25 December 2006

This blog makes the news!!!

Club shows firms how to use the Net's social side

Sonja Haller
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 25, 2006 12:00 AM If podcasts, wikis, blogs, and vlogs sound like sci-fi movie characters to you, you are not alone.

Yet even the handful of the 40 or so attendees at a recent Social Media Club-Phoenix meeting who could not define these Internet communication methods saw the value in learning about them.

"It's where things are going," said Rex Reynolds of HQ Quotes LLC. He said he attended to learn how to market his business and receive more immediate public feedback through online communication like blogs or online journals.

He said he saw the meeting as a free tutorial. "The intellectual capital in this room is amazing," he said.

The alphabet-soup names represent a shift in the way business, from issuing corporate news releases to generating clients for a home-based business, will be done in the future.

Pioneers in the Valley's new media enterprises, along with teachers, life coaches and professionals in non-profit groups, public relations and marketing, attended to explore using Internet tools to find customers and compatriots.

Making new communication methods a part of a marketing plan has become increasing important to businesses that want to more closely monitor and understand their target markets, Sheila Kloefkorn, president of the Phoenix chapter of the American Marketing Association said in a telephone interview.

She noted that social-networking sites like MySpace.com and Facebook.com provide opportunities for businesses to learn more about what makes their target customers tick.

"I think the real opportunity is that more and more people want to control their media, so you hear a lot about consumer-generated media, meaning we all want to go on and have our own little community of just the things we care about," Kloefkorn said in an interview last week.

She also is president of KEO Marketing Services in Tempe.

The power and perks of social media were illustrated in a story told by club organizer Francine Hardaway, president of Stealthmode Partners, a business consulting firm in Phoenix.

During hip-replacement surgery at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea, she began blogging about her recovery. Word spread that she was writing about her experience as a patient for all in Internet land to read.

"They started treating me like a VIP," she said. "The thing about social media for me is its raw power."

At times, the group conversation steered toward geek-speak, but facilitators refocused the conversation on layman discourse.

Marketing and public-relations practitioners like Amanda Vega see the potential for big opportunities for clients who use blogs, social-networking Web sites and other online venues to tell the public about their company.

Companies that don't incorporate such outlets into their marketing efforts, she said, run the risk of disenfranchising potential customers, especially younger ones.

"There are a lot of younger audiences that will not buy from people who do not have a Web site, specifically if you can't buy online," said Vega, owner of Amanda Vega Consulting in Phoenix and a club participant, "They don't trust you. You have to have some sort of online presence."

Vega noted that some of the public companies her firm represents have turned to online forums such as blogs to disseminate U.S. Security and Exchange Commission filings, which can help garner more attention than the traditional news release.

The Phoenix chapter of the Social Media Club had its first meeting in November and is still in the early stages of defining its agenda.

"The water's warm. There aren't any sharks in it," said attendee Steve Epstein, chief technical officer at Media2Eye.com. Epstein's comments were aimed at people interested in aspects of social media but perhaps intimidated by the terms and their lack of knowledge.

The Social Media Club's headquarters is in San Francisco. Since it began a year ago, clubs have also launched in Miami, Seattle and New York.

Staff reporter Andrew Johnson contributed to this article.

Reach the reporter at sonja.haller@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8998.

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