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Getting a taste of social media

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Getting a taste of social media

Rick Spence, Financial Post · Monday, Dec. 6, 2010

It’s 9.30 a.m. at a Williams Fresh cafe in a mall parking lot in Burlington, Ont. Late-rising customers stare at glowing laptop screens as they feast on pastries and meals hot off the griddle.

Jason Sadler is impressed with the food, so he shows his appreciation by taking photos of his breakfast plate and uploading them to Twitter. The picture of the full plate of bacon, eggs, hash browns and fruit slices, gets the caption “Look Mom, it’s a balanced @ williams_fresh breakfast!”

After eating, Sadler puts his tiny Flip video camera on a tripod and does a quick interview in the parking lot with Lauren McColeman, Williams’ field marketing manager, for uploading to YouTube later.

Sadler isn’t some self-obsessed blogger. He’s a social media expert for hire, a former Web designer who founded Jacksonville, Fla.-based IWearYourShirt.com.Companies hire Sadler and his one Los Angeles-based employee to wear their T-shirt for a day and promote their brands through blogs, Twitter and video feeds. Lame though that may sound, it is a hit. Since starting the firm in January 2009, Sadler has worked more than 700 consecutive days, and he’s booked through to June. Melanie Rego, president of Toronto-based Elevator Communications Inc., which like many public relations firms is still trying to figure out how clients can profit from social media, hired Sadler for a whirlwind tour to give nine of her clients a taste of social media done with flair.

(Cost of hiring Sadler on Nov. 30: about $600, plus airfare and breakfast. But he’s raised his rates for 2011. His charge for wearing your shirt starts at $5 a day on Jan. 1, and rises by $5 a day till Dec. 31. You’ll pay about $850 to hire him in June 2011.)

Sadler says his prices are designed to encourage clients to book him early. So his pricing model is much like social media — not as dumb as it looks. The fun, informal nature of Web video, blogging and tweeting has a serious point: to help your brand connect with consumers who may never have noticed you. The lesson learned from following Sadler for half a day is no one really knows what works on social media — but that shouldn’t stop you from trying it. As Sadler told Williams’ McColeman, it’s the quality, not the size, of your audience that counts: “10 people who scream loudly about your business are better than 10,000 who don’t care.”

The next stop was “ready-to-wear” drapery retailer InVU in Mississauga, Ont. Sadler toured the home-furnishings store with Lisa Nicholl, the retailer’s chief executive, then interviewed her about drapery fabrics and gift items.

Learning that Invu has an underused Facebook site and Twitter feed, he urged Nicholl to do more video. With a $150 camera like his, you can do impromptu videos showing off your latest stock, or even build community by showing several potential new products and asking followers to vote on which ones you should adopt.

Nicholl is like many business owners, willing to give social media a chance, but dubious of its potential. “It’s a nuisance, really,” she told me. But Sadler says the key is consistency: You have to develop a relationship with your followers before they start “getting” what you do and promoting you to their networks.

At Mississauga’s Square One mall, Sadler made two stops: one at a Stitch It tailoring outlet and the other an HMV music store. Eager to show off Stitch It’s alteration skills, Rego’s team had bought a used, extra-extra-large sports jacket to fit Sadler’s 6’5″ frame. Sadler donned the jacket and took pictures as Stitch It’s staff pinned him up to alter it for a perfect fit.

At HMV, Sadler got a picture of himself holding two Justin Bieber T-shirts, then asked his community which one he should buy. Within 15 minutes, more than 20 followers weighed in, most voting for the pink shirt. He then interviewed Saundra Bianchi, HMV Canada marketing director, talking music trends and holiday gifts — while brandishing a Jersey Shore poster he said he just had to have. (On leaving the store, he left the poster and the pink shirt behind, which suggests the authenticity generally associated with social media may be optional).

Sadler visited other Elevator clients throughout the day. He also hosted his daily video show on Ustream.tv,where he name-dropped all the clients, including Brenda the tailor at Stitch It, the “beautiful watches” from Tissot, and the 30 great flavours at Baskin Robbins. Elevator’s Rego said it was too early to tell what impact Sadler’s visit had, but will follow up with clients to see if it boosted their Web traffic or followings on Twitter or Facebook. “We set no expectations for the day, because we wanted our clients to be open-minded,” she said. At some point social media will be held accountable for results. But not, apparently, yet. So why not join the fun? You have 18 days before Christmas to post off-the-cuff videos on YouTube and promote last-minute gifts on Facebook. Give it a try.

– Rick Spence is a writer, consultant and speaker specializing in entrepreneurship. His column appears weekly in the Financial Post. He can be reached at rick@rickspence.ca

 
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