Social media marketing luring local businesses


POSTED: Tuesday, April 14, 2009

KFC Hawaii has joined the growing list of companies using online social media and social networking sites to market themselves and engage with customers.

“;We wanted to reach out to the consumers who are scouring the Web for new deals,”; said Steve Johnson, general manager of KFC Hawaii, in a statement. “;We're hoping to attract new customers while providing added value to our existing ones.”;

The company set up a Twitter account with only one “;tweet,”; or message, posted as of yesterday afternoon. KFC Hawaii was following one person — an employee of its advertising agency — and had 15 followers, including another KFC franchisee and a national KFC communications executive. Its Facebook presence is more fleshed out with graphics and videos, and its fan count of 42 ticked upward during preparation of this column.

KFC Hawaii unveils its new Web site tomorrow as part of an effort that seeks to lure value-seeking customers through its doors by offering downloadable coupons and alerts on special deals, new products and promotions.

Many businesses use Web sites thusly, but the adoption of social media, while growing rapidly, is a learning curve for most.

Large businesses with ad agencies can afford to have someone else do the “;tweeting,”; or posting to Twitter.

Some corporations so tightly control their external communications, however, that layers of approval are required before any message reaches public eyes. Twitter is likely not the best marketing tool for them.

Rock stars, both literally, like Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (@trent_reznor), and figuratively, as in celebrity chefs including Emeril Lagasse (@emeril), have a Twitter presence and often maintain it themselves. Some celebrities' use of publicists to ghost-write their posts, or tweets, have caused credibility losses, but it is clear that a business entity itself cannot post tweets.

Many Hawaii businesses in various industries have a presence on Twitter, including the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (@starbulletin), Big City Diner (@BigCityDiner), the Blood Bank of Hawaii (@hawaiibloodbank) and Pearlridge Center (@Pearlridge). Each business must decide which person will be the voice of the business in social media circles — an easy decision for some small businesses.

Red Ginger Cafe & Gift Shop in Manoa Marketplace, for instance, can be more nimble and personal in using social media. Owner Melanie Kawai studied Twitter for about three months before diving in — and did not commit the faux pas of continual shameless self-promotion.

“;It was more just to see what other people had to say. Then people started asking me questions about the Red Ginger name, and it became an opportunity to tell people about the cafe,”; she said.

She will sometimes “;tweet”; about the soup of the day or that she is trying new recipes, but most of her posts are personal. Some customers found out about the cafe on Twitter, and other businesses, including neighbors, have asked about how she uses it, as they consider jumping in themselves.

“;Obviously these people on Twitter are well connected, I feel, and are actively trying to connect with other people and other businesses,”; Kawai said. “;As a business person you try and see if you can make your connections there. I never get out of the shop, this is my little bubble,”; but social networking “;gives you another opportunity to touch bases with your customers on a personal level.”;