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How businesses are evolving due to the social networking functionalities…



CHICAGO - People around the world interact with Ms Alecia Dantico all day. Usually, though, they don't know whether she's young or old, male or female.

What her followers on Facebook and Twitter know is that's she's a friendly, sometimes sassy, blue and gold tin of Garrett Popcorn. That's the icon of the popular Chicago-based snack food that has tourists and locals lining up around the block at locations here and in New York City.

And when Ms Dantico sends out a "virtual tin" of popcorn to a fan over Twitter, she's breaking new ground in the way companies market themselves, joining a growing number of social media experts hired to man Twitter, Facebook and similar sites.

"My day starts on Twitter and it doesn't end," Ms Dantico says. She keeps her BlackBerry on at all hours to respond to followers in different time zones.

She mentions popcorn in her Tweets, and has helped customers secure tins, but never implores followers to buy some. Successful selling through social media is much more subtle.

"Some days we talk about the weather. Some days we talk about the 'Chicken Dance.' Some days we talk about recipes and parties and shipping Garretts to Cabo for a wedding."

Multinational corporations, such as Ford Motor and Coca-Cola, are using social media to increase positive sentiment, build customer rapport and correct misinformation, says Mr Adam Brown, Coca-Cola's Atlanta-based director of social media.

The lightning-fast pace of social media, and Twitter in particular, has forced businesses to react in a whole new way.

"If you don't respond within three or four hours, you might as well not respond at all," says Mr Brown. For example, a man on Twitter recently expressed annoyance at his difficulty in claiming an all-expenses paid trip he'd won through the My Coke Rewards programme. He Tweeted: "Coca-Cola, bring down your drawbridge," recalls Mr Brown.

Within about a half-an-hour, Mr Brown had engaged the customer on Twitter, got on the phone with him and resolved the problem. Not long after, the man changed his Twitter avatar to a can of Coke Zero.

Like Mr Brown, digital and multimedia communications manager Scott Monty is creating a social-media strategy for his company, Ford Motor.

"The beautiful thing about Twitter and Facebook is that it's a one-to-one conversation," Mr Monty says.

However, whether your business is large or small, Mr Monty says it is better to stand back and listen before diving in. AP

From TODAY, Business – Monday, 07-Sep-2009

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