Let’s all visit the virtual pub – and join in the conversation!

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WHEN I started off in newspapers on October 24, 1988 (how time flies, eh) I used to work with typewriters and carbon paper.

We used to tap a row of xxxxxxs through copy when we made mistakes and we put a paper clip on the sheets of paper corresponding to one story.

The clipped bits of paper were bundled together and placed in an envelope for the van driver to take to the inputters and sub-editors before magic well beyond my view created newspapers.

Then along came word processors and what was called a modem. It used to make some strange noises. We thought the noises and the green dots moving on the screen were the height of modernity.

But of course things move on and the process of making newspapers has become much more automated. I only have to press a button to create a PDF file of a page that goes directly to the print works.

Now of course it’s not just the process of creating Business Eye that has changed. The brave new world of social media is changing the way we interact with our dear readers and will, I’m sure, develop in ways that I at least haven’t even dreamed of.

The big question for us all is how on earth do businesses benefit from using sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

At a networking group’s seminar I attended recently, what came across most clearly is that each of those different sites has definite rules that you break at your peril.

Twitter, for example, was defined as ‘the happy hour down the pub’. And anyone that uses the 140-character site to sell, sell, sell would soon be crying in their beer. But it’s OK to say things like ‘I met Rupert Grint at a Harry Potter reunion and told him that Leavesden isn’t all that bad.’

Julia Doherty of Daventry-based Green Umbrella swears that using social media sites well helped her business – in the recruitment industry – survive the last few years.

She was able to use Facebook to monitor what people were saying about her company and respond to potential issues before they got out of hand.

“Social media sites are just that,” Julia told her audience upstairs in a pub. “You need to engage with people.”

It is essentially the same concept as meeting someone face-to-face and building up trust.

She slammed automatic twitter responses as a bad idea. They are messages that are sent if someone becomes a follower.

“Twitter is meant to be a conversation. If an automatic tweet comes back and you reply to it but have no response, that’s not the point,” she said. But she added that scheduled tweets, where messages are programmed to be sent out at certain times, were fine as they give you a presence.

Every time someone posts on social media it helps with website searches. “Fifty per cent of Google searches pick up social media,” she said.

But don’t expect immediate results. Julia added: “You need patience. It could be six to 12 months before you start reaping rewards.

“It is all about participation, making comments, interacting and personalisation. People buy into you because of who you are.”

The most important thing, she said, was to have fun, but she warned “You must have policies in place to stop it being misused. Social media is a dialogue, not a monologue but you must get involved in the conversation. If you leave it two years, you will be playing catch-up.”

My twitter handle by the way is @MKBizCit, if you want to follow my happy hour conversations!