2/15/09 Gazette Interview

(There are a few errors in some of my personal information, but overall, The Gazette recorded my comments correctly)

Social-media wiz clues in small businesses
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February 13, 2009 – 8:39 PM
Kevin Knebl is more than just another user of Facebook, Linked-In and Plaxo; he teaches business owners and managers how those Internet sites can become important tools to recruit potential customers and turn them into loyal, long-term partners.

While he has spent his entire adult life at a keyboard, Knebl started his career tickling the ivories as a professional pianist and singer in New York for 12 years before he married and found that music wouldn't support his family. He moved into sales 10 years ago, mostly selling services to businesses, relocated to Colorado Springs in 2004 and has sold outsourced human resources to small businesses for the past two years.

Knebl, 44, gives about 150 speeches a year, or about three a week, on networking, sales and personal development in the United States and Canada for businesses involved in sales, nonprofit groups and religious organizations. He specializes in teaching small-business owners and managers how to use online social media as a form of Internet-based networking to build sales and revenue. He hopes to finish a book by April 1 on networking, but hasn't yet looked for a publisher. For more information on his book, workshops and online seminars, go to the Web site of his company, Knebl Communications LLC – www.kevinknebl.com.

Question: What is social media?

Answer: It is, in its most basic sense, a shift in how people discover, read and share information, content and news. It is also the online tools people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences and perspectives. It is also the democratization of content and the role people play in the process. It is not only how they read and disseminate information, but also how they share and create content for others to participate in. The biggest players include LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Plaxo and FastPitch. Facebook started just for social interaction, but is quickly developing a business side.

Q: Why should small businesses use social media?

A: Social media is rapidly changing. Facebook is signing up 1 million new users a week and LinkedIn is signing up 500,000 new users a week.

LinkedIn is valued at $1.5 billion and Facebook is valued at $17 billion, and neither of these companies have been profitable to date. Both admit they have yet to discover their long-term business model.

There are ways to tap into that, but the rules are different from the traditional media.

From 1996 to 2008, the Internet was a read-only medium. It is now a read-write medium.

Now everyone with an Internet connection is a media company. Businesses can then figure out a way to reach them and leverage that through conversation marketing. It is word-of-mouth advertising that I call word-of-mouse advertising.

Q: What do you mean by ‘conversation marketing'?

A: It means creating dialogue with customers in which useful information is exchanged and both parties benefit from the relationship. As trust builds, customers develop loyalty that makes them long-term partners in a lasting business relationship.

Q: Will this require a change in how most companies do business?

A: The biggest cultural shift for businesses is transparency. The Internet is the largest decentralized community that ever existed. You can't hide anymore, and you can't control the message. Anyone with an Internet connection can put up a blog and move markets. Transparency means you are willing to engage in open dialogue with advocates, enthusiasts and critics.

Q: Are there any rules to follow in using social media?

A: When it comes to social media, there are few rules. There are only risks and opportunities and emerging principles. A lot of older people are leery of social media, but what is there is generated by users, so you can control what is in your profile on any of these sites. It allows customers to become fans of your business.

Q: Are businesses in Colorado Springs using social media extensively?

A: Social media is an emerging trend in Colorado Springs. I get calls every day from businesses in many industries as well as nonprofits and religious groups. They want to find out what it is, how it will drive revenue for them and engage clientele. There is a hunger here locally for these tools.

Contact the writer: 636-0234. Questions and answers are edited for space and clarity.


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