Pretty regularly, people ask me if I can recommend someone to help them use Facebook or Twitter to promote their business. I assume that's because I work at Staples High School, so they know I have instant access to media-savvy teenagers. I don't assume it's because I know the answer to every question in the world.
But kids aren't the only ones who know their way around social media. Joe Grushkin is a couple (plus) decades removed from his own adolescence, but he's no dummy.
He parlayed a college job selling Cutco knives into a position as national sales manager for Canada, and a spot in the Cutco Hall of Fame (insert sharp joke here). He retired at 37, and promptly bought a shipping services franchise. He sold it in 2005 to begin working with local businesses in Westport, where he'd lived for 10 years.
Many of those small businesses say the same thing to Grushkin that I hear: "I know I should be on Facebook, but how? And what's a tweet?"
They realized that small businesses were hiring people to set up Facebook pages. Those people would then turn the project over to the owners themselves -- or charge up to $3,000 a month to post information for the company.
The last thing small business owners -- especially the 21 million who are sole proprietors -- want to do after a long day, Grushkin says, is "find something to put on Facebook."
So Grushkin's new service -- MaxExposure! -- does it for them. Though Grushkin is based in Westport, the company is headquartered in Boston. "That's where so many great social media experts are," he says, referring to recent college graduates.
Those young people know all forms of social media, beginning with Facebook. Grushkin notes, "If you're not on Facebook, you don't exist." He says that 51 percent of all Facebook users go to a specific business website by looking at Facebook first. Not Google, not Bing -- Facebook.
"Facebook is becoming a self-contained environment," Grushkin says. "If you're not on it, you've already lost a lot of potential customers." So he made that platform the basis for his four social media management packages.
The basic plan starts at $200 a month. That provides three to four Facebook posts of relevant content each week, based on categories such as health and wellness, travel or entertainment, all chosen by the business. MaxExposure! will also set up Google Local and Yelp review sites, and monitor them. That means thanking people who compliment the business, and addressing detractors. ("Sorry our parking lot was dirty. We've cleaned it up!")
The basic plan also includes reputation management (monitoring the company's name on the internet), monitoring up to five competitors, the ability to provide "flash promotions," analytics, a monthly newsletter, and monthly coaching conference calls.
The $300 monthly package adds Foursquare -- the location-based site popular with restaurants -- while for $450 a month Grushkin throws in LinkedIn, YouTube and Pinterest.
Twitter -- in the form of at least one tweet a day -- can be added to any package for $100 per month. Customized packages are also available.
Westport customers include Purple Feet Wine and Spirits, Higgins Realty and State Farm insurance agent Frank Fraulo.
Westport Wash & Wax is a client too. Grushkin discovered a negative review from two years ago they'd never seen ("someone had set up a Yelp account for them," he explains). If the review was posted today, MaxExposure! would respond within 24 hours.
Reaction has been very encouraging, Grushkin says. "This is like the telegraph in the mid-1800s, the fax machine in the 1980s, and email and the Internet when they started up. Everyone understands the need for it, but no one really knows how to use it well.
"Social media allows any business to have a voice in the community. It's `word of keyboard,'" Grushkin says, updating the old term "word of mouth."
Sixty percent of Facebook users access the platform on their cell phones or tablets, he adds. "We're a mobile society, and we use these sites to see what other people think before doing business. It's imperative for local business owners to get in front of this. Thank goodness they don't have to figure it out for themselves."
And thank goodness I now have a reputable company to recommend the next time someone asks me, "How should my company get on Facebook? And what's a tweet?"