The average bricks-and-mortar business is under no illusion that having an online presence is useful, but beyond using email and having a basic inventory website it is easy to feel as though you are drowning in a sea of tweets, Facebook messages and YouTube videos.
When social-media experts, search engine optimisation (SEO) consultants and digital evangelists come knocking at your door, you may feel as powerless as a punter at a Tupperware party and come away with armfuls of containers that you have no use for.
Don’t believe the hype and get your own handle on online tools: this is the message of the Futureproof conference running in Dublin today. But why should your business be interested?
“Futureproof will demystify the ridiculous notion that companies need experts to devise digital strategy. Yes, you do need help in the same way that consulting, PR and advertising works, but companies need to embed digital at their core business plan in order to be part of the future,” says event organiser Jimmy Costello.
“Think about it … you are an aviation parts seller – what better way to sell your itinerary than online and through pictures, words and video? Or you’re an undertaker – how do you deal with the delicate issues surrounding your business, maybe by providing videos explaining what you need to do and advice on how to cope?”
The internet is important, says Costello, and not just for the under-26 market, but across all businesses from financial services to fund management to medical and so on.
“Whether it’s business to business, business to consumer or business to community, these are all easily achievable in an online space,” he adds.
You could be forgiven for thinking that social media is for teenagers or the just plain bored, as you watch friends and colleagues post their top 10 movies of the Eighties on Facebook. Conversely, Twitter can be intimidating as
the messages on how best to promote your brand flood your screen.
But, like any kind of market, you must remember that social media is just another way of engaging brands and companies, explains Costello.
“Business benefits to consumers in 80pc of cases simply don’t exist and that’s why the whole thing has become somewhat of an anti-climax.
“This bounce rate is high because people don’t look at things from a consumer’s perspective; they look at it from a marketing perspective.
“You have to think clearly about key issues before getting involved: what am I trying to achieve? Will my customer or potential customers benefit from this? What resources do I have available? Where will I engage with people?”
If the Futureproof Conference is all about cutting out the claptrap, while bringing your business up to date with online marketing, then the star speaker has to be Loren Feldman, a New Yorker with a distinctly no-nonsense view on social media and the owner of video blogging and online production company 1938Media.
“I hate personal branding and personal branders and social-media marketing. What I think companies need to do is focus on traditional standard business practice and worry about that,” he says.
Feldman says he called his company 1938Media because the principles for marketing your business were simple and straightforward then and are as relevant now as they ever were.
“You should be looking at the internet as no different than the printing press, the fax machine, the telephone. This whole ‘increase your sales’ hype is a bunch of nonsense because internet success stories are usually internet-based businesses to begin with.
He points out how these new web 2.0 services and social-media tools might be the hot topic today, but that the people talking about them are technology experts and not business experts with a payroll to meet.
“It’s hype created by guys reading the same dopey websites. Online marketing is no different to the yellow pages. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to sell goods.
“If you are a bricks-and-mortar business, you still need to work to make money; you still need to deliver a product. And using the internet to do business should be no more different than picking up the phone. You still need to be picking up the phone to do business.”
The most important thing about doing business online, says Feldman, is not to forget old values: “My grandfather ran a gas station and retired a multimillionaire.
“I look back at how he ran his gas station: he always wiped their windows, checked their oil and made sure they left as satisfied customers.”
By Marie Boran
Pictured: Anja Ekelof, communications and marketing manager at Science Gallery; Jimmy Costello, Futureproof organiser; and Steve McCormack, producer and organiser