Friend or foe for Cayman’s businesses?

Part II:
Social networking

According to a popular video on YouTube, social media has caused the biggest shift in communications since the Industrial Revolution, with IPod application downloads reaching the 1 billion mark in nine months and Facebook reaching 100 million users in the same timeframe (compare that to the humble radio taking 38 years to reach 50 million users).

But can social media really revolutionise business practices? Or do the tried and tested means of communication still hold true for businesses in Cayman? Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull reports. First in a series of articles.

Standard methods of communication for people in their 20s and younger include updating their Facebook page, tweeting/texting and BBMing their friends (generations Y and Z apparently believe email is passé), while downloading IPod applications has eradicated the need to purchase CDs forever. It’s a whole new age of technology and one that businesses in Cayman appear to be starting to embrace as a means of reaching their customers and general target markets.

Getting to grips with social networking
The Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce is undergoing a brand review and this includes the development of an updated communications strategy.

Chamber CEO Wil Pineau explains: “Part of this communications strategy will incorporate the use of social networking tools and the possible development of a podcast library, ‘Chamber Pod Library’, allowing both the Chamber and our members to upload business focused podcasts for easy worldwide access.”

Pineau says the Chamber of Commerce is geared specifically for networking with hundreds of private business members and they will embrace all technological opportunities that social networks offer to bring investment and prosperity to the Cayman Islands.

The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands is another organisation that has just begun to embrace the possibilities that social networking can bring
Natalie Urquhart, director at the National Gallery, says it is beginning to explore this area of networking particularly as it allows the gallery to connect to their younger audience more directly.

“So far we have only set up a Facebook page and this is still very much in the infancy stages,” she confirms.

The gallery is pursuing social networking as an alternative marketing channel and as a way of expanding its traditional audience reach. Urquhart says it’s too early to estimate the kind of impact that social networking has had on her business and the amount of time investment required has been something of a drawback to its development.

“Because of the immediacy of social networking ensuring that our site is well maintained and current will be the most challenging thing long-term,” she says.

Urquhart believes that there is still a place for regular means of communication and media in the future. “Although we are trying to reduce printing costs we see social networking sites as a way of reinforcing a more traditional marketing approach and will continue to use print media and radio as our primary marketing/advertising vehicles for the foreseeable future,” she confirms.

Industry trends

The media
Bronwyn Angel, IT manager at Cayman Free Press says that social networking (and the Internet in general), allows people to connect with content in a way that traditional media, such as the newspaper, could never do before.

“Once we looked only to the newspaper or television to be informed of a topic of interest, now we can dig deeply, research and discuss via websites and social media current events or whatever takes our fancy,” she comments.

“This phenomenon isn’t going away; our plan is to embrace it without letting new technologies deter us from our primary objective: reporting information to the public that is true and allows them to draw their own conclusions.”

Cayman Free Press has a Facebook presence and is looking at ways to grow this and interact with readers in new ways and via Twitter.

“We share content to many social media sites directly from news articles online and we’re hoping that over time our ability to interact with readers is a prominent part of our daily activities,” Angel adds.

She continues that she does not believe that social networking will replace traditional forms of communication entirely.

“It allows people to connect with friends; people we trust. Call it word of mouth or the Marl Road, but the people we put on our friends list are the people we’ll listen to and trust when presented with information, because we know them,” she says.

Angel believes that there is so much choice as to where to receive information, building a social network among likeminded people allows us to receive relevant information in a personalised way.

“As a traditional media outlet, Cayman Free Press knows that if we are a trusted source for news and information (our primary objective as an organisation), we are already in the hearts and minds of readers, therefore we must find ways to connect with them socially without bombarding them with junk, but information that is relevant.

Going forward this is an area we will continue to develop,” she confirms.

The wedding industry
Some industries within Cayman’s business community have identified that social networking plays an important part in their ability to net new and retain existing customers. The wedding industry is a case in point.

Jo-Anne Brown is the founder and CEO of Celebrations Ltd. and says that her company already uses Facebook,  Twitter and Linked-In to enhance her business.
“Social media networks enable us to generate leads,” Brown explains.

“It also keeps us abreast of fellow professionals within the wedding and event industry and provides us with the ability to monitor the online conversation about us as a company.”

Brown says that via Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In they have been able to build relationships all over the world: from customers to prospective clients to industry partners.

“An excellent example is Engage!10, a luxury wedding summit that Cayman Islands has been a host to for two years in a row now,” she says.

“With Twitter, Facebook and Linked-in, we’ve been able to sustain relationships with all the top wedding professionals we’ve met at the past two Engage! conferences.

In fact, we’ve just recently collaborated with the likes of some of the top people within the wedding industry in the States, such as Kristy Rice of Momental Designs, top of the line wedding designer Michelle Rago, and so on.”

The only drawback that Brown identifies with using social networking is the need for more time in the day to keep up with everyone else. “There is so much to learn and so much to share,” she confirms.

Although Brown has clearly embraced social networking within her business she does not feel it will ever take over traditional forms of communication.

“Rather,” she says, “it helps sustain lines of communication if personal communication is not feasible and broadens our reach. However, we at Celebrations still maintain close personal communication with our brides/clients/vendors and industry partners.”

Recruitment
Recruitment and training agency SteppingStones sees the use of social networking as an invaluable way to reach its target market and it has recently started using Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In. Ciara Aspinall says they decided to use social networking for a number of reasons:

“It provided us with the ability to promote SteppingStones through a new and relatively inexpensive media and assists with our overall ratings on search engines and therefore optimises the number and calibre of candidates that SteppingStones is able to attract,” she says.

“We saw it as an additional means to connect with the right audience at the right time. It is an opportunity to gather real time market intelligence and feedback and provides us with another avenue for customers to become brand ambassadors of our business through positive word of mouth. In this way it is extremely useful for building brand image.”

Aspinall says social networking gives the company the ability to answer queries in a simple and efficient manner and it is proven to increase the level of customer service and is very cost effective.

“It is a great way to reach a large audience,” she states.

So far the company has witnessed an increase in traffic to its website and an increase in applicants. Aspinall believes that social networking will continue to grow and will have a greater impact and importance in the years ahead, however she also says that regular communication will continue to play a part within organisations, particularly within a service based, people driven industry such as recruitment.

Next month read about more social networking industry trends within real estate and finance.

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Danielle Wolfe and Jo-Anne Brown at this year’s Engage!10 conference

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