The Small Business Tech and Social Innovation Forum, held at Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken) July 11, 2014, brought together the representatives of many major social networks. Also in attendance were New Jersey businesses that had succeeded at social networking, and professionals working in social media marketing.
The object was to provide small-business entrepreneurs tips on how to take advantage of what many find a mystery.
Sen. Cory Booker, New Jersey’s most famous social media user, hosted the forum, discussing his experiences advancing Newark through the Web.
Booker always delivers a good talk, and that day he regaled the audience with the story of how, when he was mayor of Newark, he had responded to a Conan O’Brien joke about that city. Booker explained that after thinking about it, he made a video extolling Newark’s virtues and banning O’Brien from Newark Airport. “Just a few years ago, the best you could do was write a letter” of protest that “would be read by an intern’s intern,” he pointed out.
The video went viral and elicited many objections from those who apparently couldn’t take a joke, including the Transportation Security Administration, which stated that a mayor can’t ban anyone from an airport in his district.
The hijinks continued until Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, stepped in and made an appearance on O’Brien’s show, urging the two parties to reconcile. Booker said the entire event brought a lot of favorable attention to Newark and helped its comeback. (You can find a recap in this Huffington Post article.)
Booker also discussed a tweet he had received while in the midst of helping Newark residents who had been having trouble during and after Superstorm Sandy. One resident tweeted him that he had run out of Hot Pockets. He told the constituent he thought he could handle that problem. The Hot Pockets marketing team ran with it and delivered coupons to feed Newarkers. The Huffington Post has a good recap of that incident here.
“We have tools that we have not yet fully exploited,” Booker told the audience. Entire companies, such as the Tory Burch clothing brand, have never done traditional marketing. Small businesses need to be aware of and use these tools, he said.
Booker was introduced by Bert Navarrete, who spoke a bit about the New Jersey tech ecosystem and Tigerlabs, his Princeton-based entrepreneurship center and VC micro fund. He pointed out that New Jersey has some ingredients needed for a thriving tech community, including proximity to New York and its VCs.
“We have a growing but fragmented entrepreneurial base,” Navarrete noted, quoting author and startup community expert Brad Feld that entrepreneurs must lead the way in creating a community. New Jersey needs “recycled capital,” he added, which comes from successful entrepreneurs investing in other companies.
At a panel discussion held after Booker left the gathering, high-level representatives from Google, Facebook, Yelp, the fast-growing Brick startup CardCash and Newark digital agency websignia discussed the issues small businesses face when using social media. They also answered audience questions, including via Twitter.
Carley Graham Garcia, head of global industry relations for Google, discussed websites her company runs to help small businesses, including New Jersey Get Your Business Online.
Facebook’s Bess Yount, the social network’s small-business program manager, described how she goes on the road to help educate small businesses in becoming findable on the site, providing examples from her trips.
Yelp’s senior manager of local business outreach Darnell Holloway told the audience that reviews matter. He said small businesses need to visit review sites and respond to all reviews, both positive and negative, in the right way.
Speaking from the small-business viewpoint, Elliot Bohm, cofounder of CardCash (which NJTechWeekly.com covered here), said he had used Facebook to help expand his company.
Steve Jones, CEO of and inventor at websignia, pointed out that a small business has to first determine what it is and where its customers “live” online, then devote time to social media.
Asked by moderator Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of The Internet Association (Washington, D.C.), how small businesses can make themselves findable on social media without devoting a full-time person to the process, Facebook’s Yount advised that they pick one or two platforms that work well for them and stick with those.
Yelp’s Holloway said businesses should be aware of the mobile audience and that most of their customers are on mobile and choose mobile-optimized platforms.
CardCash’s Bohm pointed out that every small business wants to appear big, and the Internet can help them give that impression. Be sure to respond to Facebook posts and to your reviews on Yelp if you are on those platforms, he advised the audience. Further, small businesses should ensure that their telephone personnel are as professional as the company website looks, even if the firm is a small operation, he said.
After the panel discussion, the small business owners visited the booths at an expo set up at the institute’s Babbio Center. They also attended breakout sessions at which they were able to “get into the weeds” of user engagement with Facebook, Yelp, Google and AOL/The Huffington Post.