EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


October 28, 2012

Small businesses find need to connect with customers by using social media

It started with an injured rescue dog, $125 in cash and an old silk-screen machine.

Inspired by the dog, David, Donny and Darren Hendrickson used the money and the machine to launch an online skateboard and apparel company that donates a chunk of its profit to animal causes. To raise awareness for their endeavor, the 25-year-old brothers — they’re triplets — turned to Facebook.

Hendrick Boards managed within a year to accrue more than 28,000 “likes” on the social media website and has expanded to dozens of designs on T-shirts, skateboards and accessories. Facebook has enabled the Fullerton, Calif., company to find 150 shelters to donate to across the country based on its customers’ ZIP codes.

“It’s the driving force behind our outreach,” David Hendrickson said.

Using social networks to connect with customers is nothing new, but it’s continuing to grow. It seems like nearly every business, from Wal-Mart to the mom-and-pop shop on the corner, has a social media presence of some sort.

Nine out of 10 small businesses surveyed recently by online business directory Manta.com said they were dedicating time to networking online. More than 11 million businesses maintain personalized pages on Facebook, according to the Menlo Park, Calif., company, which introduced them five years ago. And new social media outlets keep appearing for businesses to figure out.

For those that aren’t savvy on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, the U.S. Small Business Administration and other small-business organizations are holding workshops to get them in the know. In addition, a cottage industry of consultants has sprung up to guide them.

Facebook has a digital classroom to help businesses develop eye-catching advertisements and promotions and build up their online community of followers.

“We know time is one of the most limited resources that small business owners have when they’re trying to run their small business,” said Dan Levy, director of global marketing solutions at Facebook. But at the same time, “word of mouth is the most trusted source of referrals, and we think that providing word of mouth at a much larger scale can be a really effective way to grow a business.”

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