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Businesses learning social communication

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Just recently, Stripling's General Store was nearing 4,000 "friends" on its Facebook page. Marketing Director Ashley Goss wanted to get over that number quickly, so she posted an appeal to the friends on the page.

"Tell your friends, share our page. Help us get over 4,000 friends," she posted.

Almost immediately more than 1,000 new friends joined the Stripling's Facebook page. They easily left 4,000 in the dust and now have more than 5,000 friends.

"We haven't seen a great increase in sales from our page, but it's only been up for just over a year," Goss said. "We have a link to our store and a link to our newsletter. Most of the conversation on the page is generated by the friends themselves, recipes and general stuff It's really a viral type of thing.

"But we've been pleasantly surprised by the responses we've gotten from it."

Facebook is the world largest social networking site with more than 500 million active users and is currently available in 70 different languages.

There are other social networking sites, such as Twitter and Foursquare, but Facebook is in a league of its own.

"Every streaming chat today seems to go through social media sites," Langstaff Marketing's Deidra Langstaff said. "Social media is huge and getting bigger every day."

Langstaff has attended several seminars on integrating social media into business marketing plans. As with any part of a marketing plan, there is work and attention involved.

"In the early days of the web, when people wanted a website they said, 'Let's just throw something up.'" said Langstaff. "It took some time for the medium to mature. It's the same thing with Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare right now. To do it right, there is some work involved just like with any aspect of your business.

"You just can't do it willy-nilly and without a plan. A Facebook page is also a part of running your business."

While Stripling's is trying to sell food products and increase visibility, a law firm like Watson-Spence uses its social networking pages for different reasons.

"We use both Facebook and Twitter," firm associate Sarah Kjellin said. "We use our pages to increase our visibility, announce our victories and keep clients updated on the latest changes to the legal system."

Kejellin says she prefers to use Facebook over Twitter.

"Twitter is limited by a word count," she said. "Facebook doesn't have those limitations. I've also found Facebook appeals to a broader segment of the population. Twitter seems to be geared more toward the younger crowd.

"And they don't think they need legal services."

Langstaff added that the beauty of Facebook is that the vast majority of the page's content is generated by the friends who visit.

"Social media is word-of-mouth advertising except that it is writing on the Internet," Langstaff said. "It's just like a big 24/7 cocktail party. If you believe in something, putting it on a Facebook page can make it work."

And more and more Albany businesses are wading into the shallow end of the pool to test out the medium. A quick survey Thursday revealed more than 50 local business, including The Albany Herald, on Facebook. The types of businesses included Realtors, physicians, lawyers, alarm companies and non-profit organizations among others.

Kjellin says some of her colleagues are skeptical of the trend, but added those same people were probably also skeptical of e-mail and the web.

"I don't know anybody that doesn't have at least limited access to e-mail," she said. "When was the last time you sent a letter via snail mail?"

And if you don't believe her, post a note on your Facebook page and ask your friends.