diner, my legacy will be social media."
Hickory Tap Room, a local watering hole in Hickory, N.C., created a Twitter account in March 2009 and currently boasts a following of more than 700 people.
In addition to posting information about daily specials, music and events, @HickoryTapRoom posts events happening in the community, which is why it has so many followers, says Hickory Tap Room General Manager Nikol Wuest.
Sometimes businesses create the hashtags and the followers join the trend--other times followers create the hashtags. Such is the case for Hickory Tap Room’s #hhops hashtag which was created by a group of @HickoryTapRoom followers in Tennessee and eastern North Carolina.
Wuest uses the #hhops to promote Hickory Hops, a beer festival that Hickory Tap Room and Hickory Brewery sponsored on April 16 to regional craft beer fans that might not otherwise known of the event.
‘We occasionally indulge in the popular use of ‘joke’ hashtags.’ For instance, @HickoryTapRoom tweeted, "Don't forget to "spring ahead" tonight everyone! #evilsleepstealingtimechange" to playfully remind their followers of daylight savings.
But for the most part, Wuest says he tries to stick with hashtags that are easy to remember so his followers are more likely to use them.
SIP the Good Life is a division of the Vineyard Team, a non-profit farmer group created in 1994 to work on sustainable farming research and education. In 2007, the Vineyard Team created SIP the Good Life to spread the word of its sustainable programs beyond farmers.
SIP the Good Life offers a third-party certification program called SIP--Sustainability in Practice, which requires growers meet a rigorous set of standards and requirements, all of which are inspected and audited.
A bottle of wine carrying the SIP seal tells the consumer the bottle was produced in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible.
"Twitter has definitely helped grow awareness of the SIP certified seal," said Executive Director Kris O'Connor.
O’Connor is a big fan of hashtags; "I can tap into targeted communities on Twitter through the use of chats and hashtags."
The most-used hashtag on the @SIPtheGoodLife account is #EDFW11, which stands for Earth Day Food & Wine Festival, an annual event where the Vineyard Team connects farmers, chefs, wineries and consumers in the spirit of Earth Day. Farmers, wine-os and environmentalists across the country use the #EDFW11 hashtag to promote the event and generate discussions about the event.
April 16 marked the fifth annual Earth Day Food & Wine Festival, and O'Connor describes it has the most successful one yet.
You named your small business, you set up a Web site, and you even started seeing profits from it. What's next? You could set up a profile page on a social networking site, such as Facebook or Myspace. And/or you may want to head to Twitter, the member-based site that boasts of allowing you to virtually shout your company's message from a technological rooftop.
Every week, Fox Small Business Center will highlight companies that are making their brand known through social media. As small businesses, you are on the frontlines of re-starting our economy, and we want your voice to be heard.