Middle-age entrepreneurs turn to social networking

Middle-age entrepreneurs turn to social networking


08:37 AM CST on Thursday, November 8, 2007
By ANGELA SHAH / The Dallas Morning News

Fred Thompson, owner of an
American Leak Detection franchise in Fort Worth, admits a certain
amount of tech ignorance – at least when it comes to social networking
Web sites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube.

Sure, he’s heard of the popular sites, but "how they work, I have no idea."

Still, he understands that demographics are pushing this online world straight at him.

Increasingly, small businesses are turning to such sites as a way to
reach young customers who have embraced them as part of their lives.

For firms with little money to spend on advertising, the Web sites can be a cheap, efficient marketing tool.

Essentially, a business sets up a profile much like an individual would
but posts information on services offered and at what prices instead of
the age and interests an individual might list.

Then the
entrepreneur searches individual profiles for people who might be
interested in his product and invites them to join his network as
"friends" – in this case, potential customers. They will then receive
any messages his company sends.

Terri Robinson,
46-year-old founder of Dive Monster Scuba in Lewisville, has been
sending regular bulletins to MySpace users with profiles showing an
interest in the outdoors. The result? An uptick in young divers coming
to her store.

Joy Kauf, who owns the nearby Messages of
Joy, first went to the expense of hiring someone to build a Web site
for her metaphysical gift shop and salon, which sells items like
crystals and oracle card decks.

"I ended up losing my
money," said the 44-year-old. "It fell apart. It was so complicated I
wasn’t going to be able to manage it."

But with just the
help of some customers’ children, she launched a MySpace page a few
months ago. Now she easily signs on to MySpace.com, logs into her
profile and updates her calendar of events, including the classes in
shamanism, reiki energy healing and meditation. Access to the site,
like many of the others, is free after registering.

"Once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy," Ms. Kauf said.

Not surprisingly, the younger the entrepreneur, the more likely the
person is to use such tools, according to a recent Discover card survey
of small businesses. Membership in general online networking sites
reached as high as 41 percent for 18- to 29-year-olds but was
significantly lower among older groups, the survey found.

At 58, though, Mr. Thompson is game. "I guess I’m always open as a
business owner if someone can show me how I can grow my business with
the Internet," he said.

 

LET’S GET TOGETHER

Social networking Web sites have attracted tens of millions of young
users. And that attracts businesses interested in marketing to them.

Site Founded Description Users
MySpace 2003 Online community connecting friends and their friends’ friends. Users create personal profiles. Nearly 70 million in the U.S.
Facebook 2004 Started by Harvard University students as an online yearbook. Now used
by others as well to keep up with friends, upload photos, and share
links and videos.
Nearly 30 million
YouTube 2005 Web site for viewing and sharing original videos worldwide. Nearly 20 million each month

SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research

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