Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece appears in Forbes magazine and was written by Warren Meyer, CEO of Recreation Resource Management.
Two weeks ago, on the exact same day, I took two seemingly contradictory actions: I held a conference call of all my company’s managers discussing our new Facebook-led social media strategy, and I called my brokerage company to see if there was any way to borrow shares and sell the new Facebook IPO short. Because as a small business person, I both love Facebook and hate it.
Why I love Facebook for my business
I have never been particularly fond of Facebook in my personal life, though like many folks I have friends and family that have tried to draw me in. It’s been kind of fun to use the platform to track down some old friends, but the signal-to-noise ratio is incredibly low. And that interface — ugh!
But something happened that broke through my Facebook indifference. In turns out my customers, without my knowledge or involvement, were marketing my business.
My company privately operates public parks and campgrounds, usually under concession contract. Many of these parks, located in some of the most beautiful spots in the country, engender a lot of loyalty. Families will come back year after year, often to the exact same campsite number in the same week or weekend.
It turned out that one of these groups of loyalists had created a Facebook page for the campgrounds we operate in Rock Creek Canyon, just north of Mammoth, Calif. They were sharing fishing updates, posting pictures, and giving advice. One day, my manager of that complex was told by one of our customers that this Facebook page had visitor questions posted on it, and would he please log in to answer them.
And thus was born, entirely by accident and without even my knowledge, a site where we were having real time conversations with our customers.
At some point, I finally caught up to what was going on, and was thrilled. I quickly wondered whether the success in Rock Creek was a fluke related to the particular group of customers there, or whether we could get the same kind of conversation going in other places. So I revved up our IT department, which being a small business means me working over a weekend, and created a few more Facebook pages for the sites we operate, along with signage for local visitors leading them to these sites.
Time and again, the effort was a success. It turns out that our three major user groups (families with young kids, retired couples, and hard-core outdoors enthusiasts) all had a strong affinity for the Facebook model. So we started rolling out new Facebook pages and training managers on their roles in using them, which is what I have been doing over the last several weeks.
There is a lot to love about Facebook for a business like ours:
- It makes it easier to have many people in the company updating information for customers over the web. Historically, the problem has always been that only a few people had the knowledge and skills to update HTML or even blog-based web pages, so to update campground-specific data (e.g. “the stream just got stocked with fish”) meant having managers pass data to the web people and then have the web people post it. For our small business, what this really means is that it didn’t happen. Now, our managers can all post updates by just typing in the status box and hitting return. Posting pictures and videos is nearly as easy.
- It greatly facilitates real-time conversations with customers. It is easy for a customer to ask a question, such that another customer or our management can answer.
- It allows customer to do our marketing for us, for free! Their updates and pictures show up on their own walls, and can be re-posted by others.
- It has over a hundred million U.S. users. Just as with eBay and auctions, whatever problems one may have with the platform, this is where the people are.
Why I hate Facebook for my business
I have always been a computer power-user. I earned extra money in college writing assembly language code for the Apple II. My computer at home can boot into three different operating systems. So when software packages change or add features, my reaction is usually, “cool, let’s try it out.”
But now let me put on my manager hat. I have over 30 slots in the company for managers who oversee one or more parks and campgrounds. And by a quirk in our HR model, almost all of these slots are occupied by retired couples who are over 60. This totally changes my outlook on software and interfaces. For example, we still use Microsoft Office 2003 across the company. Why? Because Microsoft completely switched the user interface several years ago, and I don’t want to train everyone on something new (and besides which, with each version MS adds more features my folks don’t need and just tends to confuse them).
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