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Businesses reaching out on Facebook

Katie Redding
Aspen Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado ” Facebook isn’t just for friends anymore.

In the last several months, more and more Aspen businesses and nonprofits have joined the popular social networking site ” in most cases, assigning management of the site to a young staff member.

While the site isn’t a replacement for traditional advertising, local marketing representatives say it’s yet another tool to reach their audience. And because posted “updates” immediately appear on a fan or group member’s page, Facebook can be an effective way to make sure people receive a message.



“With Facebook you can be friends with your community. You get your message out to the community, whereas [a web page] is kind of out there, floating,” said Ellen Winter, the GrassRoots TV marketing and communications employee who helped the nonprofit join Facebook about a month ago.

Joining Facebook may be an obvious move for businesses at this point ” since it is arguably where the people are. In just five years, the social networking site has grown from a Harvard dorm-room experiment to a phenomenon, with more than 175 million active users throughout the world. If it were a country, wrote founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a Jan. 7 blog post, it would be the eighth-largest country in the world, just ahead of Japan, Russia and Nigeria.



Many Aspen institutions ” like Aspen Skiing Co. and GrassRoots TV ” say they had a MySpace page first, but now are phasing it out because of the site’s declining popularity.

“MySpace was kind of cool a couple of years ago and everyone had one,” said Meredith McKee, public relations coordinator at Skico. “I used that for a while and then it didn’t seem like people were on there as much.”

Institutions usually join as a “group” that allows Facebook users to join, or as a “fan page” that allows people to become “fans” of the company or nonprofit.

However an institution joins, it gets a page on which to post photos and updates, as well as the option of creating a network. People who see a company or nonprofit they like on Facebook can join its page. And because everyone in a user’s own personal network receives an update when that person joins, Facebook groups tend to grow exponentially.

For the Aspen Historical Society, joining Facebook last summer was an attempt to reach a younger demographic.

“It’s becoming a really effective way for us to get the message out that we’re not the old quilting bee kind of thing,” said Kip Hubbard, deputy director of the organization. “Strategically, we know we have to embrace a much younger audience for sustainability.”

The society has also begun posting wedding pictures with “tags” that will help brides looking for a wedding site find them, he said.

For the Skico, having a presence on Facebook gives them “a very direct way, almost an immediate way, of reaching people,” said McKee. Every morning, she posts snow reports on the Aspen-Snowmass page ” as well as any other relevant information throughout the day.

“People are on it all day,” she said. “It’s the most direct way to be receiving information.”

And while several marketing representatives said they joined Facebook to reach a younger demographic, many also note that Facebook is rapidly gaining popularity among a post-college demographic.

“I guess I’m surprised every day at the number of baby boomers who are joining it,” said Winter.

McKee noted that while the median age of Skico’s Facebook page does appear to be lower than the median age of its guests (44, according to 2007-08 research), the median age of the company’s “friends” is increasing every day.

The Aspen Historical Society’s Hubbard may be a classic example. Upon joining, he was hooked.

“I’m a Facebook lunatic now, but I wasn’t a week ago,” he said. “It’s trickling up.”

Jimmy Yeager, owner of Jimmy’s: An American Restaurant and Bar (which joined Facebook six weeks ago), also noted that he uses Facebook to keep up with what is going on in the restaurant and bar industry nationwide. Using his personal Facebook page, he joins other restaurant sites to scout for information.

“It has a lot to do with keeping up with trends and friends and seeing what everyone is doing,” he said.

Still, businesses will have to watch out, as they creep into consumer’s personal space, not to fall into the trap of sending “updates” just for the sake of keeping in touch, lest Facebook updates go the way of email spam.

“If you’re watching ‘American Idol’ and they have Coca-Cola cups on the table, you’re not so bothered by that,” said Margaret Campbell, associate professor of marketing at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “Once we’re in the consumer’s space we have to be very careful.”

As for what’s next: micro-blogging. Skico’s McKee said the company has just joined Twitter, a site that allows the company to post tiny updates of 140 characters all day long. Guests can subscribe to a constant “feed” through Skico’s website, and receive instant access to Skico news ” via phone ” as it happens.

“We see that as almost the new Facebook,” she said.

kredding@aspentimes.com


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