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Putting the ‘social’ in social media

Published: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 1:07 p.m. CDT

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Are you skeptical about social media? The topic is kind of a mine field of late with all the discussions about privacy or rather the lack thereof. I’m not going to delve into that aspect of social media, except to say if you use a cell phone, GPS device or any other modern technology, you are already being tracked by all of these companies who are targeting their marketing based upon what you search for, where you are located and who you are in terms of your demographics.

What I do want to discuss is the benefits we have discovered by using social media.

From a business perspective, you simply cannot be in business if you are not using social media. It’s imperative to have a Facebook page, Twitter account, Google+ account, Linked In account, Pinterest account and an Instagram account. There are others that are also useful depending upon your business, but those are a must. What these social media avenues allow you to do is to engage your customers on a repeated basis. They remind folks that you are here and hopefully keep them interested in what you are doing or in the product you sell.

For us specifically, we have been able to grow our audience, encourage repeat business, promote special events and fill rooms or dinner tables when we have had last minute cancellations. That’s invaluable for a small business. Much of this social media is free in terms of actual monetary cost, even though they do involve a very real cost in terms of time and energy. I would say I average two to three hours a day on maintaining my various social media accounts, blogging and updating our website. That’s a lot of time, but I consider it one of the most important daily tasks I do.

What I want to touch on above and beyond the efficacy of these sites to running a business is the personal value of them. For Jeff and I this has been very special indeed. Not only are we able to stay connected with friends and family who live all over the world, but we have reconnected with friends and family we had lost contact with. I have two unique stories that highlight this. The first one involves Jeff, and the second involves me.

Jeff didn’t join Facebook until last year. Up until that point he would just troll my page and live vicariously through me. When he did finally join, he reconnected with a lot of his theater friends. For those of you who don’t know, he was a professional musical theater performer in Southern California for many years. Once he retired from the theater and we moved out here, he lost a lot of his connections. One of those who he had lost contact with was a friend from high school who continued to pursue acting, and in fact, when Jeff and he reconnected, we discovered he was about to make his Broadway debut in the Tony winning musical “Kinky Boots.” For Jeff the ability to experience that whole thing vicariously through his friend was truly remarkable and very moving. In some small way he was able to at least enjoy the excitement of what it would be like second hand through his friend, which was a really cool thing.

For me the experience was a little more personal. My parents divorced when I was 3 years of age, and I never really had much of a relationship with my father or anyone on his side of the family. About two years ago, my father’s half sister was searching for gluten free cookbooks online and discovered my cookbook. She looked me up on Facebook and found me there. After sending me a private message, we became friends, and since then, I have reconnected with her two daughters who would be my only first cousins. Subsequently my aunt and uncle came to visit us here at the inn, and I got to share our inn and my food with them. Just this month we got to spend a week with them in Florida, getting to know each other better and getting to fill in the gaps of my childhood and family that I never had information about. This is something I never dreamed I would ever be able to do, and I cannot tell you how incredibly emotional the experience was.

If it was not for social media, neither of these experiences would have happened. So while this ever changing world that seems increasingly technologically complicated can at times feel overwhelming, I do, in fact, believe that there is great good that can come out of it. It’s all about being smart, knowing how to set up your privacy settings so you can control who has access to your information, and above all, keeping on top of it. Don’t be afraid of it. You never know what wonderful things may come of what seems to be a bit of an inconvenience or a nuisance.

Monika Sudakov is the chef and innkeeper at the Chestnut Street Inn in Sheffield. She can be reached at monikaandjeff@chestnut-inn.com.

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