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Entrepreneurs can't afford to ignore new communications tools

It's virtually impossible to be in business these days without a virtual presence on the Internet.

As such, the various social media created for that virtual world has become a vital space for businesses to inhabit, though the navigation of it might be daunting for novices. For the hundreds of local small businesses seeking to remain competitive, as well as the start-ups attempting to gain a foothold, the Small Business Development Center at Buffalo State College provides a road map for navigating the ever burgeoning information highway, and Tony Maggiotto Jr. is the guide.

Maggiotto started at the Small Business Development Center in April.

"Recently, I began doing more and taking more clients one-to-one because my strength would be marketing and social marketing [and] social media, in particular," Maggiotto said.

The electronic social media in question are, of course, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even YouTube, which all can be used to enhance one's visibility in the world of business, as well as to reach out to potential customers and even generate a following online.

At 28, Maggiotto was what he refers to as an "early adopter" of online social media and its benefits in business. In addition to working as an adviser at the Small Business Development Center, Maggiotto is the director of CityLove Clothing Co., which produces Buffalo-themed T-shirts and other apparel.

"I was on Facebook because of my business. It was a tremendous way to show pictures of my products And there was also a benefit to having a large network," he said.

Social media gives you a platform to re-share that information.

"People who are my age or younger, they realize that it's pretty much a given. If you have something to say it allows you an opportunity to amplify your message," Maggiotto added.

Facebook, which has more than 500 million active users worldwide, connects people through a vast network of friends. The average Facebook user has more than 130 friends. Maggiotto has more than 1,800 people who have friended him on Facebook.

"You want to be connected to as many people as possible, because what it really means is if I had an interesting piece of information, with the push of one button, I could e-mail a thousand people." he explained.

Facebook is highly valued because it actually shows the connections between people.

"The other thing it does is it will show the connections between people," he said.

"Number one, for business, you get found by people who are searching for your products. If you're available and they're looking for it, they're going to find you. Number two, engage with current and potential customers to allow some sort of feedback. It could just be simple questions: 'Do you have this in my size.' 'Yes, we do. Order it right away,' " Maggiotto said.

He describes Twitter as "a great way to follow things that you know people are going to be talking about," while Linked-In functions as a sort of Facebook for professionals.

"The thing that I always say to people is that I watch the 5 o'clock news at 10 a.m. If I wanted to, I would already know everything that's going to be on tonight's news because it's already been on Twitter," Maggiotto said.

Twitter and Facebook, he said, are "great for the 'one-trepreneur,' " which is how he describes many of today's burgeoning entrepreneurs who are operating businesses without the benefit of employees and lots of overhead.

"In a lot of ways, I would say that information is our most valuable resource. Social media is just another way to duplicate information. I often refer to it as a digital business card, when we're talking to entrepreneurs" Maggiotto added.