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Colin Sneath of Stage 9 in Lytham
Colin Sneath of Stage 9 in Lytham
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THE words technology, shares, bubble and burst have been used together many times.

But some of the firms responsible for investors’ insatiable appetite for tech stocks can be significant marketing tools for businesses on all scales – no matter the valuation.

It was back in the year 2000 that savers pinning their hopes on new internet companies had their hopes dashed when ridiculous company valuations turned out to be just that – and the market, and its investors, took a heavy hit.

The same situation could be about to happen again though. Groupon, a discount website launched in November 2008, which offers daily deals in 43 countries on pizzas, and even plastic surgery if enough members sign up to the deal, has already rejected a £4bn takeover bid by Google six months ago.

Employing 7,000 staff and with 83 million subscribers, Groupon could now be worth as much as £12bn when it becomes a public company. The shocking fact is the firm is barely making a profit.

Now, some of the firms developed during the tech boom are proving invaluable as marketing tools for businesses.

If you have a business and don’t have a Facebook page or Twitter account for example, you could be missing out, so the experts say.

Colin Sneath, owner of Lytham-based Stage 9 Marketing, says the two networking sites have levelled the playing field for small firms.

“From a marketing point of view, from the 1970s through to the ‘90s, he who had the marketing budget won,” says Colin, “But now, instead of a return on investment, there’s a new ROI, the return on involvement.

“Smaller firms can make the effort without the need for the budgets of the past.

“There are 34 million Facebook users and six million Twitter users in the UK alone. Done the right way, there’s no-one that can’t benefit from it.

“We have electricians and plumbers coming to our half-day workshops on how to make the best use of social media.

“The tradesmen like it because they can market themselves all of the time when they are working out and about.

“It can be more difficult for the big firms, compared to smaller ones, as people tend to vent any anger they have online at them.”

So they’re not all about injunction-breaking celebrity news then.

Customers still expect to see some of the more traditional forms of advertising - they’re not yet likely to just trust a few words sent out from someone’s phone. Adverts mention Twitter feeds and vice-versa.

And if you don’t have the time to look after these pages and tweets yourself, it could be worth paying someone else to do it. Fleetwood firm Profiles and Pages has been set up to purely to help businesses use Twitter and Facebook on a whole new level.

Owner David Stirzaker will, for a fee, run campaigns on the sites and carry out the day-to-day running of a social media entrepreneur for you. The firm will even seek out people online who have mentioned your business, and contact them with offers and products.

So there’s a great value to these online services, accessible by all, but their actual value still remains something of a mystery.

LinkedIn is another networking site, aimed at businesses, that can prove essential for furthering contacts and developing more business – all from the comfort of your home, office or mobile phone. It’s been dubbed the Facebook of Business.

On its first day of trading on New York’s Nasdaq, shares in LinkedIn more than doubled from their issue price. The company was soon valued, based on its share price, at $9bn – though its underlying earnings are currently barely $15m. Starting at $45, LinkedIn shares soared to $122. But according to the Financial Times, they were traded between institutions last summer for around $17 each.

So, what sort of welcome awaits the expected flotation of the other social media firms such as Twitter and Facebook in the months ahead?

Some long-term savers might see the latest internet companies as their saviour. With interest rates on cash stuck at rock bottom levels, most savers need share price rises to beat inflation. Can the social media companies change that? They can certainly help you make money for your business – but as an investment vehicle, the jury is still out...

chris.dixon@blackpoolgazette.co.uk